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Title: My Neighbor Raymond (Novels of Paul de Kock Volume XI)
Author: Kock, Charles Paul de, 1794-1871
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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[Illustration: Copyright 1903 by G. Barrie & Sons]

RAYMOND SURPRISES DORSAN AND NICETTE

_I was determined that he should not, at all events, have time to
scrutinize the girl; I fumbled hastily in my pocket for my key, but
it was entangled in my handkerchief._



NOVELS

BY

Paul de Kock

VOLUME XI

MY NEIGHBOR RAYMOND

PRINTED BY ARRANGEMENT WITH

[Illustration]

GEORGE BARRIE'S SONS

THE JEFFERSON PRESS

BOSTON NEW YORK

_Copyrighted, 1903-1904, by G. B. & Sons._



MY NEIGHBOR RAYMOND



I

THE GRISETTE


I was strolling along the boulevards one Saturday evening. I was alone,
and in a meditative mood; contrary to my usual custom, I was indulging
in some rather serious reflections on the world and its people, on the
past and the present, on the mind and the body, on the soul, on thought,
chance, fate, and destiny. I believe, indeed, that I was on the point of
turning my attention to the moon, which was just appearing, and in which
I already saw mountains, lakes, and forests,--for with a little
determination one may see in the moon whatever one pleases,--when, as I
was gazing at the sky, I suddenly collided with a person going in the
opposite direction, whom I had not previously noticed.

"Look where you're going, monsieur; you're very awkward!" at once
remarked a soft, sweet voice, which not even anger deprived of its
charm. I have always had a weakness for pleasant voices; so I instantly
descended from the regions to which I had mounted only for lack of
something better to do, and looked at the person who had addressed me.

It was a girl of sixteen to eighteen years, with a little cap tied under
her chin, a calico dress, and a modest apron of black mohair. She had
every appearance of a young workgirl who had just finished her day's
work and was on her way home. I made haste to look at her face: a
charming face, on my word! Bright, mischievous eyes, a tiny nose, fine
teeth, black hair, and a most attractive ensemble; an expressive face,
too, and a certain charming grace in her bearing. I was forced to
confess that I saw no such pretty things in the moon.

The girl had under her arm a pasteboard box, which I had unwittingly
jostled; she refastened the string with which it was tied, and seemed to
apprehend that the contents had suffered from my awkwardness. I lost no
time in apologizing.

"Really, mademoiselle, I am terribly distressed--it was very awkward of
me."

"It is certain, monsieur, that if you had looked in front of you this
wouldn't have happened."

"I trust that I have not hurt you?"

"Me? oh, no! But I'm afraid that my flowers are crumpled; however, I
will fix them all right at home."

"Ah!" said I to myself; "she's a flowermaker; as a general rule, the
young ladies who follow that trade are not Lucretias; let us see if I
cannot scrape acquaintance with her."

She replaced her box under her arm, and went her way. I walked by her
side, saying nothing at first. I have always been rather stupid about
beginning gallant interviews; luckily, when one has once made a start,
the thing goes of itself. However, from time to time I ventured a word
or two:

"Mademoiselle walks very fast. Won't you take my arm? I should be
delighted to escort you. May I not be permitted to see you again? Do you
go to the theatre often? I could send you tickets, if you chose. Pray
be careful; you will surely slip!" and other polite phrases of that
sort, the conventional thing in nocturnal meetings.

To all this I obtained no reply save:

"Yes, monsieur;" "no, monsieur;" "leave me, I beg you!" "you are wasting
your time;" "don't follow me."

Sometimes she made no reply at all, but tossed her head impatiently, and
crossed to the other side of the boulevard. But I crossed in her wake;
and after a few moments of silence, I risked another remark, giving to
my voice the most tender and sentimental inflection conceivable.

But I began to realize that my chance acquaintance was shyer than I had
at first supposed, and that I might very well have nothing to show for
my long walk, my little speeches, and my sidelong glances. However, her
resistance augmented my desires; I remembered how foolish I felt one
evening when, thinking that I had fallen in with an innocent maid, my
charmer, when we arrived at her door, invited me to go up to her room;
and I beg my readers to believe that I knew too much to accept. But
appearances are so deceptive in Paris! the shrewdest connoisseurs allow
themselves to be cozened; now, I ought to be a connoisseur, for I have
seen a good deal of the world; and yet, I frequently allow myself to be
taken in.

I made these reflections as I followed my pretty flower girl. She led me
a devilish long way; we walked the whole length of Boulevards
Montmartre, Poissonnière, Bonne-Nouvelle; we passed all the small
theatres. "She lives in the Marais," I thought; "that is plain." We went
through Rue Chariot, Rue de Bretagne, Vieille Rue du Temple. We went on
and on; luckily, the weather was fine, and I knew that she must stop
sooner or later. Yes, and she would probably shut the door in my face;
but what did I care? After all, I was simply killing time; I had not
known what to do with myself, and I had suddenly found an objective
point for my stroll. To be sure, such an objective point is within the
reach of everyone in Paris; and it is easy to provide one's self with
occupation by following the first saucy face one chances to meet.
Indeed, I know many men who do nothing else, and who neglect their
business to do it. Above all, I notice a large number of government
clerks, who, instead of attending to their duties, are constantly
hunting grisettes, on the pretext of going out to buy lunch; to be sure,
they go out without their hats, and run about the city as if they were
simply making neighborly calls; which is very comforting for the
departments, as they are always sure that their clerks are not lost.

But it is not my business to censure the conduct of other people;
indeed, that would be a most inopportune thing to do, inasmuch as I am
in the very act of setting a bad example; for, a moment ago, I was
meditating upon the instability of human affairs, and now I am giving
chase to a petticoat that covers the most fragile, the weakest, the most
deceitful, but also the most seductive, most alluring, most enchanting
creature that Nature has created! I was losing my head, my imagination
was hard at work, and yet I saw only a foot--a dainty one, 'tis
true--and the beginning of a leg clothed in a modest black woollen
stocking. Ah! if I might only have seen the garter! Faith! all things
considered, it is much better to follow a girl, at the risk of having a
door shut in your face, than to try to read the moon, and to weary one's
brain with metaphysics, astronomy, physiology, and metoposcopy; the
deeper one delves into the vague and the abstract, the less clearly one
discovers the goal and the proof; but, turn your attention to a saucy
face, and you know at once what you wish to accomplish; and in the
company of a pretty woman it is easy to discover the system of nature.

For several minutes I had said nothing to my young working girl; I was
piqued by her persistent silence; I had even slackened my pace, so that
she might think that I had ceased to follow her. But, although I was
some twenty yards distant, I did not lose sight of her. She stopped, and
so did I. She was speaking to someone; I walked toward them. The someone
was a young man. I bit my lips in vexation; but I tried to distinguish
what they were saying, and I overheard the following dialogue:

"Good-evening, Mademoiselle Caroline!"

"Good-evening, Monsieur Jules!"

"You are going home very late."

"We have lots of work, especially on Saturday; and then I had a box to
carry to Rue Richelieu; that is what makes me so late."

"What have you got in this box?"

"A pretty bunch of roses to wear in my cap to-morrow. I made it myself;
it's very stylish, as you'll see. A clumsy fellow ran into me on the
boulevard, and nearly made me drop it."

At that, I slunk into the passageway in front of which I had stopped.

"There are some people who never pay any attention to anything when
they're walking."

"I fancy this man was a student; he was looking at the sky."

"Did he ask your pardon?"

"Oh, yes!--But I must leave you; my aunt's waiting for me, and she'll
give me a scolding."

"I should be very sorry to be the cause of anything unpleasant happening
to you. We shall see each other to-morrow, shan't we?"

"Yes, yes; unless my aunt isn't willing that I should dance any more.
She's so cross! Have you got tickets for Tivoli?"

"Yes, mademoiselle, for four; I will call for you."

"Early, Monsieur Jules."

"Oh, never fear! But don't you forget we're to dance the first
contradance together."

"I never forget such things!"

"Adieu, Mademoiselle Caroline!"

"Adieu, Monsieur Jules!"

Monsieur Jules drew nearer to her, and the girl offered her cheek. I
heard a kiss. Parbleu! it was well worth while going all the way to Rue
des Rosiers to see that!

The young man walked away, singing; the girl went a few steps farther,
then entered a passageway, of which she closed the door behind her, and
I was left standing in the gutter.

That Jules was evidently her lover; yes, he had every appearance of a
lover, albeit an honorable one, for I was certain that he kissed nothing
but her cheek; moreover, his conversation did not suggest a seducer.
To-morrow, Sunday, they were going to Tivoli, with the aunt, no doubt,
as he had tickets for four. Well, it was evident that I should have
nothing to show for my walk. It was not the first time, but it was a
pity; for she was pretty, very pretty! I examined the house with care.
One can never tell--chance may serve one at some time. The street was
dark, the moon being behind a cloud, and I could not make out the
number. But that was of no importance, for I could recognize the
passageway, the sharp corner, and the awning.

"What the devil! Pray be careful what you're doing! You just missed
throwing that on me!"

An inmate of my charmer's house had opened his window and emptied a
vessel into the street, just as I was trying to distinguish the color of
the wall. Luckily, I escaped with a few splashes; but the incident
abated my curiosity, and I left Rue des Rosiers, wiping my coat tails
with my handkerchief.



II

THE PETITE-MAÎTRESSE


It was not late when I returned to the boulevard; the performances at
the small theatres were not yet at an end. A dozen ticket speculators
ran to meet me, offering to sell me checks.

"There's one more act, monsieur," they shouted in my ears; "it's the
best of all; you'll see the duel with a sword and an axe, the fire, and
the ballet. It's a play that draws all Paris. You can go to any part of
the theatre."

Unable to resist such urgent solicitations, I bought a check which
entitled me to admission to any part of the theatre; but they would only
allow me to go into the pit, or to walk around the corridor. I chose the
latter alternative; as there was but one act to be played, I could see
well enough; and then, the things that happen in the auditorium are
often more amusing than those that happen on the stage. I am rather fond
of examining faces, and there are generally some comical ones in
attendance upon melodramas; the theatres at which that class of play is
given are, as a general rule, frequented by the common people and the
middle class, who do not know what it is to conceal their feelings, and
who consequently abandon themselves unreservedly to all the emotion
aroused by a scene of love or of remorse.

"Ah! the cur! ah! the blackguard!" exclaimed my nearest neighbor
whenever the tyrant appeared; "he'll get his finish before long."

I glanced at the speaker; I judged from his hands and his general aspect
that he was a tanner; his eyes were brighter than those of the actor who
played the traitor and against whom he vociferated loudly at every
instant. In front of me, as I stood behind the seats, I noticed a
laundress who sobbed bitterly as she listened to the story of the
princess's misfortunes, and a small boy who crouched under the bench to
avoid seeing the duel.

"How these good people are enjoying themselves!" I thought; "they are
not surfeited with the theatre; they are absorbed by what is taking
place on the stage; they don't lose a single word, and for the next week
they will think of nothing but what they have seen to-night. I will go
up to the first tier of boxes; there is more style there, but less
enjoyment."

Through a glass door I caught sight of a most attractive face; I gave
the box opener the requisite amount of money, and entered the box,
determined to do my utmost to make up for the time I had wasted with
Mademoiselle Caroline.

The lady, who had seemed a charming creature seen through the glass, was
less charming at close range. However, she was not unattractive; she had
style, brilliancy, and dash. She was still young; I saw at once that she
was inclined to flirt, and that the appearance of a young man in her box
would divert her for a moment.

You will understand, reader, that I was a young man; I believe that I
have not yet told you so. Later, I will tell you who I am, and what
talents, what attractive and estimable qualities, I possess; it will not
take long.

A gentleman was seated beside the lady in question; he had a commonplace
face, but was fashionably dressed and had distinguished manners. Was he
her husband? I was inclined to think so, for they hardly spoke to each
other.

I regretted that I had only about half an act to see; with more time, I
might have been able to enter into conversation, to make myself
agreeable, to begin an acquaintance. It seemed to me that I made a
favorable impression; she bestowed divers very soft glances on me; she
was seated so that she could look at me without being seen by her
companion. The ladies are so accustomed to that sort of thing, and so
expert at it!

"Ah!" I thought; "if ever I marry, I will always sit behind my wife; for
then---- Even so; but if somebody else sits beside her, can I prevent
the feet and knees from doing as they will? It is most embarrassing."

"This play isn't so bad," said the lady at last, to her neighbor; "the
acting here is not at all amiss."

"Yes, yes;" nothing but _yes_. Ah! he was surely her husband. I listened
intently, for she was evidently speaking for my benefit.

"I was horribly bored last night at the Français; Mars didn't act.
Aren't we going to the Opéra to-morrow? There's to be an extra
performance."

"As you please."

"After all, it's too hot for enjoyment at the theatre. If there wasn't
always such a medley in the public gardens on Sunday, I would rather go
there than shut myself up in a theatre. What's your idea?"

"It makes no difference to me."

The lady made an impatient gesture. The gentleman did not notice it, but
moved nearer the front of the box. I rose to look at the scenery, and my
hand happened to come in contact with the lady's arm, but she did not
move.

"These theatres are wretchedly ventilated; there's a very unpleasant
odor here," she said, after a moment.

I thought of my coat tails, which, in truth, smelt anything but sweet. I
could not help smiling, but I instantly offered her a smelling bottle.
She accepted it, and when she returned it did not seem offended because
I pressed the hand with which she presented it to me.

At that moment the curtain fell.

"The devil!" I muttered to myself; "what a shame! I came too late.
Mademoiselle Caroline is responsible for it. But what am I saying? If it
had not been for her, I should still be on Boulevard Montmartre, gazing
at the stars; it was because I followed her that I came in here to see
the last act; and by running after a grisette I have fallen in with a
_petite-maîtresse_ who perhaps is inferior to the grisette! How one
thing leads to another! It was because something was thrown on my coat
that this lady complained of the unpleasant odor, and that I offered her
my smelling bottle and squeezed her hand. After this, who will tell me
that there is no such thing as fate? If I should make this gentleman a
cuckold, it would certainly be the fault of Mademoiselle Caroline, who
refused to listen to me."

We left the box. I assisted my neighbor to climb over the benches, which
were stationary for the convenience of the public. But the husband took
her arm, and I was obliged to fall behind.

"Shall I follow, or shall I not follow?"--Such was the question I asked
myself as I descended the staircase. After what had happened to me so
short a time before, I ought to have kept quiet the rest of the evening;
but I was twenty-four years old, I loved the fair sex passionately;
moreover, my last mistress had just proved unfaithful to me,--indeed, it
was that fact which was responsible for my melancholy meditations,--and
a young man who has a strong flavor of sentiment in his makeup cannot
exist without a passion. Unquestionably I was----

We were no sooner on the boulevard than they crossed the sidewalk to the
curbstone.

"Aha!" I said to myself; "they are going to take a carriage; I'll just
listen to what they tell the driver, and in that way I can learn the
address without putting myself to any trouble."

But it was decreed that I should be disappointed again in my plans. They
walked to a dainty vis-à-vis and called _André_; a footman ran to them,
opened the door, and assisted monsieur and madame to enter.

My self-esteem received a still sharper prick; a woman who had a
carriage of her own! Here was a conquest that merited the expenditure of
some little time and trouble. I determined to follow madame's
carriage--not on foot; that would be too fatiguing! it might do if she
were in a cab; but with private horses--why, I should have inflammation
of the lungs! I spied a cabriolet, which was just what I wanted. The
other carriage was driving away, so I lost no time.

"Hi, _cocher_!"

"Get in, monsieur."

"I am in."

"Where are we going, bourgeois?"

"Follow that carriage just ahead of us, and you shall have a good
_pourboire_."

The rascal did not need it; I saw that he was already tipsy. I wished
then that I had taken another, but it was too late to change. He lashed
his emaciated horse with all his strength; the infernal beast broke into
a gallop of desperation, and sometimes outstripped the private carriage.

"Look out!" I said to my driver; "don't whip it so hard; let's not have
an accident."

"Don't you be afraid, bourgeois, I know my business; you see, I haven't
been driving a cab twenty years without finding out what driving means.
You're with some friends in the green fiacre yonder; very good! I
propose to have you get there ahead of 'em."

"But I did not tell you that I was with anybody; I want you to follow
that carriage; if you pass it, how can you follow it?"

"I tell you, bourgeois, that they're a-following us; I'll show 'em that
my horse is worth two of theirs. When Belotte's waked up, there's no
stopping her."

"Morbleu! you go too fast! We have passed the carriage; where is it
now?"

"Ah! they're trying to catch up with us; but the coachman's mad. I'm
driving you all right, bourgeois."

"But stop--stop, I tell you!"

"Have we got there?"

"Yes, yes! we've got there."

"Damme! you see, Belotte's got her second wind, and she's a good one to
go, I tell you. Ho! ho! here you are, master. Where shall I knock?"

"Nowhere."

"Ha! ha! not a sign of a fiacre anywhere! Didn't I tell you that you'd
arrive ahead of the others? You see, it's a whim of mine to pass
everything on the road."

I alighted from the cabriolet and looked all about; no sign of a
carriage; we had lost it. I was frantic; and I had to listen to the
appeals of my drunken driver, who wanted his _pourboire_. I was tempted
to break his whip over his back; but I restrained myself and adopted the
quickest method, which was to pay him and dismiss him.

"When you want a good driver and a good horse, bourgeois, I'm your man,
you see; you'll always find me on Place Taitbout, near Torchoni's--in
the swell quarter. Ask for François; I'm as well known as the clown."

"All right; I'll remember."

The villain drove away at last, and I was left alone in a street which
was entirely unfamiliar to me. It was getting late, and, as I had no
desire to pass the night walking the streets, I tried to discover my
whereabouts! After walking some distance I found myself at a spot which
I recognized; I was on Rue des Martyrs, near the Montmartre barrier.
Luckily, I lived on Rue Saint-Florentin, and to get there I had simply
to walk down the hill. So I started, reflecting as I walked. It was a
fitting occasion for reflection, and I had plenty of time. But my
reverie was again interrupted by outcries. As the Quartier des
Porcherons is not frequented by the most select society, and as I was
nowise inclined to seek a third adventure at the Grand Salon, I
quickened my pace, in order to avoid unpleasant encounters.

But the noise continued; I heard cries and oaths and blows. Women were
calling for the police, the magistrate, and all the constituted
authorities of the quarter; men were pushing and striking one another
and throwing one another into the gutter. Windows were thrown open, and
heads appeared enveloped in nightcaps; they listened and laughed and
conversed from window to window, asking what the trouble was; but they
refrained from going down into the street, because it is not prudent to
meddle in a quarrel after dark.

The open windows and the faces surmounted by nightcaps reminded me of my
little mishap on Rue des Rosiers. I no longer walked, but flew! fancying
that I was pursued by fatality. But I heard someone running behind me; I
turned into a street to the right; the footsteps followed me. At last I
stopped to recover my breath, and in a moment my pursuer overtook me and
grasped my arm.



III

THE FLOWER GIRL


"O monsieur! save me! take me with you! protect me from that horrible
Beauvisage, who swore he'd take me away from anyone. Just hear how he's
beating Cadet Finemouche, who's a good fighter himself! My sister was no
fool; she skipped as soon as the fists began to play, and left me to
carry the whole thing on my back; and perhaps she'll go and tell my
mother bad stories about me! I haven't anybody but you to help me,
monsieur; if you won't, I'm a lost girl."

While my waylayer recited her story, pausing only to wipe away the tears
with the back of her hand, I looked at my new acquaintance and tried to
distinguish her features by the dim light of a street lamp.

Her language and her dress speedily informed me what manner of person I
had to deal with: a loose red gown, caught in at the waist with a black
velvet scarf; a round cap with a broad lace border; a colored
neckerchief, tied in front, with a large cross _à la_ Jeannette resting
upon it. Mistake in this instance was impossible: it was perfectly
evident that I had before me a _marchande à éventaire_,[A] or one of
those hucksters whose booths surround the cemetery of the Innocents.

[A] That is to say, a huckster, or peddler, who goes from place to place
with her wares displayed on a tray hung from her shoulders.

My first thought was to see if she was pretty; I found that she was very
good-looking indeed. Her eyes, although filled with tears, had a
sincere, innocent expression which made her interesting at first sight;
her little pout, her grieved air, were softened now and then by a smile
addressed to me; and that smile, which the most accomplished coquette
could not have made more attractive, disclosed two rows of the whitest
teeth, unspoiled by enamel, coral, and all the powders of the perfumer.

However, despite my new acquaintance's beauty, I was very reluctant to
retain her arm, which she had passed through mine. Surely, with such
charming features, she could not deal in fish or meat. I was morally
certain that she sold flowers; but I did not choose to take a flower
girl for my mistress; at the most, I might, if a favorable opportunity
offered, indulge in a whim, a fancy. But I was not in luck that evening,
and I did not propose to try any more experiments. I determined to rid
myself of the girl.

As gently as possible, I detached the arm that was passed through mine;
then I assumed a cold expression and said:

"I am very sorry that I am unable to do what you wish; but I do not know
you; the dispute between Monsieur Beauvisage and Cadet Finemouche
doesn't concern me. Your sister ran away, and you had better do the
same. Your mother may think what she pleases, it is all one to me. It is
after twelve o'clock; I have been walking about the streets long enough,
and I am going home to bed."

"What, monsieur! you refuse! you are going to leave me! Think of
refusing to go a little out of your way to help a poor girl who is in
trouble because of an accident that might happen to anybody. I tell you
again that my mother is quite capable of not letting me in if I go home
without somebody to answer for me who can swear that I am innocent."

"And you expect me to swear to that, do you?"

"Pardine! would that skin your tongue? Besides, you're a fine gentleman,
a swell; she won't dare to fly into a temper before you, and she'll
listen to me. But if I go home alone--what a row! Oh! mon Dieu! how
unlucky I am! I didn't want to go to the Grand Salon at all; I was
afraid of something like this."

And thereupon the tears and sobs began afresh, and she stamped with her
little feet. Perhaps her mother would tear out her hair; that would be
too bad, for it formed a most becoming frame for that frank, artless
countenance. My heart is not made of stone; I was touched by the girl's
distress, and I said to myself: "If, instead of this jacket, she were
dressed in silk or even in merino, if she wore a dainty bonnet instead
of this round cap, and a pretty locket instead of a cross _à la_
Jeannette, I would long ago have offered my services with great zeal; I
would play the gallant and make myself as agreeable as possible; I would
cut myself in two to obtain a hearing, and I would regard it as a favor
if she would allow me to offer her my arm. And shall this modest costume
make me cruel, unfeeling? Shall I refuse to do a trivial favor, which
she implores with tears in her eyes? Ah! that would be bad, very
bad!"--I had been following a grisette and a _grande dame_, who perhaps
were not worth so much notice as this poor child; I had passed the
evening making a fool of myself, and I could certainly devote an hour to
a worthy action. I determined to escort my flower girl to her home.

You see, reader, that I sometimes have good impulses; to be sure, the
girl pleased me much. "All women seem to please you," perhaps you will
say. True, reader; all the pretty ones; and I venture to say that you
are like me.

I drew nearer to my pretty fugitive. She was sitting on a stone, holding
a corner of her apron to her eyes, and sobbing.

"Mademoiselle."

"Mon--monsieur."

"What is your name?"

"Ni-Ni-i-cette, monsieur."

"Well, my little Nicette, have courage; stop crying, and take my arm. I
will take you home to your mother."

"Real--Really?"

She jumped for joy; indeed, I believe that she was on the point of
embracing me; but she contented herself with taking my arm, which she
pressed very close in hers, saying:

"Ah! I was sure that you wouldn't leave me in such a pickle. I'm a good
girl, monsieur; the whole quarter will tell you that Nicette's
reputation's as clear as spring water. But my mother is so ugly! and
then my sister's jealous because she says I make soft eyes at
Finemouche."

"You can tell me all about it on the way. Where are we going?"

"Oh, dear! it's quite a little distance. I have a stand at the
Croix-Rouge, and I live on Rue Sainte-Marguerite, where my mother keeps
a fruit shop."

From Faubourg Montmartre to the Croix-Rouge! that was enough to kill a
man! If only I could find a fiacre! I believe that I would even have
taken François's cabriolet, at the risk of having Belotte take the bit
in her teeth; but no carriage of any sort passed us. I had no choice
but to make the best of it; so I took Nicette by the arm and forced her
to quicken her pace.

"You are a peddler, Nicette," I said; "what do you sell?"

"Bouquets, monsieur; and they're always fresh, I flatter myself."

She was a flower girl; I was sure of it. The certainty restored my
courage to some extent, and made the journey seem less long. I should
not have been flattered to act as escort to a fishwoman; and yet, when
it is a matter of rendering a service, should one be influenced by such
petty considerations? But what can you do? that infernal self-esteem is
forever putting itself forward. Moreover, I am no better than other men;
perhaps I am not so good; you may judge for yourselves.

"Ah! you sell bouquets, do you?"

"Yes, monsieur; and when you want a nice one, come and see me; I will
always have some ready for you, day or night."

"Thanks.--But how does it happen that, living in Faubourg Saint-Germain,
you go to a dance near the Montmartre barrier? I should suppose that you
could find balls enough in your own neighborhood."

"I'll tell you how that happens. My sister Fanchon has a lover,
Finemouche, a brewer, a fine-looking, dark fellow, that all the girls in
the quarter are mad over. My mother says that he's a ne'er-do-well, and
don't want Fanchon to listen to him; but Fanchon's crazy over him, and
she tries all sorts of ways to be with him, on condition that he won't
make love to her except with honest motives. This morning she agreed to
come to Montmartre at dusk, sentimentally, to have a drink of milk. But
she had to make up her mind to take me; mother wouldn't have let her go
alone. We said we were going to see an aunt of ours, who sells oranges
on the boulevard; that was a trick of Fanchon's. I went with her against
my will, especially as Finemouche sometimes gives me a look, that I
don't pay any attention to--on the word of an honest girl!--When we got
to Montmartre we found the brewer, who treated us both to a donkey ride.
After riding round for two hours, I said it was time to turn our toes
toward home; but Finemouche says: 'Let's rest a few minutes at the Grand
Salon--long enough to eat a salad and have a waltz.'--I didn't want to
accept; but my sister likes waltzing and salad, and I had to let her
have her way. So we went to the Grand Salon. Fanchon danced with
Finemouche; so far, everything went well enough. But, as luck would have
it, in comes Beauvisage, a fellow who works in a pork shop on our
street. He's another fellow who makes love to all the girls, and who's
taken it into his head to have a passion for me."

"You don't seem to lack adorers, Nicette."

"I have one or two, but it ain't my fault. God knows, I always receive
'em with my fists closed. But these men! the crueler you are, the more
they hang on! I have shown Monsieur Beauvisage that I don't like his
attentions; I always throw his presents in his face; but it don't make
any difference: just as sure as I leave my stand for a minute, when I
come back I find a sausage among my roses, or a pig's foot on my
footwarmer. Why, the other day, my birthday, he actually came to wish me
many happy returns, with a white pudding, and truffled at that! But all
that don't touch my heart; I told him that I wouldn't have him, before
all the old gossips of the quarter; and I threw his pudding in his
face. He went away in a rage, swearing that he'd kidnap me. So you can
imagine that I shivered with fright when I saw him come into the Grand
Salon, especially as I know what a hot-headed fellow he is.--Would you
believe, monsieur, he had the cheek to ask me to dance, just as if
nothing had happened! I refused him flat, because I ain't two-faced. He
tried to force me to dance; Finemouche came running up and ordered him
to let me alone instantly, at which he held me all the tighter. Cadet
handled him so rough that they went out to fight. My sister Fanchon
blamed me, because it made her mad to have her lover fight for me. But
the worst of it all is that Finemouche, who had drunk a good deal with
his salad, was beaten by Beauvisage. Fanchon ran off as soon as she saw
her lover on the ground; I tried to do the same, but my tormentor ran
after me. At last I caught sight of you, monsieur, and that gave me
courage; I was sure you'd protect me; I grabbed your arm, and that's
all."

Nicette's story interested me; and the thing that pleased me most was
that she seemed to be virtuous and had no lover.--"What difference did
that make to you?" you will say; "as you were a young man in society, of
course you would not make love to a flower girl." True; I had no such
purpose; and yet, I became conscious that for some moments I had been
pressing the girl's arm more tenderly than before. But it was because I
was distraught.

"Do you think my mother will beat me, monsieur?"

"I don't see why she should be angry; you have done nothing wrong."

"Oh! in the first place, we shouldn't have gone to the Grand Salon."

"That was your sister's fault."

"Yes, but she'll say it was mine. And then, I'll tell you something. My
mother's inclined to favor Beauvisage, who shuts her eyes with galantine
and never comes to the house without a chitterling eight inches long.
Mother's crazy over chitterlings, and she'd like to have me marry the
pork man, so that she could always have a pig's pudding on hand. But I
have always refused to hear with that ear, and since then they all look
crosswise at me at home. So they'll lay the quarrel and the whole row on
my shoulders. Oh! mon Dieu! I shall be beaten, I am sure!"

"Poor Nicette! I promise you that I will speak to your mother in your
behalf."

"Oh! I beg you to! You see, she's quite capable of not letting me in,
and making me spend the night in the street! That miserable Beauvisage!
he's the cause of it all! I'd rather jump into the river than be his
wife!"

"Can you say as much about Finemouche?"

"Yes, monsieur; I want a husband to my taste, and I don't like any of
those jokers."

"Then you have no lover?"

"No, monsieur."

"But, at your age, one ought to love."

"Oh! I'm in no hurry. But we're almost there, monsieur, we're almost
there. Ah! how my heart thumps!"

I felt that she was really trembling, and, to encourage her, I took one
of her hands and pressed it. She made no resistance, she was thinking of
nothing but her mother.

At last we reached Rue Sainte-Marguerite; Nicette dared not go any
farther.

"There's the place, monsieur," she said; "that house next to the porte
cochère."

"Well, let us go there."

"Oh! wait just a minute, till I can breathe!"

"Why are you so frightened? Am I not here?"

"Pardine! perhaps mother won't even let you in!"

"We will make her listen to reason."

"That will be hard."

"Your sister is more to blame than you."

"Yes, but she's fond of my sister, and she don't like me."

"Well, we haven't come all this distance not to try our luck."

"That is true, monsieur. Come on, let's go to the house."

We arrived in front of Madame Jérôme's shop; I had learned from Nicette
that that was her mother's name. Everything was tightly closed and
perfectly still; no light could be seen inside the house.

"Does your mother sleep in the shop?"

"Yes, monsieur; at the back."

"We must knock."

"Oh! if only my sister hasn't got home!"

"Let's knock, in any event."

I knocked, for Nicette had not the requisite courage; there was no
reply.

"She sleeps very soundly," I said to the girl.

"Oh, no, monsieur! that means that she don't intend to let me in."

"Parbleu! she'll have to answer."

I knocked again; we heard a movement inside, then someone approached the
door, and a hoarse voice demanded:

"Who's that knocking at this time of night?"

"It's me, mother."

"Ah! it's you, is it, you shameless hussy! and you think I'll let you in
after midnight, when you've been setting men to fighting and turning a
whole quarter upside down! Off with you this minute, and don't ever let
me see you again!"

"Mother! please let me in; my sister has deceived you."

"No, no; I know the whole story. You're a cursed little pig-headed fool!
Ah! you don't choose to be a pork man's wife, don't you? All right! go
and walk the streets; we'll see if you have pig's pudding to eat every
day!"

Nicette wept. I thought that it was time for me to intervene in the
quarrel.

"Madame," I called through the door, in a voice which I tried to make
imposing, "your daughter has done no wrong; you are scolding her most
unjustly; and if you leave her in the street, you will expose her to the
risk of doing what you will regret."

I waited for a reply; none was forthcoming, but I heard someone removing
the iron bars, as if to open the shop. I went up to Nicette.

"You see," said I, "my voice and my remonstrance have produced some
effect. I was certain that I could pacify your mother. Come, dry your
tears; she is coming, and I promise you that I will make her listen to
reason, and that she won't leave you to sleep in the street."

Nicette listened, but she still doubted my ability to obtain her pardon.
Meanwhile, the noise continued, and the door did, in fact, open. Madame
Jérôme appeared on the threshold, wearing a dressing jacket and a
nightcap. I stepped forward to intercede for the girl, who dared not
stir; I was about to begin a sentence which I thought well adapted to
touch a mother's heart, but Madame Jérôme did not give me time.

"So you're the man," she cried, "who brings this boldface home, and
undertakes to preach to me and to teach me how to manage my daughters!
Take that to pay you for your trouble!"

As she spoke, the fruit seller dealt me a buffet that sent me reeling
toward the other side of the street; then she drew back into her shop
and slammed the door in our faces.



IV

MY NEIGHBOR RAYMOND


For five minutes I did not say a word to Nicette. Madame Jérôme's blow
had cooled my zeal in the girl's cause very materially. I could not
forbear reflecting upon the various events of the evening, and I seemed
to detect therein a fatality which made me pay dearly for all my
attempts at seduction.

For following a working girl, the tip of whose finger I had not been
allowed to squeeze, I had been spattered with filth on Rue des Rosiers;
for playing the gallant and making myself agreeable to a
_petite-maîtresse_ who bestowed divers exceedingly soft glances upon me,
I had fallen in with an infernal cab driver, who had driven me to a
strange quarter of the city, a long way from my own home; and lastly,
for consenting to act as the protector of a young flower girl, whom I
undertook to reconcile with her mother, I had received a well-aimed blow
on the head. This last catastrophe seemed to me rank injustice on the
part of Providence; for to take Nicette home to Madame Jérôme was a very
kind action. What nonsense it is to talk about a benefaction never
being wasted! But my cheek began to burn less hotly, and my ill humor
became less pronounced. It was not Nicette's fault that I had received
that blow. I determined to make the best of my predicament and to
console the poor child, whose distress was much augmented by this last
accident.

"You are right, Nicette; your mother is very unkind."

"Oh, yes, monsieur! What did I tell you? I am awful sorry for what
happened to you; but if you hadn't been there, I should have been beaten
much worse than that."

"In that case, it is clear that all is for the best."

"My mother's very quick!"

"That is true."

"She has a light hand."

"I found it rather heavy!"

"She cuffs me for a _yes_ or a _no_; but it's worse than ever, since I
refused Beauvisage. Ah! I am very unhappy! It wouldn't take much to make
me jump into the Canal de l'Ourcq."

"Come, come, be calm; the most urgent thing now is to find out where you
can go to pass the night, as your mother really refuses to admit you.
Have you any relations in this quarter?"

"Mon Dieu! no, not a soul; I have an aunt in Faubourg Saint-Denis; but
she wouldn't take me in--she'd be too much afraid of having a row with
my mother."

"Madame Jérôme is a general terror, I see."

"Alas! yes."

"Where will you sleep, then?"

"At your house, monsieur, with your permission; or else in the street."

There was in Nicette's suggestion such childlike innocence, or such
shameless effrontery, that I could not restrain a start of surprise. It
is difficult to believe in the innocence and naïveté of a flower girl.
And yet, in her language there was something so sincere, so persuasive;
and on the other hand, her eyes, whose expression was so soft and tender
when they were not bathed in tears, her little retroussé nose, the way
in which she had seized my arm, and, lastly, this barefaced proposal to
pass the night in a young man's apartment--all these things threw my
mind into a state of uncertainty to which I tried in vain to put an end.

However, I was obliged to make up my mind. Nicette was gazing at me,
awaiting my answer; her eyes implored me. My heart was weak.

"Come with me," I said at last.

"Ah! monsieur, how good you are! how I thank you!"

Again she took possession of my arm, and we started for Rue
Saint-Florentin. This time we made the journey in silence. I was musing
upon the singularity of the adventure that had happened to me. The idea
of my taking a street corner huckster home with me, to sleep in my
rooms! And remember, reader, that I lived on Rue Saint-Florentin, near
the Tuileries; you will divine, from that detail, that I was something
of a swell, but a swell who followed grisettes. Oh! it was simply as a
pastime. I was not in the least conceited, I beg you to believe; and if
an impulse which I could not control drew me constantly toward the fair
sex, and led me to overlook rank and social station, I may say with
Boileau:

    "'Twas destiny's fault!"

But I was not one of those persons, either, who defy all the
proprieties; I did not wish to be looked upon, in the house in which I
lived, as a man who consorted with the first woman he chanced to meet;
and in that house, as everywhere, there were malicious tongues! I had,
in particular, a certain neighbor. Ah!----

It was necessary, therefore, to keep Nicette out of sight. I hoped that
that would be an easy matter, so far as going in was concerned. It was
at least one o'clock in the morning, and my concierge would be in bed;
when that was the case, if anyone knocked, she simply inquired, from her
bed: "Who's that?" and then pulled the cord, without disturbing herself
further. So that Nicette could go up to my room unseen. But as to her
going away the next day! Madame Dupont, my concierge, was inquisitive
and talkative; she was like all concierges--I need say no more. The
whole household would hear of the adventure; I should be unmercifully
laughed at; it would be known in society. It was most embarrassing; but
I could not leave Nicette in the street. Poor child! the watch would
find her and take her to the police station, as a vagrant! And I
honestly believed that she was a respectable girl; I almost believed
that she was innocent; however, that would appear in due time.

We crossed the bridges, followed the quays, and at last drew near our
destination. Nicette did not walk so rapidly as at first; she was tired
out by her evening's work; and I--well, I leave it to you to guess!

"Here we are!" I said at last.

"I'm glad of it; for I'm awful tired."

"And I, too, I assure you. I must knock."

"Oh! what a beautiful street! and what a fine house!"

"You mustn't make any noise when we go upstairs, Nicette; you mustn't
speak!"

"No, monsieur, never fear; I don't want to wake anybody up."

"Sh! The door is open."

Madame Dupont asked who was there; I replied, and we entered the house;
the hall light was out and it was very dark; that was what I wanted.

"Give me your hand," I whispered to Nicette, "and let me lead you; but,
above all things, no noise."

"All right, monsieur."

I led her to the staircase, which we ascended as softly as possible. I
wished with all my heart that we were safely in my rooms. If anyone
should open a door, I could not conceal Nicette; I had not even a cloak
to throw over her, for it was summer.

I lived on the fourth floor; to obtain a desirable bachelor's apartment
on Rue Saint-Florentin, one had to pay a dear price, even if it were
very high. On the same landing with me lived a curious mortal of some
thirty-six to forty years, whose face would have been insignificant but
for the fact that his absurd airs and pretensions made it comical. He
was of medium height, and strove to assume an agile and sprightly gait
and bearing, despite an embonpoint which became more pronounced every
day. He had four thousand francs a year, which left him free to devote
himself to the business of other people. Moreover, he was poet, painter,
musician; combining all the talents, as he said and believed, but in
reality a butt for the ridicule of both men and women, especially the
latter; but he insinuated himself everywhere, none the less, attended
every party, every ball, every concert; because in society everybody is
popular who arouses laughter, whether it be by his wit or by his
absurdities.

We had just arrived at my landing, when Monsieur Raymond suddenly opened
his door and appeared before us in his shirt and cotton nightcap, with a
candle in one hand, and a key in the other.

I did not know whether to step forward or to turn back. Monsieur Raymond
stared with all his eyes, and Nicette laughed aloud.

I was determined that he should not, at all events, have time to
scrutinize the girl; I fumbled hastily in my pocket for my key, but it
was entangled in my handkerchief; I could not get it out, I could not
find the lock; the more I tried to hurry, the less I succeeded; it
seemed that the devil was taking a hand!

Monsieur Raymond, observing my embarrassment, walked toward me with a
mischievous smile and held his light under my nose, saying:

"Allow me to give you some light, neighbor; you can't see, you are at
one side of the lock."

I would gladly have given him the blow that Madame Jérôme had given me!
but I realized that I must restrain myself; so I thanked him, unlocked
my door, and entered, pushing Nicette before me. I closed the door,
paying no heed to Monsieur Raymond's offer to light my candle for me.

But suddenly an idea came into my mind; I took a candle, opened my door
again, and ran after Raymond, seizing him by his shirt just as he was
entering a certain place. I put my finger to my lips, with a mysterious
air.

"What's the matter?" queried Raymond, extricating his shirt from my
hand.

"Don't mention the fact that you saw Agathe with me to-night."

"A--Agathe! What do you say? Why, you are joking!"

"We have just come from a masquerade; she disguised herself for it,
and----"

"Do you mean to say that there are masquerade balls in July?"

"There are if anyone chooses to give one; this was for somebody's
birthday."

"But that girl----"

"She is well disguised, isn't she? I'll bet that you didn't recognize
her at the first glance. The costume--the rouge--they change one's whole
appearance."

"Faith! I confess that I didn't see even the slightest resemblance."

"I rely on your discretion. To-morrow I will tell you what my motive is;
you will laugh with me at the adventure. Au revoir, neighbor;
good-night! Allow me to light my candle, now."

"Much pleasure to you, Monsieur Dorsan!"

I left Raymond and returned to my room. My neighbor was not fully
persuaded that it was Agathe whom he had seen; but I had at least, by my
stratagem, reserved for myself an answer to his gossip; and if he should
talk, I could easily persuade people that he was asleep and had not seen
things as they were.

"But," you will say, "by that falsehood you destroyed another woman's
reputation. Who is this Agathe whom you put forward so inconsiderately?"

This Agathe is my last mistress, with whom I had broken only a short
time before; she is a milliner, very lively, very alluring, and very
wanton! She had sometimes done me the honor to come to me to ask
hospitality for the night; my neighbor had often seen her going in and
out of my room, so that once more or less would do her no harm. Her
reputation was in no danger, as you see.

Now that I have told you about Mademoiselle Agathe, with whom Monsieur
Raymond did not know that I had fallen out, not being in my confidence,
I return to Nicette, who is in my apartment, waiting for me. It was
half-past one in the morning; but there is time for a great deal between
that hour and daybreak! My heart beat fast! Faith! I had no idea what
the night would bring to pass.



V

WHAT THE NIGHT BROUGHT TO PASS


"What a funny man that is!" said Nicette, as I entered the room with a
light. "When I saw that figure, in his shirt, that neckerchief tied with
a lover's knot, that big nose, and those surprised eyes, I couldn't keep
from laughing."

"I must confess, Mademoiselle Nicette, that you cause me a lot of
trouble!"

"Do I, monsieur? Oh! I am so sorry!"

"But here we are in my rooms at last, God be praised! I don't quite
know, though, how you are to go out!"

"Pardine! through the door, as I came."

"That's easy for you to say! However, we will see, when to-morrow
comes."

Nicette looked about her. She examined my apartment, my furniture; she
followed me into each room; I had only three, by the way: a small
reception room, a bedroom, and a study where I worked, or read, or
played the piano, or did whatever else I chose.

"Sit down and rest," I said.

"Oh! in a moment, monsieur; you see----"

She glanced at my couch and my easy-chairs; she seemed to be afraid to
go near them. I could not help smiling at her embarrassment.

"Doesn't the apartment please you?" I inquired.

"Oh! yes, indeed, monsieur! but it's all so fine and so shiny! I'm
afraid of spoiling something."

"You need not be afraid."

I led her to the couch, and almost forced her to sit down by my side.

"I am alone, you see, Nicette; you have come to a bachelor's quarters."

"Oh! I don't care about that, monsieur; at any rate, I didn't have any
choice."

"Then you're not afraid to pass the night with me?"

"No, monsieur; I see that you're an honorable man, and that I needn't be
afraid of anything in your rooms."

"Oho! she sees that I am an honorable man!" said I to myself; "in that
case, I must have a very captivating countenance. However, I am not
ill-looking; some women say that I am rather handsome; and this girl
isn't afraid to pass the night with a good-looking bachelor! Perhaps she
thinks me ugly."

These reflections annoyed me; while making them, I looked at Nicette
more closely than I had hitherto been able to do. She was really very
good-looking; a face at once piquant and sweet, and with some
character--absolutely unlike what we ordinarily find in a flower girl:
she had the freshness and charm of her flowers, and she was the daughter
of a fruit peddler, of Mother Jérôme! There are such odd contrasts in
nature; however, I could but acknowledge that chance had been very
favorable to me this time. I began to be quite reconciled to my
evening's entertainment; I forgot the grisette and the
_petite-maîtresse_, to think solely of the charming face at my side.

As I gazed at the girl, I had moved nearer to her; I softly passed my
arm about her waist; and the more favorable the examination, the more
tightly I pressed the red gown.

Nicette did not speak, but she seemed agitated; her bosom rose and fell
more frequently, her respiration became shorter; she kept her eyes on
the floor. Suddenly she extricated herself from my embrace, rose, and
asked me, in a trembling voice, where she was to pass the night.

That question embarrassed me; I admit that I had not yet thought of
that. I glanced at Nicette; her lovely eyes were still fastened on the
floor. Was she afraid to meet mine? Did she love me already? and----
Nonsense! that infernal self-esteem of mine was off at a gallop!

"We have time enough to think about that, Nicette. Do you feel sleepy?"

"Oh, no! it ain't that, monsieur."

"Ah! so there's another reason, is there?"

"I don't want to be in your way; you told me you was tired, too."

"That has all passed away; I have forgotten it."

"Never mind, monsieur; show me where I can pass the night. I'll go into
one of the other rooms. I shall be very comfortable on a chair, and----"

"Pass the night on a chair! Nonsense! you mustn't think of such a
thing!"

"Oh, yes! I ain't hard to suit, monsieur."

"No matter; I shan't consent to that. But sit down, Nicette, there's no
hurry now. Come and sit down. Are you afraid to sit beside me?"

"No, monsieur."

But she took her seat at the other end of the couch. Her blushing face
and her confusion betrayed a part of her sensations. I myself was
embarrassed--think of it! with a flower girl! Indeed, it was just
because she was a flower girl that I didn't know where to begin. I give
you my word, reader, that I should have made much more rapid progress
with a _grande dame_ or a grisette.

"Do you know, Nicette, that you are charming?"

"I have been told so, monsieur."

"You must have many men making love to you?"

"Oh! there's some that try to fool me when they come to buy flowers of
me; but I don't listen to 'em."

"Why do you think that they are trying to fool you?"

"Oh! because they're swells--like you."

"So, if I should mention the word _love_ to you, you would think----"

"That you was making fun of me. Pardi! that's plain enough!"

That beginning was not of good augury. No matter, I continued the
attack, moving gradually nearer the girl.

"I swear to you, Nicette, that I never make fun of anyone!"

"All men say that!"

"Besides, you are quite pretty enough to arouse a genuine passion."

"Yes, a passion of a fortnight! Oh! I ain't to be caught in that trap."

"On my honor, you are too pretty for a flower girl."

"Bah! you are joking."

"If you chose, Nicette, you could find something better to do than
that."

"No, monsieur, no; I don't want to sell anything but bouquets. Oh! I
ain't vain. I refused Beauvisage, who's got money, and who'd have given
me calico dresses, caps _à la glaneuse_, and gilt chains; but all those
things didn't tempt me. When I don't like a person, nothing can make me
change my mind."

She was not covetous; so that it was necessary to win her regard in
order to obtain anything from her. I determined to win her regard. But I
have this disadvantage when I try to make myself agreeable: I never know
what I am saying; that was why I sat for ten minutes without speaking a
word to Nicette, contenting myself with frequent profound sighs and an
occasional cough, to revive the conversation. But Nicette was very
innocent, or perhaps she meant to laugh at me when she said with great
sang-froid:

"Have you got a bad cold, monsieur?"

I blushed at my idiocy; the idea of being so doltish and timid with a
flower seller! Really, I hardly recognized myself.

And the better to recognize myself, I put my arms about Nicette and
tried to draw her into my lap.

"Let go of me, monsieur; let go, I beg you!"

"Why, what harm are we doing, Nicette?"

"I don't want you to squeeze me so tight."

"One kiss, and I'll let you go."

"Just one, all right."

Her consent was necessary, for she was very well able to defend herself;
she was strong and could make a skilful use of her hands and knees; and
as I was not accustomed to contests of that sort, in which our society
ladies give us little practice, I began to think that I should find it
difficult to triumph over the girl.

She gave me permission to kiss her, and I made the most of it; trusting
in my promise, she allowed me to take that coveted kiss, and offered me
her fresh, rosy cheek, still graced with the down of youth and
innocence.

But I desired a still greater privilege; I longed to steal from a lovely
pair of lips a far sweeter kiss. Nicette tried, but too late, to prevent
me. I took one, I took a thousand. Ah! how sweet were those kisses that
I imprinted on Nicette's lips! Saint-Preux found Julie's bitter; but I
have never detected a trace of bitterness in a pretty woman's kisses; to
be sure, I am no Saint-Preux, thank heaven!

A consuming flame coursed through my veins. Nicette shared my emotion; I
could tell by the expression of her eyes, by the quivering of her whole
frame. I sought to take advantage of her confusion to venture still
further; but she repulsed me, she tore herself from my arms, rushed to
the door, and was already on the landing, when I overtook her and caught
her by her skirt.

"Where in heaven's name are you going, Nicette?"

"I am going away, monsieur."

"What's that?"

"Yes, monsieur, I am going away; I see now that I mustn't pass the night
here in your rooms; I wouldn't have believed that you'd take advantage
of my trouble to---- But since I made a mistake, I'm going away."

"Stop, for heaven's sake! Where would you go?"

"Oh! I don't know about that; but it don't make any difference! I see
that I'd be safer in the street than alone here with you."

I felt that I deserved that reproach. The girl was virtuous; she had
placed herself under my protection without distrust; she had asked me
for hospitality, and I was about to take advantage of her helpless
plight, to seduce her! That was contemptible behavior. But I may say, in
my own justification, that I did not know Nicette, and that, for all the
artless simplicity of her language, a young girl who suggests to a man
that she pass the night under his roof certainly lays herself open to
suspicion, especially in Paris, where innocent young maids are so rare.

She still held the door ajar, and I did not relax my grasp of her skirt.
I looked in her face, and saw great tears rolling down her cheeks. Poor
child! it was I who caused them to fall! She seemed prettier to me than
ever; I was tempted to throw myself at her feet and beg her to forgive
me. But what! I, on my knees before a street peddler! Do not be alarmed:
I did not offend the proprieties to that extent.

"I beg you to remain, Nicette," I said, at last.

"No, monsieur; I made a mistake about you; I must go."

"Listen to me; in the first place, you can't go away from the house
alone; at this time of night the concierge opens the door only to those
who give their names."

"Oh! but I remember your name; it's Dorsan."

"It isn't enough to give my name; she would know that it wasn't my
voice."

"All right; then I'll stay in the courtyard till morning."

"Excellent; everybody will see you; and think of the remarks and
tittle-tattle of all the cooks of the quarter! It's bad enough that that
infernal Raymond should have seen you. Come back to my rooms, Nicette; I
promise, yes, I swear, to behave myself and not to torment you."

She hesitated; she looked into my face, and doubtless my eyes told her
all that was taking place in my mind; for she closed the door of the
landing, and smiled at me, saying:

"I believe you, and I'll stay."

In my joy I was going to kiss her again; but I checked myself, and I did
well: oaths amount to so little!

"But, monsieur," she said, "we can't pass the night sitting in your big
easy-chair."

She was quite right; that would have been too dangerous.

"You will sleep in my bed," I replied, "and I will pass the night on the
sofa in my study. No objections, mademoiselle; I insist upon it. You
will be at liberty to double-lock my study door; you can go to sleep
without the slightest fear. Does that suit you?"

"Yes, monsieur."

We went back into my bedroom; I lighted another candle, and carried the
couch into my study, with Nicette's assistance. I confess that that
operation was a painful one to me. However, it was done at last.

"Now you may go to bed and sleep in peace. Good-night, Nicette!"

"Good-night, monsieur!"

I took my candle and retired to my study, closing the door behind me.
There we were, in our respective quarters. I blew out the candle and
threw myself on the couch. If only I could sleep; time passes so quickly
then! And yet, we sleep about a third part of our lives! and we are
always glad to plunge into that oblivion, albeit we stand in fear of
death, which is simply a never-ending sleep, during which it is certain
that one is not disturbed by bad dreams!

Sleep, indeed! In vain did I stretch myself out, and twist and turn in
every direction. I could not sleep; it was impossible. I concluded to
resign myself to the inevitable, and I began to recall the incidents of
my extraordinary evening; I thought of Caroline, of the charming woman
at the theatre, of that infernal cabman. I tried to put Nicette out of
my thoughts; but she constantly returned; I strove in vain to banish
her. The idea that she was close at hand, within a few feet of me, that
only a thin partition separated me from her--that idea haunted me! When
I thought that I might be beside her, that I might hold her in my arms
and give her her first lessons in love and pleasure--then I lost my
head, my blood boiled. Only Nicette's consent was needed to make us
happy, and she would not give it! To be sure, that same happiness might
have results most embarrassing to her.

I had the fidgets in my legs. I rose and paced the floor, but very
softly; perhaps she was asleep, and I would not wake her. Poor child!
she had had trouble enough during the evening, and I was afraid that
still greater trouble was in store for her; for if her mother persisted
in her refusal to take her in, what would she do? Until that moment, I
had not given a thought to her future.

But I had not heard the key turn in the lock; therefore, she had not
locked herself in. That was strange; evidently she relied on my oath.
What imprudence, to believe in a young man's promises!

Was she asleep or not? that was what tormented me. For half an hour I
stood close against the door, turning first one ear, then the other, and
listening intently; but I could hear nothing. I looked through the
keyhole; there was a light in the room; was it from caution, or
forgetfulness?

But she had not locked the door. Ah! perhaps she had locked it without
my hearing it. It was very easy to satisfy myself on that point. I
turned the knob very gently, and the door opened. I stopped, fearing
that I had made a noise. But I heard nothing. If I could see her for a
moment asleep, see her in bed--for there, and only there can one judge a
woman's beauty fairly. I leaned forward; the candle stood on the
commode, at some little distance from the bed. I stepped into the room,
holding my breath, and stood by her side. She was not undressed; I might
have guessed as much. I turned to walk away. Ah! those miserable shoes!
they squeaked, and Nicette awoke. I determined to change my shoemaker.

"Do you want anything, monsieur?" she asked.

"No; that is to say, yes, I--I was looking for a book; but I have found
it."

I returned quickly to my study, feeling that I must have cut a sorry
figure. The door was closed, and I was not tempted to open it again. Ah!
how long that night seemed to me! The day came at last!



VI

MADEMOISELLE AGATHE


It was long after daybreak. People were already going and coming in the
house, and I had not yet ventured to wake Nicette. She was sleeping so
soundly! and the preceding day had been a day of tempest, after which
rest was essential. But I heard a movement at last; she rose, opened the
door, and came toward me, smiling.

"Monsieur, will you allow me to kiss you?"

I understood: that was my reward for my continence during the night, and
it was well worth it. She kissed me with evident pleasure, and I began
to feel the enjoyment that one is likely to feel when one has no
occasion for self-reproach.

"Now, Nicette, let us talk seriously; but, no, let us breakfast first of
all; we can talk quite as well at table. You must feel the need of
something to eat, do you not?"

"Yes, monsieur, I should like some breakfast right well."

"I always keep something on hand for unexpected guests."

"Tell me where everything is, monsieur, and I'll set the table."

"On the sideboard yonder, and in the drawers."

"All right, all right!"

She ran to fetch what we required. In two minutes the table was set. I
admired Nicette's grace and activity; a little maid-servant like that,
I thought, would suit me infinitely better than my concierge, Madame
Dupont, who took care of my rooms. But, apropos of Madame Dupont,
suppose she should appear? We had time enough, however; for it was only
seven o'clock, and the concierge, knowing that I was a little inclined
to be lazy, never came up before eight. So that we could breakfast at
our ease.

"Let us talk a little, Nicette. I am interested in your future; you
cannot doubt that."

"You have proved it, monsieur."

"What are you going to do when you leave me?"

"Go back to my mother."

"That is quite right; but suppose she still refuses to let you in?"

"I will try to find work; I will go out to service, if I must; perhaps I
shall be able to get in somewhere."

"Undoubtedly; but who can say what sort of people you will encounter,
and what hands you will fall into? Young and pretty as you are, you will
find it harder than others might to get a suitable place, if, as I
assume, you mean to remain virtuous."

"Oh! indeed I do mean to remain virtuous, monsieur."

"I know what men are; they are almost all libertines; marriage puts no
curb on their passions. Wherever you take service, your masters will
make you some unequivocal proposals, and will maltreat you if you reject
them."

"Then I will leave the house; I'll hire myself out to a single lady."

"Old maids are exacting, and keep their young servants in close
confinement, for fear that they may walk the streets and make
acquaintances. Young women receive much company, and will set you a
dangerous example."

"How good you talk this morning!"

"Don't wonder at that; a drunkard is a connoisseur in wine, a welcher in
horses, a painter in pictures, a libertine in methods of seduction. For
the very reason that I am not virtuous, I am better able than another to
warn you of the risks you are about to run. Experience teaches. You did
not yield to me, and I desire to preserve you for the future. Don't be
grateful to me for it; very likely, it is simply a matter of self-esteem
on my part, for I feel that it would be distressing to me to see the
profanation of a flower that I have failed to pluck. You understand me,
don't you, Nicette?"

"Yes, yes, monsieur! I'm no prude, and I know what you mean! But don't
be afraid! How could I give another what I refused you?"

She said this with evident feeling and sincerity. Clearly she liked me;
I could not doubt it; she was all the more praiseworthy for having
resisted me.

"After all, my dear girl, I don't see why you shouldn't continue to sell
flowers; it is better suited to you than domestic service."

"That is true, monsieur, but----"

"I understand you. Here, Nicette, take this purse; you may accept it
without a blush, for it is not the price of your dishonor. I am simply
doing you a favor, lending you a little money, if you like that better."

"Oh! monsieur, money--from a young man! What will people think of that?"

"You must not say from whom you got it."

"When a girl suddenly has money in her possession, people think, they
imagine that----"

"Let the gossips chatter, and force them to hold their tongues by the
way you behave."

"My mother----"

"A mother who refuses to support her child has no right to demand an
account of her actions."

"But this purse--you are giving me too much, monsieur."

"The purse contains only three hundred francs; I won it two days ago at
écarté. Really, Nicette, if you knew how easily money is lost at cards,
you would be less grateful to me for this trifle."

"A trifle! three hundred francs! enough to set me up in business! Why,
monsieur, it's a treasure!"

"Yes, to you who know the full value of money, and use it judiciously.
But things are valuable only so long as they are in their proper place."

"All this means, I suppose, that you are very rich?"

"It means that, having been brought up in affluence, accustomed to
gratify all my whims, I am not familiar enough with the value of money.
This three hundred francs that I offer you, I should probably lose at
cards without a pang; so take the money, Nicette; you can give it back
to me, if the day ever comes when I need it."

"Oh, yes! whenever you want it, monsieur; everything I have will always
be at your service."

"I don't doubt it, my dear friend; so that business is settled."

"Yes, monsieur; if my mother sends me away, I'll hire a small room, I'll
buy flowers; I'll be saving and orderly, and perhaps some day I'll get
where I can have a nice little shop of my own."

"Then you will marry according to your taste, and you'll be happy."

"Perhaps so! but let's not talk about that, monsieur."

"Well! time flies; it's nearly eight o'clock, and you must go, Nicette."

"Yes, monsieur, that is true; whenever you say the word. But I--is----"

"What do you want to say?"

"Shan't I see you again?"

"Yes, indeed; I hope to see you often. If you move to another quarter,
you must leave your new address with my concierge."

"Very well, monsieur; I won't fail."

The child was in evident distress; she turned her face away to conceal
her tears. Could it be that she was sorry to leave me? What nonsense! We
had known each other only since the night before! And yet, I too was
unhappy at parting from her.

She was certain to meet one or more servants on the stairs; but what was
she to do? there was no other way out. She promised to go down very
rapidly, and to hurry under the porte cochère.

I kissed her affectionately--too affectionately for a man who had given
her three hundred francs; it was too much like taking compensation for
the gift.

I opened the door leading to the landing, and stood aside to let Nicette
go out first, when a roar of laughter made me look up. That fiendish
Raymond's door was open, and he stood inside with a young woman; that
young woman was Agathe!

It was a contemptible trick. I recognized Raymond's prying curiosity and
Agathe's spirit of mischief. They were on the watch for me, no doubt;
possibly they had been on sentry-go since daybreak. But how did it
happen that Agathe was there? She had never spoken to Raymond. I swore
that he should pay me for his perfidy.

Nicette looked at me, trying to read in my eyes whether she should go
forward or back. It was useless to pretend any longer; perhaps, indeed,
if there were any further delay, Monsieur Raymond would succeed in
collecting a large part of the household on my landing. So I pushed
Nicette toward the stairs.

"Adieu, Monsieur Dorsan!" she said sadly.

"Adieu, adieu, my child! I hope that your mother---- I will see--you
shall hear--perhaps we may--adieu!"

I had no idea what I was saying; anger and vexation impeded my
utterance. But Nicette, who was moved by but one sentiment,--regret at
leaving me,--wiped the tears from her eyes with a corner of her apron.

"Ha! ha! this is really sentimental!" laughed Mademoiselle Agathe, as
she watched the girl go downstairs; "what! tears and sighs! Ha! ha! it's
enough to make one die of laughing! But I should be much obliged to you,
monsieur, if you would tell me how it happened that I was at a ball with
you last night, and disguised, without knowing anything about it. Well!
why don't you speak? don't you hear me?"

My attention was engrossed by another object. My eyes were fastened on
my neighbor, and my steadfast gaze evidently embarrassed him; for, in a
moment, I saw that he turned as red as fire; he began to shift about in
his confusion, tried to smile, and at last returned to his own room,
taking care to lock the door.

"Ah! Monsieur Raymond, I owe you one for this! we shall meet again!" I
said, walking toward his door. Then I turned to answer Mademoiselle
Agathe, but she had entered my apartment; and as she was perfectly
familiar with the locality, I found her in my little study, nonchalantly
reclining on the sofa.

"Do tell me, Eugène, what all this means? Mon Dieu! how things are
changed about! the couch in the study; the bed partly tumbled; the
remains of a breakfast. What happened here last night?"

"Nothing, I assure you."

"Oh! nothing out of the ordinary course, I understand that. But this
couch puzzles me. Tell me about it, Eugène, my little Eugène. Because
you are no longer my lover is no reason why we shouldn't be friends."

You are aware, reader, that Mademoiselle Agathe is the milliner with
whom I had fallen out because I discovered that she was unfaithful to
me. In fact, it was my vexation on her account that had led me to
indulge in those melancholy reflections during my stroll along the
boulevard on the preceding evening. But since then my susceptible heart
had experienced so many new sensations, that the memory of Agathe's
treachery had vanished altogether; I had ceased to regret her,
consequently I was no longer angry with her. I realized that she was
justified in joking me about my serious air, which was not at all
consistent with our former liaison, and which might have led one to
think that I expected to find a Penelope in a young milliner. So I
assumed a more cheerful demeanor, and questioned her in my turn.

"How did you happen to be there on my landing, talking with Raymond,
whom you could never endure?"

"But this couch--this couch here in the study?"

"You shall know all about it, but answer me first."

"Oh! I've no objection; I went into the country yesterday with
Gerville--you know, the young government clerk who lives on the floor
below."

"Yes, my successor, in fact."

"Your successor, call him so. We returned late; I was very tired,
and----"

"You passed the night with him; that's a matter of course, and perfectly
natural, in my opinion. Well?"

"Why, I had to go away this morning. At half-past six, I crept softly
downstairs and was just passing through the porte cochère, when I saw
Raymond standing guard at the corner. He scrutinized me, and smiled
slyly.--'On my word,' he said, 'I didn't believe it was you; you were
perfectly disguised; the fishwoman's costume is very becoming to you,
and yet it changes you amazingly. I'd have sworn that Monsieur Dorsan
was lying to me.'--I listened, without understanding a word; but your
name and what he said aroused my curiosity. I suspected some mistake, so
I forced Raymond to tell me all he knew; I haven't stopped laughing at
it yet. Raymond was delighted when he found out that it wasn't I who was
with you. I asked him if he was certain that your new victim was still
in the house. He said he was; for he had passed most of the night on the
landing, and had gone on duty at the porte cochère at daybreak. So I
came up with him, to make the tableau more interesting; and we waited at
least an hour, until it was your good pleasure to open your door. We
would have stayed there till night, I assure you, rather than not
satisfy our mutual curiosity."

"Gad! what a fellow that Raymond is! An old woman couldn't have done
better."

"Well, I've told my story; now it's your turn."

"What do you want me to tell you? You saw a girl leave my rooms, eh?"

"Yes, she was very pretty; a face that takes your eye; rather a large
mouth. But that costume! What, Monsieur Eugène! you, a dandy of dandies,
caught by a round cap! Why, I no longer recognize you!"

"For what I propose to do, mademoiselle, the question of cap or hat is
of no consequence at all."

"Of course, you don't propose to do anything, because you have done
enough."

"You are mistaken, Agathe. That is an honest, virtuous girl; she is
nothing to me, and never will be."

"What's that? Oh! it's as plain as a pikestaff: she came here to sleep,
so as not to be afraid of the dark; that's all!--

    "'Go and see if they're coming, Jean!'"

"I realize that appearances are against us; and yet nothing can be more
true than what I tell you. The explanation as to the couch being in the
study is that she slept in my bedroom, and I slept here."

"For ten minutes, very likely; but after that you joined her."

"No; I swear that I did not."

"You'd never have been donkey enough to stay here."

"I understand that, in your eyes, virtue and innocence are the merest
folly."

"Ah! you are not polite, monsieur. But as I have never known you to be
either virtuous or innocent, I may be permitted to express surprise at
your virtuous qualities, which are entirely unfamiliar to me."

"I am not trying to make myself out any better than I am, and I confess
to you frankly that I attempted to triumph over this girl; but her
resistance was so natural, her tears so genuine, her entreaties so
touching, that I was really deeply moved and almost repented of what I
had tried to do."

"That is magnificent; and I presume that the virtuous and innocent
orange girl came to your rooms in order that her resistance might be the
better appreciated.--Ha! ha! what a fairy tale!"

"You may believe what you choose. It is none the less true that Nicette
is virtuous and that she isn't an orange girl."

"Oh! pardon me, monsieur, if I have unintentionally slighted your
charmer. Mademoiselle Nicette probably sells herring at the Marché des
Innocents?"

"No, mademoiselle; she sells nothing but flowers."

"Flowers! Why, that is superb! Ah! so she's a flower girl! I am no
longer surprised at your consideration for her."

"She certainly deserves more consideration than many women who wear
fashionable bonnets."

"Or who make them, eh?"

"The argument is even stronger as to them."

"Monsieur is vexed because I venture to doubt the virtuous morals of a
girl who comes, very innocently no doubt, to sleep with a young man, who
has himself turned Cato in twenty-four hours! Look you, Eugène, I don't
care what you say, it isn't possible."

"I shall say nothing more, because I attach no value to your opinion."

"Again! No matter, let's make peace; and I will believe, if it will give
you pleasure, that your friend was the Maid of Orleans."

Mademoiselle Agathe came to me and kissed me; she was almost on my
knees; she embraced me very lovingly, and I believe that it rested with
me to betray my successor, but I had no desire so to do. My mind was
still full of Nicette; I was angry with the woman who refused to believe
in her innocence and virtue, and who made sport of my heroic behavior.
When one has had to make such a mighty effort to do a good deed, the
person who seeks to rob us of our satisfaction therein is always
unwelcome. So that I received Mademoiselle Agathe's caress very coolly.

At that, the young milliner took offence in her turn, although she loved
me no more than I loved her; probably she had never loved me; but in
many people self-esteem takes the place of love and, of itself alone,
gives birth to jealousy. Agathe put on her shawl, which she had laid
aside when she came in, tied her bonnet strings, and gave me a courtesy
accompanied by a smile in which she tried to cast an expression of
irony, but in which anger and vexation were clearly marked.

"Adieu, monsieur! I understand that the events of last night must have
fatigued you; you need rest, and a little solitude; I leave you to dream
at your leisure of the brilliant conquest which will furnish you with
constant enjoyment from this time on! I beg you to be good enough to
give my address to Mademoiselle _de_ Nicette; I shall be delighted to
have her custom, in case she should think of changing her style of
dress; unless, however, you intend to take her under your protection in
that modest gown. I can understand that, to a sensitive and loving
heart, the round cap of virtue is preferable to the toque of frivolity."

And Mademoiselle Agathe took her leave, humming:

    "'When one knows how to love and please,
      What else need one desire?'"



VII

A WORD ABOUT MYSELF


Agathe had been gone for a long while, and I was still in my study,
thinking of the past evening and night. Somebody opened the door of my
apartment: it was my concierge, Madame Dupont, coming to put my room to
rights, as usual. As she came in, the good soul did not fail to glance
at everything within range; and a woman will see more at a glance than
we men can see in fifteen minutes.

Fool that I was! I had forgotten to put the couch where it belonged!
that wretched Agathe was responsible for that! But when all was said and
done, I was master in my own apartment; I could arrange my furniture as
I pleased. I was not in the habit of talking with my concierge, and
Madame Dupont knew it. Nevertheless, I noticed that she hovered about me
and tried to enter into conversation.

"It looks as though 'twill be a lovely day; that's very lucky, seeing
it's Sunday; there are so many people who don't have any other day for
an outing!"

"Yes," I assented, "it is very fortunate."

"Ah! monsieur has moved his furniture, I see. Does monsieur mean to
leave this couch in his study?"

"No; you may put it back where it belongs; I'll help you."

"I see; monsieur has been trying an experiment?"

"Yes, it was an experiment."

"That's like my daughter, who's forever moving her son's cradle from one
place to another. Last night, she put it beside the bed; but my
son-in-law wouldn't have it there, because the child's nearly four years
old, and it is embarrassing for a husband and wife, when---- Why, your
bed's hardly tumbled at all, monsieur!"

"I suppose that I didn't move much."

"Monsieur has already breakfasted, apparently? Monsieur was hungry
earlier to-day than usual."

I made no reply, but dressed to go out, being impatient to leave the
house. Madame Dupont stooped and picked up something, which she brought
to me with a mischievous air.

"Here's a little cross _à la_ Jeannette, monsieur, that I just found
beside your bed."

"Ah! give it to me, Madame Dupont, give it to me; I know what it is, I
bought it yesterday. I have got to send it to someone; it's to go into
the country, to our farmer's daughter."

"It's a pretty little cross; but I shouldn't think it was new."

"You don't know what you're talking about, Madame Dupont."

And I hastily put the cross in my pocket, to hide it from the glances of
that accursed concierge, who, finding that I no longer replied to her,
talked on all alone, in order to keep the conversation alive.

"They say the girl was very pretty, and that she was crying! That's a
strange thing."

"What girl are you talking about?"

"A little thing--a sort of--faith! I don't know just what she was, for I
didn't see her. To be sure, she passed my lodge, but she went by so
quick! brrr! like a bomb!"

"Who told you anything about her?"

"Madame Martin, Madame Bertin's cook, who saw her when she went
downstairs to get her milk."

"Where did the girl come from?"

"Oh!--I--they--that is--I don't know anything about it, monsieur."

The tone in which Madame Dupont told me that she knew nothing satisfied
me that she did know a great deal. Raymond had probably tattled to
Madame Martin, and she to the concierge. And then the couch, and the
gilt cross: I had certainly become the byword of the whole house! Madame
Bertin would undoubtedly be the first one to hear about it, and Madame
Bertin was the mother of two pretty daughters, whose esteem I was most
anxious to retain. And yet it was a generous action, a sublime action
when performed by a young man, which was likely to injure me in the
opinion of many people. Ah! how untrustworthy are appearances!

I was about to put an end to the chatter of my concierge by leaving my
lodgings, when she detained me.

"By the way, monsieur, I beg your pardon--I quite forgot--I have
something for you."

"What is it, pray?"

"I had entirely forgotten it; that girl is on my brain. It's a letter."

"A letter! who gave it to you?"

"The postman, monsieur; he brought it last night; you'd gone out, and
when you came home it was very late and I was in bed; for I couldn't
even see you, and that's how it was that----"

"Morbleu! Madame Dupont, give me the letter, and spare me your
reflections!"

"Here it is, monsieur."

I recognized the postmark and the handwriting: it was from my sister, my
dear Amélie. But that reminds me that I ought to have told you before
this who I am, where I come from, and what my business is. I confess
that it never occurred to me; indeed, I should have been quite capable
of going on to the end without giving you any further information, and
my adventures would have been none the less simple in your eyes; for as
I have not to tell of mysteries, murders, abductions, substitution of
children,--which always produces an excellent effect,--promenades in the
galleries of the West, visits to subterranean caverns, moonlight
visions, encounters in murky caves, etc., etc., I shall have nothing to
explain or disentangle for my dénouement, and shall be constrained, in
all probability, to end as simply as I began.

"But," you will say, "it is always well to know with whom one is
dealing; in fact, it is customary to begin with that."--That is true;
but I care little about doing as others do, and, moreover, it seems to
me that these never-ending stories of births and family anecdotes are
not adapted to afford you much amusement; for that reason, I shall be
very brief.

My name is Eugène Dorsan; I am of a Parisian family; my father was a
king's attorney [_procureur_]; they say _avoué_ now, a title which lends
itself less readily to pleasantry. However, my father was a very
honorable man, so I have always been told, and I have never doubted it.
He earned a great deal of money, to his credit be it said; but he died
young, wherein he made a mistake; especially as his death was the result
of overwork. My mother was left a widow with two children: my sister
Amélie, my senior by a year, and your humble servant. Madame Dorsan was
rich; she was in a position to marry again, but she preferred to retain
her freedom; she was wise both on her own account and on ours; for, in
my opinion, marriage, while a most excellent thing, should be used in
moderation.

My sister and I received a good education. We made the most of it,
especially my sister, who is naturally amiable, kindly, and gentle, and
whose only aim was to satisfy her teachers, and to demonstrate to her
mother her affection and her obedience. For my part, I am no phoenix,
but I have no glaring faults. My predominant passion is the love which
women arouse in me; but as that passion could not develop in my
childhood, it did not impede my progress.

My mother had bought a beautiful country estate near Melun, and we spent
the summer there. Our childhood and youth passed away without accident
or trouble, without any important occurrences, and, I may say also,
without sorrow or tribulation. Indeed, what sources of affliction can
one encounter before the age of fifteen, when one is surrounded by
wealthy and generous kindred?

How I pity the poor wretches reared in poverty by parents whom
misfortune often makes stern and unfeeling! Even in the days of
innocence, they know the afflictions of maturity; what a pitiable
apprenticeship to life!

At the age of sixteen my sister married a young man of twenty-four, a
steady, orderly youth and a tremendous worker, who owned a cotton mill
at Melun. Three years after the wedding, our mother died. She had
economized in the interest of her children, and she left us ten thousand
a year each. Amélie, now Madame Déneterre, and her husband took up their
abode in our country house; and I returned to Paris, partly to seek
diversion from my grief at my mother's death, and partly to complete my
acquaintance with the world.

Six years had passed since then, and I had become so attached to the
seductive capital that I spent only six weeks, in the summer, with my
sister. I had not yet been to her that year, and I assumed that that was
why she was writing to me. That dear sister of mine, knowing that I was
not over-virtuous, was exceedingly anxious that I should marry, in the
hope that that would put an end to my follies; and every summer I found
at her house a new young woman, very pretty and sweet and well bred,
possessed of abundant talents and attractions and a very respectable
dowry. She was presented to me without affectation, but I knew what was
in the air. But, despite the attentions of her parents, the eloquent
sermons from my sister on the joys of wedded life, and the sighs and
sidelong glances of the young lady herself, I took my leave at the end
of six weeks without making a declaration.

"Patience!" my sister would say to her husband; "next year, I'll find
one who will turn his head, I'll wager."

"So be it!" Déneterre would reply tranquilly; "we'll put it off till
next year."

Now, let us read my sister's letter:

     "MY DEAR EUGÈNE:

     "It is the last of July, and you haven't come to see us yet; can it
     be that life in Paris has made you entirely forgetful of the
     relations who love you and think constantly of you and your
     future?----"

My future! Oh, yes! that means another marriage on the carpet. What a
mania it is of Amélie's! always trying to induce me to marry! It is
worse than the conventional guardian of comedy. But let us go on:

     "It seems to me that you must be tired of those numerous conquests,
     of those gallant adventures, of those women who have no other guide
     than pleasure, and who forget you as quickly as they adore
     you.----"

Aha! sarcasm! You are mistaken, my dear sister; I am not tired of making
conquests; those that I make are not all so simple as you think, said I
to myself. But in the provinces people are even more spiteful, more
evil-tongued than in Paris; and since my sister has left the capital,
she takes it upon herself to lecture me. But at heart she is kindness
itself! I cannot be angry with her for constantly thinking of me. But
where was I?

     "As quickly as they adore you. I often hear of you from people who
     come here from Paris; I know that you are more heedless than ever,
     that you think of nothing but your pleasures, that you deceive all
     your mistresses, that they pay you back in your own coin.----"

How well she divines the truth! it is astonishing!

     "We never hear of any sensible action on your part.----"

Ah! my dear sister, if you had known the story of the night I had just
passed! And people slander me, and call me a libertine!--But you were
very, very pretty, Nicette! and I was really entitled to great credit
for my self-restraint.

     "I trust, however, that you are not incorrigible. Come to us very
     soon. We have pretty women here, too; they are modest and virtuous,
     and I should suppose that that would give them an additional
     attraction.----"

Oh, of course! very pretty women! stiff, affected, prudish, or
simpering! And such costumes! In a word, genuine provincials--I need
say no more. As for their virtue, it is possible that--but it is not
safe to trust to appearances, as I know better than most; for I would
have sworn that Nicette was a little wanton.

     "My husband sends a memorandum of a few errands he would like you
     to do for him. He is organizing grand fishing parties for your
     visit, and I look forward with delight to the prospect of embracing
     you.

     "AMÉLIE DÉNETERRE."

I determined to go to Melun--in a few days. There were several business
matters that I must first attend to. Moreover, I should be very glad to
know what Nicette was going to do; I was deeply interested in that young
woman, and I did not propose to lose sight of her.

I left my apartment and was going downstairs; but I could not resist my
desire to speak to my neighbor Raymond. I wished to thank him for his
discretion. I rang at his door; no one answered, but I heard a noise
within. I rang again, and that time the bellrope remained in my hand. He
did not open the door. I felt sure that he had bored a hole in his door
and had seen that it was I. No matter: he could not always avoid me;
meanwhile, that he might know that it was I who had broken his bellrope,
I tied it to my own.

I went downstairs at last; and on the first floor I met Madame Bertin
and her two daughters, going to mass.

I bowed; they returned my bow, but with a frigid air very different from
the amiable greeting they were accustomed to bestow on me. The two young
ladies stood aside without raising their eyes, and the mother's face
wore a glacial expression that made me afraid to speak to her.

"This is the result of the infernal chatter of Raymond and Madame Martin
and the concierge," I thought; "these ladies know that Nicette passed
the night in my rooms; that is to say, the mamma knows it, and that is
why she ordered her daughters to pass me without raising their eyes,
without smiling, and, above all, without speaking to me."

But you will tell me, the milliner also used to pass the night in your
rooms. Ah! that was very different. Agathe was dressed like everybody
else, and nobody noticed her; moreover, there were several people in the
house for whom she made hats; and no one ever knew certainly whom she
was going to see. So that I was able to retain Madame Bertin's good
graces, and was admitted to her society, when Mademoiselle Agathe
honored me with her favors. And now I was tabooed because Nicette, the
pretty flower girl, had passed the night in my rooms. And you know how
it all came about. But the world is made that way; it judges by the
exterior before it knows what is within. Be whatever you choose, but
observe the proprieties; save appearances, and you will be received
everywhere.

These reflections made me angry. I left the house, cursing those people
who see everything in the same light and refuse to depart from the
narrow circle that custom has marked out. I paced the streets angrily, I
dined angrily, I drank my coffee angrily, and my frame of mind had not
changed when, finding myself at the foot of the Champs-Élysées, I sat
down in a chair, the back of which was against a large tree.



VIII

THE MAGIC LANTERN


I had been sitting against the tree for some time; the darkness had
dispersed some of the saunterers; and those who remained plunged deeper
into the cross paths, seeking, as it seemed, by preference the darkest
and least-frequented spots. Doubtless they had their reasons for that. I
do not know precisely what I was thinking about, when I heard heavy
steps approach and stop behind me. I turned and saw a man carrying what
we call a magic lantern. He set his apparatus down against the tree; he
had not seen me, or did not notice me. He lighted his lantern to exhibit
his pictures, whereupon I at once thought of Florian's monkey; the
reminiscence made me laugh, and I prepared to listen to the owner of the
lantern, although I feared that the comparison would be unfavorable to
him.

I heard him mutter between his teeth as he arranged his lights:

"Ah! the hussy! the rascal! where has she been these three hours, since
she left me on the pretext of going to feed the brat? She's playing some
game on me. If it wasn't a show day, how quickly I'd drop the whole
business!--Never mind, Madame Trousquin, I'll find a way to solve my
doubts; and if I see anything crooked, there'll be a sharp and effective
reckoning!"

The poor man was evidently jealous; he swore and stamped and glared from
side to side, but Madame Trousquin did not appear. By way of
compensation, the gleam of the magic lantern attracted a girl and a
young soldier, the latter of whom took his seat close beside the former,
bidding the showman to close the curtain around them. He enveloped them
in an old blue or gray sheet,--it was impossible to distinguish the
color,--and I could not help thinking that a magic lantern may be at
times a very great convenience.

Père Trousquin began his performance, interrupting himself frequently to
swear at his wife, who did not return; and I listened attentively,
although I could see nothing, not being under the curtain; but I had an
idea that the spectators for whom the pictures were being explained were
not looking at them.

"First of all, messieurs and mesdames, you see the sun, the moon, the
stars, and the little fishes. Farther on, the products of the soil, such
as trees, vegetables, animals, caves, waterfalls, rattlesnakes. Pray
examine Monsieur Sun, whom you can't look at because he's so bright; and
Madame Moon, who is full because she's in her first quarter. See those
stars, how fast they travel, as if the devil was carrying 'em
off!--Three hours to put Fifi to bed! Ah! the slut! how I'll make her
dance to-night!--See Venus, glistening like a pinchbeck pin! See the
shepherd's star! The shepherd Tircis, I suppose, seeing what his
reputation is. And there's the Three Kings, who are always together. And
the Chariot, that travels like those you see in the mountains of Russia.
And Mercury and Jupiter. And the Virgin and the Twins. And the Bull and
the Goat. Anybody can understand about them. Do you see the Scales? Do
you see the Scorpion?--a wicked beast he is! All these, messieurs and
mesdames, are planets that determine the nervous _infections_ of the
people born under their _affluence_. The planet Venus is for wanton
women, the Shepherd for good-looking youths, the Three Kings for heroes,
the Chariot for coachmen, Jupiter for roistering blades, Mercury for
apothecaries, the Virgin for little girls, and the Goat for many worthy
gentlemen whom you know. Observe, messieurs and mesdames, in the middle
of that great black cloud, full of stars, between the Bear and the Ram,
you'll see a big, hairy comet, with a tail longer than a fox's. That
brilliant meteor has in all ages announced the end of the world; with
its tail or its head it is capable of overturning our globe, which is
held in place only by a thread, and broiling us all like chestnuts."

At this point, a movement under the curtain led me to surmise that the
comet had aroused great curiosity.

"One moment, messieurs and mesdames, and you'll see what you will see."

Père Trousquin pulled a cord to change the picture, and, after several
very emphatic oaths, resumed his explanation, not changing his voice a
quarter of a tone.

"This, messieurs and mesdames, shows you the interior of the palace of
the great Kin-Kin-Li-King, Emperor of China and King of all the Pekins.
You perceive him seated in his beautiful gilt armchair of state, in full
ceremonial costume, surrounded by learned mandarins and national
guardsmen. He is giving a public audience and receiving petitions from
all the Chinese of the suburbs. Observe, in a corner, that father
leaning on his daughter and a bamboo stick; he has come to demand
justice upon a seducer who has made that poor innocent creature the
mother of five little children, and who feeds them on blows alone. See,
messieurs, how the ill-fated father's features gleam with wrath and
indignation; read the sorrow, pain, and repentance in the girl's eyes.
That man just to the left, wrapped in a brown cloak, with only his nose
visible, is the seducer, awaiting his condemnation. See how pale and
cadaverous his face is, how hollow his eyes, and how tremulous his gait;
well he knows that he will not be let off cheap. Farther on, in the
background----"

A stout female appeared at this juncture, panting for breath, and
interrupted the explanation of the picture. I presumed that it was
Madame Trousquin, and the dialogue that ensued between her and the owner
of the lantern proved to me that my conjecture was well founded.


MONSIEUR TROUSQUIN.

Ah! here you are at last, you cursed street walker!--Farther away, in
the background--(_To his wife._) You'll pay me for this, that's all I've
got to say to you!--Farther away, in the background, that wretched
creature whom the guards are taking away, and who is struggling and
writhing as if he had the colic, is a deserter, who has just deserted
and was going to the enemy's camp on treason bent; his business will
soon be settled; he'll be shot and then hung.


MADAME TROUSQUIN. (_during her husband's explanation_).

Hoity-toity! what are you making so much noise about? Didn't I have to
put Fifi to bed and make the soup? And I'd like to know if it ain't a
good, long walk from the Champs-Élysées to Rue Jean-Pain-Mollet!


MONSIEUR TROUSQUIN.

You lie, I tell you; you went off at five o'clock, and here it is nine.
Where in the devil have you been? Pull the cord.

Madame Trousquin placed on a stool a bowl which she had under her apron,
then assumed her post on that side of the lantern from which the change
of pictures was operated.


MONSIEUR TROUSQUIN.

This, messieurs and mesdames, represents a view of Athens, in
Greece.--(_To his wife._) Put my soup on the charcoal and tell me where
you've been.


MADAME TROUSQUIN.

Why, I've been at home, I tell you, you jealous fool! I met Angélique
and talked with her a minute. Have you much of an audience?


MONSIEUR TROUSQUIN.

Observe the beauty of the sky and water. Observe the palaces, the
columns and temples, built by the Romans; note those magnificent
statues, of which but few fragments remain. See that circus, in which
they used to hold bull fights, to train the young men to be
strong.--(_To his wife._) I'm satisfied that you've been gallivanting
with Grugeon.--See, in the distance, the famous Partiates fighting with
their fists like Englishmen, and playing the game of Siam with a large
roulette table.--(_To his wife._) He asked you to take a glass of beer
in a private room.--That handsome young man you see at the right is
Alcibiades, with Socrates, his teacher, who is teaching him things he
don't know.

While I listened I saw the curtain move more violently, and I heard the
girl say in an undertone:

"Oh! how stupid! Ah! how stupid! I tell you I won't!"

Père Trousquin motioned to his wife to pull the cord, and resumed his
harangue.

"This, messieurs and mesdames, is taken from mythology; it is the
magnificent Judgment of Solomon, called the Wise, who is preparing to
carve a little child, exactly as if it was a pie. Observe the
consternation of the little one as he awaits his fate, with his legs in
the air; observe the fiendish glee of that shrewish stepmother, who
looks on, dry-eyed, as if someone was going to give her a slice of
rabbit; but observe the grief of the real mother, who seeks to turn
aside the cleaver which already threatens the innocent child's navel."


THE YOUNG WOMAN (_under the curtain_).

Ah! the villain! ah! the villain! he keeps right on. What a stupid!


MONSIEUR TROUSQUIN.

Don't be alarmed, there won't be any cutting done; nature is about to
speak.--(_To his wife._) Give me my soup; I'm hungry.--The mighty
Solomon, looking at the two mothers with Argus eyes, says to
himself--(_To his wife._) In God's name, why don't you get through with
the onions?--"This child cannot have two mothers; if it was two fathers,
that might be, such things have been seen."--(_To his wife._) You know
something about that.--"Now, there's a snake in the grass here; the real
mother's affection manifests itself by a deluge of tears; but this other
vixen of a mother, who's as placid as Baptiste,"--(_To his wife._) It
smells as if it was burned.--"has no maternal entrails; so the case is
decided!"--Pull the cord.--"This, messieurs and mesdames, represents
King David doing battle with the giant Goliath, the terror of the
Philistines."--(_To his wife._) Why don't you look and see if it's
right?--See with what force David hurls the stone that lays the giant in
the dust.


MADAME TROUSQUIN. (_looking over the lantern_).

This ain't the one; you're showing 'em the Battle of Marengo now.


MONSIEUR TROUSQUIN.MONSIEUR TROUSQUIN.

As I was saying, messieurs and mesdames, you see the famous Battle of
Marengo, won by the French troops.--(_To his wife._) You always put in
too many carrots.


MADAME TROUSQUIN.

You don't say! you want to choose your vegetables, do you? You're
getting to be very particular. How much have you made to-day?


MONSIEUR TROUSQUIN.

Eighteen sous.--Note the gunners and the cuirassiers; see how the sabres
play, while the cannonballs meet in mid air and the shells spread fire
and blood on all sides; see the hussars, the dragoons, the trumpets, and
the drums! hear the shrieks of the dead and dying, the moans of the
wounded and vanquished. See that young soldier on the right, defending
his flag with his teeth, because both his arms have been cut off; and at
the left, that officer who has three dead horses upon him, and who
forgets that he is suffocating while he takes aim at the enemy's
general. See the dust, the flame, the smoke, the carnage, and the
corpses that embellish the picture. The action is superb, you see; the
battle waxes hotter and more furious----

At this point, the explanation was interrupted by an unforeseen
catastrophe: the young woman and the soldier, who were evidently taking
the liveliest interest in the battle,--for I kept hearing exclamations
from the damsel and energetic monosyllables from her companion,--not
content with moving the curtain, threw themselves violently against the
magic lantern, at the most critical point of the Battle of Marengo. The
shock was so violent that the ambulatory theatre could not sustain it;
it fell backward, and the spectators fell upon it, while the manager of
the establishment was thrown to the ground with his bowl of soup, and
Madame Trousquin was entangled by the cords that she held in each hand.

I was left standing alone in the midst of the devastation, for my great
tree preserved me from all peril. What a grotesque picture was presented
to my eyes! Solomon and the great Kin-Kin-Li-King were lying in a heap
with the gardens of the Luxembourg and of Athens; the sun no longer
shone, the moon was covered with oil, the comet shorn of its tail. Père
Trousquin was struggling under his broken lantern, still holding in his
hand the handle of his bowl; and the young woman had fallen in a posture
that disclosed beauty which would have put to shame the most perfect
moon that ever graced a magic lantern. The young soldier's head was in
Père Trousquin's bowl; his face was covered by carrots and onions; he
seemed to be caught in such a way that he could not extricate himself
from the trap. As for Mère Trousquin, she had fallen gracefully; her
cords had held her up, and the curtain of the lantern concealed what
might have caused her modesty to blush. However, as those who are least
hurt always make the most noise, Madame Trousquin's shrieks were simply
deafening; her husband uttered the most frightful oaths, and the young
woman groaned plaintively. The soldier alone made no outcry; I believe
that he found the soup and vegetables to his liking. All the idlers in
the neighborhood were attracted to the broken lantern by the uproar, the
shrieks and oaths; and I was surrounded in an instant by a crowd of
people who came from I don't know where; for a moment before I could not
see a soul on the Champs-Élysées. My retreat was cut off; I could not
make my way out of the crowd; but I was not sorry to see how it would
end. After shouting and swearing to their heart's content, the
unfortunates tried to extricate themselves from the tangle they were in:
the soldier succeeded in uncovering his face, the girl rose and arranged
her skirts. Mère Trousquin disentangled herself from her cords, the
magic lantern was lifted from the ground, and Père Trousquin struggled
to his feet. The soldier tried to slink away with his companion; but he
could not elude the owner of the lantern, who insisted that he should
pay for the damages.

"My glasses are smashed," said Père Trousquin; "you've spoiled my sun
and moon, you've broken my Judgment of Solomon and my Chinese palace,
and ruined my views of Greece; you've got to pay me for all that."

"Go to the devil!" said the soldier, repairing the disorder of his
costume as best he could. "I won't pay you for anything at all. What do
I care for your Chinese and your Solomon! your sun and moon look just
like the night lights you buy for a sou; and as for your fat, just put
it in your lamps."

"You broke my lantern, and you've got to pay me for it."

"You're an old drunkard; if your lantern wasn't firm on its legs, it's
no fault of mine."

"You tumbled against it during the Battle of Marengo."

"You threw it over, yourself, trying to imitate cannon."

"You made me break my bowl."

"You're responsible for my tearing my breeches."

"Besides, my lantern is a moral and respectable show, and I don't
propose to have it used for----"

"I say! stop that, or I'll cut out your tongue!"

The soldier put his hand to his sword; the crowd instantly made a
backward movement, the girl clung to her friend's arm, and Mère
Trousquin pulled her husband out of range, taking the stool for a
buckler. The two adversaries measured each other with their eyes for
several minutes, without moving. The soldier gave no sign of paying, and
Père Trousquin did not seem to be in a mood to let him go away until he
had remunerated him for his losses. Thereupon I concluded that there was
but one way to adjust the affair without bloodshed. The magic lantern
episode had amused me, and had entirely dispelled my ill humor; it was
no more than fair that I should act as mediator in the dispute. I alone
had remained near the combatants; for the bystanders held themselves
respectfully aloof from the sword and the stool. I felt in my pocket and
took out two five-franc pieces, which I tossed upon the damaged lantern.

"There," said I to the proprietor, "is the means to restore your palaces
and your planets; but take my advice, and another time don't fasten your
curtain so closely round your audience. Children's theatres are
frequented now by people of all ages; if you don't believe me, ask
Séraphin, who receives _petite-maîtresses_ at his show, because of the
darkness in the hall during his arabesque fires."

Père Trousquin stared with all his eyes; his wife pounced on the two
coins, and the soldier was allowed to go his way with his companion;
which he did not do without bowing to me most respectfully.

I too walked away, and turned into Rue de Rivoli. I looked at my watch;
it was only nine o'clock, and I have never been fond of going to bed
early, especially when I am in the mood for amusing myself. As the scene
of the magic lantern had put me in that mood, I determined to encourage
such a desirable disposition.

How was I to amuse myself? There are thousands of ways in Paris, you
will say; but, in the matter of pleasure, you must never promise
yourself too much, if you wish to have a little. In a large assembly,
for six agreeable people you will find twenty bores; in a small party,
your friends may have business affairs that annoy them; the ladies, sick
headaches or the vapors; and you often pass a very dull hour where you
looked forward to much entertainment. The wisest plan, therefore, is not
to count upon anything. But I remembered that there was a grand fête at
Tivoli. It was nine o'clock; if I took a cab, I should arrive just at
the height of the evening.



IX

TIVOLI


A lovely spot, that Tivoli Garden! When I stepped within its gates, it
seemed to me that I entered one of those enchanted sojourns so
splendidly described in the _Thousand and One Nights_. The music, the
illuminations, the sports of all sorts, the fireworks--everything
combined to dazzle the eyes and excite the imagination. What a pity it
seemed when a vulgar face and a fishwoman's costume marred the beauty of
the picture and reminded me that I was in a public garden, where any
decently dressed person could enter on payment of three francs twelve
sous!

Before I had taken twenty steps in the garden, I had seen many things.
What beautiful avenues! How those garlands of fire burst on the sight!
Yonder, people gathered in crowds, gazed at one another, scrutinized
costumes, and sought acquaintances: it was the Boulevard de Gand of
Tivoli. Farther on, the lights became less frequent; an occasional lamp
guided your steps without betraying you. The couples were more widely
scattered; they no longer went about to exhibit themselves; some,
indeed, seemed to try to evade observation, to desire darkness and
mystery. Happy thickets! how often have you sheltered love and pleasure!
how many kisses have been given and received under cover of your dense
foliage! Ah! if you could speak!--But I seemed to hear voices close at
hand; I had thoughtlessly turned my steps in the direction of those
solitary thickets, where I, being alone, had nothing to hope for. As I
circled a clump of shrubs, I saw something white on the grass; a
gentleman and a lady were there, discussing some very weighty and secret
matter no doubt, for I thought that they were whispering to each other.
But my presence disturbed them; the lady, with a little shriek, pushed
her companion away; whereupon I walked quickly in another direction.
What pleasure can there be in interfering with that of other people?

I determined to go back to the crowd, to leave those thickets, where it
almost angered me to be alone. Once more I was in the bright light. I
heard the rumbling of cars; I was near the mountains which all the women
ascend--the _grande dame_ and the working girl, the milliner and the
modest laundress, the kept woman and the little schoolgirl. What delight
they all seem to take in the descent! And yet, the resistance of the air
disarranges their hair, loosens their hats, and blows their curls all
about; but they submit to that sacrifice for the pleasure of going like
the wind for twenty seconds. Keen enjoyment is depicted on all the faces
in the cars; only an occasional Englishman retains his gravity during
the trip.

I was alone, so I did not make the ascent; it seemed to me that to enjoy
that pastime you must be seated beside a woman whom you like; then you
may put your arm about a slender waist and press a shapely figure; as
you fly down the incline, you may venture much; for you are sure of not
being repulsed, your companion being so bewildered by the rapidity of
the descent that she has not time to be angry.

All pleasures turn to the advantage of love. What pleasure is not
increased twofold by the presence of the loved one? In the dance, on the
cars, under the thickets, there must be two to be happy; without a
woman, how can one abandon one's self to the most delicious sensations,
the most loving outpourings of the heart? Only through her do we know
that we have a heart. But enough of these ideas, to which the garden
gave rise! I walked across several squares, attracted by music; it was a
singer. Ah! I did not stop there; if I had, Tivoli would have ceased to
be a place of enchantment.

Suddenly my eyes fell upon a number of armchairs swinging in the air and
travelling round and round, with ladies seated in them; it was a Russian
swing. Why did all the men walk in that direction and stand, with their
noses in the air and a smile on their faces, watching the chairs turn?
Ah! I saw that the wind lifted the ladies' skirts more or less, so that
one could catch a glimpse of a leg and sometimes of a knee. The game
seemed to amuse the performers as much as the spectators. The ladies
apparently did not realize what it was that absorbed the attention of
the gentlemen, and did not hear the wanton jests in which most of the
latter indulged; for they continued to fly through the air, laughing
like madcaps. But the machine stopped; it was time to alight. I
remained, in order to see the ladies at closer quarters. Mon Dieu!
messieurs, you surely did not need to give yourselves a crick in the
neck to catch a glimpse of an ankle! So far as I could judge, you might
have obtained a sight of a great deal more, without much trouble. I
quitted the Russian swing for Bobèche's performance, and found an
enormous crowd in front of the stage. I looked about in vain for a
chair; I could not find one that was unoccupied. So I was compelled to
remain standing. I sidled in among the elect, and I saw something, at
all events, even if I did not see Bobèche; I saw the evident enjoyment
of all the young men who, like myself, were standing. And yet they could
not see anything; but they were with ladies who stood on chairs, and
they supported them, to guard against accident; their arms were passed
around the ladies' skirts, and the ladies leaned on their shoulders. I
could understand how pleasant that must be. But I saw one lady who
seemed on the point of falling. Why did nobody support her? Because she
was a matron. But a becurled and befrizzled young woman, who would have
been pretty had not her costume been so absurd for a public garden,
hurried to the elderly lady's side.

"Wait, mamma," she said; "I'll put my chair behind yours, and then you
can lean on me; I'll hold you up."

The mother consented to this arrangement, and the young woman remounted
her chair, which she placed behind her mamma's; but I noticed that she
had somebody to support her; a tall, light-haired youngster kept his
eyes on her all the time; he stationed himself close beside her, looked
at her, and made signs to her. The young woman looked at nothing but
Bobèche; and as she explained the performance to her mother, she took a
little note from her glove and dropped it into the young man's hand,
without the slightest confusion or affectation, and without interrupting
her conversation. Really, our young ladies display a fascinating grace
in all that they do; the world is progressing toward perfection.

The tall youth crumpled the note in his hand; he longed to read it at
once, but he dared not. I was amused by his impatience; I was curious
to see what he would do. But an elderly couple arrived, dragging their
chairs after them; the woman planted herself directly in front of me,
almost resting against my face, while her husband deprived me of what
little view I had by standing beside her.

I could endure it no longer; to induce me to remain with my head on a
level with the waists of all that multitude, I felt that something
deeply interesting was necessary. I was not at all desirous to maintain
my juxtaposition to the enormous circumference which obscured my vision.
So I extricated myself, not without difficulty, from the chairs and legs
and dresses that surrounded me. When I was outside the circle, I stopped
to breathe a bit; it is good to inhale the fresh air when one has seen
Bobèche, even out of doors.

I followed a noble avenue of lindens which led to the large tract of
grass set aside for swings and seesaws and blind-man's-buff and the
Egyptian bird, and a thousand other things, of which the prettiest are
those one does not see. I heard ladies' voices imploring their escorts
not to go so fast; while the latter, to display their strength and
skill, made all the play they could with their loins and knees, at the
risk of making their companions in the swings swoon from fright: that
was a new way to make one's self agreeable, I thought.

I heard the voice of lamentation near by. It was a small boy of twelve
or thirteen years, who wanted to seesaw with a tall lout of eighteen at
least. No sooner had the latter gone to the ground on his end of the
plank which served as a tilt, than the little fellow at the other end
received a violent shock that threw him over the little iron bar behind
which stood those awaiting their turn. The poor child fell; luckily, it
was on the soft turf, and he was not hurt; but he limped away, while the
tall zany plumed himself on the shaking-up he had given him. A very
pretty game is this seesawing; but I should advise those who indulge in
it to have the ground mattressed; for I know by experience that falls
are frequent and dangerous.

But what was that report? It brought me involuntarily to a standstill.
Was I near a display of fireworks? No; the Egyptian bird had just been
set off. How proud the man seemed who had done the trick! To be sure, it
was only the eleventh time that he had fired. A stout party seized the
wire. I recognized him: it was Raymond. I should have been astonished
not to fall in with him, for the fellow was everywhere.

"I'll bet," he said in a bantering tone to the man who had just fired,
taking pains to raise his voice in order to attract attention, "I'll
bet, my dear fellow [he knows everybody], that I release the spring in
three shots."

"I'll bet you don't; it isn't so easy as you seem to think."

"Easy! easy! if it was easy, there'd be no merit in it. I have an
absolutely accurate eye. Come, I'll bet you an ice."

"That you do it in three trials?"

"Yes; in fact, I'm certain that I shan't have to try three times."

"I'll take your bet."

"All right; now you'll see."

I halted, feeling perfectly certain, for my part, that my neighbor would
make a fool of himself in some way. The man who managed the machine was
reloading the iron box to which the spring was attached.

"Get out of the way!" cried Raymond, impatient to display his skill, and
raising the bird as high in the air as his arms allowed.

The box was closed and the man stepped aside; Raymond threw the bird
with such accuracy that the piece of iron, after following a zigzag
course, struck six inches from the target. My neighbor was not
discouraged, but threw the bird again--with no better success.

"It's all out of equilibrium," he cried; "the wire's crooked, it isn't
my fault."

"This is your last shot."

"Oh! this one will do the business."

Raymond took aim for at least three minutes; at last the bird flew
through the air. It finished its flight; but there was no report.

"I've won! I've won!" cried Raymond's adversary; "you owe me an ice."

"Oh! I don't know whether you've won or not; that depends. I am sure
that the bird's beak moved the spring, and the reason it didn't go off
must be that the powder's damp."

"You're trying to crawl out of it! you've lost, and you owe me an ice!"

"Well! I demand my revenge!"

"Oh! that's fair enough; I agree. That will make two ices instead of
one."

"We'll see about that. I say, my man, just go and overhaul the spring;
I'm sure there's something out of order that prevented the thing from
going off."

To please his customer, the man opened the box and examined it.
Meanwhile, my neighbor had taken the bird; and, annoyed at having lost
his first bet, he scrutinized the iron beak, measured it with his eye,
and tried to make sure that the bird was perfectly balanced, lifting it
carefully by the two wings.

"I see what the matter is, I see what it is," he said confidently; "if I
had examined it like this before, I shouldn't have missed a shot. You
must hold the bird very lightly, with the tips of your fingers, and
throw it without any jerk."

As he spoke, Monsieur Raymond threw the bird, which struck the head of
the unfortunate man who was looking to see if the spring was in perfect
order. The poor man was seriously wounded; he fell to the ground with
horrible yells, and everybody ran toward him. Monsieur Raymond took
advantage of the confusion to escape. He forced a passage through the
crowd, pushing everybody aside with his arms and elbows; he leaped over
chairs, ran like a madman through the groups seated on the grass,
tripped over the legs of a _petite-maîtresse_ who was chatting
unconcernedly with a young officer, fell heavily upon her, and with his
stomach crushed a bust that luckily was made of tulle. The lady
shrieked, in order to make people think that it was her flesh that was
flattened out; and the officer sprang to his feet, in a rage at the
disappearance of charms which he had believed to be genuine. He seized a
chair and pursued Raymond, who was already far away; for fear lent him
wings.

I amused myself by following my neighbor, who had lost his hat in the
scuffle. I saw him running on and getting into fresh difficulty every
minute; he ran into a swing, collided with the wooden horses, overturned
two girls who were dancing in a little open space, knocked over all the
tubs of shrubs that came in his way, and finally, to elude his pursuers,
rushed out into the main avenue, hoping to lose himself in the crowd.
But as he passed under a garland of colored lanterns, which was not far
enough from the ground and hung down a little at the sides, Monsieur
Raymond, trying to outstrip everybody, became entangled in the
illuminations; the rope broke, and all the little colored lanterns fell
on the promenaders, who, in an instant, were smeared with oil. The
ladies uttered heartrending shrieks when they saw their toques, their
feathers, and their gowns dripping with lamp oil; nor were the young men
less enraged, for their coats and waistcoats and frills were all ruined,
and diffused an execrable odor. Once more Raymond found himself the
object of general animadversion, and the poor devil, panting for breath,
was obliged to continue his flight. He leaped over a hedge, in order to
get away from the avenue more quickly; he did not know where to go; and
he finally entered the enclosure set apart for the fireworks, despite
the shouts of an old pensioner who told him that he could not go there.
He rushed through the bombs, mortars, rockets, pinwheels, and Roman
candles, while the pensioner shouted for the gendarmes to come to arrest
a man who was smashing everything he saw and seemed determined to
prevent the pyrotechnic display that was in preparation. The police
arrived; Raymond had barely time to hurl himself through a transparency,
which he burst with his head; at last he disappeared. Tranquillity was
restored; the damage that my neighbor had done was repaired as far as
possible; and I returned toward the centre of activity, laughing at
Raymond's mishaps, which had afforded me abundant satisfaction for his
petty mischief-making that morning.

"Faith!" I said to myself, as I walked toward the dancing enclosure; "if
I had come to Tivoli for no other purpose than to witness Raymond's
prowess, my evening would have been a great success. But I am in a lucky
vein; perhaps fate has other meetings in store for me."

I paused near a juggler's booth; the crowd was as large as in front of
Bobèche's; but there was somewhat less confusion. Most of the spectators
were seated, and I succeeded, although I was in the last row, in seeing
a part of what was going on; the man did tricks with cards, stole rings,
and changed a glass of wine into a bouquet. All this delighted the
audience, who made no attempt to detect his confederates, and pretended
not to see the preparations which are essential for tricks performed
_without preparation_.

"He's a magician!" said a little man, opening his eyes to their fullest
extent and looking stupidly about him. "Faith! I can't understand it,
can you, wife?"

"Oh! I want to see for myself," replied the little man's better half;
and she motioned to the juggler that she wanted to draw a card. He
approached, chattering in Italian, German, and English, the result being
an utterly incomprehensible jargon which completely enchanted the
audience.

The lady drew an eight of spades, which she then replaced in the pack
and shuffled the cards; but our magician was certain of guessing the
card, because the pack he offered her contained eights of spades and
nothing else; and while he bewildered his hearers by his constant
jabbering, he slipped his hand behind the little man, who, when another
trick was being performed, was suddenly requested to rise, and was
stupefied to find under him the card that his wife had drawn.

I walked away from the sleight-of-hand booth; but, happening to put my
hand in my pocket, I failed to find my handkerchief. That trick was
better than any of the juggler's; it had been done very adroitly;
luckily, I was not wearing my watch seal.

Behold me at last before the enclosure consecrated to the dance. But it
was no longer good form to dance in the public gardens; only at village
fêtes did our young Parisian exquisites condescend to execute a balance
and a ladies' chain in the open air. Here, none but hucksters, petty
bourgeoises, and grisettes dare to abandon themselves to the joys of the
dance; they know nothing of conventions, of good form; they want to
enjoy themselves, and they are so happy when dancing! their pleasure is
depicted on their faces! they hop and skip with such hearty good will!
By the faces of the fair damsels who were watching the dancers I could
see that good form is sometimes very ill-humored; but they avenged
themselves by criticising those who defied convention. They sneered and
laughed at the others, and made unkind remarks; good form and propriety
never forbid that. They ridiculed everything that they could not do;
they spoke slightingly of what in their hearts they loved: it was the
fable of the fox and the grapes again.

But the spectators were most numerous around one particular quadrille;
the dancers were surrounded by a triple row. I was certain that there
must be some unusually pretty face there, or some particularly absurd
costume. I approached and succeeded in forcing my way to the front. I
looked at one of the dancers: she had an insignificant face and a
commonplace dress; she could not be the object of such universal
curiosity.

"She is mighty pretty."

"Oh! you wait till you see how gracefully she dances!"

These remarks were made by two young men who stood near me. Thereupon I
glanced over the different performers in the quadrille, and my eyes soon
rested on a young woman wearing a little cap with a bunch of roses on
it.

I admired the young woman's piquant face; her eyes were animated by the
excitement of dancing; her enjoyment made her bosom rise and fall more
rapidly, and the flattering murmur that arose on all sides brought a
vivid flush to her cheeks. What woman is insensible to praise? Did you
ever meet one who was, reader? If so, I advise you to register her name
on your tablets.

But, as I scrutinized the pretty dancer, a sudden reminiscence flashed
through my mind: those features, that figure, the bunch of roses, and
the plan of coming to Tivoli. Unquestionably it was Mademoiselle
Caroline; it was my little flowermaker of the preceding evening.
Thoughtless fool that I was! I had forgotten her, and had been strolling
about the garden without trying to find her! But since chance had
brought me into her presence, I determined to make the most of it, and,
good form or not, to try to obtain a dance with her, so that I might
speak with her.

But suppose that anybody who knew me should see me dancing at Tivoli! I
felt brave enough to defy the criticism and mockery of the young men and
the pleasantry of the ladies; and as I contemplated Caroline's seductive
features, I said to myself, with Rousseau: "I must be happy! 'tis man's
first need!"--Now, to be happy, it was necessary first of all that I
should dance with Caroline.



X

THE FIREWORKS.--THE FORTUNE TELLER.--THE SILHOUETTE STUDIO


The contradance came to an end, and the men escorted their partners to
their seats. I followed my little flowermaker with my eyes, and saw her
take her seat beside a plainly dressed old woman, evidently her aunt.
Her partner remained by her side; he was the Jules of the preceding
evening. In due time, another girl came up with her partner and sat
beside Caroline; this completed the party, which, as I remembered, was
to consist of four persons.

I walked back and forth in the neighborhood of Mademoiselle Caroline and
her friends for a long while; I passed before the group and stared at
the pretty creature; but she paid no attention to me. I saw that I must
make up my mind to invite her to dance, but I had difficulty in doing
it; for I felt that I should look like a petty shop-clerk who was in the
habit of going to Tivoli to dance on Sundays. While I was making these
reflections, the orchestra played the prelude; that decided me, and I
walked toward the young women. But just as I was on the point of
delivering my invitation, the pretty flowermaker rose and gave her hand
to a young man, who had got the start of me, and who led her out to
dance. I had arrived too late; so much for listening to my absurd
self-esteem! However, I swore that I would not be behindhand for the
next contradance; and for fear of being defrauded again, I hastened to
the quadrille in which Mademoiselle Caroline was performing, and then
and there engaged her for the next one. She accepted, and I was
overjoyed; I stood near her, mingling my words of praise with those of
several other young men; and while her partner was executing the _avant
deux_, I complimented her on her bunch of roses and apologized for my
awkwardness of the previous evening. At that, she looked up at me and
smiled, and took more notice of me; I had reason to believe that her
scrutiny did not result to my disadvantage. From time to time, I
ventured a word or two to the effect that I had come to Tivoli solely in
the hope of meeting her; she did not reply, but I saw that she listened;
if she were ever so little of a coquette, I felt sure of making my way!
And she was, she must be; for all women are. The dance at an end, I
impatiently awaited the following one, when I should be able to talk
with Caroline, and it would be easy for me to find out how far I might
hope. In the briefest interview I can generally tell what manner of
person I have to do with, and I rarely make a mistake; not that I
believe all that they say to me, but I divine how much hope they are
willing to give me. Women, being more expansive than men, have a certain
_laisser aller_ which says a great deal to one who is accustomed to deal
with them. When they have wit, a mere hint discloses it; when they have
nothing but jargon, they murder you with it; when they have nothing to
say, there is no possibility of mistake. Montaigne said: "Style makes
the man;" I think that he might well have said also: "Conversation makes
the woman;" but I beg his pardon for presuming to express my opinion in
conjunction with his.

Mademoiselle Caroline was escorted to her seat. While waiting for the
next contradance, which would furnish me with the means of judging her
more accurately, I strolled through the thickets that surrounded the
dancing enclosure. I preferred not to remain like a noodle beside the
little flowermaker, nor to parade up and down in front of her. But the
moment drew near when I might hope to squeeze her tiny fingers and press
her hand tenderly in mine. Give me the dance for lovers! you can boldly
reveal your secret sentiments, you can declare them without speaking a
word. I am inclined to think that that is why the young women have so
great a fondness for that exercise and enjoy themselves so heartily at
balls. How many avowals have been made and reciprocated while forming a
ladies' chain or a trenise! and despite their active surveillance, their
mammas are powerless to prevent that.

But the time passed; I strolled back toward my partner. Mon Dieu! what a
noise! what an uproar! what confusion in the garden! The first bomb had
just been fired, and everybody was running toward the great central
square, dragging their chairs, or carrying them in their arms.

"The fireworks! the fireworks!" people shouted on all sides.

What a rush! In heaven's name, had they never seen fireworks before in
their lives? How they pushed and jostled and fought, to pass one
another! What a hurly-burly! But what had become of Caroline? I hurried
to the dancing enclosure--it was deserted; everybody had abandoned it
for the fireworks. Where my pretty grisette had been sitting, I saw two
men fighting for a chair, pulling it in opposite directions; each of
them finally carried away half, which must have been exceedingly
useful. I was not in luck with Mademoiselle Caroline; she disappeared at
the moment that I was going to join her. However, I did not lose all
hope; I assumed that she had gone to see the fireworks, and I determined
to try to find her there.

I walked in the direction that the crowd had taken; but at the sight of
that moving mass, one half of which concealed the other,--for some had
climbed upon the chairs, while others clung to the frames,--I felt that
it would be absurd to look for anyone there. So I resigned myself to
wait until the display was over; perhaps the dancing would be renewed
then, and I should see her again. Meanwhile, I walked around the
outskirts of the crowd, and saw almost as much of the fireworks as those
who stood on their chairs. I also observed several couples, who, instead
of joining the crowd, went in the opposite direction and concealed
themselves in the obscure shrubbery; they evidently had not come to
Tivoli for the fireworks; but I am convinced, none the less, that they
had been waiting impatiently for them to begin, and that the display
would afford them as much pleasure as those who waited for it with their
noses in the air.

There was a set piece representing Ixion crushed by the thunderbolts of
Jupiter; and I heard a gentleman explaining it to his family, while he
supported his wife and held up his little girl, who shrieked at every
explosion.

"Who's that tall man in a red cloak riding horseback on a bird?"
inquired the child.

"That's Jupiter, my dear, on a bird-of-paradise."

"And what's that stick he's shaking in his hand?"

"That's his thunderbolt to whip men who aren't good."

"Oh! yes; like my school teacher's switch."

"Who was this Ixion, my dear?" queried his better half.

"A Roman, I believe. Wait and let me think. Oh, yes! he's the one that
wanted to drive Jupiter's chariot. He'll be struck by lightning, as
you'll see."

"What does that mean, my dear?"

"That means that he'll be thrown into that big hole, which is hell, and
once there----"

"Oh, yes! I understand; then he'll be struck by lightning; quite right,
too."

"Oh! oh! oh! I'm afraid!" cried a little boy, who had hidden under the
chairs.

"Hush, Octave! if you squirm so, you'll make us fall. I won't bring you
to Tivoli again; you're too big a coward. For shame! a big boy, nine
years old, who plays with my national guardsman's cap all day long, and
don't dare to look at a rocket!"

At that moment a mortar burst with a great noise, and Octave gave a leap
which overturned his mother's chair; she fell, dragging with her her
husband and daughter, the latter of whom tried to save herself by
clinging to a gentleman's coat; which coat, being decidedly old, could
not stand the strain; the skirt remained in the child's hand, and the
owner began to shout _thief_! thinking that somebody had stolen his
handkerchief, and unable to find even his pocket. At the same instant
there was a more deafening and more prolonged report; innumerable bursts
of flame darted in all directions, twisting and writhing like serpents,
dazzling the eye and filling the garden momentarily with a magical,
supernatural brilliancy, as if the whole expanse were on fire; but the
noise, the glare, and the false daylight lasted but a moment; a few
rocket sticks, cartridges, and the débris of bombs fell in the garden,
and in many instances upon the sightseers, spreading terror and
confusion among them. I saw one lady whose hat was burned, another whose
shawl was riddled with little holes made by the sparks from a rocket;
and it seemed to me that that was paying rather dear for the pleasure of
witnessing a display of fireworks. I turned away, well pleased not to
have received a splash from the pyrotechnic drama, but greatly surprised
that I had not seen my neighbor Raymond in some transparency; for,
having lost sight of him among the preparations for the display, I
expected to see him appear during the final discharge.

I returned to the dancing enclosure. My invited partner was not there; I
was compelled, therefore, to abandon all hope of finding Caroline. I
watched the throng of honest bourgeois, who, as soon as the last of the
fireworks was discharged, set off for their firesides, content with
their evening's enjoyment, which was to last them throughout the week. I
strolled at random along the avenues, where the colored lanterns were
beginning to flicker and grow dim. Suddenly I heard a little bell, and,
although the hearty laughter of some young people near by, the
whispering of the ladies, and the distant sound of the dance dispelled
all possible illusion touching the reality of the hermitage, I went up
none the less to the abode of the so-called sorcerer, who, with the
assistance of a long beard, a wand, a pointed hat, a gray frock, and a
horn three feet long, undertook to tell fortunes at a very moderate
price.

Young girls have always had a great fondness for having their fortunes
told. Those who are inexperienced are consumed with the longing to know
whether a handsome dark young man or a pretty blond will come soon to
tell them something; those who are not novices are anxious to be
informed as to the fidelity of their lovers, and at the same time to
know whether other men are in love with them; the pretty ones know that
they will make conquests, the ill-favored delude themselves concerning
their charms; desire arouses hope in all, and all are content. I was
agreeably surprised to see my young flowermaker awaiting her turn to
have her fortune told. I walked toward her; she saw me and blushed; that
was a good sign. But her aunt and Monsieur Jules were close by; I could
not speak to her. An idea came into my mind while the soothsayer was
finishing his séance with the young woman who was with Caroline. I took
out my tablets,--a forehanded man always carries them,--withdrew to a
lamp post, and with a lead pencil scrawled a most passionate and
appealing declaration, which was utterly devoid of sense, but would
flatter the girl, I felt sure.

Then I rejoined the curious onlookers, taking care to get close to the
soothsayer. Caroline had taken her friend's place, and the magic horn
was already applied to her ear, when I pulled the sorcerer's frock; I
pointed to my note, on which I had laid a five-franc piece. He put out
his hand and grasped it; those fellows readily understand one's meaning.
All this was done without attracting the attention of the bystanders.
Mademoiselle Caroline was told a thousand pleasant things, no doubt, for
she laughed like a madwoman; at times she seemed perturbed and
surprised, and glanced furtively at me. I was sure that the soothsayer
was talking about me; that knave knew his business; I heartily commend
him to the sex. At last he took the girl's hand and handed her her
horoscope, slipping my note into her hand at the same time, and bidding
her to postpone reading it until she went to bed. It seemed to me that
Mademoiselle Caroline understood, for she thrust the paper into her
bosom before joining her aunt.

At last she went away with her whole party, and I did not follow her. I
had an idea that my hermit could tell me all that I wanted to know; for
he had spoken to her in an undertone, and she had replied many times by
the medium of the horn.

My man came to me and led me into his hermitage, where he dashed into
the subject at once, without waiting for me to question him.

"Her name's Caroline."

"I know it."

"She makes flowers."

"I know that too."

"She's eighteen years old."

"So I should think."

"She hasn't any lover."

"So I hoped."

"She means to remain virtuous."

"I doubt it."

"She has noticed you."

"I think it likely."

"She is attracted to you."

"I am glad to hear it."

"She works on Rue Sainte-Apolline, from eight in the morning till eight
in the evening."

"That is all I want to know."

I rewarded the invaluable soothsayer and returned to the garden, which
was beginning to be deserted. I walked in the direction of the exit,
enchanted to know at last where I could find Mademoiselle Caroline.

As I passed before a silhouette booth, I imagined that I heard a voice
which was not unfamiliar to me. I stopped. People were disputing in the
small oiled-paper studio, and I recognized my neighbor Raymond's voice.
What in the devil was he doing there? I listened; the maker of
silhouettes said:

"It's half-past eleven, monsieur; everybody's gone, and I must shut up
shop, too."

"One more silhouette, my friend, and I'll go."

"You've been here in my studio more than two hours, monsieur; I have cut
you out seventeen times already."

"Well, this will make eighteen. Oh! I can't have too many portraits; I
shall find places enough for them! everybody's asking me for one."

"I tell you that I must close my shop, monsieur."

"Close it, if you choose; I'll stay inside; I don't propose to go yet."

"You will go, monsieur."

"One more silhouette!"

"No, monsieur, you can't have it."

I could not restrain a roar of laughter, aroused by the desperate
decision of Raymond, who, in his fear of being arrested for all the
stupid things he had done during the evening, had sought shelter in the
silhouette booth, which he was absolutely determined not to abandon. But
my laughter caused great perturbation in my neighbor's soul.

"Hark!" he said to the painter with scissors; "didn't you hear? There's
somebody close by. You told me the garden was empty."

"Pay me, monsieur, and be off; or I'll go and fetch the guard to put you
out."

The threat of the guard made Raymond shudder; he realized that he must
leave the friendly shelter of the booth; but before venturing into the
garden, he thrust his head out of the door, to see if anyone was on the
watch for him. The first person he saw was your humble servant, whose
inclination to laugh was vastly increased at sight of the pale and
discomposed features of his neighbor. Raymond was uncertain whether he
had better hide again or not, when he saw me; but he made the best of
the meeting, and, being certain that I would not impose upon his
unfortunate plight, he clung to me as to the anchor of salvation.

"My dear Monsieur Dorsan, how delighted I am to meet you! If you knew
all that has happened to me to-night in this infernal garden!"

"Oh! I know! it's made noise enough."

"Mon Dieu! do they mean to arrest me?"

"Why, it's very possible. The man that you hurt is in a very bad way;
the young men whose coats you ruined are collected at the gate; the
damage you did in the garden amounts to considerable, and----"

"Oh! what an unlucky devil!"--And Raymond rushed back into the
silhouette booth, despite the remonstrances of the proprietor, who
seized him by the coat and tried to put him out.

"Save me, neighbor, I have no hope except in you!"

"Very well, I'll do it; although you played me a most contemptible trick
last night."

"Oh! I promise you--I swear--it was mere chance. I will contradict all
that I said, if that will gratify you; I will say that the girl slept
with me."

"No, no; if you please, Monsieur Raymond, you will be careful never to
mention her.--But let us begin by leaving this silhouette emporium.
Follow me."

"I am with you, my dear neighbor.--Give me my portraits; how much are
they?"

"Seventeen, at forty sous, makes just thirty-four francs, monsieur."

"The devil! that's rather dear!"

"It's the regular price."

"Come, come," I said to Raymond, whose lugubrious face was not worth
thirty-four francs at that moment; "you can make a lot of your friends
happy with them; that's some little compensation."

Raymond paid, with a sigh, and seized my arm, imploring me to protect
him.

"I ask nothing better," said I; "but you must appreciate the fact that I
can't stand my ground alone against half a hundred young men who are
waiting for you at the gate, and are to all appearance determined to
make it bad for you."

"Yes, yes, I can see that; but I can't pass the night here; I have no
hat, and I should certainly take cold; and to-morrow night I am to sing
the aria from _Joconde_ at a musical party."

"This is very embarrassing. Do you want to risk going out at the gate?"

"No, indeed! These young men, when they get excited, are very brutal."

"I see but one way, then, and that is to climb over the wall."

"But suppose I am taken for a thief?"

"Never fear; I have a scheme in my head. Come!"

We took the darkest paths. Raymond followed me in fear and trembling. I
led him to the wall on Rue de Clichy, and bade him sit on the ground
behind a clump of trees.

"Stay here; I'll go out of the gate and come around to the opposite side
of the wall on Rue de Clichy. When there seems to be an opportune
moment for you to climb over without risk, I will give the signal."

"What signal?"

"I will clap my hands twice."

"Agreed. The wall's rather high; but still, rather than be beaten to a
jelly--I can't hesitate."

"Adieu! patience; don't make a noise, don't stir, but wait for the
signal."

"Oh! I won't fail. You couldn't lend me your hat, could you?"

"Impossible; I have to sing in a duet to-morrow."

"Then I'll put my handkerchief over my head."

"That will be very wise."

"By the way, if they question you at the gate, you must say that I've
gone."

"That goes without saying."

"Don't leave me too long."

"Of course, I shan't suggest your showing yourself while I see anybody
prowling about."

"Dear Dorsan! I am tremendously obliged to you."

"Adieu! I go to keep watch for you."

I took my leave of Raymond, laughing inwardly at his plight and his
poltroonery. At last I left the garden; it was high time, for they were
just going to close the gates. As I passed, I glanced down Rue de
Clichy, where my neighbor supposed that I was doing sentry duty in his
behalf; and I strolled leisurely homeward, leaving dear Raymond to wait
for my signal. His conduct of the preceding evening merited that little
retaliation; moreover, the most speedy revenge is always the best.



XI

BY MOONLIGHT


I pursued my homeward way, congratulating myself on my little game, and
laughing at the thought of Raymond's fright and of the figure he must
cut waiting for me to rescue him. But soon my mind reverted to a more
agreeable subject. I thought of the charming Caroline. I had no doubt
that she had read my note, and on the morrow I would go to her shop and
find out how far I might hope. A not very moral scheme, I agree! I
proposed to try to seduce a girl, in order to gratify a caprice that
would last only a moment. But what would you have? I have some grievous
faults; I believe that unmarried men were put into the world to make
love to girls. Those girls who desire to remain virtuous should do as
Nicette did--refuse to allow themselves to be seduced.

Musing thus, I reached my abode. It had seemed a short walk to me. To be
sure, the weather was magnificent; the moon was quite as fine as on the
preceding night; but my thoughts were not upon the firmament. I was on
the point of knocking, when a person who was sitting on the bench near
the porte cochère rose quickly and came toward me.

"Ah! here you are, Monsieur Dorsan; I was waiting for you."

I recognized my little flower girl, whom the sight of Mademoiselle
Caroline had banished from my memory. She had not forgotten me; she was
waiting for me in the street! and it was nearly twelve o'clock!

"How long have you been here, Nicette?"

"Since nine o'clock, monsieur."

"Why did you wait so long for me?"

"Oh! monsieur, please forgive me, but I couldn't stand it; I wanted to
thank you again, and tell you what I have done with my money."

"My dear girl, that wasn't necessary; I am sure that you are behaving as
you ought."

"Don't you like it because I waited for you, monsieur? If you don't,
I'll go away----"

I knew by the sound of her voice that she was ready to weep. Had I
spoken harshly to her? She was going away with a heavy heart, but I took
her hand and detained her. She heaved a deep sigh. Poor Nicette! could
it be for me? If so, I pitied her. In truth, I did not deserve to be
loved by a sensitive, faithful heart; and yet, I wanted women to adore
me and to be faithful to me: reconcile the two, if you can.

"Come, my dear Nicette, tell me all you have done since last night?"

"Won't it bore you, monsieur?"

"No, of course not; don't you know that I am interested in everything
that concerns you?"

"Oh, monsieur! if you--but here goes: in the first place, I went home to
my mother's, because, after all, she is my mother, and, although she
turned me out of doors, I still owe her respect."

"That is true; you did very well. How did Madame Jérôme receive you?"

"Very badly, monsieur! oh! very badly! She didn't so much as ask me
where I'd passed the night. But she proposed to me again to marry
Beauvisage, and said that then she'd forgive what she called my
_caravanes_.[A] Has there been any _caravanes_ between you and me,
monsieur?"

[A] In French slang, "love adventures."

"Certainly not; and then?"

"Oh! I refused; because, when it comes to marriage, I'm obstinate, too.
Then she beat me again, and that time you wasn't there to stop her."

I could not restrain a smile at the artless way in which Nicette
reminded me of the blow I had received in her behalf; but I was
distressed by Madame Jérôme's hard-heartedness: to think of turning her
daughter out of doors, beating her, and abandoning her, utterly without
resource, at the age when the simplest and often the only means of
support are to be found in prostitution! Ah! there are mothers unworthy
of the name!

"Well, Nicette?"

"Well, monsieur, I packed up my clothes and left the house, without
seeing my sister, who didn't dare to show her face before me. I says to
myself: 'I mustn't whine about it; I haven't done anything to be sorry
for. I refused the pork man, that's true; but when it's a matter of a
girl's whole life, surely she has a right to do as she pleases.'--So I
went off with my little bundle. I don't know how it happened, but after
walking a while I found myself in your street. I looked round for a
booth, and found one over yonder, close by, on Rue Saint-Honoré, near
the boulevard. I bought a bed and a chair; that's all I need. To-morrow,
I'll get a table for my bouquets; as to the flowers, I know where to get
them. I'll set up a stand on the corner of the street, on the boulevard;
and when you want a bouquet, monsieur, I shall be there, close by your
house; and it will be easy enough for you to let me know. Have I done
well, monsieur?"

Nicette had finished speaking, but I still listened. I was touched by
her attachment. She had wanted to be near me, I could see that; and
there was something so simple and ingenuous in the way she told me about
it, that it seemed that in acting thus she had simply done her duty.

"You don't say anything, monsieur; is it because you're angry at my
leaving my old quarter to come--to this one? If that's it, why, I'll
look for another room to-morrow; I'll go far away, ever so far, and
you'll never find me in your path again!"

"What do you say? I, angry because you are near me? It's very wrong of
you to say that, Nicette! I thought that I had shown you how deep an
interest I take in you."

"Oh! I beg your pardon, Monsieur Dorsan, I beg your pardon; perhaps I
ought to have asked your permission--for you are my patron."

"Hush! what a child you are! I am very glad that you live in this
quarter. I shall see you often, and always with pleasure."

"Oh! monsieur, and so shall I. But I won't take the liberty again to
wait for you at your door. I only did it to-day because I wanted to tell
you what I'd done, and to let you know where I am now."

"Don't apologize, my dear girl; I am so glad to see you! Ah! Nicette,
what a cruel, yet delicious, night I passed so near you! I shall never
forget it as long as I live. I know that I shouldn't have so much
courage another time."

"Let's not say anything more about that, Monsieur Dorsan. I must go
home, for it's very late, and I'm keeping you from your sleep again. To
be sure, this is the last time it will happen."

"Dear Nicette, your alluring charms, your graces, and your delightful
frankness, will always be with me in that room, where I should be glad
to see you again."

"Oh! don't say that, I beg of you, Monsieur Dorsan. I'm too far away
from you--a poor flower girl!"

"Ah! Nicette; if you chose----"

"Adieu, Monsieur Dorsan! adieu!"

She said _adieu_, but she did not go. I held one of her hands; she
repelled me and drew me toward her at the same time. My eyes were fixed
upon hers; we said nothing; but if my porte cochère had been open, I
believe that Nicette would have gone with me again. A sudden outcry
aroused us from that pleasant situation. A man ran along the street,
shouting _thief_! Nicette withdrew her hand, bade me a very affectionate
good-night, and fled. I tried to detain her, but she was already far
away.

I knocked at my door and was just about to enter, when the man whom I
had seen running toward us, all alone, and whom I had taken for a
drunken man, rushed through the porte cochère and fell headlong in the
courtyard, crying:

"Safe at last!"

I recognized Raymond's voice; I was curious to learn the end of his
adventures. The concierge, hearing the uproar, arrived on the scene with
a light, and we saw Raymond, his trousers torn from waistband to knee,
lying at full length in the courtyard, gasping with fatigue, and trying
to recover his breath.

"Mon Dieu!" cried Madame Dupont; "what has happened to you, Monsieur
Raymond? a pretty mess you're in!"

"What! is it you?" said I, in my turn; "why did you leave Tivoli without
waiting for my signal?"

"Oh, yes! I fancy I should have had to wait a long while for your
signal!"

"You're too impatient."

"I had been crouching in that corner for an hour, when I saw some men
making the rounds of the garden. Faith! that gave me a fright, and I
determined to scale the wall. But I was in such a hurry that I got
caught on some broken glass; I tore my trousers and cut the base of my
spine. On Rue du Mont-Blanc, I was insulted by some drunken men; indeed,
I think they meant to rob me; but I ran off, shouting for help, and here
I am in port, God be praised! But I shall remember Tivoli!"

"You must bathe your back in warm water, monsieur," said Madame Dupont.

"Yes, I'll do that in the morning."

"You saved your silhouettes, I hope?" said I.

"I believe I lost some of them when I dropped from the wall."

"The devil! that's a pity! they'll testify against you, and it will be
easy to recognize that profile of yours. I advise you to wear a false
nose and spectacles for a fortnight or so."

My neighbor, who knew very well that I was making sport of him, took his
candle and tramped upstairs without a word to me. When we were on our
landing, I nodded to him, with a smile, and entered my lodgings alone,
where I slept soundly. Nights follow but do not resemble one another:
that is what all women say a fortnight after marriage.



XII

VEXATIONS


My first thought when I woke was of my two young women. I cannot say
whether Nicette or Caroline first presented herself to my imagination; I
know that I was attracted by both of them. But Nicette was an honest
girl and desired to remain so; thus far I had acted honorably with her;
I determined not to try to ruin what I had done. I would be her friend,
were it only for the sake of experimenting upon a novel sentiment toward
a woman.

As to Mademoiselle Caroline, I had formed a different estimate of her: I
did not believe her to be a novice; her little innocent air with
Monsieur Jules did not impose on me; she was on the lookout for a
husband, but she did not love that poor fellow; if she did love him,
would she listen with a smile to all the insipid nonsense that I
whispered to her? if she loved him, would she dance with other men?
Mademoiselle Caroline was a great coquette, and, in my judgment,
decidedly shrewd. And yet, she had treated me cavalierly enough when I
followed her on the street; to be sure, she was cross because I had
rumpled the finery she had prepared for the following day, which was at
that moment much more interesting than a new conquest, since it might be
worth a great many to her. But I should soon know what to expect.

At noon I betook myself to the shop that my sorcerer had indicated. He
had not deceived me: among a number of saucy faces, I recognized my
charming dancer. The young women all lowered their eyes at sight of a
young man; but they all scrutinized me furtively. Caroline recognized
me; I could tell that by a certain embarrassment, by her evident longing
to look at me, and by the assiduity with which she attacked her work,
the better to conceal her confusion. It was necessary that I should
pretend to have visited the shop for some purpose: I asked for flowers,
wreaths, trimmings; they were all shown to me, but it was a man who was
obliging enough to spread before my eyes all the treasures of the
establishment, and the young women did not stir.

That did not meet my desires, but I realized that I could not remain
there all day. I bought fifty francs' worth of artificial flowers, for
which I paid cash; and I left my address, asking that they might be sent
to me during the day, as I was to leave for the country in the morning.
The man promised, and I left the shop. Caroline must have understood me;
but would she come? that remained to be seen.

I returned home, informed my concierge that I expected some parcels I
had just bought, and that the messenger was to bring them up to my room.
I went up myself, and fretted and fumed like all young men awaiting
their first assignation, like all young women whose mammas keep them in
the house when they are burning to go out. An hour passed, and no one
came. Another hour had nearly elapsed, and I was on the point of going
back to the shop, when my doorbell rang. I reached the door with one
bound and threw it open; there stood Monsieur Raymond, laden with an
enormous pasteboard box.

"What do you want, Monsieur Raymond?"

"My respects to you, neighbor!"

"But what brings you to my door, pray?"

"I will explain. Allow me to come in and put down this box."

And, without awaiting my reply, he entered my reception room and seated
himself on a chair. I remained standing in front of him, hoping that
that would make him cut his visit short.

"Excuse me if I make myself at home; but my back is still painful. That
wall was devilish high."

"What do you want of me? I beg you to tell me, for I am in a great
hurry."

"Here goes: in the first place, I wanted to make my peace with you,
because neighbors ought not to quarrel."

"Bless my soul! I have no desire to quarrel."

"I'm very glad of that; then that's all at an end. I was on the watch
for an opportunity to come here to speak to you; the opportunity came,
and I grasped it. Somebody rang at my door just now and asked for you."

"What's that? just now? Who was it?"

"A girl--very pretty, too; but not so pretty as the one the other
night."

"A girl! what did she want? pray go on!"

"She brought this box for you, and said there was no message."

"Well! where is she? what did you say?"

"I took charge of the box, telling her that you had gone out, so that I
might have the pleasure of delivering it myself and making my peace with
you."

"Great God! is it possible? Must you always meddle in other people's
business, just to drive me mad? I'll stake my head it was she!"

I opened the box, while Raymond stared at me in amazement; he did not
know which way to turn, seeing the gleam of anger in my eyes when he
expected thanks. I found all the flowers I had bought, and, in my rage,
I kicked the box away. The bouquets and trimmings flew through the air,
and a garland _à la jardinière_ lighted on Raymond's brow; he dared not
remove it, because my outburst of wrath had stupefied him.

After storming about and crumpling and mutilating my flowers, I threw
myself into a chair and my eyes fell upon my neighbor. At that sight my
anger vanished; it was impossible for me to keep a serious face when I
saw Raymond crowned with paper flowers and glancing about him in terror.
I roared with laughter; that reassured him, and he followed my example,
but his laughter was of that forced variety which resembles a grimace,
and not that inextinguishable merriment in which the gods indulge when
Vulcan fills their glasses.

    "Vulcan to find involved in this debate,
     The gentle reader'd scarce anticipate."

"Well," said Monsieur Raymond at last, still trying to smile, "your
angry fit seems to have passed over?"

"I must make the best of it."

"Aren't you satisfied with the goods they sent you?"

"Much I care for the goods, Monsieur Raymond! you will compel me to
move."

"I, neighbor? Why so, pray?"

"Because you seem to be stationed beside me here to thwart all my plans,
to drive me mad with rage!"

"I don't understand."

"Why, in heaven's name, when people ring at your door by mistake, don't
you send them to me? Why do you say that I'm not at home when I am? Why
did you undertake to deliver this box, when I desired to speak to the
person who brought it?"

"My dear neighbor, I am distressed--I was entirely ignorant----"

"I beg you, Monsieur Raymond, as a favor, not to meddle in my affairs
any more, or we shall have a serious falling-out! You have quite enough
other occupation in the house, listening to the gossip of the cooks,
keeping an eye on the women, playing the spy on the girls, and mixing
yourself up in family rows, without disturbing yourself concerning my
conduct."

"I assure you, neighbor, that someone has been slandering me to you. I
am incapable--I love a jest, that's the whole of it; but I never gossip.
In the first place, I am not talkative. If I were, I might tell you that
the lady on the first floor has two lovers; that her husband keeps a
mistress; that Monsieur Gérard, on the second, is in a bad way in
business, and that I've seen summonses for him in the concierge's hands;
that Madame Bertin gives evening parties in order to get husbands for
her daughters; that her cook makes a handsome commission on her
provisions; that the cook at the rear of the courtyard has a lover she
carries soup to; that Gerville the government clerk is running into debt
and doesn't answer the bell when his creditors ring; and a thousand
other things. But it's none of my business; I have quite enough to do to
attend to my own affairs, without bothering my head about other
people's. I took this box, thinking that I was doing you a favor, and
because I wanted an opportunity to make myself useful to you. It made
you angry, and I won't do it again. After this, I'll send away people
who want to speak to you, even when you're not in. I salute you,
neighbor!"

"By the way, one other word, if you please. What sort of looking girl
was it who brought the box?"

"Why, very good-looking--that is to say, attractive."

"How tall?"

"Medium."

"Dark hair?"

"Yes; dark or chestnut-colored."

"Black eyes?"

"Yes; that is to say, dark gray."

"Ah! it was she!"

"Who is she?"

"That doesn't concern you, Monsieur Raymond."

"True; I asked the question inadvertently. Adieu!--By the way, are you
going to Madame Vauvert's to-night? There's to be a grand party, a
concert, and perhaps dancing. I fancy there'll be lots of people there.
I am going to sing the aria from _Joconde_. Monsieur Vauvert sent me
word that he should have a young woman who plays finely on the guitar,
and a gentleman who sings in Italian like a Bouffon."

"A most alluring prospect."

"I believe Madame Bertin is going, with her young ladies. The younger
one is studying a piece that she's to play on the piano. But time flies,
and I have a lot of errands to do.--Au revoir, neighbor! I promised
Vauvert to bring him a 'cello and a second violin to complete his
quartette. I must go and drum up my performers."

He went away at last. The infernal fellow was responsible for my failure
to see Caroline; for I had no doubt that it was she who had brought my
box. What was I to do next? If I went again to the shop, what should I
say? I had no idea; but I did not propose to have my rooms filled with
artificial flowers to no purpose. I returned to Rue Sainte-Apolline.

The proprietor was out; so much the better. I complained and stormed
because my flowers had not been sent. A girl rose and declared that she
had left them at my rooms. It was not Caroline; therefore, it was not
she who had come. I became calmer and shifted the blame onto my
neighbor's shoulders. The forewoman scolded the girl. I bought some more
wreaths, pretending that I had forgotten to buy them on my first visit;
and I asked to have them sent with me. This time Caroline was selected
to be the messenger. At last I was to have an opportunity to speak to
her freely, to be alone with her!

"One moment!" I said to myself; "I haven't reached that point yet; I
must not be too sure beforehand; one is so often disappointed!"

Mademoiselle Caroline walked with her eyes bent on the ground, and I
remained at a respectful distance; but when we were a few steps from the
shop, I put her into a cab, which took us to my domicile. She hesitated
at first about entering the cab, but I urged her; she consented at last,
and then she had no choice but to listen to all that love impelled me to
say, if I may give the name of _love_ to the caprice that had occupied
my thoughts since the preceding night.

But obstacles give added value to the most trifling fancy, and sometimes
transform a simple caprice into a deep-rooted sentiment. The difficulty
which I had encountered in obtaining an interview with Caroline caused
me to find a greater charm in her company; my words had more fire, more
eloquence; and so little is required to convince a girl whose heart is
already half vanquished.

Everything, therefore, led me to hope for the most perfect success. In
time the cab stopped, we alighted, and Mademoiselle Caroline handed me
my box, refusing to go up to my rooms. In vain did I promise, aye,
swear to be good; I was powerless to overcome the flowermaker's
obstinacy; all that I could obtain was an appointment on the boulevard
for the following evening.

She left me, and I entered the house alone. I could not help thinking of
the difference between Mademoiselle Caroline's conduct and Nicette's.
The little flower girl, who had known me but a few minutes, herself
proposed to come to my apartment at midnight; while the grisette, having
an excuse for going there, was afraid to venture in broad daylight. What
was I to conclude? That one realized the danger more fully than the
other? No. Nicette realized it; but she simply did not think of it; she
trusted me. That Caroline was more virtuous than Nicette was impossible;
indeed, I feared the contrary, and that there might be the same
difference in their respective morals as in the flowers they dealt in.

I must, in any event, wait until the time appointed for our meeting. I
determined to go that evening to Madame Vauvert's; not to hear Raymond
sing the _Joconde_ aria, but because there was generally a collection of
original creatures there that amused me, to say nothing of the master
and mistress of the house, who are well worth a chapter to themselves.



XIII

AN AMATEUR CONCERT


In Paris there are parties for all tastes, all social ranks, all
professions, all shades of opinion; in a word, for all classes.

A young man with tact and breeding may go everywhere; nothing is so easy
as to obtain admission to the enormous parties, the gorgeous fêtes and
balls, which are so popular that people go thither in crowds and do not
see one another. The master and mistress of the house do not know the
names of half the men who crowd their salons. In the best society it is
customary for an invited guest to introduce whomsoever he may choose,
without asking permission. The newcomer salutes the host and his wife;
they exchange the conventional phrases, smiling at each other most
amicably; that is all that is necessary; and one may then proceed to
play cards, dance, and regale one's self, without paying any further
attention to the master of the house.

It is not so easy to obtain admission to what are called _bourgeois_
parties. There the host, being a little more particular than the banker
or marquis of the Chaussée d'Antin, likes to know the people who come to
his house. When one young man introduces another to him, he inquires his
name, his profession, and his character; indeed, there are some who
carry their absurd prejudices so far as to turn a cold shoulder to young
men whose too free and easy manners do not please them. But this
extreme severity of morals is found only in the Marais or in the heart
of Faubourg Saint-Germain.

Between the first society and the bourgeoisie, between etiquette and
license, there are the delightful circles, distinguished by amiable
freedom of manner, artless gayety, and a pleasant intimacy; these are
generally to be found among artists. The arts go hand in hand; genuine
talents are not jealous of one another; they esteem, seek out, and
appreciate one another; that is why we find among them wit without
malice, jesting without bitterness, rivalry without envy, merit without
arrogance, and wealth without display.

Next come the strange, abnormal parties, which are made up from all the
others. The people who give them do not know how to receive company; but
they insist upon having company all the time, because it is good form to
give soirées, and in these days no one is willing to lag behind his
neighbor. For my part, I am in the habit of going only where I am
invited by the host himself; I do not like to be introduced by another
guest, unless it be at one of those crushes to which one goes as one
would go to the theatre; and one may stay away from a second one without
being taxed with discourtesy, because there is no danger of having been
noticed at the first.

The function of Monsieur and Madame Vauvert may be placed in the last
category. The master of the house fancied that he was a musician, but he
had never in his life been able to beat a measure in three time, or to
observe a minim rest or a crotchet rest, although he used his feet, his
head, and his hands. He thrummed a little on the guitar; and when he had
succeeded in accompanying some little ballad, without falling in with a
minim rest or a crotchet one on the way, he was the happiest of men.
Add to this an enduring passion for the fair sex, to which he paid
assiduous court, despite his wife, a nose always smeared with snuff,
soiled clothes and frills, strong breath and shifty eyes, a figure of
medium height and a body that was always trembling, and you will have an
idea of Monsieur Vauvert, who was a very good fellow in spite of his
trifling faults, and whose greatest crime was not to be virtuous and
orderly at forty-five. Gayety is of all ages, but libertinage is a
different matter.

    "If there's a time for folly,
     So there's a time for sense."

And I trust that at forty I shall be as virtuous as I now am the
opposite. But let us come to Madame Vauvert.

She must once have been good-looking; the trouble was that she insisted
upon continuing to be so. Her complexion was still fresh and ruddy, even
when she was ill; which tempted unkind tongues to say that she made it
herself. She was not familiar with the manners of good society, but by
way of compensation she had a vast deal of curiosity and an
extraordinary talent for setting people by the ears, while seeming never
to speak ill of anyone; she also had a very pronounced penchant for
good-looking youths and for chocolate.

Still, Madame Vauvert's parties were very entertaining, because there
was not the slightest restraint, everyone did what he chose, and one was
certain of meeting a lot of original people and of seeing some new faces
at every party. Most of those who appeared there simply passed on and
off, as in a magic lantern; those whose only aim was to be amused went
again and again. I was one of the latter; so Vauvert had come to call me
his dear friend, while his charming spouse always greeted me with a
most gracious little smile.

As Monsieur Vauvert was only a government clerk, he did not live on the
first floor; but on his reception evenings he caused candle ends to be
placed along the staircase, so that the artists and amateurs might not
break their noses before reaching the third floor above the entresol. He
had no servant, but he had a nephew some fourteen or fifteen years old,
who was junior clerk to a notary; a sly, mischievous youngster, whom his
dear uncle tried to make useful on his festal days, which displeased the
young man, who on those occasions always returned home later than usual
from the notary's, in order not to be at the service of his uncle and
aunt. It was nearly ten o'clock when I arrived at Monsieur Vauvert's;
the company rarely assembled before that hour, for the petty bourgeois
try to mimic the nobility, and think it good form to arrive very late at
a party. Musicians, whether amateurs or professionals, love to keep
people waiting; and I believe that, in due time, evening parties will
not begin until the next morning.

I rang. The door was opened by Madame Vauvert; whence I concluded that
the young nephew had not yet returned.

"Ah! here you are, my little Dorsan; it's very good of you to come; we
shall have a lot of people to-night."

"You _will_ have? Do you mean to say that your guests haven't arrived
yet?"

"Some of them are late; but it's early yet."

"Not very."

"We have a tall young lady from the Conservatoire, who has a magnificent
voice."

"The deuce!"

"And a lady who plays the 'cello."

"Great heaven! why, here it's as it is at Nicolet's: always worse and
worse!"

"Ha! ha! what a funny fellow!"

"What music have you had already?"

"Nothing yet."

"What! nothing? and it's ten o'clock! For whom are you waiting to begin
your concert?"

"Little Martin hasn't come yet, to play the piano accompaniments."

"Isn't his sister here?"

"Yes, but she won't play to-night; she's sick; she's having one of her
nervous attacks."

"Ah, yes! that's quite natural. But where's your husband?"

"He's gone out to get a 'cello part and to borrow a second violin, so
that we can have a quartette."

"It seems to me that it would have been well to set about it a little
sooner."

"Why, the poor man's been running his legs off ever since dinner. He had
to fetch Madame Rosemonde and her daughter, then go to the musical
instrument maker's for a double bass, then send for Mademoiselle
Luquet's harp, then go to make sure that Monsieur Crachini could come;
in fact, there's no end to what he's had to do!"

"I can see that he has had his hands full."

"And that little rascal of a Friquet doesn't come home! I hope his uncle
will give him a good trouncing to-night. But come in, my dear fellow."

Our conversation was held in a narrow passage leading on one side to the
dining room, which did duty as bedroom and dressing room, and on the
other to the salon. I entered this last-named apartment, where the
regular habitués and the newcomers were assembled. Everyone was
wondering what the host and hostess could be doing, that no one had seen
them; everyone was calling for them, and asking why the music could not
begin; but not one of the singers was willing to sing first, and the
instrumentalists seemed no better disposed.

"It seems to me that things aren't likely to go very well to-night,"
said a short, pockmarked man, who waddled up to me, smiling maliciously,
whose nose was hidden by his bulging cheeks, and whose eyes one sought
in vain behind his spectacles. "Almost ten o'clock, and nothing doing;
you must agree that it's disrespectful to the company! Poor Vauvert!
passing his evening scouring the neighborhood for instruments and
scores! It's amusing enough! There are not two houses like this in
Paris."

"That is just why it's so priceless. But aren't you going to sing
to-night?"

"Yes; I've brought my song from _Jean de Paris_; it's called the
_Princesse de Navarre_."

"I seem to remember that you sang that to us at the last reception."

"So I did; but I haven't had time to learn anything else; and then, you
know, it's such a fine thing!--

    "''Tis the Princesse de Navarre whom I annou--ou--ounce!'

Gad! how pretty it is!"

"Yes, when Martin sings it, it's delightful. Shall we have much singing
to-night?"

"Oh! we shall have some sport. Raymond is to sing the aria from
_Joconde_; that tall girl yonder is to sing the inevitable song from
_Montano et Stéphanie_; the pupil from the Conservatoire has brought a
song, too; and Monsieur Crachini will obligingly deafen us with a
romanza or two. Then Chamonin and his friend are to make an attempt at a
duo from the Bouffes. That's enough, I hope! God grant that Gripaille
doesn't take his guitar to accompany us! if he does, we are lost."

As the chubby-faced little man finished speaking, Gripaille accosted
him, and was greeted with:

"Well, my dear Gripaille, aren't we to have the pleasure of hearing you?
Come, bring out your guitar; these ladies are dying for some of your
chords."

Gripaille, who considered himself the first guitarist in Paris, replied,
casting a seductive leer upon the ladies who surrounded us:

"What the devil do you expect me to sing you? I don't know anything!
I've got a cold, too; and then, Vauvert's guitar is such a wretched
instrument! a regular chestnut stove! it's impossible to play on it."

"With such talent as yours, one can play on anything," observed a little
old woman, throwing herself back in her chair and clasping her hands
ecstatically, while tears of pleasure started from her eyes. "Mon Dieu!
what blissful moments I owe to you! Music produces such an effect on
me--such an effect! you can't form any idea of it; my nerves are so
sensitive, I abandon myself so utterly to the melody! Take your guitar,
enchanter! take it and make me dream! You remind me of a handsome
traveller who played the guitar under my windows when I was young!"

The chubby-faced gentleman and I turned away, to avoid laughing in the
face of the old woman, from whom Gripaille had great difficulty in
extricating himself. Old age is certainly most worthy of respect; but it
is hard to keep a serious face before such old idiots, who fall into a
trance during a ballad or an _adagio_.

I saw the old man who usually played the 'cello part look at his watch,
and heard him mutter between his teeth:

"This is very disagreeable! I must be at home at eleven o'clock, and we
are wasting all this time doing nothing; and I've been here since seven!
They were laughing at me when they told me that they were going to begin
early, and that there would be a full quartette here; but they won't
catch me again."

At last Monsieur Vauvert appeared, panting, almost breathless, drenched
with perspiration, and bending beneath the burden of a tenor violin and
several portfolios of music.

"Here I am! here I am!" he exclaimed, bustling into the room with an air
of great bewilderment; "I've had hard work collecting all the parts, but
I've succeeded at last."

"You must have been diverting yourself between whiles," said Madame
Vauvert, pursing her lips.

"Oh, yes! parbleu! that's very likely; diverting myself, indeed! I'm
bathed in perspiration!--You can begin the quartette, messieurs."

"Let's begin, let's begin!" said Monsieur Pattier, the 'cello player;
"we have very little time.--But have you brought my score?"

"Yes, yes! there it is on the stand."

"Come, messieurs, let's tune up."

The amateurs who formed the quartette tried to bring their instruments
in tune with one another. Meanwhile, the guests took their places to
listen; sat down when they could find chairs. The ladies were already
yawning; the bare announcement of a quartette gave them the vapors; to
distract their thoughts, they chatted with the men who stood behind
their chairs. They whispered and laughed and made fun of everybody,
especially of the performers; the moment when music is being performed
is always selected by the listeners to make the most noise.

At last the intrepid amateurs were in tune and took their places at
their desks. The old 'cello player had put his little shade of green
paper round his candle, so that the light should not hurt his eyes; the
tenor violinist had put on his spectacles; the second violin put an
ounce of rosin on his bow; and the first violin adjusted his cravat so
that his instrument should not rumple his collar.

All these preliminaries being completed,--during which Vauvert tried to
bring the assemblage to order by many a prolonged _hush_!--the first
violin raised his bow and stamped on the floor, glancing from one to
another of his colleagues.

"Are we ready?" he said at last, with a determined air.

"Oh! I've been ready two hours!" retorted Monsieur Pattier, with an
angry shrug.

"One moment, messieurs," said the second violin; "my first string is
loose; it's a new string; I must tighten it."

The tenor seized the opportunity to play over a passage that seemed
rather difficult, and the 'cellist consoled himself with a pinch of
snuff.

"Now I'm ready," said the second violin.

"That's very fortunate.--Attention, messieurs, if you please; we will
play the _allegro_ rather slowly, and the _adagio_ somewhat quickly;
that produces a better effect."

"As you please; it's your place to beat time."

The signal was given; the first violin started, and the others straggled
after, as usual. Although I paid little attention to the quartette, it
seemed to me to be even worse than ordinarily.

"The villains have sworn to flay us alive!" said one of my neighbors.

"That isn't right! that isn't right!" cried the first violin, stopping
short.

"I don't see why it didn't go well enough," observed the tenor.

"No, no! there was something that was all wrong."

"Where was it?"

"Where? I can't say exactly."

"Well, _I_ didn't miss a note," said the second violin.

"Nor I."

"Nor I."

"Come, messieurs, let us begin again."

"All right, but see that you beat time properly."

"I should say that I beat time loud enough."

"To be sure you do," said Madame Vauvert; "and the person who lives
underneath said she would complain to the landlord."

They began to play again; but it went no better, although the first
violin writhed and gesticulated like one possessed; the company began to
laugh, and the performers stopped.

"It certainly doesn't go right," said Monsieur Longuet, the first violin
and conductor. "There must be mistakes somewhere; let me see the 'cello
score. What does this mean? you're playing in _B_ flat and we in _D_!
Parbleu! I'm not surprised."

"I'm playing just what you told me to," rejoined old Pattier, scarlet
with anger; "the first quartette in the first portfolio."

"True; how the devil does it happen? Let's look at the title. What do I
see? Mozart's quartette! and we are playing one of Pleyel's! Ha! ha!
that's a good one!"

Everybody laughed at the episode; Monsieur Pattier alone was furious
over the mistake, for which Vauvert was responsible, and which resulted
in preventing the performance of the quartette. He rushed up to the
master of the house, who had just seated himself in a corner of the
salon beside a young brunette on whom he was bestowing meaning glances.

"How's this, Monsieur Vauvert? You tell me that you have brought the
score that was missing, and you give me the bass of a Mozart quartette
when we are to play one of Pleyel's!"

"I thought I heard you mention Mozart."

"You thought! a man doesn't make such mistakes as that!"

"Well! I'll go and change it."

"No, no, it's no use; almost eleven o'clock; a pretty time to go out
after music! I shan't forget this trick."

Père Pattier went away, muttering savagely; nobody paid any attention to
him. Madame Vauvert scolded her husband for his blunder, and the company
congratulated themselves on their escape from the quartette; while the
tenor, who was determined not to be squelched, persisted in trying the
brilliant passages of his part. Neighbor Raymond had just arrived, with
his favorite piece under his arm. I noticed several new faces, and I was
looking about for Madame Bertin and her daughters, who seldom came to
Monsieur Vauvert's, whose decidedly mixed society was ill suited to
well-bred young ladies, when I heard the confused murmur that announces
the arrival of a new personage.

I looked toward the door of the salon. A very stylishly dressed lady was
being escorted into the room by Vauvert, on whose arm she leaned, and
whose soiled linen, snuffy nose, and awkward manner were in striking
contrast to the grace, the refinement, and the elegant manners of the
lady, for whom he tried to find a seat in his salon, where vacant chairs
were as scarce as at Tivoli. I spied one by the fireplace, upon which a
huge cat lay asleep; I threw the cat to the floor, and presented the
chair to the newcomer, who thanked me as she accepted it. Thereupon I
examined her more closely, and recognized the lady whom I had seen at
the theatre two nights before, and whose carriage I had made a vain
attempt to follow. I was fully convinced that it was she when I saw in
the doorway the man who accompanied her on that occasion.

Decidedly that Saturday evening was destined to mark an epoch in my
life; for chance had thrown in my way all the persons who had then
attracted my attention. I was Nicette's friend, I hoped to be Caroline's
lover, and as for this other lady, whose name I did not know as yet, I
was ready to bet that we should become better acquainted.

Neighbor Raymond, who lost no time when he hoped to win applause, had
already approached the piano and was looking about for someone to
accompany him. But Monsieur Gripaille, seeing that no one asked him to
sing, or paid any attention to him, ran and seized the guitar, seated
himself in the centre of the salon, and prepared to begin. Singing is
always the most popular part of a concert, especially a concert of
amateurs, where those who play upon any instrument are rarely good
enough players or good enough musicians to give pleasure to their
audience. A quartette entertains none but those who take part in it; a
sonata on the piano makes people yawn; airs with variations for the harp
are always twice too long, and pieces for the guitar always fall flat
after other instruments. Only for singing, therefore, does the audience
at such affairs care to cease its conversation; a pleasant voice never
wearies the attention or the ears.

But Monsieur Gripaille had not a pleasant voice--far from it; it was a
continual medley of falsetto, shrill notes, and transitions of an
octave, the whole accompanied by the thrumming of his thumb on the bass
chord of the guitar, while he shook his head from side to side to add to
his personal charms. However, the airs he sang were sometimes tuneful,
the words amusing, and his performance diverted the company for a
moment. But as he always sang the same things, we knew them by heart;
and when he once had the guitar in his hands, it was impossible to make
him put it down; after the ballad came a rondeau, after the rondeau a
comic song, after the comic song another ballad, and so on. I was not
bored, because I was talking with the new arrival, who seemed vastly
astonished at all that she saw, and very glad to find me there; for she
recognized me, and I saw that my presence was not disagreeable to her.

But soon I heard neighbor Raymond and the man with spectacles
objurgating Gripaille because he did not stop singing.

"It's horrible! it's murderous! it's enough to put you to sleep!" said
Raymond; "he'll never stop!"

"Oh! when he once has his guitar, we are lost! there's nothing to do but
let him sing."

"And he doesn't want anyone to make a sound, either; not even to speak.
See! he's glancing angrily in this direction now, because we're
talking."

"I don't care if he is; it's altogether too much; tunes that he's sung
to us twenty times!"

"He says that he wrote them."

"He lies; I've seen them printed under another name."

"Great God! I believe he's beginning another one. That fellow ought to
be forbidden to enter a salon."

"Faith, yes! let's call Vauvert, and tell him to make him shut up."

"He wouldn't dare."

"I'll tell you; we must have some young lady escorted to the piano;
perhaps that will compel Gripaille to give up his place."

The two men ran after Vauvert, who was in the utmost perplexity, for he
did not know how to request his friend Gripaille to cease to entertain
the company. At last, a tall, stout young woman consented to sing; young
Martin arrived to play the accompaniments, and they were escorted to the
piano. Gripaille pretended not to see what was going on, and played the
prelude to his sixth comic song; but the noise in the dressing room,
where a party of young men had assembled who could not find room in the
salon, forced the guitarist to abandon the contest; he rose very
ill-humoredly, despite the faint forced applause, and for lack of
something better to do sat down in front of the little old woman, who
had been partly in a trance and partly in heaven throughout his singing.

"Come," she said to Gripaille, as he approached, "come, let me embrace
you! You have enchanted me--exalted me to the skies--that is the word!
Come, I entreat you!"

The wretched guitarist was compelled to submit; he embraced the old lady
with a good grace; admirers are rare, and one has to pay dear for them.

My neighbor spied me and came to me with outstretched hand; but he
halted in front of my fair unknown, to whom he made a sweeping bow. The
devil of a fellow seemed to know everybody. I listened to their
conversation.

"Whom do I see? Madame de Marsan! by what chance? Really, this is a
happiness I did not expect! To what are we indebted for this pleasant
surprise?"

"Monsieur de Marsan meets Monsieur Vauvert sometimes at the department,
and Monsieur Vauvert has been urging him for a long time to come to his
concerts; so to-day we decided to come;--but I confess," she said,
turning to me, "that I did not expect all that I see."

"We will try, madame, to give you so much pleasure that you will not
regret your evening."

Thereupon my neighbor ran to the piano, doubtless to preëmpt the place
next to the tall young lady. But the little chubby-faced man had
anticipated him, and I foresaw that we could not escape the _Princesse
de Navarre_.

While the young woman was singing her air from _Montano et Stéphanie_,
being forced to give up my chair to a damsel who was looking about in
vain for a seat, I went for a breath of air to the dressing room, where
a number of young men had taken refuge, driven from the salon by the
shrill cries of the singer. At that moment the doorbell rang; Vauvert
opened the door, and little Friquet appeared. I expected a scene between
the uncle and the nephew, and I waited to hear.

"Where have you been, you rascal?" demanded Vauvert, trying to assume an
imposing air.

"Why, uncle, I have been--I have been at the office."

"At your office, until eleven o'clock at night!"

"Yes, uncle."

"You don't expect to make us believe that, I hope?"

"Why not, uncle?"

"Because I know that you leave it every night at nine o'clock."

"The head clerk gave me some errands to do, uncle; that is what made me
so late."

"Errands! I know how you do errands! I've been hearing about you, young
scoundrel that you are!"

"In the first place, uncle, I am not a scoundrel."

"Your head clerk told me that the day before yesterday morning, while
they were waiting for a very urgent paper that they'd sent you to have
signed, he found you sitting coolly under Pont des Arts, fishing."

"Me, uncle, me! My word, what a lie!"

"He has the face to deny it, when I have proofs of the fact!"

"Proofs? what proofs?"

"Look, Monsieur Friquet, here's a package of hooks that I found in your
coat pocket. Well! what do you say to that?"

"That doesn't prove anything, uncle; I didn't buy those hooks for
myself."

"For whom did you buy them, then?"

"For my brother, who means to go fishing in the Canal de l'Ourcq on
Sunday."

"You're the most shameless liar I know. I'll bet that you bought a
theatre check to-night, and that you've been to see the end of some
play."

"You know perfectly well that I haven't got any money, uncle."

"Oh! you always have money to go to the theatre and to stuff yourself.
Come, monsieur, fill the glasses and pass them round to the ladies."

"That's it!" muttered the little nephew, turning angrily on his heel;
"as soon as I get home, I have to be uncle's servant, they'd better get
a negro. And then, the first thing in the morning, aunt sends me to get
her milk and her fuel, and lights for her cat."

"You seem to be arguing the matter!" said Madame Vauvert, pinching
Friquet's arm; "there! that's to teach you to grumble."

"Ow! how mean to pinch me like that, aunt! I shall be black and blue for
a week."

"So much the better!"

"Mon Dieu! how ugly she is!" muttered Friquet; and I saw him, for
consolation, take a slice of cake out of his pocket and swallow it in
three mouthfuls.

But the shrill sounds had ceased; the tall young lady was no longer
singing. The little chubby-faced man took her place; he was determined
to sing his air from _Jean de Paris_, and we had to resign ourselves.
While he struggled to hold out his notes, coughing at every ritornelle
to make us believe that he had a cold, I saw the other singers look at
each other, make signs, yawn, and compress their lips. In truth,
amateurs are more unkind than professionals, and they who are in great
need of indulgence for themselves are always ready to tear others to
tatters. They think to conceal their own mediocrity by calling attention
to their neighbor's lack of talent; self-esteem, which blinds us to our
own defects, impels us to seek out with avidity the faults of others, as
if we were the gainers thereby! What folly! Because Monsieur So-and-So
sings false, does that give you a fine voice? because he plays the
violin badly, are you the better performer on the piano? because another
is ugly, awkward, and ridiculous, are you any handsomer, more graceful,
and more agreeable? Of course not; but it is always pleasant to see
people at whom one can poke fun, and whom we believe to be less
abundantly endowed by Nature than we. Remember that Roquelaure joyously
threw himself on the neck of a man who seemed to him even uglier than
himself. But, monsieur, what a difference! Roquelaure sacrificed his
self-esteem; but you, had you been in his place, would have made sport
of the man he embraced, and, turning to look in a mirror, would have
deemed yourself handsome, I vow.

The _Princesse de Navarre_ being duly executed, the little man made the
circuit of the salon, trying to pick up a word of praise, even from
those whom he had so recently declared to be ignorant of music; for
praise is always pleasant. Everybody told him that he had sung very
well; that was inevitable; we were well bred, which means that we had
ceased to be frank. I alone ventured to observe that he seemed to have a
cold; he turned as red as a turkey cock, and his nose vanished
completely.

"That is so," he said at last; "I have a very bad cold; it embarrassed
me a great deal."

"Why did you sing, then?"

"Oh! people urged me so hard!"

And I had seen him dispute with Raymond for the opportunity! What
strange creatures men are! But, hush! my neighbor was going to sing;
that deserved attention. But, no; two other men anticipated him; they
sang an Italian duet, I believe; but it was difficult to understand the
veritable hotchpotch they made at the piano: one shook his head to mark
time, as a bear dances behind the bars of his cage; the other, who was
evidently very short-sighted, kept his nose glued to the music. The
young man who acted as accompanist tried in vain to make them sing
together: it was impossible.

"You're behind," said one.

"That's because I skipped a line."

"Well, go on!"

"You go too fast; you hurry me. I never saw the music before, and to
sing Italian at sight is devilish hard."

I was sure that he had been studying his part for a fortnight. Despite
their efforts, they were obliged to leave the duet half sung.

"We will sing it the next time," said Monsieur Chamonin; "we shall be
surer of ourselves then, for the piece needs to be carefully studied.
Rossini is very chromatic."

"That's so," said Vauvert, stuffing his nose with snuff, a part of which
remained on his shirt front; "it's a pity you didn't finish it, for I
thought it was very pretty."

"We'll go and hear it once more at the Bouffons."

"They had better stay there," said Gripaille, in an undertone, delighted
by their misadventure.

"For my part, I don't care for Italian," said Madame Vauvert. "I never
can hear anything but _tchi and tcha_; and it doesn't amuse me in the
least."

"Oh! what blasphemy, madame! not like Rossini!"

"Who's Rossini, uncle?" inquired the youthful clerk, who had stolen into
the salon. "Seems to me I've seen that name, in _Don Quixote_."

"The idiot, to mistake _Rosinante for Rossini_! Go and wash the glasses,
booby, and don't mix in the conversation again."

At last my neighbor was at the piano, and had opened his mouth to an
enormous width to inform us that he had "long wandered o'er the world."
But at that moment we heard the notes of a 'cello, and Vauvert appeared
with a music stand, which he placed in the centre of the salon.

"What on earth are you doing there?" shouted Raymond; "don't you see
that I am singing?"

"Madame Witcheritche is going to play her solo on the 'cello."

"In a few minutes; I am singing now, I tell you. Madame Witcheritche can
play afterward."

"No, she wants to play now, because it's getting late."

And paying no heed to the mutterings of Raymond, who, in his wrath,
overturned the candlestick on the piano, Vauvert arranged the music
stand, then went to usher in the German virtuoso, whom I had not
previously noticed. She was a very handsome woman, very fair and
somewhat insipid, like most German women, but well built and graceful;
she held the 'cello between her legs with astonishing ease, and seemed
not at all abashed. She played easily and with excellent taste; and I
saw by the long faces of the members of the quartette that they had not
expected to encounter in one of the other sex a musical talent in
presence of which they could no longer hope to shine.

I heard a voice at my ear incessantly repeating:

"Gut, gut, sehr gut; tudge lidely, holt te pow firm; lidely on te
shtrings!"

I turned and saw a hideous face looking first at the performer, then at
the company, making grimaces for tokens of approval, and rolling about a
pair of eyes that reminded me of Brunet's in the _Désespoir de
Jocrisse_. The owner of that extraordinary countenance was a tall man in
a threadbare green coat, of vulgar aspect, and with pretentious airs
which made him even more ridiculous.

"Who is that individual?" I asked one of my neighbors.

"That's the husband of the lady playing the 'cello."

"What! such a disgusting face approach that charming head! What an
outrage! It reminds me of a Satyr beside a Hebe."

"Still, the lady seems to be fond of her husband."

"It's easy to see that she's a foreigner. What does this husband of hers
do?"

"Nothing; he's a baron."

"A baron! I should never have suspected it; he looks more like a
cobbler. But in Germany everybody's a baron, just as in Russia all the
soldiers have decorations; it doesn't mean anything."

Monsieur le Baron de Witcheritche, who, as he rolled his eyes about, had
doubtless observed that I was looking at him, came to me as soon as his
wife had finished, and began to converse with a smiling face. I have
observed that the Germans smile a great deal when they are talking. I
regretted that it was not courteous to laugh in a person's face, for
Monsieur le Baron de Witcheritche was very amusing to look at,
especially when he wished to make himself agreeable. I wondered what he
wanted of me.

"I'll pet tat monsir is ein egsberd on te 'cello. Monsir is ein much gut
blayer himself, hein?"

"I, monsieur? you are mistaken; I do not play at all."

"Oh! you vish not to admit it; I can tivine all at once te innermost
toughts of bersons py tare faces."

"The deuce! you are very fortunate, Monsieur le Baron de Witcheritche!"

"I haf shtudy te human heard; I am most egsberd in physsionomique."

"What do you say, monsieur le baron?"

"I say I am ein egsberd in physsionomique."

"I don't understand at all."

"In physsionomique."

"Oh! you mean physiognomy."

Monsieur le baron turned on his heel, without a smile. The best way to
rid one's self of a foreigner is to pretend not to understand him.

Meanwhile my little dialogue with Monsieur de Witcheritche had caused me
to miss Monsieur Crachini's romanza. I was sorry, for he always combined
with his singing an expressive pantomime which made it doubly
interesting. While various other amateurs entertained the company, I
looked about for Raymond; for being unable to find a seat beside Madame
de Marsan, I was anxious to obtain some information concerning her, and
my neighbor was the very man to give me that.

He was not in the salon. I went into the smaller room, where my entrance
brought to an abrupt close a whispered conversation between Vauvert and
a fair-haired lady who had been in the dining room an hour, looking for
her shawl amid a multitude of bonnets, mantles, and shawls which were
tossed pell-mell on the bed of the host and hostess.

"Are you leaving us already?" said Vauvert, in a melting voice, glancing
behind him to see if his wife was coming.

"Yes, it's very late; I must go home."

"My nephew will escort you.--Friquet! Friquet!"

Friquet appeared, and swore between his teeth at having to escort the
blonde lady; he spent an interminable time looking for his hat and
exclaiming in the lady's ears that it was a nuisance to go out so late
and go home with everybody. His uncle pulled his ears, and I joined
Raymond, who was exhaling his vexation at the dressing room window.

"Aren't you going to sing, neighbor?"

"Is it possible to do anything here, I should like to know? Did you ever
see such confusion? such disorder? I don't know where I am! I've told
Vauvert a hundred times to draw up a programme and paste it on a mirror;
then everything would go off in an orderly way. But, no; he won't listen
to anything! he amuses himself pinching and squeezing such little girls
as he can find in the corners, instead of attending to his concert."

"It is certainly true that it might be managed better."

"The idea of giving us a concerto for the 'cello that there's no end to;
just to grate on our ears! And then, I don't care what you may say, a
woman who plays the 'cello is always absurd! It reminds me of a man
darning stockings; and madame la baronne would do much better to stay at
home and darn hers than execute _staccatos_ and _arpeggios_."

"What do you say? a baroness darn stockings?"

"Oh! nonsense! a pretty baron he makes! I saw him the other day on
Boulevard du Temple, buying apples at a sou a bag; and he was haggling
too! He bought sausage by the yard for his dinner; and someone who's
been at his house told me that they gave him gooseberries for
refreshment! But this Vauvert's a star! he tries to make us believe that
he entertains princes, ambassadors perhaps! whereas his house is a
veritable Noah's Ark."

"By the way, you seem to know Madame de Marsan?"

"Madame de Marsan? yes, to be sure; I go to her parties. She's a fine
woman, rather a flirt, as you must have seen; but she has wit and good
breeding and style; she's a woman who calls herself twenty-eight, and is
really thirty-two. She is known to have had several passions; but as
she doesn't advertise them and is always regardful of decorum, there's
nothing to say: morals before everything. The husband is a good sort of
fellow, very sharp, they say, when his own interests are concerned. He's
in business; but he's not one of those poor devils who run about for a
fortnight to discount a note which will be worth a commission of seven
or eight francs to them; or one of those who offer you with an air of
mystery houses that are advertised in the _Petits-Affiches_. This fellow
knows what he's about, and makes a lot of money. He has a fine country
house, beyond Saint-Denis, in which madame has had a pretty little
theatre arranged; in fact, I am to act there very soon. She's a valuable
acquaintance; for there's lots of fun at her house. I myself have been
there twice, and I know that they think a great deal of me. If you
choose, my dear fellow, I'll take you there; if introduced by me, you
will be warmly welcomed."

"Thanks; but, as you know, I don't like to be presented in that way."

Raymond left me, to return to the piano; he had not lost all hope of
getting himself heard. I knew all that I wanted to know concerning
Madame de Marsan. I returned to the salon. I had reason to believe that
the lady was questioning my neighbor about me, and I knew that I need
not be afraid of losing her good opinion through Raymond's description
of me, for he was one of those men who like to pretend that they have
none but the most desirable acquaintances. I was in comfortable
circumstances, and he had probably represented me as very wealthy; I was
born of respectable parents, and he had probably placed me in one of
the oldest families in France; and so on. To be sure, Madame de Marsan
might have been told that I was fickle, inconstant, treacherous; but
those failings never do a man any harm with the ladies.

A selection had just been performed on the harp; the performer had made
but one mistake, had had to tune her instrument but twice, and had
broken but four strings; we had no cause of complaint. Raymond had left
Madame de Marsan, to find an accompanist, and threatened, if he failed
in his quest, to accompany himself; by dint of hunting, urging, and
entreating, he succeeded in bringing young Martin to the piano; he began
to cough and expectorate, changed the position of the candles, ordered
the windows to be closed, and struck an attitude supposed to represent
Joconde. But a murmur arose on all sides; the young women ran to
Monsieur Vauvert, the young men surrounded his wife; they had been
promised a contradance; it was almost twelve o'clock, and if it was
postponed any longer there would be no dancing. The hosts acceded to the
prayers of their younger guests.

"We are going to dance!" shouted Vauvert, as the court bailiff cries:
"Silence, please!"

Instantly everything was in a ferment in the salon; the young men
hastened to engage partners, the chairs were moved away to make room,
and the guests who did not dance were requested to retire to the
corners.

Raymond stood at the piano with his mouth open; he thought that he must
be mistaken; he could not believe his eyes; I believe that he was
actually going to begin his aria; but instead of the prelude from
_Joconde_, young Martin struck up a figure of Pantalon. My neighbor
could not digest this final blow; he seized his music in a hand which
shook with wrath, and, thrusting it under his arm, rushed across the
salon like a madman, colliding with the dancers, and receiving kicks
from the young men who were in the act of balancing to partners; I am
convinced, however, that he did not feel them.

"Monsieur Raymond is going away in a rage," observed a lady to Madame
Vauvert, with a laugh; a lady whose hair was dressed _à la_ Ninon, but
had lost its curl and was floating in the air in long wisps, although
she had taken the precaution not to remove her curl papers until she was
on the staircase.

"Bah! I don't care for that," replied Madame Vauvert; "he bores us to
death with his songs, and with the poetry he insists on reading to us;
it's always the same thing!"

At that moment, Raymond, whom I supposed to have left the house,
appeared at the door of the salon and called out angrily:

"My hat, Madame Vauvert, I want my hat, where is it? It's a lamentable
fact that one can never find one's things in your house."

"Pardi! your hat isn't lost.--Mon Dieu! I don't see my cat! I put her on
a chair by the fireplace. Why did anyone move her--poor Moumoute? The
door of the landing is often open; she's gone out, and she'll be
stolen!--Moumoute! Moumoute!"

The dancing continued, no heed being paid to Madame Vauvert's
lamentations and Raymond's demands; the dancers were determined to
compensate themselves, by a moment's enjoyment, for several hours of
ennui; and those who were afraid that their turn might not come took the
precaution to move back the hands of the clock while Vauvert's back was
turned and his wife was looking for her cat.

I invited Madame de Marsan, and after much ceremony she consented to
dance with me.

"What an extraordinary house!" she said to me.

"I find it delightful, since I have met you here."

"But as it is probable that you will not meet me here again, and as I
desire to see you again, I trust, monsieur, that you will do me the
honor of coming to listen to a little music at my house."

I accepted, as may be imagined; and after the dance was over, I prowled
about the husband, with whom I entered into conversation. I talked of
speculation, houses, châteaux, and the stock market with him; I took
pains, without ostentation, to mention my name, to speak of my family
and my means. In any other house, I should not have done so; but in such
a mixed assemblage, I was not anxious that he should place me on a level
with people, who, although very estimable no doubt, were nothing more
than that; and in the opinion of many men that is not sufficient
distinction. On the whole, I was satisfied that Monsieur de Marsan found
me rather agreeable; it is so easy to catch people by the sensitive
spot--that is to say, when they have one.

When young women begin to dance, it is much the same as when a poet
begins to recite his verses: there is no reason why they should ever
stop. But Madame Vauvert, thinking that they were making too much noise,
and afraid of angering her landlord, had already said several times:

"This will be the last."

But the last never came to an end.

Friquet, who had returned in high dudgeon because he had been obliged to
escort a lady home, stole behind the dancers and looked at the clock;
then he hastened to inform his uncle that the hands had been set back,
so that they marked only twelve o'clock when it was nearly one. Vauvert
consulted his watch, saw that his nephew was right, and concluded that
it was incumbent on him to show some resolution, and that his dignity
required him to turn his guests out of doors at once.

He immediately extinguished the lamps in the four corners of the salon,
leaving only a few candles lighted; and the young men were about to
extinguish them as well, and thus make the scene more amusing, when
Vauvert took possession of them and harangued the company thus:

"I have already told you that it is time to go; my wife is indisposed,
and I am surprised that anyone should continue to dance against our
wishes."

This courteous speech made everybody laugh, and they hurried into the
dressing room to prepare for departure. But there the confusion and
disorder reached their climax. The ladies called for their shawls,
mantles, bonnets, and slippers; the singers demanded their music or
their instruments; they made mistakes, and many could not find what they
wanted; the young men hovered about the ladies, on the pretext of
assisting them, but really because such crushes are most propitious to
lovers and amateurs. One tied a ribbon, another put on an overshoe,
another held a little foot while the slipper was being removed. Amid the
tumult, mothers called their daughters, husbands their wives, brothers
their sisters. But those ladies were far too busy to answer. They were
whispering, squeezing hands, making appointments, arranging other
meetings; in truth, the moment of departure is not that at which the
guests enjoy themselves least.

I tried to save Madame de Marsan the trouble of looking for her shawl in
that crowd; I went into the bedroom, and succeeded, not without
difficulty, in reaching the bed, on which the bonnets and wraps were
piled; my hand, seeking a shawl, came in contact with a firm and
well-rounded form, which I was not seeking, but which I embraced as a
matter of habit, and because I thought that it belonged to a lady with
whom I was very intimate. But the lady, who was stooping over the bed,
and whose back only could I see, turned suddenly. Horror! it was not she
whom I thought! I proceeded to entangle myself in apologies, but she
gave me a most tender and amiable smile, which seemed to invite me to
continue. Faith! I admit that I should not have expected it on the part
of the lady in question, who, in the salon, played the prude, the
straitlaced, stern moralist. Trust appearances, who will! I have already
said that I never would; but a great many people say that, and still
allow themselves to be deceived.

At last everyone had succeeded in finding what he or she sought.
Friquet, who was anxious to go to bed, had been standing a long while on
the landing, candle in hand, ready to light us downstairs. As for the
master and mistress of the house, they had manifested clearly enough
their desire to see the last of us; so we started down. It was quite a
little procession; everyone took the hand of his favorite and descended
the stairs, laughing heartily over the evening's entertainment. The
young men were very noisy, because Vauvert had urged them to be silent
on account of his neighbors. On the second floor, a young man upset the
candlestick that Friquet carried, and we found ourselves in utter
darkness.

We all roared with laughter. The mammas scolded the perpetrator of the
mischief, the young ladies did the same, but I have reason to believe
that many of them were not very angry.

"Idiot! he's always doing such things!" Vauvert shouted at his nephew
from the top of the stairs.

"I didn't do it, uncle," replied the clerk; "somebody knocked my candle
out of my hand on purpose."

"I not untershtand vy tay do amuse temselfs py making us near fall town
and may pe hurt ourselfs," muttered the Baron de Witcheritche, whom I
believed to be very jealous of his wife, and who was made uneasy by the
darkness.

"Holt tidt to te rail, my tear," said the baroness, in a flutelike
little voice, "and tague care ov my Shtradifarius."

"Your Shtradifarius is chust te ting tat makes me frighted."

We went down carefully and very softly. I held Madame de Marsan's hand,
and I did not complain of the darkness; but the little clerk, who had
relighted his candle at the porter's lodge, returned with his light just
as we reached the lowest stair. I noticed then some changes in the order
of departure; some mantles awry, some faces very much excited, and many
eyes fastened on the ground, doubtless because the light made them
smart; but I do not mean to suggest any implications unfavorable to the
virtue of the ladies in question, married or single.

The moment to say farewell had arrived. I saw diverse poor fellows who
lived near the Palais-Royal doomed to act as escort to feminine families
from the heart of the Marais. I saw young ladies manoeuvre to take the
arms of their chosen friends; I saw many a wife sigh as she took her
husband's arm. I should have seen much else, no doubt, if it had not
been dark. But Madame de Marsan and her husband were in their carriage;
and he, learning that I lived on Rue Saint-Florentin, obligingly offered
me a seat. I accepted without hesitation. Decidedly Monsieur de Marsan
was a most agreeable man.

"There's no one else!" Friquet shouted to the concierge, as he closed
the porte cochère.

"That's very lucky," replied the concierge, closing his door. "Past one
o'clock. Your uncle will have notice to quit, I promise you. He makes a
great show, gives evening parties, and keeps people up all night, and
all for nothing! When a man wants to cut such capers, he should have a
house to himself."



XIV

THE BOUQUET


In the carriage we talked of Monsieur Vauvert's soirée musicale. Madame
de Marsan laughed about it a good deal; Monsieur de Marsan shrugged his
shoulders, and said that the mania for making a show was pervading all
classes of society; that it seemed to be no longer possible for people
to enjoy themselves _en famille_; that everybody was struggling to leave
the sphere in which destiny had placed him; that men were becoming more
eager for dissipation every day; that, to satisfy this imperious
craving, the mechanic sacrificed his week's wages, the workingman his
savings, the tradesman his stock in trade, the clerk three-fourths of
his salary; hence embarrassment, borrowing, debts, failures. His
conclusion was that a man should reckon up his income before giving
dinners, receptions, and balls.

"I should not suppose that Monsieur Vauvert's receptions were likely to
ruin him," said Madame de Marsan.

"It seems so to you, madame, because you have noticed simply the general
effect of the affair, which, I agree, was not very splendid at first
glance; but for an under clerk those lamps, the candles on the music
stands, the hired piano, the music and the instruments that they sent
out for, and, lastly, the modest refreshments--all those things, madame,
are as extravagant for a government clerk at eighteen hundred francs, as
a magnificent function, where everything is provided in profusion, is
for a wealthy banker. The difference between the banker and the clerk is
that people go about praising the former's party, which they are proud
of having attended, while they make fun of the clerk's soirée, to which
they go for the sole purpose of sneering at those who put themselves out
to make people laugh at their expense."

Monsieur de Marsan was right; there was a husband who spoke with
profound wisdom. I approved what he said: first, because I agreed with
him; secondly, because I had my reasons for always being of his opinion.

Monsieur de Marsan lived near the beginning of Faubourg Saint-Honoré; I
could not repress my desire to laugh when I learned his address, because
it reminded me of that infernal cabman who had taken me to the farther
end of Faubourg Montmartre on the night when I attempted to follow the
carriage; but I instantly attributed my merriment to a memory of the
concert, and, as we all retained some very comical ones, that seemed
perfectly natural. They set me down on Rue Saint-Florentin, after
inviting me to their house to listen, not to a concert, but to a little
music; there is a great difference between the two, for I had to admit
that I had heard no music at Monsieur Vauvert's concert of amateurs.

Standing at my door, I thought of my new acquaintance; I dared not as
yet say my conquest, but I secretly flattered myself that she soon would
be. Meanwhile, I had not forgotten the charming Caroline, who had given
me an appointment for the next day. My imagination had abundant food for
reverie: what a wellspring of pleasure the future had in store for me! I
could see nothing but roses, and my mind, enchanted, sought to
communicate its enthusiasm to my heart, which did what it could to find
something for itself in all that was going on. I went upstairs without a
light; for it was very late, and Madame Dupont extinguished her lamp at
midnight. I started to open my door; but as I was putting the key in the
lock, my hand came in contact with something--leaves--flowers--why,
someone had put a bouquet there! Ah! I knew who had done it!--I entered
my room; I soon procured a light and could look at my bouquet. It was
beautiful! orange blossoms, a rose or two, some carnations, and all
surrounded by pansies; the bouquet was tied with a small white
bow.--"Dear Nicette!" I thought; "so you still think of me! you are not
ungrateful! Ah, no! you have a warm heart and you are virtuous! What a
pity that, with those two priceless qualities, you were born in obscure
station! Not that I believe that your equals are incapable of
appreciating your virtues, but that I can do no more than admire them.
You will be a treasure to others, but you can be nothing to me; I must
seek such a treasure in high life; there are some there, no doubt, but
they are not all so seductive as you."

How had she succeeded in leaving that bouquet at my keyhole? If it had
not been so late, I should have gone down and questioned my concierge;
but I had no choice but to wait till morning. Raymond, who saw
everything, had undoubtedly seen the bouquet; but perhaps--he was so
engrossed by his aria from _Joconde_!

I longed for the morning to come, that I might question Madame Dupont. I
could not tire of smelling Nicette's bouquet and gazing at it in
admiration. I looked at the pansies.--"Ah!" I said to myself; "I
understand: it was gratitude that prompted the gift. Poor child! she
loves her benefactor; that is natural enough; but she is so pretty that
she will soon be besieged by lovers, her heart will speak, and she will
forget me. That is the way such affairs always end."--I carefully placed
my bouquet in water and went to bed. I passed in review the events of
the day. Madame de Marsan and Caroline played a large part therein; they
were both coquettes--in a different way, to be sure, but it was coquetry
all the same. Alas! all the women I had known were coquettes, and I did
not honestly believe that any one of them had loved me; at all events,
it had been only for a moment. What does a sentiment amount to that has
the duration of a mere caprice, and that does not resist the slightest
trial? And my sister insisted that I should marry! Why should I hope to
find in a wife what I had failed to find in a mistress? Of course, the
indissoluble bond, children, duties, the opinion of society, might
prevent my wife from being unfaithful to me; but all those things would
not revive her love when it was once extinct.

"I will not marry," said I to myself; "I will make the most of
life."--And yet it had seemed to me for some time, amid all my follies,
that I was not perfectly happy. Although fickle, I was sentimental; my
heart was constantly looking about for something to attach itself to;
it was not its fault that it did not find a heart to respond to it. Of
late, I had met none but perfidious, unfaithful women; I used always to
take the initiative in the inevitable separation, but the later ones had
not given me time; to be sure, I had been foolish enough to put them to
the test. I determined to be wiser in future, to take women for what
they were, and to thank fortune when I chanced to fall on my feet.

Who could say? Perhaps Caroline would love me; perhaps Madame de Marsan
would be less coquettish in due time; perhaps the young flowermaker was
really virtuous. As for the adventures which Raymond attributed to
Madame de Marsan, my neighbor was so evil-tongued that I could not place
any reliance on what he said.

I lulled myself to sleep with thoughts of my various inamoratas; but,
for some unknown reason, the memory of Nicette was always involved in my
schemes and my hopes. I concluded that it was the smell of her bouquet
that kept her so constantly in my thoughts; but the orange blossoms were
so sweet, that I was unwilling to take them out of my bedroom. What a
charming little attention, to bring me that bouquet and to place it so
that I could not enter my room without taking hold of it! Ah! if women
are coquettish and deceitful, they alone are capable of such
forethought, such amiable attentions, of that delicacy of feeling which
enables them to discover, even in the most trifling circumstance, a
means of giving an additional proof of their love or their friendship. I
went to sleep; but how did it happen that I dreamed neither of Caroline
nor of Madame de Marsan? It was Nicette whom I saw in my dreams, it was
she who engaged all my thoughts. Doubtless the odor of the orange
blossoms continued to remind me of her, even in my sleep.



XV

THE DINNER PARTY


I was still sleeping when Madame Dupont came to arrange my room. I began
at once to question her, for I was anxious to know if she had seen
Nicette.

"Did anyone call to see me last evening, Madame Dupont?"

"No, monsieur; no one."

"You saw no one come upstairs to my rooms?"

"You know very well, monsieur, that I wouldn't have let anybody come up,
knowing that you were out."

It was very strange! how had she succeeded in eluding the concierge's
eyes? She was determined that no one should see her bringing the
nosegay; she thought that it might offend me, and her gift acquired the
greater value in my eyes on that account. To divert my mind from such
thoughts, I recalled the errands my brother-in-law desired me to do. I
went out, leaving Madame Dupont to place in a box all the artificial
flowers that were strewn about my floor; but I told her not to touch the
bouquet, which was on the mantel. It was a fertile source of conjectures
for my concierge.

My day was fully occupied by the commissions to be executed in various
government offices, whence Déneterre, who was about to build and desired
to consummate various enterprises, hoped to obtain information and
support. I was not sorry to have something to do; the time passed more
rapidly. Do not believe, however, that I was accustomed to spend my
days in absolute idleness; no, I was devoted to the fine arts,
especially poetry and music; and I turned my attention to them with
ardor, when my love-making folly left me the requisite leisure; but I
admit that I had neglected them shamefully for some time past.

It was time to think about dinner. I did not forget that I had an
appointment for the evening on Boulevard Bondy, near the Château d'Eau.
In order to be in the neighborhood, I thought that, instead of dining at
the Palais-Royal as usual, it would be an excellent idea to dine on the
boulevards, where the small theatres are; then I should be close at hand
for the evening. I bent my steps, therefore, toward the Marais.

When I was on Boulevard du Temple, I had only too great a number of
restaurants to choose from. I knew them all; I was not _en partie fine_;
so that I had no occasion to think of anything except which was the
best, without looking about for the most convenient and most secluded
private dining rooms. I decided in favor of the Cadran-Bleu; the prices
were high there, but ordinarily one could get a good dinner. I walked in
that direction and was just passing the Jardin Turc, when I saw a
gentleman in front of me with a lady on his arm. Raymond's figure was
too easily recognizable for me to mistake it. It was certainly he: his
gait, his huge calves, his gestures--yes, it was he. As for the lady,
her face was hidden under an enormous bonnet; but it seemed to me that I
knew her as well. My neighbor was talking with great earnestness, and I
noticed that he pressed her arm to his side; he had every appearance of
being _en bonne fortune_. I was curious to know where they were going;
and I was determined to obtain a glimpse, if possible, of the charmer's
face, unseen by Raymond; for, as I have said, her figure was not
unfamiliar to me. But they crossed the boulevard and entered a
restaurant on the corner of Rue d'Angoulême--the Méridien; I remembered
that the waiters there were young women, and that it was a very
comfortable place; at least, it was so some years before. Why should I
not follow my neighbor? Perhaps chance would give me a glimpse of his
companion; and Raymond does so much boasting about his mistresses, who,
according to him, are always princesses and of rare beauty, that I was
not sorry to have an opportunity to see one of those marvels of
creation.

I left the Cadran-Bleu at my right, and, resigned to the prospect of
dining less satisfactorily, entered the Méridien and asked for a private
room. I was taken to it by a waitress. We passed a room where I heard
Raymond's voice, and I told my conductress to give me the adjoining one.
The partition between me and the room which Raymond and his flame
occupied was so thin that I could hear their voices when they did not
speak in undertones. I left my door open, too; and as theirs was not
closed, for their table was being laid, I could catch from time to time
a portion of what my neighbor said; for he had the unfortunate habit of
speaking very loud--a habit contracted in order to attract attention to
himself, and retained even in his incognito. Judging from what I heard,
he was putting himself out to please his guest, whose tastes he
constantly consulted in ordering the dinner. I heard him read the bill
of fare to her three times; she had much difficulty in making up her
mind; she didn't like anything; she wasn't hungry; it made no difference
to her; but she asked for a thousand things that were not on the bill.
I readily concluded, from her affectations and fussing, that my neighbor
had not made a very distinguished conquest; indeed, one would have said
that she was making fun of him and that it amused her to annoy him. I
was convinced that he would have nothing to show for his dinner.

Every time that I heard the woman's voice it recalled confused memories.
Yes, I was sure that I knew her, but I could not tell who she was; I had
known so many that I might be pardoned for confusing them in my memory;
and then, I caught only a few detached words. No matter! I was
determined to see her, and I would find a way!

It seemed that Raymond decided at last to order the dinner himself, for
I heard nothing more from him. The lady hummed a comic-opera air; that
voice was certainly familiar to me.

I heard the bell, and the waitress appeared. Raymond gave her the card
and ordered dinner at once, and the girl went downstairs. The lady
expressed a wish for some fromage fouetté, which my neighbor had not
ordered, and he ran after the girl to add it to his order. As he passed
my room, the door of which I had been careful to leave ajar, he glanced
in and saw me.

"What do I see? my dear friend Dorsan!"

"Himself, Monsieur Raymond. What on earth are you doing here?"

He entered the room with an air of mystery, walking on tiptoe, and
pointed, with a smile, to the adjoining room.

"I am in there," he said, trying to speak in an undertone; "next door."

"Oho!"

"With--someone."

"Ah! I understand! an amourette, a _partie fine_!"

"Exactly."

"You're a terrible fellow. They accuse me of being fickle, a deceiver,
but I am sure that you're a hundred times worse than I."

"I won't deny that I'm rather given to changing!"

"And the lady?"

"Oh! charming, delicious! a regular swell, with her carriage and livery!
We are here incog."

"So I imagine."

"She has granted me to-day a favor she has refused a thousand other
men."

"What a lucky dog you are! You arouse my curiosity; might I not see
her?"

"Oh! impossible, my dear fellow, impossible! she's a woman who is most
particular about her reputation. If she knew that I had talked about her
to one of my friends, she would be deadly angry with me and would never
forgive me."

"Very good, I'll say no more about it; I see that it would be no
kindness to you. I congratulate you, none the less, on such a brilliant
conquest."

"It's worth what it costs, that's true. You know that in the matter of
women I am rather particular; I don't take up with the first comer; I
insist on good form and style."

I thought that Monsieur Raymond was trying to be sarcastic.

"Above all things, I like to subdue those who are cruel," he continued;
"with them there are at least some merit and firmness--you understand.
But I wager that my charmer is getting impatient; adieu, neighbor! love
and pleasure call me."

"Don't keep them waiting."

Raymond left my room, his bosom swelling with delight at being seen _en
bonne fortune_, and returned to his own, closing the door behind him.
All that he had said increased my curiosity; I was convinced that he had
been telling me fables, as usual. I gave no credit to his tales of great
ladies; and I could see him cudgelling his brains for lies while he was
talking to me; indeed, he seemed to go more into detail than his custom
was, the better to pull the wool over my eyes.--You were not sly enough
to catch me, my dear Raymond! it was because you had happened to see me
with a flower girl that you put on so many airs and hurled epigrams at
me; but I had a shrewd idea that your great swell was not worth my
humble Nicette.

My window looked on the boulevard, and, while I waited for my soup, I
opened the sash to enjoy the prospect. I was not _en partie fine_,
consequently had no desire for a subdued light. I observed that my
neighbor's blinds were not lowered, and my conclusion was strengthened
that Raymond's affairs had not progressed very far.

As I watched the passers-by, I saw a young man whom I knew stop in front
of our restaurant. It was the same Gerville who lived in our house, and
with whom Mademoiselle Agathe passed the memorable night when I offered
hospitality to Nicette. What was he doing there? He stopped and looked
this way and that, as if he were expecting or seeking someone.

The window in my neighbors' Good! perhaps the lady would come there for
a breath of air and I could see her face. But what was the matter? I
heard an exclamation, and the window was suddenly closed; something
extraordinary must have happened. In truth, I seemed to be becoming
almost as inquisitive as Raymond.

I walked away from the window; a warm discussion was in progress in the
next room. Faith! they could do what they chose! I proposed to dine, for
I was hungry. At that very moment the waitress appeared with my soup.
But what a racket! Raymond suddenly rushed out of his room and into
mine, pale, haggard, trembling, and in his haste jostled the servant and
caused her to spill my soup on the floor.

"Oh! mon Dieu! what a mess, monsieur!" exclaimed the girl, picking up
her tureen. "You have made me burn myself awfully--all that hot soup on
my foot! I know that I shall have big blisters there!"

"It's all right, my girl; I'll pay for your soup."

"And what about my apron, which is ruined, and my leg?"

"I'll pay you for everything!" Raymond replied, with no idea what he was
saying; and he pushed the girl out of the room and carefully closed the
door.

"Well, well! what in the devil's the matter with you, Monsieur Raymond?
you look as if you'd had a fright!"

"Ah! my dear friend, I have good reason to!--something has happened--a
circumstance--I am in a terrible plight. Wait till I look out of the
window; but first be good enough to draw the curtain so that he can't
see me."

"Are you going mad, neighbor?"

Raymond did not answer me; he went to the window and looked out, taking
care to conceal himself behind the curtain, and putting his head out
with the utmost precaution. I saw that he became paler than ever.

"He's there," he said at last.

"Who, pray?"

"Gerville."

"Oh, yes! so he is. But what difference does that make to you?"

"It makes a great difference to me. Don't you know that he is horribly
jealous and quite capable of going to terrible lengths?"

"What of it?"

"Understand that he's here on my account. I am sure that he is watching
for me; and he has some reason to, for I am with his mistress."

"What! can it possibly be Mademoiselle Agathe whom you chose to
transform into a lady with a carriage and livery of her own?"

"What would you have, my dear fellow? I did it in order to disguise her
better, to spare her reputation."

"Oh! so far as that goes, you may take my word that she has nothing to
fear. Ha! ha! ha! Monsieur Raymond, what you must have are cruel
creatures, women of a certain style!"

"You may jest about it later, my friend, but save me now, I implore you;
my only hope is in you to extricate me from the frightful position I am
in."

"For heaven's sake, explain yourself!"

"Gerville will come into this house, I am perfectly sure. Somebody must
have told him that I am here. Be obliging enough to take my place for a
moment, and give me yours in this room; I will leave my door open, he
will see that I am alone, and his suspicions will vanish."

"But why don't you lock yourself in with your inamorata? he won't break
down your door."

"He is quite capable of it! or else he would wait for me on the
boulevard; and if I should go out with Agathe, you can judge for
yourself what a scandalous scene there would be. Furthermore, we live in
the same house, you know; and if he has discovered anything, how shall I
ever dare to go home? He's just the man to lie in wait for me on the
stairs at night."

"Then why in the devil did you meddle with his mistress?"

"What can you expect? a moment of folly. It was that morning I waited
with her on our landing that it took me."

"Ah, yes! the morning you both played the spy on me."

"Oh! great God! he has come in!" cried Raymond, who had glanced out on
the boulevard; "save me, my friend--in pity's name! Go--I'll join you
later."

Giving me no time to reply, Raymond jammed my hat over my ears, dragged
and pushed me out of my private room, and locked himself in. I made no
resistance, and without any idea as yet as to what I proposed to do for
my neighbor, whose most distinctive quality courage certainly was not, I
entered the room where Agathe was. She uttered a cry of surprise when
she saw me.

"Mon Dieu! it's Eugène! Is it you? is it really you?"

"Why, to be sure it's I, sacrificing myself to save poor Raymond, who's
in such a fright that it will make him ill."

"Ha! ha! ha! I can't get over it!"

"Hush! he's in there; he can hear you laugh, and I fancy that he would
take it ill of you just at this moment."

"Really! what do I care for that? Ha! ha! ha! Do you think that I'm in
love with Raymond, I should like to know? Oh! he is much too stupid,
really! and he tries to play the Lovelace! I couldn't stand it any
longer! When I opened the window and saw Gerville on the boulevard, I
gave a shriek and stepped back into the room as quick as I could; for I
don't want Gerville to see me with Raymond. Not that he's jealous, but
he might not like it. Do you know what I did? It came into my head to
tell my old idiot that Gerville is fiendishly jealous, and that he had
been suspicious of him ever since he learned that we spent two hours
together on the landing, and that I was certain that he was on the
boulevard for the sole purpose of watching us. The more I said, the more
frightened my adorer became, for he has even more affection for his own
person than for mine. And when I added that Gerville was quite capable
of stabbing him,--ha! ha! the poor man took his hat, and is running
still, I fancy. Ha! ha! ha! but it's very kind of him to send me such an
agreeable companion. Meanwhile, I would like to know what has become of
Gerville; I think that he was just waiting for one of his friends."

"Hush! somebody is coming upstairs. Raymond is opening his door; let's
listen. Gerville is speaking."

We put our ears close to the door, which we very softly opened an inch
or two, and overheard the following conversation:

"Ah! it's neighbor Raymond."

"Himself, at your service. How are you?"

"Very well. How's this? are you dining alone in a private room?"

"Yes; I have something on my mind, some important business, and I was
glad not to be disturbed."

"In that case, I'll leave you. I am waiting for somebody who agreed to
meet me on the boulevard here; but he's late, and I am going to dine.
Good-day, neighbor; and a good appetite!"

"Your servant!"

Gerville closed the door of Raymond's room and went into another,
passing ours as he did so.

"Well, mademoiselle," I said to Agathe, "choose; to which of these
gentlemen will you give the preference?"

"Oh! I have a delicious idea!"

"Some crazy scheme, I'll be bound, for you think of no other kind."

"This will be unique. Help me, my dear Eugène, I beg you."

Without another word to me, Agathe began to stride up and down the room;
she pushed the chairs about, threw some of them down, and, amid the
uproar, cried out from time to time:

"Don't be angry with me, my friend! I assure you that you are mistaken.
I give you my word that I haven't seen Raymond; that I don't care for
him! Ask Dorsan; he invited me to dinner, because he was expecting a
lady."

I began to understand Agathe's plan; she proposed to make Raymond think
that Gerville was with us. To second her, I also made noise enough for
two, and attempted now and then to imitate Gerville's voice. We stopped
at last, tired out by our comedy; Agathe made me a sign which I
understood; I left the room, the door of which she locked behind me, and
stole on tiptoe into Raymond's, where I found him shivering and half
dead with terror in front of a beefsteak with potatoes. I locked the
door before approaching him, and put a finger to my lips; we had the
aspect of two conspirators. Raymond spoke so low at this time that I
could hardly hear him.

"He's in there," I said, pointing to the next room.

"Oh! I know it only too well; I heard him. But how did it happen?"

"We thought he had gone downstairs, and we opened our door; but he was
on the watch; he saw Agathe and came in. Then there was a terrible
scene, for he suspected that she came here with you; I'm not the one of
whom he is jealous."

"Parbleu! I know only too well that it's I. I saw plainly enough just
now that he didn't believe what I told him. He had doubts; perhaps he
saw us coming along the boulevard."

"That is quite possible; you are so infernally imprudent! When you
arrange such a party as this, you should take a cab, and enter the
restaurant by the rear door."

"That's so; you are right; we ought to have come in from behind! but I
promise you that I'll go out that way."

"He thought at first that I was in your confidence, that I was here
solely to help you. In fact, I am exposing myself to some risk in your
behalf."

"Ah! my dear Dorsan! never while I live shall I forget what I owe to
you!"

"However, things are beginning to calm down. Agathe has succeeded in
making him listen to reason; she told him that she came here for no
other purpose than to watch him; she's playing the jealous lover now."

"Oh! that's delicious! charming! these women always find a way out of
everything!"

"I should prefer to let them dine alone; but he won't listen to it. I
left the room on the pretext of ordering dinner."

"It's all ordered, my dear friend; and I shall take good care to pay for
it. I don't mean to put you to any expense, when you are sacrificing
yourself to help me."

"As you please; I'll give the word to the waitress, and we will dine."

"Go, my noble-hearted friend; tell her to be sure not to mention me."

"Never fear."

"I have but one fear now."

"What's that?"

"Just now, with the idea of giving Agathe a surprise, I amused myself,
while her back was turned, by slipping my picture into her reticule."

"Your picture?"

"Yes; I mean one of my silhouettes, you know, which I had pasted on a
pink card, with a border of little cupids. If Agathe should happen to
drop that when she takes out her handkerchief; or, not knowing what it
is, should take it into her head to look at it----"

"Peste! that would make a pretty row! Gerville would surely say then
that I was in collusion with you to deceive him."

"Try, my friend, try to prevent Agathe from blowing her nose!"

"I can't promise that, but I'll motion to her to blow it in her napkin;
that cannot compromise you."

"That's the very thing."

"Adieu! a longer absence might arouse suspicion."

Once more I left Raymond, who locked himself into his room. I returned
to Agathe. The waitress arrived with the dinner; she seemed surprised at
the change of cavalier, but two or three words in her ear and a
five-franc piece in her hand speedily retained her in our interest. She
promised to tell the stout gentleman that there were three in our party,
and thereupon she left us, overjoyed to be able to amuse herself at the
expense of the man who had upset a tureen of soup on her feet.

"Now, let us dine," said I, taking my seat at the table beside Agathe;
"no one can deny that we have earned it. I hardly expected to dine with
you, I admit."

"Nor I! but impromptu pleasures are always the best."

"A month ago we had already become reasonable and sedate in our
tête-à-têtes."

"I tell you, we did well to part; we are much better pleased to see each
other."

"Oh! I know that you are passionately fond of variety."

"No, my friend, not so much of variety as of forbidden fruit; and when I
think that Gerville is at our right, Raymond at our left, and that I
have succeeded in avoiding the necessity of eating in his company the
dinner he ordered--ha! ha! ha!"

"Don't laugh so loud!"

"Oh, yes! that will reassure him, don't you see? he will think that
Gerville's in good humor.--Ha! ha! ha! it will bring back his appetite."

Agathe was in the wildest spirits; she was compelled to hold her napkin
over her mouth to stifle her outbursts of merriment; the pleasure of
deceiving two men at once gave to her face an unfamiliar expression; she
had never been so pretty in my eyes, I confess. She teased me, pinched
me, caressed me, threw her arms about me. Ah! Mademoiselle Agathe, you
were a perfidious creature, but most seductive! Moreover, for several
days, I had been making love with my eyes alone, and I felt that it was
incumbent on me to make our mystification of Raymond complete.--Ah! my
poor neighbor! if you but knew what ardor Agathe showed in mystifying
you!

But we heard someone coming upstairs; it was our waitress. That young
woman had an abundance of tact and penetration; she turned the knob at
least thrice before she opened our door. She brought the first course. I
tasted the wine; it was Volnay, first quality. Gad! my neighbor was a
connoisseur!

"Oh! you'll have a fine dinner," laughed the girl; "the gentleman didn't
forget anything: champagne, dessert, and the _coup de milieu_!"

"Aha! so we're to have the _coup de milieu_!" said Agathe; "we musn't
forget that, my friend, do you hear?"

"Never fear.--By the way, my girl, did our neighbor question you?"

"Yes; I told him that madame was dining with two gentlemen; he seems a
little easier in his mind."

"That is good."

We did full justice to Raymond's dinner; it was dainty and toothsome. In
a quiet moment, I asked Agathe to tell me how it happened that she had
come there to dine in a private room with my neighbor, whom she did not
like at all.

"I did it to have a better chance to make fun of him," she replied.
"Ever since the day we waited on your landing to see your little flower
girl, Raymond has been pleased to make love to me. He pesters me with
his declarations and his billets-doux, which I receive just to show them
to the girls in the shop; and they make a lot of sport for us, for his
style's as ridiculous as his person. He had asked me twenty times for an
assignation, when I happened to meet him to-day near Porte Saint-Denis.
I was just going home; I had been to Gerville's, but didn't find him.
Raymond urged me, begged me, to dine with him at a restaurant. I refused
at first; but the temptation to make a fool of him, to laugh at his
expense, in short, to have some sport, led me to change my mind.
Besides, you know what a heedless creature I am. I didn't expect to meet
Gerville, for whom I care very little, however. So I accepted, and
allowed myself to be conducted to a private room by poor Raymond, who
believed that his triumph was assured, whereas I never had the slightest
intention of granting him any favors."

"Here's to his health!"

"With all my heart."

"Is this the _coup de milieu_?"

"One moment! how fast you go! we haven't got to it yet. This vol-au-vent
is delicious, and so is this filet sauté, with madeira and truffles."

"And this salmi of partridges, also with truffles. Ah! poor Raymond! do
you see his game? he ordered truffles in everything!"

The waitress arrived with the rum and the next course.

"Good Lord!" exclaimed Agathe; "truffles with champagne sauce! why,
he'll kill us with 'em! What is our neighbor eating?"

"Chicken, with rice, madame."

"Good! that's very nourishing; give him some prunes for dessert; they're
an emollient."

The girl left us. We enjoyed the truffles, the chicken, and the crabs,
whose claws Agathe wanted to send to Raymond. We did not forget the
_coup de milieu_; my companion thought a great deal of that, and so did
I. With his dinner _de bonne fortune_, that philandering Raymond had put
the devil into us; he evidently thought truffles a necessity in his
_parties fines_! But, by sending me to take his place with Agathe, he
had allotted me a terrific task!

"Avenge yourself," she kept saying to me, "avenge yourself, Eugène; you
know that Raymond is responsible for our having seen your little vestal
leave your rooms; you know, too, that he used to make remarks to the
people in the house when I came to see you; you know that by his
inquisitiveness and chattering he has made trouble between you and
several women. Avenge yourself; still avenge yourself!"

What terrible creatures women are when it is a question of vengeance!
Agathe still urged me, and yet my spleen was rapidly vanishing. Luckily,
the girl brought the dessert. Champagne, fromage à la vanille, biscuits
à la rose, gelée au marasquin, and Madame Amphoux's liqueur des Iles. I
was lost! Raymond was determined to have my life!

"I would like to know what he's doing now," said Agathe; "just go and
speak to him."

I left the room, and she held the door ajar to listen; I coughed gently
at Raymond's door, which he instantly opened.

"Well! how far have you got?" he asked.

"Oh! everything is going along nicely, very nicely! we are eating
dessert."

"And Gerville?"

"Oh! he's forgotten everything!"

"I was afraid that he would make a scene with Agathe. I thought I heard
groans and sighs."

"They were of repentance and love; and then, she still pretends to be
jealous; but I see plainly enough that she is thinking only of you."

"Oh! she adores me, my friend; I can't doubt that."

"Your dinner is delicious; you do things very well, Monsieur Raymond."

"Yes, yes; I ordered it for a purpose! I expected to partake of it with
her!"

"She knows that you ordered it, and she is just as much obliged to you.
I can see in her eyes that she doesn't eat a truffle without thinking of
you."

"Dear Agathe! But I hear laughter, it seems to me."

"Yes, that is she. She laughs with her lips, to deceive him; but the
fromage fouetté awaits me; adieu, my friend!"

"What! haven't you drunk the champagne yet!"

"Not yet."

"But you look rather heated."

"It's the _coup de milieu_ that gives me that appearance."

"Tell me, had I better go away before or after you?"

"Why, before--that would be the wiser way."

"I'll take a stroll in the garden of the Café Turc, in front of the
pavilion that bears a crescent."

"I can see it from here."

"If by any chance Gerville should leave you, or if he should take Agathe
away, join me there."

"Agreed."

"I will wait for you, then. Au revoir, my dear neighbor! I beg you to
excuse me for giving you so much trouble. What you are doing for me
to-day is an act of genuine friendship. I have but one further request
to make; keep an eye on my silhouette! motion to Agathe not to touch her
handbag. Do this for me, my friend."

"I have done it already."

"No matter; do it again, for my peace of mind."

"I will try; au revoir!"

I returned to Agathe, who laughed till the tears came. I had not as yet
thought of mentioning the silhouette to her; that was the bouquet for
dessert. My neighbor's profile was pasted on a pink card, and we saw two
lines written at the bottom. Poetry of Raymond's composition: that
should be a curiosity.

    "My profile with these little Loves is surrounded,
     Since I feel every day, love, for thee love unbounded."

Ingenious, in very truth! worthy of Berthellemot! But as we noticed that
one of the little Loves was standing on his nose, we concluded that it
should read "I smell," instead of "I feel." Agathe proposed at first to
stick my neighbor's likeness on the mirror in our dining room; but she
changed her mind. She put it carefully away, intending to have copies
made of it, which she proposed to enclose in amorous circulars composed
from Raymond's billets-doux, and to send them to all the milliner's
apprentices of her acquaintance, taking care to write at the bottom the
address of the original of the portrait.

The champagne finished what the stimulating dinner had begun; we were in
the mood to say and do all sorts of foolish things. Agathe stuffed
herself with sweetmeats and jelly; I drew the corks; the wine foamed and
sparkled, and soon passed from our glasses to our lips; we no longer
knew what we were saying, but we knew very well what we were doing!
Agathe threw aside all restraint; and if Raymond was listening, surely
he must have thought that we were fighting.

But the champagne, which effervesces when it is first poured out, will
not effervesce again unless it is well shaken, and in due time refuses
to effervesce at all. In like manner, readers, the volcanoes which have
displayed the greatest activity become extinct! In like manner, readers
of the gentler sex, those seductive fires which your lovely eyes emit,
and to which you owe so many conquests, will die away. Everything has
its day, alas! in nature; everything falls to ruin and decay; everything
dies. It is the universal law; for that we are born, and each step in
life is a step toward the grave; there is no possibility there of
arranging compromises.

    "Death hath rigors unexampled;
         Vainly pray we to her;
     The cruel creature stuffs her ears
         And lets us shout at will.
     The poor man in his thatch-roofed cottage
         Is subject to her laws;
     The guard who stands at the Louvre gates
         Protects not kings from her."

I cannot say how the champagne led me to this quotation; however, I am
sure that you will not take it ill of me; these lines are never
misplaced, and I would like, indeed, to have been the author of them.

We had become virtuous then, in action at all events. I looked at my
watch; almost eight o'clock! The deuce! and my rendezvous. The champagne
had not entirely deprived me of memory, but I confess that Agathe was
responsible for the loss of a large part of my zeal.

Raymond must have been on the watch at the Café Turc for a long while;
as for Gerville, we had seen him leave the house more than an hour
before; so that there was nothing to detain us. My companion donned her
bonnet and shawl and tried to assume a demure and modest air, which she
was unable to master, even by lowering her eyes. I did what I could to
maintain a grave demeanor and a steady gait; that infernal champagne
always did go to my head! However, we could safely show ourselves on
the boulevard; we were only a little giddy.

We left the Méridien, where Raymond had paid for everything. The hostess
and waitresses saluted us with smiling faces.

"Is there anything amusing in our looks?" I asked Agathe.

"No; but do you suppose that those people don't divine that we've been
making a fool of Raymond? Perhaps they think he's my husband."

"Oh! that would be rather too much!"

"Bah! such things have been seen."

"Here we are at the Café Turc; shall we go in?"

"What for?"

"To relieve Raymond, who's doing sentry duty there."

"Let him stay there; I've no desire to be bored any more with his love;
I have had enough of it. Everything has turned out as I wanted; but as
such adventures never happen twice, I assure you that he will never
inveigle me into a private dining room again."

"Poor Raymond! This _partie fine_ will have been very profitable to him,
won't it? But here's the Château d'Eau; someone is waiting for me here,
and I must leave you."

"What! already?"

"Our play is ended, my dear girl; we can be of no further assistance to
each other; let us not postpone our separation until ennui succeeds
pleasure, and the fumes of the champagne have entirely vanished; we
shall retain a pleasant memory of this meeting, at all events."

"Adieu, then, my dear Eugène! may we enjoy ourselves as much when we
next meet!"

Agathe went her way, and I started to make the circuit of the Château
d'Eau.



XVI

THE ROSE WITHOUT THORNS


Six times I had walked around the pond. From time to time I halted in
front of the lions, which I contemplated from every point of view; then,
for variety's sake, I listened to the plash of the water as it fell into
the passage through which it flows back to the canals. All this was most
entertaining, no doubt, and still I began to weary of it. The sentinel
watched me closely; doubtless he began to look upon me as a suspicious
character.

It grew dark, and I was on the point of going away, when I saw coming
toward me a woman in a little cap. Was it she at last? I dared not
flatter myself that it was; I had been mistaken so many times, for my
eyesight is not very good; but she continued to approach me. Yes, it was
really she. Caroline accosted me with a smiling face; she was not in her
best clothes; but there was a certain daintiness in her costume: her cap
was neatly tied, and her hair had been in curl papers all day, I would
have sworn; a woman does not take so much pains for a man to whom she
does not intend to listen. The girl seemed to me a sly minx enough! But
although the champagne had made me even more reckless than usual, I was
not inclined to offer my arm to a grisette, in a cap, within the walls
of Paris.

"I was beginning to lose all hope of seeing you," I said.

"Why? it's only a quarter past eight, and I can't get away from my shop
any earlier."

"Let us go for a stroll in the fields."

"In the fields? oh, no! it's too late. I can't be out later than nine;
my aunt would scold me."

"That's a very tiresome aunt of yours. Let us go in somewhere."

"No, I don't want to. Oh! if I should be seen with you!"

I did not choose to tell her that I was no more anxious than she to
exhibit myself on the boulevard with her, for, after all, there were
some social conventions which I did not care to defy. She wore an apron
and a cap, and that fact annoyed me greatly. Certainly I think no more
of a milliner than of a flowermaker, but Agathe was dressed as a lady,
and I could afford to offer her my arm; a bonnet and shawl make a vast
difference in a woman; and that is one of the petty foibles to which a
young man has to submit when he goes into society, even though he
despise them. If Nicette had met me at noon instead of at midnight, I
certainly should not have escorted her to Madame Jérôme's on foot.

"Suppose we walk a little on Rue des Marais," said Caroline; "I am not
so much afraid of being seen there."

"Very well."

That suggestion was most welcome to me. We went down the stairs, took
the Passage du Wauxhall, and in a moment we were on Rue des Marais, a
street most favorable for sentimental promenades. Mademoiselle Caroline
seemed to know the best places.

The subject of our conversation may be divined: between two lovers,
between a gallant and a coquette, between a pretty woman and a comely
youth, between a young man and a grisette, the same subject is always
discussed; they talk of love and nothing else. For centuries, love has
formed the staple subject of conversation between man and woman; many
observations must have been made thereupon, and still the theme is not
exhausted. To be sure, everyone treats it in his own way, but the end in
view is always the same, is it not?

The fumes of the champagne led me to discuss the subject rather
cavalierly; Mademoiselle Caroline, who probably had not dined so
sumptuously as I had, stood on her dignity. I could obtain nothing from
her; she kept her aunt constantly to the fore, complaining of the
severity with which she was treated; but as she had no means of
providing for herself, she must needs submit to necessity.

I fancied that I could divine the girl's ambition; she loved liberty,
referred with a sigh to the matter of bonnets and dresses, and seemed to
be as sick of her aunt as of her shop. I afforded her a glimpse of a
possible means of becoming free and happy; I dropped a word or two
concerning a nicely furnished little room of which she would be
mistress, where she could work as she chose, where, in short, everything
would be subject to her wishes. It was all very alluring, and
Mademoiselle Caroline listened very attentively; she did not reply in
words, but she sighed and looked down. I talked of dresses, theatres,
pleasure parties; she looked at me with a smile, and allowed me to steal
a very affectionate kiss. I had found her weak side: the girl was
disgusted with her present life; she longed to be her own mistress; in a
word, she wanted to have a chamber of her own. Those little grisettes
are all alike; that is what they all aspire to; as if when they once had
lodgings of their own their fortunes were made. I saw that the
flowermaker cherished that aspiration, and that until it was fulfilled
she would accord me no favors. That denoted, not love exactly, but
foresight and shrewdness. What should I do? Faith! one more foolish
thing. Caroline was fascinating; perhaps gratitude would attach her to
me. Gratitude, because I desired to seduce her! you will say. I agree
that it is hardly the fitting word, but observe that I gave her an
opportunity to reflect at leisure.

"Caroline, does your aunt need you to support her?"

"No, monsieur; on the contrary, I am sure that she wouldn't be at all
sorry to have me provided for."

"I understand. And you have no other relations?"

"No, monsieur."

"And you two would part without regret?"

"Oh, yes, indeed! for we often quarrel; and if I had been able to have a
room of my own, I'd have done it long ago."

"In that case, you shall be in your own quarters to-morrow."

"What, monsieur! do you mean it?"

She jumped for joy, then checked herself, because she thought that she
ought not to let me see how delighted she was, but that it was incumbent
on her to make some show of hesitation.

"But, monsieur, I don't know whether I ought to accept."

"What is there to prevent?"

"What will people say?"

"It seems to me that that ought not to worry you so much as your aunt;
and as you are not afraid of making her angry, what do you care for what
strangers may say?"

"That's so, monsieur; it makes no difference at all to me; besides,
several friends of mine have done it, and been no worse off for it."

"Oh! there's no lack of examples. And so, my dear girl, be all ready at
this time to-morrow night. I will come here for you. Make up a little
bundle of whatever you need most, and I will take you to your room."

"Well, as you insist upon it, until to-morrow! I'll be ready."

"By the way, one more question. Who is that Monsieur Jules you were with
at Tivoli?"

"Oh! he's a very well-behaved young fellow, who takes me out to walk
sometimes with my aunt."

"I believe you; but even if he's a hundred times more well-behaved than
you say, you must promise me not to receive him at your room, and not to
go to walk with him any more."

"Never fear; I know that I mustn't do that, and I don't mean to annoy
you in any way."

"You are a dear girl; so it's decided, is it?"

"Yes; until to-morrow; it's late and I must go."

I took an earnest of our bargain from Caroline's lips; and she hurried
away, doubtless to prepare for the coming change in her situation.

So I had arranged to keep Mademoiselle Caroline! The word had an ill
sound in my ears; in general, it is understood to refer to those old
libertines, ugly, stupid, and infirm, whom fortune alone has favored,
and who obtain by the power of gold favors which others often have
obtained without effort. Those men are rarely loved, and are almost
always deceived; I myself had taken enjoyment at their expense; and I
was going to keep Caroline! No, I was going to establish her in
lodgings, that was all; I might perhaps make her a little present now
and then, but she must continue to work; I had no inclination to gratify
all her whims; therefore, I was her lover, not her keeper.

We always endeavor to look at our own actions in the most favorable
light; moreover, Caroline was really pretty; I had been sighing for her
many days, and at last my hopes were to be fulfilled. I persuaded myself
that she loved me, although I had detected nothing in her conduct to
demonstrate it; but it is so pleasant to flatter one's self that one has
aroused that sentiment! She was a flirt, but I would steady her; she
would see no one but me, go out with no one but me; she would do
whatever I desired, and she would be faithful to me; that is the way I
arranged matters in my mind.

The next morning I considered what I had to do; I had no time to lose. I
dressed in haste, and as I closed my door I ran into Raymond, who was
coming to pay me a visit, in his morning gown.

"Going out already?" he said.

"Yes, neighbor; I have a great deal to do to-day."

"The devil! I wanted to talk with you."

"You must wait until another time."

"You didn't join me yesterday at the Café Turc; I waited in the garden
till ten o'clock."

"I am very sorry. Adieu!"

"But I say, what about my picture? Has Agathe my picture?"

I had ceased to listen, and was at the foot of the stairs. I scoured the
neighborhood in search of a suitable room. I wanted one of which I could
have immediate possession, and one that was not far from my own
lodgings. I had not succeeded in finding what I desired,--they were all
either too high up, or too dark, or too dirty,--and I was walking along
with my nose in the air, looking for signs, when, as I paused in front
of a porte cochère, I heard a faint cough near me. It seemed to me to be
a simulated cough; I turned, and saw Nicette. I was within two yards of
her stand and had no idea of it. Nicette looked at me, then lowered her
eyes; she dared not bow to me or speak to me by daylight. Poor child! At
that moment I remembered her bouquet, which I had entirely forgotten; I
had never thanked her for her thoughtfulness. I walked up to her, and,
as I selected a few flowers, told her in an undertone how deeply touched
I was by her remembrance. She blushed with pleasure, and I walked away
followed by her eyes.

At last I found what I wanted, on Rue Caumartin; two small rooms which
were very neat and clean, very light, and could be occupied at once. It
only remained to furnish them; and with plenty of money nothing is so
easy. I hastened to an upholsterer's, bought all that I required, and
had it sent to the house with me. In less than three hours the little
suite was completely furnished. At first I intended to supply only what
was strictly necessary, but my self-esteem interfered; I determined to
give Caroline a pleasant surprise; she must have an easy-chair for
resting, and a sofa for us two. A pretty woman must have plenty of
mirrors; but, above all else, she must have a dressing table and a
comfortable bed. She must have curtains to shield her from the gaze of
her neighbors; and they must be lined, to lessen the glare of the sun;
lastly, she must have a little clock, so that we should not forget the
time while talking of love, and I did not expect to talk of anything
else to Caroline. All these little details carried me much further than
I had at first proposed; but I would try to economize in some other
direction, and those were extraordinary expenses and of infrequent
occurrence.

At last everything was ready; I had the keys of the apartment. There was
no concierge in the house; that meant one less spy. But I must provide
for everything; Caroline would come that evening to take up her abode in
that quarter, which was unfamiliar to her; I must, at the very least, be
prepared to offer her some supper; surely there was a restaurant in the
neighborhood, and I would go at once to order a dainty repast. But had I
thought of everything that required to be done before my mistress should
take possession of her new abode? would she have everything she needed?
I decided to place fifteen louis in the commode, with which she could
provide for her immediate wants; for in the first days of her changed
position she would hardly feel like working, and that would be very
excusable, a girl's head is so easily turned! But we become accustomed
to everything, and it seemed to me that if my pretty flowermaker chose
to be respectable and orderly, and to behave herself, she might be very
happy.

I went to the restaurant and ordered a dainty supper for nine o'clock.
Then I set about trying to kill time until evening; it was dinner time,
but I was not hungry; no matter! I determined to dine, as that would
give me some occupation. When I had dined, it was six o'clock; I had
still two hours and a half before me, which would never end, I thought.
I decided to take a walk; it occurred to me that I should not be sorry
to meet Raymond, to divert my thoughts. So I went to Rue Vivienne, where
the milliner's shop was in which Agathe was engaged; I was sure that
Raymond would be prowling about the neighborhood.

As I drew near the shop, I saw a number of people collected about a
paper pasted on the wall within a few yards of the door. I was not in
the habit of stopping to read about lost dogs or other chattels; but I
saw that everybody was laughing, and concluded that it was not one of
those ordinary placards. I walked toward the crowd and listened:

"It's a good joke," said one.

"It's a most excellent trick," said another; "I'm sure it's a good
likeness; I recognize that profile."

I pushed my way to the front, and--what did I see? Raymond's silhouette
pasted on a great white sheet of paper, with these words written above
in huge letters:

     "Notice to ladies, young and old. The original of this portrait is
     looking for a lady of from fifteen to thirty-six years who is
     willing to accept a dinner in a private dining room."

I readily guessed the author of that piece of deviltry. Agathe and her
shopmates were standing in the doorway, laughing till they cried to see
the crowd in front of the silhouette and to hear the various remarks. I
was moved to pity for poor Raymond; if I had dared, I would have removed
his unlucky face, thus exposed to the laughter of the passers-by. To be
sure, it was hardly possible to recognize it in that black profile; but
my neighbor had a very peculiar cast of countenance; and the artist,
unluckily for Raymond, had caught his likeness perfectly; indeed, he had
had abundant time to practise, as Raymond had passed the whole evening
in his booth.

Among the spectators I noticed little Friquet, whom one could always be
sure of finding in front of posters, caricature shops, cake sellers,
street singers, and all sorts of open-air shows. The little fellow had
recognized Raymond; he was holding his sides with laughter, and crying:

"I say! I know him! It's Monsieur Raymond; he comes to my aunt's house
to sing! Oh! it's he, sure enough! What a shame to paste him up there!"

And although he characterized it as a shame, the rascal kept repeating:

"I know him: it's Monsieur Raymond, who comes to my aunt's."

I was about to walk away, when I turned and saw Raymond parading in
front of Agathe's shop, playing the dandy and ogling her with
significant glances, to which she replied only with roars of laughter.

The poor devil was walking toward his portrait; if Friquet saw him, he
was lost; the little clerk would not fail to make him known to the
crowd. I determined to try to save him from that humiliation. I hastened
toward him, took his arm, and tried to lead him away with me.

"Come, my dear Raymond, come; let's take coffee together."

"I can't do it, my friend; I am here for a purpose, you see. I am
watching Agathe; I want to speak to her."

"You can speak to her later; come on with me."

"No; this seems to me a favorable moment; she doesn't take her eyes off
me."

The little traitress was, in truth, making the most ridiculous faces at
him, for fear he would go away. Monsieur Raymond, who had never known
her to look at him like that, and who saw that all the shopgirls had
their eyes on him, was beside himself with delight; he swaggered along,
leaning on his cane; to no purpose did I pull him by the arm, it was
impossible to induce him to lose sight of the milliner's shop. But he
noticed the crowd assembled a few steps away.

"There's something over yonder; let's see what it is."

"Pshaw! it isn't worth while; an offer of a reward for a lost dog, or an
advertisement of some new oil to prevent the hair from falling out or
turning white."

"I tell you, my dear fellow, those oils aren't to be despised! For my
part, I try every one that comes out; I must confess that they often
give me a headache, but a man must risk something to retain his youth,
you must agree. However, I don't think that's what they're looking at;
see how they're all laughing! It must be something very amusing."

"Don't you know that in Paris the merest trifle is enough to collect a
hundred people?"

"No matter; I want to see what it is; I like to laugh when I have an
opportunity. I'll come back in a minute and tell you about it."

It was impossible to keep him away; he had already crossed the gutter
with an agility of which I had not deemed him capable; and there he was
in the crowd, forcing his way to the front with hands and elbows. The
milliners did not lose sight of him. I too was anxious to witness the
effect that his silhouette produced upon him. Just as he reached the
wall and stood motionless in front of his likeness, unable to believe
his eyes, the little clerk, who was still among the crowd, espied him,
uttered an exclamation, and, overjoyed to be able to point him out to
the bystanders, called out to him:

"That's a picture of you, Monsieur Raymond; it looks just like you."

And all the young men repeated with him:

"It's Monsieur Raymond; he comes to my aunt's!"

My neighbor pulled his hat over his eyes, so that one could see nothing
but the tip of his nose; he tried to fly from the spot, and hurled
himself among the loungers, who took the keenest delight in barring his
path, bombarding him with jests and hootings. Raymond was beside
himself; he pushed so hard that he succeeded in breaking out a path; and
as he strode away, the laughter from the milliner's shop completely
broke his heart. He went like the wind; but his hat was so far over his
eyes that he could not see where he was going, and he collided with a
blind man led by a dog which carried a bowl in its mouth. The shock
overturned the poor devil, who sat down on the sidewalk with an emphatic
oath; the dog, seeing its master fall, dropped its bowl and sprang at
Raymond; the blind man cried _thief_! because he heard his sous rolling
on the ground; and Raymond swore because the dog was snapping at his
legs. The crowd ran up to restore peace and put the beggar on his feet;
but no one dared to approach him, because he was laying about him with
his stick, thinking that he was belaboring the person who had thrown him
down; while Raymond struggled with the dog, which had taken his leg as a
substitute for the bowl and would not relax its grip.

At last, the blind man was raised to his feet, and they succeeded in
replacing the bowl between the jaws of the faithful beast that had
fought so valiantly for its master. As it was necessary to compensate
the poor devil, who was rubbing his posteriors and demanding his money,
my neighbor was compelled to put his hand in his pocket, while
everybody shouted at him:

"Come, Monsieur Raymond, you must be generous; you shouldn't rush
through the streets of Paris like a madman!"

To escape the crowd, which was becoming larger every moment, Raymond
emptied his pockets; but the more he gave, the more the blind man
complained of his bruises.

"These villains are never satisfied!" said my neighbor; "here's twelve
francs for your posterior, and thirty sous for the money you lost; I
think that's quite enough."

"You have hurt me," said the blind man, shouting like a deaf person; "I
shan't be able to walk for a week; you must make up to me what I shall
lose by that."

"Well, here's twelve francs more."

"That's not enough, bourgeois."

"What! that makes three francs a day, and still you're not satisfied!
Your trade seems to be a good one!"

"I'm a poor father of a family; I've got five children."

"Why doesn't your wife lead you, instead of trusting you to a dog?"

"My wife sings on Place Maubert, kind gentleman."

"And your children?"

"My oldest, a boy, sings on Boulevard des Italiens; the second, a girl,
sings on Rue du Grand-Hurleur; the third, another girl, at Montparnasse;
the fourth, a boy, on the Champs-Élysées; and the youngest boy is just
beginning to sing on Rue du Petit-Lion. We all sing, kind gentleman."

"Well! you're a good one to complain! People who sing from morning till
night, and won't take three francs for a day's receipts! I should like
to know if there's a family in Paris better off than that!"

The crowd laughed at my neighbor's reflections. The blind man, who was
inclined to be ugly, was threatened with having to go to exhibit his
bruises to the magistrate, who had a regular tariff for bruised
posteriors of all grades. As he had no desire to expose his hurts to the
authorities, fearing a considerable abatement of his claims, he went his
way with his dog, Raymond with an insult to nurse, and I with the
silhouette, which I had torn down and pocketed.

The hour for me to meet Caroline had arrived. I took a cab and was
driven to a point behind the Château d'Eau. There I alighted, and
strolled along the boulevard, awaiting my young runaway. This time she
soon appeared, with several boxes in her hand. She smiled as soon as she
saw me; there was less restraint in her manner, more affection in her
glance, than I had seen before. Ah! I was sure now that I held sway in
her heart.

I led her to the cab; we put the boxes in, then took our places side by
side. I told the cabman to urge his horses, for I was impatient to
arrive and enjoy her surprise. At last, after a rapid journey, during
which she had allowed me to hold her in my arms and to tell her again
and again that I would always love her, we reached Rue Caumartin and
drew up in front of her new abode.

I opened the house door; I paid the cabman; Caroline gathered up her
boxes, and I took her hand to lead her upstairs; for it was dark and we
could hardly see. I was amazed that her hand did not tremble in mine. At
the moment of such a tremendous change in her position she was not at
all excited. She was a young woman of great strength of character--that
was clear.

At last we were in her apartment; an old woman on the same landing gave
us a light, and Caroline was able to examine her new quarters. She
looked about with rapture; I could see her joy gleaming in her eyes.

"Oh! how pretty it is! how pretty it is!" she kept saying, again and
again; and she sat down on the easy-chair, on the sofa, looked at
herself in the mirror, examined her curtains, her commode, her clock,
her table, her chairs. The bed was the only thing that she dared not
examine. Was it from modesty?

"You are satisfied, then?" I said inquiringly, as I took her on my
knees.

"Why, how could I help being? These rooms are charming; everything is so
elegant, and nothing is lacking; I shall be just like any _comme il
faut_ woman."

"And you think you will be happy here?"

"I feel already as if I could never go anywhere else."

"I am delighted to have succeeded so well; everything here is yours."

"Mine? really? You are too generous!"

"And if you don't love me, you are at liberty to refuse to see me; I do
not intend to put any price upon what I do."

"Oh! what an idea! if I didn't love you, would I have consented to come
with you? would I accept anything from you?"

I allowed her to say no more; a kiss closed her mouth. The doorbell rang
violently, and Caroline started up in alarm.

"Who can that be?" she asked.

I calmed her and opened the door.

It was the man from the restaurant, with the supper I had ordered; that
sight restored Caroline's gayety completely. We set the table; the
basket was unloaded, the dishes placed on the table, the waiter
dismissed. We were alone, on our own premises, our own masters. I was
not very hungry, but I was pleased to see that my companion did honor to
the repast. She partook of everything and declared that everything was
good.

"At all events," I said to myself, "she hasn't begun to play the
_petite-maîtresse_ yet; she doesn't try to conceal her pleasure or her
appetite."

She admitted that she never had such a good supper at her aunt's, and
that she loved good things to eat, sweetmeats, and muscat wine.
Thereupon I filled her glass with muscatel. I did not wish to make her
tipsy; but a little "point," I thought, would banish the last traces of
ceremony that still held her gayety in check.

Caroline was bright; her conversation abounded in sallies and
repartee--overabounded perhaps. I foresaw that she was likely to go far
and to become a leader in her class. I could understand that she must
have been bored to death on Rue des Rosiers; she secretly longed to
shine upon a greater stage, because she had a presentiment of the
triumph that awaited her. I determined to do my best not to encourage
her taste for luxury, fine dresses, and extravagance; for it would be
the devil's own job to make her take a different road when she was
fairly started.

But the clock struck eleven.

"Already!" said Caroline; "how the time flies!"

I was by her side, I held her in my arms, I rested my head on her
shoulder; silence had followed our bursts of merriment, but silence
expresses the emotion of the heart better than the noisy outbursts of
folly.

"It is very late," said Caroline, in an undertone.

"Must I go?" I said; "aren't you your own mistress now?"

She lowered her eyes and made no reply; but did I need any other avowal
than that? She defended herself very feebly; and I was such an expert
lady's-maid that in an instant she was in her night costume, if it may
be called a costume. To be sure, I tore and broke whatever came in my
way: strings, laces, and pins. Those were very trifling obstacles;
luckily, fashion does not decree that our ladies must be clad in
corselets of steel! but even so, love would find the defect in them.
There was one pleasanter obstacle which I desired to find; but I am
bound to confess that it did not exist. Ah! Mademoiselle Caroline, I
might have suspected as much! But what does it matter, after all? Was
she any less pretty on that account? No, to be sure; perhaps, indeed, it
was that that gave to her face that expression of coquettish malice
which fascinated me. But I could not help thinking that another man had
obtained much more than I without providing her with an apartment;
however, for my encouragement, I recalled the ballad:

    "The first step's taken unreflecting."

Not until the second does reflection take a hand; therefore, there is
much more glory in inducing the second step than the first; I tried to
persuade myself that that was so.

At all events, I had no choice but to make the best of it, as there was
no remedy. If I had been her husband--why, then I should have done just
the same; for it is quite enough to be persuaded yourself that you are a
Georges Dandin; I see no need of proclaiming it from the housetops.

So I kept all these reflections to myself; I bestowed upon Caroline
caresses which she returned with a vivacity and a force of sentiment of
which I should not have deemed her capable, and which I certainly
should not have found in an innocent; that was one source of
consolation. She swore that she would continue to love me, that she
would be happy with no one but me, that she did not want to see anybody
else, that she would always be faithful to me and had no desire to win
the love of any other man. I said about the same to her, and we fell
asleep with these touching oaths of love on our lips.

When I awoke, it was broad daylight. Caroline was still asleep. It was
only six o'clock, so I did not wake her; she must have been fatigued. I
softly imprinted a kiss on lips which seemed to invite it even when
asleep, and I left that bed where I had found in my inamorata's arms all
the delights of sensual pleasure, save only--but why think of that?

I dressed without making any noise, for I wanted to go away without
waking her. I knew that very close companionship soon gives birth to
satiety; therefore, I proposed not to see her too often, so that when we
did meet we should enjoy ourselves more. Oh! I had had experience! When
it is not used with care, there is nothing that becomes exhausted so
quickly as love. And then, although Mademoiselle Caroline pleased me
immensely, I had no idea of living with her altogether. When I was fully
dressed, I glanced once more at my new friend, then crept from the room
and closed the door very softly.

What a difference between Paris at six in the morning and the same Paris
at six in the evening. What perfect tranquillity reigned in that
quarter, which, a few hours later, would resound with the rumbling of
calèches and tilburys, with the trampling of brilliantly attired
equestrians, with the shouts of coachmen and footmen, with the uproar of
tradesmen and foot passengers! A few milkwomen alone gave life to the
picture. I walked toward the boulevards. How cool it was! what a
delicious hour for walking! I could not resist the desire to walk the
length of the boulevards before the dust and tumult of the day had
transformed them into the rendezvous of dandies and _petite-maîtresses_.
I felt, too, that the air I was breathing did me good, that it
tranquillized my mind; and I understood how one may at six in the
morning repent of what one did at six in the evening.

But the shops began to open, the tradesmen took down their shutters, the
concierges were sweeping down their steps, blinds were being raised,
lazy folk were beginning to yawn and stretch their arms, working girls
came out to buy their ounce of coffee, old bachelors their roll,
maid-servants their beef stew, and old women their little pitcher of
cream. The messenger went to the wine shop for his glass of wine, and
the cabman for his glass of brandy, in order to begin the day aright!
The peasant women, who had already done half their day's work, remounted
their donkeys and returned to the fields; and I left the boulevards and
went home.

Three-fourths of the tenants were still asleep. It was only half-past
seven, and I met nobody but a few maid-servants. My neighbor was not
awake as yet, I sincerely hoped. Poor Raymond! after his adventure of
the preceding evening, I presumed that we must have a grand explanation.
He must inevitably be in a rage with me; for I credited him with
sufficient common sense to understand that the young women in the
milliner's shop had deliberately made sport of him.

On reaching my door, I found something attached to the knob. It was a
bouquet from Nicette, already a little withered; it had been there since
the evening before, no doubt. The little flower girl did not forget me;
and I, who might have gone to say good-morning to her at six o'clock,
had not even thought of her. I very seldom passed her shop. And yet,
Nicette was well worth going out of one's way to see; but for the last
few days I had been so engrossed that I had had no time to think of my
protégée; indeed, I had vowed not to think too much of her, and I
believed that I should do well to keep my vow--for her sake especially.
I wanted her to forget me, for I believed her to be very susceptible and
quite capable of becoming deeply attached to the man she should chance
to love.--"No," I thought, "I will not go to see her; that is the wiser
course. She will end by forgetting me."--But I had a feeling that I
should be very sorry if she did.

I detached the bouquet and entered my rooms; they too reminded me of
Nicette and of the night we had passed together there. That night in no
wise resembled the night which had just gone, and which had been marked
by nothing that was abnormal in my experience. I had spent and expected
to spend many nights as pleasurable as the last. But those nights are
very rare when a girl of sixteen, emotional and attractive, succeeds,
while she beguiles us by her charms, in forcing us to respect her
innocence.

I was not so happy as I should have been. Having become the possessor of
an adorable woman,--for Caroline was truly adorable, and she lost
nothing by being seen in a simple négligé,--what more could I desire?
Ah! I had been deceived so often, that I was justified in being fearful.
My new mistress was at least as coquettish as my previous ones had been,
and that fact was not very reassuring. But why torment myself in
anticipation? Moreover, I had promised myself to be impassive and to
take things philosophically. Yes, I had made myself that promise, but I
had not succeeded in keeping it; perhaps with time and a little more
experience I might succeed. They say that one becomes wonted to
everything, but in my opinion it is very hard to become wonted to
anything that wounds our self-esteem.

Someone knocked; it was Madame Dupont with a letter.

"Give it to me, Madame Dupont."

My concierge had a most amusing way of doing even the simplest things
with an air of great importance and mystery. She handed me the paper,
accompanying it with a reverence which meant a great number of things.
Noticing that the letter was folded simply, not sealed, I concluded that
she knew its contents; and judging from her manner, they must be of
serious import.

"Who gave you this, Madame Dupont?"

"Monsieur Raymond."

"My neighbor?"

"Yes, monsieur; and he told me to bring him your answer."

"Let us see what he has to say."

     "MONSIEUR DORSAN:

     "We must have a serious explanation with regard to the dinner of
     the day before yesterday. The matter cannot be settled elsewhere
     than in the Bois de Boulogne, where I shall expect you to-day
     between noon and one o'clock. I shall be alone; do you come alone.
     I believe you to be too honorable a man to fail to be on hand. I
     shall be near Porte Maillot.

     "RAYMOND."

I laughed like a madman when I read this epistle. Madame Dupont, whom
Raymond doubtless had told that we were going to fight, seemed amazed at
my hilarity, and asked me what answer she should give him.

"Go," I said, "and assure my neighbor that I will be on hand promptly."

My concierge, proud of her ambassadorship in a matter of such moment,
made me the inevitable reverence and returned with my answer to Raymond,
who was probably waiting in her lodge, swaggering gallantly before the
gossips and housemaids, so that the whole household might know that he
had an affair of honor on hand. I confess that I did not expect such a
challenge from my neighbor. What weapons should I take? He did not
mention the subject, and I had an idea that none would be needed;
however, I concluded to put my pistols in my pocket. Who could say?
perhaps I had judged Raymond ill. Moreover, madmen have their lucid
moments, misers are sometimes extravagant, tyrants have paroxysms of
kindliness, coquettes moments of sincerity, rascals gleams of honesty;
and cowards, too, may have their days of valor.



XVII

MY DUEL WITH MY NEIGHBOR


I went to the rendezvous at the appointed hour. The weather was fine,
delightful for walking, and everybody was out of doors. I could not
avoid the reflection that my neighbor had selected for our duel an hour
when it was very hard not to be seen; I knew that he was very fond of
putting himself in evidence, but it seemed to me that that was not an
opportune occasion for so doing; he was evidently quite capable of
choosing his ground in front of a guardhouse. However, I concluded to be
patient and to await events before judging him.

When I arrived at Porte Maillot I did not see Raymond. It was not yet
one o'clock, so I strolled about in the neighborhood. Little did I think
that morning that I should go to the Bois de Boulogne before night, and
alone. Caroline, I thought, must be surprised at my non-appearance. In
truth, it did imply rather a lack of warmth; and if she were exacting,
she would be justified in scolding me. But I knew a sure way to make
peace with her; it is easy enough to find a way when love still exists;
only in old liaisons, or between those who have been long married, do
quarrels destroy love, because in such cases the methods of
reconciliation are no longer the same.

At half-past one, no one had appeared. Could it be that my neighbor had
deliberately sent me on a fool's errand; I realized that he was likely
to require a vast deal of preparation before fighting a duel; but it
seemed to me that he had had plenty of time since eight o'clock in the
morning to make his little arrangements, and to go about to tell all his
acquaintances that he had an affair of honor on hand. Could he have gone
to warn the police? Such things had been done; but, no, it was he who
had sent the challenge; I was doing him an injustice. Poor Raymond! the
dinner episode was terrific, beyond question, and he must have been
terribly incensed at me, especially if he believed me to be the author
also of the ingenious trick of pasting his picture on the wall on Rue
Vivienne. But why that rhodomontade of sending me a challenge by the
concierge? if he had no intention of fighting, he should have come to
see me at my rooms; I would have confessed my faults, while laughing at
the affair, for I am not one of those men who refuse to atone for the
foolish pranks they have committed except by cutting the throats of the
persons they have offended. I consider that there is more glory in
avowing one's fault frankly, and fighting afterward if the avowal does
not give satisfaction.

Almost two o'clock! I lost my patience; I was tired of walking;
moreover, the weather had changed, and the sky was overcast; a storm
seemed impending, and I had no desire to await it in the woods. The
idlers had become fewer, the riders were digging their spurs into their
horses' sides, the coachmen cracking their whips; everybody was hurrying
back to the city. I determined to go with the rest. But who were the
three men walking so fast toward the woods? I soon recognized the one
who marched so proudly at their head: it was Raymond. He had brought two
seconds, after telling me that he would come alone. But, no matter;
doubtless he would be obliging enough to let me have one of them. I
began to think that he had urged me not to bring one because he
preferred to choose one for me.

As the three drew near, I recognized Raymond's seconds: one was Vauvert
the melomaniac, the other Monsieur le Baron de Witcheritche. Parbleu!
thought I, there is sport ahead! I had a strong suspicion that my
neighbor was preparing some trick he had conceived. What in the devil
had induced him to choose such seconds? Friquet only was lacking; I
should not have been surprised to find him standing guard a short
distance away, ready to summon the police at the first signal from his
uncle.

All three were drenched with perspiration; and yet, they had had time
enough to make the trip. Apparently, they had postponed their decision
long enough to be sure of warming themselves up on the road. Raymond was
as red as a turkey cock, Vauvert pale as a bride, and the baron made
such fiendish grimaces that I could not tell just the color of his face.
They seemed more at ease when they saw that I was alone. I very much
regretted that I had not brought a second; I had an idea that by doing
so I should have disarranged Raymond's plan.

They saluted me as soon as they caught sight of me; I returned their
salutation, then went back into the woods I had just left.

"Where are you going? Wait, wait!" cried Vauvert, stammering and hardly
able to speak at all, he was so excited. I pretended not to hear, and
went farther into the woods.

Vauvert started to run after me; he overtook me and seized my hand, and
I felt that he was trembling like a rabbit.

"Where on earth are you going, my dear fellow? why do you go so far into
the woods? Don't you see that we're going to have a storm?"

"It seems to me that the affair that brings us here can hardly be
adjusted on the highroad; it would be as sensible to choose Boulevard
Saint-Denis for the battlefield."

"My friend, I hope that--at all events----"

"As for the storm, that needn't disturb us; on the contrary, it will
keep bystanders away."

While I was talking with Vauvert, I heard my neighbor shouting in the
distance:

"No adjustment, Monsieur Vauvert, no adjustment! I don't propose to
consent to any compromise; I am determined to fight!"

"You hear him!" said Vauvert; "he's crazy. Oh! he's a terrible fellow
when he gets started. He has said everywhere that he proposed to have
your life, or that you should have his."

I could not help laughing at Raymond's bluster; and I ventured to
reassure poor Vauvert, who did not know which way to turn, having never
been present at such a function. At last we were joined by my adversary
and the Baron de Witcheritche, the latter of whom wore a three-cornered
hat, eight inches high, cocked over his left ear, which gave him the
aspect of a bully from the Rue Coquenard.

"Monsieur!" said Raymond, striding toward me with a warlike air, "I
wrote you that I should come alone, and that was my intention; but, as I
passed through the Palais-Royal, I met my friend Vauvert, who had come
out to buy a roll for his second breakfast, and who, when he learned
that I had an affair of honor with you, dropped everything to come with
me, and----"

"That is to say," interrupted Vauvert, "that you didn't tell me that
that was what was up, and that I didn't find it out till we got to the
barrier; for, when you saw me, you grabbed my arm and didn't give me
time to pay for my newspaper."

Raymond pretended not to hear what Vauvert said, and continued:

"So I yielded to his urgent entreaties. Besides, he is as much your
friend as mine, and his presence cannot be disagreeable to you. As for
Monsieur le Baron de Witcheritche, we met him at the barrier, going out
to dine in the country with his good wife. I thought it better to have
two seconds than one, because then I could let you have one of them.
Monsieur de Witcheritche consented to leave madame la baronne, who is
waiting for him under the trees not far away. He will be my second then,
and Monsieur Vauvert yours, if agreeable to you."

Monsieur le baron, who had bowed every time that his name was mentioned,
took his place beside Raymond, and Vauvert stood behind me.

"Monsieur Raymond," said I, "it seems to me that we might very well
settle this affair between ourselves, without troubling these gentlemen.
I am afraid that madame la baronne may get wet during our engagement,
and Vauvert would be better off at his desk than here."

"That is true enough," said Vauvert, who asked nothing better than to go
away; "I have a great deal of work to do to-day, and I'm afraid I shall
be reproved by my deputy chief clerk."

"Matame la paronne, she haf ov te shtorm no fear; she loaf mooch to see
te lidening flashes," said Monsieur de Witcheritche, smiling so
expansively that his mouth seemed to reach from ear to ear.

"Well, since these gentlemen have been good enough to come," said I,
with a smile, "it must not be for nothing; so I accept Monsieur Vauvert
for my second."

Vauvert fell back with an air of dismay.

"Don't be alarmed," I said to him; "seconds rarely fight; if, however, I
should fall, and you should choose to avenge me, it will be in your
power."

"I, my dear friend! I do not need to tell you how fond I am of you; and
certainly--I wish the affair might be settled amicably. Friends ought
not to fall out!--Monsieur de Witcheritche, we ought not to allow these
gentlemen to fight."

The baron seemed much more deeply interested in something that he had in
his pocket than in our combat, and to no purpose did Vauvert, with tears
in his eyes, strive frantically to make him understand that it was their
duty to reconcile Raymond and myself. But my neighbor was obstinate.

"I intend to fight," he said; "nobody shall insult me with impunity! I
have seen Monsieur Gerville, and I know that he did not dine with you
and Agathe; I need say no more! And my silhouette on the wall--that was
a betrayal of confidence! You must give me satisfaction, Monsieur
Dorsan; this affair will make a sensation."

"Oh! bless my soul, neighbor, I am at your service! Let us get through
with it, for it is going to rain, and I shall be distressed to have
these gentlemen get wet, and especially madame la baronne, who is under
the trees."

"I am the insulted party; I have the choice of weapons."

"That is true."

"I am very skilful with the sword; I have taken lessons from the most
expert teacher in Paris; but I will not fight with anything but
pistols, because I don't wish to make an unfair use of my advantages."

"That is very generous on your part; I divined your purpose and brought
some pistols along."

As I spoke, I took mine from my pocket; I saw that Raymond was disturbed
and changed color; then he produced a pair of great holster pistols and
showed them to me.

"That's all right," said I; "each of us will have his own pistols."

"No, no! put yours back in your pocket; we must use mine. You understand
what an advantage I should have in using one of my pistols against one
of yours, which are two inches shorter."

"Your behavior is truly noble. Very well, since you insist upon it."

"I do, monsieur; besides, I have the choice of weapons, and I fight with
none but my own."

"Very well; let us call our friends to load them."

I turned to look for Vauvert, who, as soon as we produced our pistols,
had walked away in the direction of the highroad and could with
difficulty be induced to come near us.

"The pistols are loaded," said Raymond; "I always look after that in
advance."

"Ordinarily, my dear neighbor, that is the duty of the seconds."

"Oh! but I don't trust anybody but myself with that. Besides, my friend
Witcheritche has examined them;--isn't that so, monsieur le baron?"

The baron was busily engaged in wrapping in two thicknesses of paper
some small Neufchâtel cheeses, which he seemed to fear would be
dissolved in his pocket by the rain; so he replied to my adversary's
question only by a smile of assent. Everything that I saw tended to
confirm my suspicions: Raymond's valor was unnatural; his insistence
upon using his own pistols, the pains he had taken to load them at home,
certainly implied some trickery on his part, which I was determined. He
handed me his pistols and asked me to choose one.

"How many paces apart shall we stand?" I asked.

"Why--about twenty-five."

"Great God!" cried Vauvert; "why, that's point-blank range. Forty paces,
messieurs! that's quite near enough when you're hit!"

"No; let's call it thirty; that's the most I can consent to.--Monsieur
de Witcheritche, come and measure the ground."

Monsieur le baron regretfully parted from his cheeses, which he laid on
the grass, taking care to put his hat over them, for the rain was
beginning to fall violently. He came toward us; I took my place, and he
measured thirty gigantic paces, so that I could hardly see Raymond. As
for my second, he was so afraid of being hit that he did not know where
to go. He urged us to be very careful not to aim at the wrong man, and I
reassured him. Monsieur de Witcheritche gave the signal by beating time,
as if we were to play a Haydn quartette.

Raymond fired, and either the noise or downright terror felled Vauvert
to the ground, where he lay with his face buried in the grass. I was not
touched; I did not even hear the bullet whistle by my ears.

I suggested to my neighbor that we let it go at that.

"No, no, fire!" he cried.

"He is ein Zazar!" exclaimed the baron, in his admiration of Raymond's
courage.

I was desirous to ascertain the truth. My second still lay at full
length on the ground; Monsieur de Witcheritche had thought it better to
retire to a considerable distance, behind a clump of trees; my adversary
turned his head aside, waiting for me to take aim, which I had no
purpose of doing, although convinced that his weapons were not
dangerous; but the baron's cheeses were within two yards of me, and I
discharged my pistol at them. The explosion blew the three-cornered hat
away, and a multitude of scraps of paper adhered to the little
Neufchâtels. While I was laughing over the end of my duel, Raymond came
toward me with outstretched hand, shouting at a distance:

"It's all settled, my friend; I am satisfied, embrace me!"

"What!" said I; "you don't want another shot? I have pistols, too."

"No, my dear fellow, let's forget it all; embrace me, I beg you."

"So be it; I will do whatever is agreeable to you."

While my neighbor threw himself into my arms, the baron ran to his
cheeses, and was like one turned to stone when he saw that they were all
speckled with bits of paper.

"Mein jheese, tay shmell ov te bowder lige te teffel!" he said, putting
his nose to them.

"A thousand pardons, monsieur le baron; but as I did not wish to fire at
my friend Raymond, I aimed in this direction; the bullet must have gone
through them."

Raymond flushed to his ears; my ironical manner led him to fear that I
had detected his little fraud; but I did not care to deprive him of the
pleasure of being able to say everywhere that he had fought a duel. I
ran to my second, who was still on the ground, and urged him to rise;
he did not stir, and I saw that the poor devil had swooned during our
battle. I called Raymond to my assistance; he had a flask of strong
aromatic vinegar in his pocket, with which we inundated Vauvert's face,
and he finally came to himself. After feeling himself all over and
making sure that he was not wounded, he tried to make us think that his
swoon was caused by his affection for us both. We thanked him and set
him on his legs; but we had to take an arm each to help him to walk; for
he was in no condition to stand erect without our support.

Monsieur de Witcheritche put the remains of his cheeses in his pocket
handkerchief, and we left the wood. The rain continued, but my second
could not walk fast, so that we were compelled to endure it. Raymond was
in the highest spirits; he was overjoyed by his day's experience. He
knew Vauvert, and he was sure that his duel would soon be the absorbing
topic of the whole company of amateur musicians, even if he himself
should not take pains to spread it everywhere.

"You showed extraordinary courage, messieurs," said Vauvert, as we
marched along; "such sang-froid! such calmness! that was true valor!"

"Oh! yez! yez! tese two chentlemens pe fery prave."

"Oh! my neighbor Raymond's not like other men; I am sure that he would
fight the same way ten times a day."

Raymond bowed, but said nothing. I fancied that he realized that I knew
how his pistols were loaded.

At last, we spied madame la baronne seated under a large tree; her
husband ran to her and took her arm, and we walked toward the barrier.

"I haf mooch abbetide," said Madame de Witcheritche to her husband.

"Ve vill tine soon, matame."

The couple bowed to us and quickened their pace. I presumed that they
were on the lookout for a restaurant; but I noticed that, all the way
from the barrier, two huge dogs had been following monsieur le baron,
who did all that he could to drive them away, but to no purpose.

"Do those two dogs belong to Monsieur le Baron de Witcheritche?" I asked
Vauvert.

"No, I don't think so; I never saw at his place anything but poodles."

"It's strange," said Raymond; "he must have something in his pocket that
attracts them."

I looked for a cab, but the rain had caused them all to be taken up. We
had lost sight of Monsieur de Witcheritche and his wife, when we heard
loud cries, and soon saw the two dogs running for their lives, one with
a bologna sausage, the other with a bit of salt pork in its mouth. The
baron and baroness came running after them, crying:

"Shtop tief! shtop tief! Ach! te file peasts! tey haf shtole our
tinner!"

Madame la baronne, being weaker than her husband, was obliged to stop,
and told us how the two dogs had succeeded in extracting from monsieur
le baron's pocket the dinner she and her dear spouse, who had been a
long time arranging that little outing for her, expected to eat in the
country.

While we were consoling the poor woman, Monsieur de Witcheritche, who
was not the man to abandon his sausage and his pork, kept on in pursuit
of the dogs, at which he threw all the stones he could find on the
road. He had already wounded one and compelled it to slacken its pace.
Hoping to hit the other, which was just passing the barrier, he threw a
great stone at it with all his force. But the stone was ill-aimed, and,
instead of striking the dog, struck the customs clerk in the eye, as he
was looking up at the sky to see if the storm were passing away.

The poor man fell, crying:

"I am dead!"

His comrades ran to him. One of the dogs, which was then passing the
city limits, ran among the clerks' legs and made them stagger. The
second dog, trying to escape, was seized by monsieur le baron, who
thought of nothing but his dinner and pursued his course, unmindful of
anything else. He succeeded in catching the dog by the tail, and a
battle ensued between him and the animal, which refused to give up the
sausage. The soldiers from the neighboring post ran up in response to
the outcries of the clerks. The vehicles of all kinds passing in or out
were compelled to stop; the soldiers would allow no one to pass until
they had found out what the matter was. A crowd gathered to see what was
going on, and everyone put forward some conjecture.

"It's an important prisoner whom they arrested just as he was leaving
the city," said one, "and it seems that he wounded the clerk who seized
him."

"No; they've just discovered some contraband goods in one of those
wagons; it was being smuggled in."

Amid the tumult, which was augmented by the barking of the dogs, the
baron shouted triumphantly:

"I haf him! I haf him!" and he waved aloft the bologna sausage, which he
had snatched from his enemy's jaws; then, before the poor devil whose
eye he had put out had recovered consciousness, Monsieur de Witcheritche
slipped into the crowd and returned to his wife, leaving the clerks,
soldiers, and bystanders asking one another what it was all about.
Madame la baronne had recovered her husband, Vauvert was in a condition
to walk unaided, and Raymond began to play the dandy. I left the company
and took a cab to return to Paris.



XVIII

A LITTLE DISSERTATION IN WHICH THERE IS NOTHING ENTERTAINING


When I arrived at Caroline's it was after five o'clock; my duel and its
sequel had prolonged my absence, and she scolded me for going away
without waking her, and said that she had been vexed at my delay. I
would have preferred that she should have been bored, but I realized
that she had had no leisure for that; there are so many thousand things
to do in a new apartment, to say nothing of the indispensable purchases.
She showed me a very modish bonnet that she had bought, and tried it on
for me. It was a fascinating one; however, at twenty years, with a
pretty face and a graceful figure, a woman might wear a sugar loaf on
her head and she would still be good-looking. It seemed to me that I
liked her better in her little cap than in a bonnet; but I concluded
that I should get used to it.

The rest of the costume must necessarily correspond with the bonnet;
that was in the regular order. I have always wondered at the importance
which women attribute to all the gewgaws and trifles which are called
dress! at the amount of thought and calculation they waste upon the best
way of placing a flower or a ribbon! With what care they arrange a bit
of trimming, a bouquet, a curl! All this is sometimes the result of
several days' meditation! But let us not charge it to them as a crime:
it is to seduce us that they array themselves; we should be very
ungrateful to criticise what they do to please us.

Caroline had changed already; she wore her new garb with much ease of
manner; she was no longer the grisette of Rue des Rosiers, but the
_petite-maîtresse_ of the Chaussée d'Antin. Women form themselves in
everything more rapidly than we do. Observe yonder villager: after three
months in the city, he is still awkward, loutish, and embarrassed. But
this little peasant girl left her home only a week ago, and already her
parents would not recognize her; ere long she will not recognize her
parents.

A fortnight had passed since Caroline's installation on Rue Caumartin. I
saw her every day; I dare not say that it was love that I felt for her;
certainly it was not a very impassioned love; but she still pleased me
as much as ever. I believed that she loved me more than at the beginning
of our liaison; at all events, she told me so.

Things had not turned out precisely as I had arranged, for she had
ceased to go to her shop, and she could hardly be said to work in her
room; but, by way of compensation, she had acquired the manners of good
society, the tone of a lady, and the general aspect of an _élégante_. It
is true that I refused her nothing, although I frequently considered the
project of reducing my expenses. But how can you refuse anything to a
pretty woman who entreats you with a melting voice, and, while
entreating you, looks at you in a certain way? As for myself, I confess
that I have never had the strength to resist. It has been my misfortune,
perhaps.

I began to discover that what I called gewgaws formed a very important
item in the keeping of a woman. I ruined myself in trifles: every day it
was a dress, a neckerchief, a hat, or a shawl! I do not know how
Caroline went about it, but she invariably proved to me that it was the
fashion, and, therefore, that it was necessary; I am too just to refuse
a woman what is necessary. But my income was insufficient; I had
borrowed; I was running in debt. What in heaven's name would happen if
she should take it into her head to want the superfluous!

Every other day I found a bouquet at my door when I went home. My little
Nicette did not forget me, and I never went to see her; if I chanced to
pass her stand, I never thought of her being there and never glanced in
her direction! And yet, every time that I found a bouquet, I determined
that I would go to thank her; but Caroline gave me so much occupation
that I never had a free moment; every day there was some new pleasure
party; I never had the courage to refuse her; she knew a way to make me
approve all her plans. Her graceful ways charmed me, her wit fascinated
me, her merriment amused me; the hussy was so adroit in making the most
of all the gifts she had received from nature!

One morning I received a note written in an unfamiliar hand. It was from
Madame de Marsan, who reproached me good-naturedly for not keeping the
promise I had made to attend her musical evenings, and invited me to a
small party she was giving at her country house. I had almost forgotten
Madame de Marsan, for I often forget a person who has set me on fire the
night before; a very lucky thing for one who takes fire so easily; it
proves that the heart has no share in the nonsense we call love. I
determined to go to the party in question, for I did not propose that
Mademoiselle Caroline should make me lose sight of all my acquaintances;
I ought not to abandon good society because she could not go thither
with me. The girl had already led me into too much folly! And there was
my sister, whose letter I had not answered, and who expected me from day
to day! I was not at all content with myself. But the torrent bore me
on; I closed my eyes and let myself go.

Someone entered my room: it was my neighbor, whom I had not seen since
the day of our famous duel. He had a shrewd suspicion that I was not
taken in by his false gallantry--I who had witnessed his abject terror
on the day of the _partie fine_. I knew that he had made a great noise
about his valor, prating of his duel to everybody he saw; but he had
avoided meeting me in company; my presence would have embarrassed him in
his narrative of our combat. I wondered what he wanted of me.

"Good-morning, my dear friend!" he began; "how goes the health this
morning?"

"Why, I am inclined to think it goes too fast; I am going at a rapid
pace."

"You must be prudent, neighbor."

"You're a good one to talk about prudence, Monsieur Raymond! What are
you doing with Agathe?"

"Oh! I don't see her any more; that's all over, we are parted forever! I
don't propose ever to be caught by one of those little hussies again;
you spend an enormous amount of money, and sometimes you don't make your
expenses. And they don't know how to appreciate a man; they don't know
the difference between a poet and a gudgeon! So long as you have money
in your pocket, and can stuff them from morning till night with bonbons,
sweetmeats, ices, and syrups, and tell them they're adorable, take them
to drive and to the theatre and to the country, and buy them all the
fal-lals they happen to want, oh! bless my soul, then they're satisfied.
You may be as stupid as a goose, as coarse as a street porter, as
conceited as an Italian virtuoso, yet you're none the less delightful in
the eyes of those girls."

"There's a great deal of truth in what you say, neighbor; but, as a
general rule, it is adulation and flattery that spoil both men and
women; if we didn't kneel at their feet, they wouldn't look down on us
from such a height. Flatterers, courtiers, low-lived sycophants, creep
in everywhere and sometimes corrupt the most happily endowed nature.
Kings, unfortunately, are more encompassed than other men by this
servile swarm, which constantly hums in their ears a concert of
exaggerated and insipid praise; it is when men tremble that they stoop
lower than at any other time. Louis XI had more courtiers than Louis
XII, Charles IX more than Henri IV. Richelieu and Mazarin did not take a
step without being surrounded by a multitude of courtiers; they were
feared, people trembled before them, but humiliated themselves and
scribbled verses in their honor. Sully and Colbert had their admirers,
but they knew how to repel flattery; they were too great to surround
themselves with people whom they despised. If too frequent adulation did
not increase our vanity, if the familiar atmosphere of praise did not
give us too great confidence in our own deserts, how many shortcomings
would those heroes and great captains have escaped, who, under difficult
circumstances, have rejected the counsels of wisdom because they were
accustomed only to the language of flattery, and deemed themselves
invincible because a thousand voices had declared that they were, and
because the man who has been exalted to the rank of a demigod does not
readily decide to take the advice of his creatures! The pernicious
effects of adulation date from a very early period: the serpent seduced
the first woman by flattery. Almost always by the same means have women
since then been seduced. Flattery destroyed Antiochus and
Nebuchadnezzar, Semiramis and Mary Stuart, Cinq-Mars, Monmouth,
Cleopatra, and Marion Delorme; Samson allowed his hair to be cut off
while listening to the compliments of Delilah; Holofernes lost his head
while listening to Judith's soft voice; Charles XII of Sweden, blinded
by his victories, buried his army in the plains of Pultowa; the Maréchal
de Villeroi, relying always on luck, insisted on joining battle at
Ramillies. Excessive praise, by blinding us to our faults, causes us to
remain in the path of mediocrity, when nature has given us faculties
calculated to raise us above the vulgar; by tempting us to close our
ears to the harsh counsels of truth, it leads us to mistake self-esteem
for genius, vanity for merit, facility for talent. How many artists,
even when they seek advice, refuse to receive anything but compliments!
But they have been persuaded that all their works are masterpieces, that
no defect can be found in them! And people who have attained that end no
longer take the pains to study; everything that comes from their hands
must necessarily be perfect. But civility demands that we must not
always say what we think. Suppose a poet reads us some of his verses: if
they are bad, you must not tell him so unless you are his friend; for
you do not desire to be looked upon in society as an Alcestis, forever
growling about the vagaries and absurdities of everyone else; that rôle
would raise up too many enemies to be endured, except on the stage. In
society, we choose to overlook one another's failings rather than to set
ourselves up as censors; mutual intercourse is pleasanter thus, and we
find more pleasure in living for ourselves than in wasting our time
trying to correct other people. But although courtesy may compel us to
conceal what we think, it does not compel us to say what we do not
think; when I listen to the reading of execrable poetry, I will hold my
peace, but I won't say that it is charming; nay, more, I will try to
summon courage to make some suggestions to the author. I can never make
up my mind to say that a portrait resembles its subject, when I think it
a wretched failure; I cannot tell a person that he sings true, when he
has just been torturing my ears. With nascent talents, above all, we
should be sparing of praise, even while we encourage them; flattery is
responsible for very many such coming to naught, because it arrests the
flight of a genius, which, deeming itself perfect already, no longer
cares to take the trouble to acquire what it lacks. Doubtless a father
is excusable for considering his son a prodigy of beauty, wit, and
talent; paternal love naturally misleads us; but let us at least keep
our conviction to ourselves; let us not force strangers to go into
ecstasies over the story of a mischievous trick, to listen in religious
silence to a fable often directly at variance with common sense, and to
gaze in admiration at a flat nose, turned-up chin, and inflamed eyes,
which can never delight any glance but a father's. If there were fewer
flatterers, how many men, who are simply unendurable now because they
have been spoiled, would be ornaments of society! Let us reserve our
enthusiasm for those poets and artists whose talents exalt them above
all praise. Doubtless the contemporaries of Molière and Voltaire
rendered to those sublime geniuses the homage they deserved; but one
does not display his admiration for such men by insipid compliments and
empty praise: great talents are proud of the applause of people of
taste; they despise the base fawning of which fools are so vain.

"When Voltaire lived at Ferney, those travellers who, by virtue of their
rank or their merit, could hope to gain access to him, never failed,
even though they were obliged to go far out of their way, to visit the
philosopher's retreat. Everyone was curious to see that extraordinary
man, who astounded the whole universe by his genius. Men of intellect
and of taste thought only of the pleasure that was in store for them;
but the fools--and they too were anxious to converse with Voltaire--gave
all their attention to the posture and expression they proposed to
assume at sight of the philosopher, the better to manifest their
admiration of him. Voltaire was affable with the former; but when a
lady, on catching sight of the great poet, deemed it advisable to shriek
and to swoon, the philosopher shrugged his shoulders and turned on his
heel.

"Great geniuses are rare; great talents are affable and modest; they who
might have acquired great talents but have failed inhale with delight
the incense people are good enough to lavish on them. How can a young
man whose voice is rather pleasant and nothing more fail to consider
himself a Laïs or a Martin when people seem to be so infatuated with
him? They urge him, entreat him, implore him to sing; all the women are
in a flutter of excitement before hearing him; they belaud him to their
neighbors in anticipation. 'Delicious!' 'Divine!' 'Charming!' are the
only words that reach the ears of the virtuoso, who condescends at last
to comply with the wishes of the assemblage, and, after all the
inevitable monkey tricks, sings just passably a ballad of which it is
well understood that he will not pronounce the words intelligibly; and
he has hardly finished before the concert of praise begins anew, while
the impartial auditor, who had been led to expect something very
different, asks himself if he can believe his ears. Look you, my dear
neighbor, I confess that I have never been able to persuade myself to
increase the crowd that hovers about these social prodigies, in whom I
find nothing except inordinate self-esteem; or to swell the number of
adorers of a woman of fashion, whose coquetry is carried to such a point
that I blush for her and for those who surround her. Unquestionably, I
am as fond of a pretty woman as any other man; I will be the first to do
homage to her charms; but does that necessitate my exalting her to the
skies at all times and seasons, and overwhelming her with compliments
which, even if they are not extravagant, must none the less be tiresome
to the person to whom they are addressed? Must it be that she cannot
take a step without my praising her dress, her figure, her gait, her
foot, her grace? Can she not smile without my going into ecstasies over
her teeth, her mouth, and the expression of her eyes? Can she not utter
a word without my extolling her wit, her shrewdness, her tact, her
penetration, and the sweet tones of her voice? I may think it all, but I
won't say it; I should be afraid of bringing a blush to her cheek. I
know that I am considered far from gallant; that may injure me with some
ladies, but I have neither the power nor the desire to change. If
everybody did as I do, perhaps we should see less self-conceit and
arrogance in men, less coquetry and caprice in women; they would take
more trouble to be affable and agreeable, and everybody would be the
gainer.--What do you think about it, neighbor?"

I saw that Raymond was not listening; he was examining the bunches of
orange blossoms that adorned my mantel, and seemed to be puzzled by the
old bouquets which I had collected on my commode, after taking out the
flowers that would not live.

"You seem to be very fond of orange blossoms?" he said at last.

"Very."

"They have a very pleasant odor.--You must have twenty bunches of them
here."

"I haven't counted them.--But will you do me the favor to tell me what
brings you to my rooms this morning? for I presume that you came for
some purpose."

"True; I forgot it while looking at these bouquets. I have received an
invitation from Madame de Marsan for a party she is giving at her
country house the day after to-morrow; I suppose you are going, and I
came to suggest that we go together."

"With pleasure; you know the way and you can be my guide."

"With the greatest pleasure. By the way, how shall we go?"

"We will hire a cabriolet, and keep it, so that we can return when we
choose."

"That's the idea. I thought at first of going in the saddle--I am very
fond of riding; I have a very fine seat."

"I have no doubt of your grace as a horseman; but we can't go to a party
at Madame de Marsan's in top-boots, so we won't go in the saddle."

"True; I will undertake to provide a nice cabriolet; I know a liveryman.
At what time shall we start?"

"At seven o'clock; we shall arrive at eight, which is the proper hour in
the country."

"That's settled, then. I fancy we shall have some fun; I know the whole
party, so I can tell you who's who."

"I thought you had been only twice to Madame de Marsan's."

"Oh! that doesn't make any difference! once is enough for me to know
everybody; I have a certain amount of tact, of penetration--it's all a
matter of habit. In case they should want to give a theatrical
performance, I have an opera that I have just finished; I'll read it to
you on the road."

"That will give me great pleasure."

"I must take a look over it. Until Thursday, neighbor!"

"Until Thursday!"

Raymond left me, and I went to see Caroline. I found her at the window.
For several days past she had spent much time there, especially when she
was alone. Doubtless it was so that she could watch for my coming. It
seemed to me that she was gayer, more amiable, more fascinating, than
usual; pleasure gleamed in her eyes.

"Ah! she loves me," I thought; "she loves me truly; she is grateful, she
has a feeling heart; she is coquettish only to please me. Before forming
a lasting attachment, she wanted to find someone worthy of her love; her
heart chose me, and I am sure that she will be true to me. I knew that,
with a little patience, I should find such a woman."



XIX

THE TRIP TO THE COUNTRY


The day came when I was to go to Madame de Marsan's. I had told Caroline
that she would not see me that evening, and she had seemed greatly
disappointed, although we had had a little dispute the night before
concerning a certain cashmere shawl, which I saw that she ardently
coveted, and which I did not propose to give her. I had given her to
understand, in fact, that she did not need a cashmere shawl to be
charming; that she was more attractive to me in a simple and refined
costume; and we had parted on the most friendly terms.

The clock struck seven; my toilet was completed. The concierge came to
inform me that the cabriolet had arrived and was waiting in the
courtyard. When it suited Raymond's convenience, we might start; but
what in the deuce was he still doing in his room? I concluded to
investigate.

I found my neighbor just putting on his breeches.

"What, Monsieur Raymond! haven't you got any further than that?"

"Oh! I'll be ready in a moment, I assure you."

"I'll bet that you won't be ready in half an hour."

"Pshaw! you'll see how quick I am! While you are waiting, amuse yourself
by looking over my little water colors--my sketches; there are some very
good little things there, as you'll see. If I had more time to myself,
I'd go into oils and exhibit at the Salon, but I am never at liberty."

"I advise you to stick to water colors; yours are quite remarkable."

"Aren't they? There's true burlesque, originality for you; the Calot
sort of thing. Do you notice that _Suzanna at the Bath_?"

"I thought it was a _Temptation of Saint Anthony_."

"Oh! that's because it isn't finished. And that little
_Hop-o'-my-Thumb_--what do you say to that?"

"I thought it was _Bluebeard_."

"That's because he has on his seven-league boots."

"Come, come, neighbor! You haven't got into your breeches yet!"

"Ah! they're a delicate part of the costume, you know."

"But nothing but long trousers are worn now, even at balls."

"When a fellow has, as I have, a fine leg and a calf fit for a model, he
isn't sorry to show them.--Would you like to read my last verses, on the
Marquise Désormeaux's favorite dog?"

"No, thanks, much obliged!"

"They have made quite a sensation. All the ladies are saying, in a
joking way, that they must have me to write their husbands' epitaphs.
The beginning is rather fine:

    "'O dog of nature, faithful animal!'"

"I've heard of a man of nature; but I confess that this is the first
time I ever knew the epithet to be applied to a beast. So you think, my
dear Raymond, that animals may be moral perverts, do you?"

"What's that! why, don't you see it every day? Look at the poor
creatures that have to dance and bow and caper and jump through rings to
the notes of the flageolet! They have received an education. The
marchioness's dog did everything she wanted him to; he snapped at
everybody who went near his mistress, and he jumped on the table during
dinner to eat out of the plates and dishes. That's the natural instinct,
and I maintain that 'dog of nature' is a very happy expression."

"Come, come, Monsieur Raymond; drop your _dog_ and finish dressing. If
you spend so much time over every part of your costume, we shall not
arrive before midnight."

"I am at your service. I have got on my boots and breeches; but it seems
to me there's a crease on the left-hand side behind."

"When you have your coat on, nobody will see it."

"True; but in walking or dancing, the coat tails spread."

"Well! what does this crease amount to? do you think that the company is
going to keep its eye on your rump?"

"I tell you, a crease may make a great difference in a man's looks;
women notice everything."

"The woman who takes any notice of such things must have her hands full
at a large party!"

"It sets better now. Ah! my cravat."

"That will be a long job."

"Oh, no! I have made a study of that article of dress, and it goes all
alone now. There! that's it. Ought I to turn the ends up or down?"

"Turn them either way you choose; but try to make up your mind."

"Well, I'll pull 'em out straight. What do you think of that knot?"

"Beautiful! you are stunning!"

"_Stunning_ is too strong a word; but I think that I look rather well;
I've just got three pins to put in."

"Great God! we shan't get started at eight o'clock!"

"The devil! this is terribly embarrassing; I ought to have thought about
it sooner."

"What's the matter? have you another engagement?"

"I don't know whether I ought to put this turquoise above or below my
emerald."

"Morbleu! Monsieur Raymond, my patience is exhausted; I am going to
start without you."

"Here I am! here I am, neighbor! Faith! I have put the turquoise above,
no matter what happens."

"That's very fortunate."

"Now, the coat--the hat--the gloves--and I'm all ready, you see."

"Amazing! Let's be off."

"All right. Oh! I beg your pardon: I forgot a scented handkerchief."

We left the room at last. When Raymond had closed his door, he
discovered that he had not put his diamond ring on his little finger, so
he went back to repair that omission. We went downstairs; but on the
second landing, he failed to find his opera in his pocket, and went back
for that. When we arrived in the courtyard, he remembered that he had
not brought his favorite songs; and as he might be asked to sing, I must
wait while he went to fetch them. I registered a vow never to travel
again with Monsieur Raymond. At last, about a quarter past eight, we
entered the cabriolet; then he discovered that he had not his eyeglass;
but I was inexorable: I lashed the horse and we started. It was dark, so
that Raymond could not read me his opera; but to make up to me for the
deprivation, he proposed to tell me the plot. For more than an hour he
prosed away about a Spanish princess and an Arabian prince, her lover,
while I thought of Madame de Marsan, whom I was not at all sorry to see
again, and whom I was surprised that I had neglected so long. When we
reached Saint-Denis it was half-past nine; and I swore at Raymond, whose
dilatoriness and absurd affectations would make us arrive at Madame de
Marsan's unconscionably late.

"Have we much farther to go?" I asked my neighbor, as we left
Saint-Denis behind.

"Why, no; about three-fourths of a league only.--I was saying that my
princess, having been rescued from the burning palace, swoons at the end
of the second act.----"

"You know the way, don't you?"

"Yes, yes; drive on, I'll show you.--When the curtain rises for the
third act, the princess is in her lover's camp, lying on a cannon.----"

"Have you been to this country house before?"

"Once; but that's enough for me; I have such an accurate memory!--The
soldiers are resting on their pikes--or their muskets, for I am not
quite sure whether pikes were in use under King Ferdinand; but it makes
no difference. The prince, having no desire to sleep----"

"I should say that we were told to go to the left."

"No, no! straight ahead!--The prince, I say, is on his knees before the
princess, who is still unconscious; and he sings her a superb air,
_adagio_ in _D_ minor, to restore her.--I wrote the music, too. Can't
you see the tableau in your mind's eye?"

"I see that if you don't drop your _prince_ and _princess_ soon, we
shall be in Montmorency, and that certainly isn't on our road. I'm too
good-natured, to sit here and listen to your nonsense. Here--as you are
so certain we're on the right road, just take the reins and drive."

"Oh! I ask nothing better; I'll stake my head that we're not two hundred
yards from Madame de Marsan's."

"But I don't see any light."

"Because it's too dark a night.--This infernal horse has a mouth like
iron."

"You worry him too much."

"Ah! I see something.--Where are we, my man?"

"Montmorency, monsieur," replied our groom.

"Well! Monsieur Raymond, you want to see everything; you're a very
clever man!"

"Don't be angry, my dear Dorsan; we'll take this road to the left; I
remember now that it leads straight to Madame de Marsan's."

"I think we should do as well to return to Paris; it looks like a
storm."

"What's the odds? then they'll have the party in the house."

"The party! Parbleu! we may be there by eleven o'clock!"

"We shall be there at ten; I must whip this infernal beast."

"Oh! I am beginning to be resigned; I am going to make the best of it."

"They are longing for us to come, I am sure!--Go on, you villain, go
on!"

"Say rather that they have forgotten all about us."

"Oh! men like us aren't so easily forgotten.--Go on, you wretched nag!"

"Look out! you're whipping him too hard; he's running away now."

"Mon Dieu! that's so; he's got the bit in his teeth!"

"Hold him in! jerk the reins!"

"I can't hold him, my friend; I am pulling as hard as I can. Mon Dieu!
he's turning into the fields; we are lost!"

"Oh! don't be frightened; he'll stop.--Get down, boy, and see if you can
stop him."

Our groom had already alighted, but he did not follow us, which made me
think that he was hurt. Our steed galloped on, across fields and plowed
lands and lanes. I took the reins from my companion, who was no longer
in a condition to see anything, but trembled in every limb and shouted
for help at the top of his voice. To put the finishing touch to our
misfortunes, the storm broke with great violence: the clouds burst, the
rain fell in torrents, and the wind blew with hurricane force in our
faces. Our horse did not stop; I began to apprehend some serious
accident; we were on a very steep hillside, and I expected every moment
to be overturned with the carriage. Luckily, our frantic animal's path
was blocked by a mass of vines; he stopped short, but in struggling to
extricate himself from the labyrinth of branches in which he was
entangled he plunged about with such violence that he finally threw us
out and fell with us.

"I am dead!" cried Raymond, as he fell. Before making sure of that fact,
I tried to cut my way out of my prison, for the front of the cabriolet
was blocked by vine poles. I succeeded at last in getting out. I was not
hurt, not even a bruise. I thought myself very lucky to escape with
nothing worse than a fright. Since it was written that I should not
attend Madame de Marsan's entertainment, I made the best of it and
decided to endure as philosophically as possible the further
misadventures into which Raymond was sure to lead me. I went to inquire
into my companion's condition. He was groaning pitifully; was he really
hurt? If so, that would make our plight decidedly serious. I walked up
to Raymond, who had fallen half out of the cabriolet, with his face
against the ground. I shook his arm, and succeeded, not without
difficulty, in making him raise his head. The rain had already formed
pools, and the plowed earth had stuck to Raymond's face. He told me in a
feeble voice that he could hardly see.

"That's nothing; turn your face toward the sky, and I'll answer for it
that the rain will very soon wash off the mud that covers your eyes."

"You are right, my dear friend; I am well washed now, and I begin to see
more distinctly. Ah! I breathe again!"

"Are you really hurt?"

"Wait till I feel myself; I'm sore all over, but I believe that I
haven't any serious wound."

"That's very fortunate!"

"Ah! my friend! what a terrible accident!"

"Whose fault is it?"

"Look you--I lashed the horse, because you were in a hurry to get
there."

"I advise you to put your crazy performances on my back!"

"Here we are in a pretty plight! and the rain coming down in sheets! It
seems as if everything was in a conspiracy against us. Look! I even
smashed my hat when I fell."

"Parbleu! what do I care for your hat!"

"Look you, perhaps you care for my head, which is entirely unprotected.
I am wet through, covered with mud, battered and crushed. What a cold I
shall have! And my clothes! It was well worth while to dress! Open-work
stockings; and see, there's my shirt frill on that pole. Mon Dieu! it
wouldn't take much to knock me over!"

"Come, come, Raymond! damnation! be a man! You're worse than a baby. We
must get out of this somehow."

"Where's our groom?"

"I'm afraid the poor devil hurt himself when he jumped down, and I
should be very much at a loss to know where to look for him."

"If we could raise the carriage!"

"But one wheel came off when it went over."

"The devil himself took a hand in the job."

"I'm afraid the horse has hurt himself on these poles.--This pleasure
party is like to cost us dear, neighbor."

"Oh! you're very lucky to be able to take it so calmly! For my part, I
am crushed and furious at the same time!"

"Come with me; let's try to find a house, some place of shelter at
least; but let us notice carefully what direction we take. Are you
coming?"

"Wait a minute, till I make a cap of my handkerchief, to protect me a
little."

We left the vineyard. I was obliged to take Raymond by the arm to get
him to move along; he was trembling so that he was afraid of falling at
every step. We walked for some ten minutes, constantly floundering in
holes filled with water, which it was too dark for us to see. I swore
and Raymond whined, anticipating an attack of pneumonia. At last we
discovered a little cottage, and the light that shone through the
windows indicated that the occupants were not in bed; for peasants are
not in the habit of keeping candles lighted while they are asleep.

"We are saved!" cried Raymond; and he recovered the use of his legs to
run toward the house. But I held him back, fearing that he would
announce our presence in such a way as to prevent our being admitted. I
myself knocked at the door of the cottage.

Peasants are rarely distrustful; the occupants of the cottage, being
very poor, had no fear of thieves. They opened the door, and I saw a
peasant woman in a large living room, surrounded by half a dozen
children. I explained our mishap, while Raymond, who had already entered
the room, peered into a great kettle to see what the peasants had for
supper, then came back to me and informed me that we shouldn't find much
of anything in that house.

"What can I do for you, messieurs?" said the peasant, as she watched
Raymond prying into every corner.

"Are we far from Montmorency?"

"No; a fourth of a league at most."

"We don't know the roads about here; be good enough to let us have your
biggest boy for a guide; we will pay you."

As I spoke, I gave the woman three francs, which instantly disposed her
to make herself useful to us.

"That's easy enough," she said; "Julien, go with these gentlemen.--If
you're tired, I can let you have some donkeys."

"We shall be very glad of them, for, first of all, we must find our
groom, who must be somewhere in the neighborhood; and then we will try
to rescue our horse, for he ought not to pass the night in the fields."

"Come, Julien, get the donkeys out of the stable.--I ought to tell you
that there's no saddles for 'em."

"No matter; they will be very useful to us all the same."

The donkeys were produced, and I paid on the spot for their hire; I took
a third one, for our groom, whom I hoped to find. Raymond hesitated a
long while before mounting his beast; he wanted saddle, stirrups, and
pads; he claimed to be able to ride like Franconi, but he could not sit
on a donkey. Tired to death by all his lamentations, I started off with
the young peasant, who rode the third donkey, and set out to find the
groom. Raymond, seeing that I had ceased to listen to him, decided to
follow me, clinging with one hand to the tail and with the other to the
mane of his steed. He urged the poor beast along in my wake, and we were
in the fields once more.

I let my donkey take his own course. I called the groom at the top of my
lungs, and my companions did the same. At last someone answered us; we
rode in the direction of the voice and found our young man lying on the
ground, under a tree. The poor devil had sprained his foot and could not
walk. I put him on the peasant's donkey. It only remained for us to
unharness our horse, whom we found on the ground beside the cabriolet.
The rain had allayed the poor beast's ardor, and he finally allowed us
to raise him to his feet. Our guide assured us that he was uninjured; he
mounted him, took his place at our head, and the cavalcade set out for
Montmorency.

All these details had taken time. It was after half-past eleven when we
left our little carriage, which I commended to the young peasant's care;
he promised to fetch a blacksmith to mend it at daybreak. We could have
gone much faster but for Raymond; he compelled us to stop every few
yards; his donkey refused to go, or else insisted on turning into
another road; and he uttered heartrending cries when we did not wait for
him. Luckily, the rain had ceased and it was a little less dark, so
that we could see where we were going.

At midnight we caught sight of the first houses in Montmorency. Raymond
gave a joyful cry, whereat his donkey was frightened and jumped,
throwing its rider off into a muddy path, where he lost his shoes. As we
were a little ahead, Raymond was obliged to pick himself up unassisted;
the fear of losing us lent him strength, but his steed did not wait for
him, and he ended his journey running after the beast, which he caught
on the square just as we were dismounting. All the people of the inn had
gone to bed, but we knocked until they answered. They were surprised
that travellers should arrive so late; they would be far more surprised,
I thought, when they saw the condition we were in, especially Raymond,
whose last fall had plastered him with mud from head to foot. They
admitted us, however, but, as I had foreseen, they were taken aback by
our appearance. But I soon succeeded in telling my story. The landlord,
seeing that he had to do with people of standing, apologized to us and
hastened to show us to our rooms. They gave a room to our groom; the
horse was taken to the stable, and the peasant went home with his
donkeys.

I ordered a brisk fire made, to dry our clothes, and requested the host
to serve whatever he had ready, for our misadventures had not taken away
our appetites. We were served with a chicken, ham, salad, and fruit.
While I took my place at the table, Raymond went into his bedroom, where
he ordered another fire lighted, and asked the girl who waited on us to
come to rub his back, so that he might avoid an illness. She was a
robust peasant of some twenty years, not of the type to be afraid of a
man. Still, Raymond's proposition struck her as rather peculiar; she
looked at him with a smile and seemed to hesitate.

"Go with him," I said to her, "and don't be afraid; monsieur is thinking
of nothing but his health, and I'll answer for his behavior."

While my companion was being rubbed, I did justice to the supper, and
dried myself thoroughly in front of the fire. The bedroom door was not
closed, and I could hear Raymond urging the servant on and complimenting
her on her skill. The buxom damsel must have been tired, she had rubbed
him so long, but Raymond seemed to enjoy it. Soon I concluded that the
fire and the servant's ministrations had entirely restored my friend's
animation, for he began to be enterprising, and I heard the girl exclaim
that she would not stand it. And I had answered for his behavior! How
can you trust anyone?

But the noise continued in the adjoining room; and at last the girl fled
into the room where I was, roaring with laughter, and pursued by
Monsieur Raymond in shirt and drawers and a pair of the innkeeper's
slippers.

"Won't you keep quiet the rest of the night, Monsieur Raymond? Am I to
have no peace with you?" said I.

"Oh! what eyes, my friend! Ah! the hussy, if she would!"

"Yes, but the trouble is I won't, Monsieur Insolent!"

"Come, Raymond, let the girl go to bed; it's late and this is no time to
rouse the whole inn. I've no desire to get into any more trouble for
your lovely eyes.--Leave us, my girl! we don't want anything more."

"I say, my dear, where's your room; do tell me where it is?"

"What business is it of yours?"

"Tell me, all the same, you sly minx, and you won't be sorry."

"Well, I sleep upstairs, at the end of the hall."

"Good; I understand."

The servant left us, and Raymond sat down at the table.

"I trust," said I, "that you don't propose to run after that girl? She's
fooling you."

"No, no! I was joking, that's all. She's as solid as a rock!"

"She ought to know whether you are or not, for she rubbed you long
enough."

"Yes, indeed; the hussy knows!"

"It doesn't seem to have disposed her in your favor."

"Bah! didn't she tell me where her room was?"

"Don't you trust her."

"Oh! I've no desire to go after her, as you can imagine; but, one thing
is sure, and that is, that if I chose, I should have everything my own
way."

"I don't believe it."

"Do you want to bet?"

"No; because you would indulge in some pleasant little performance which
would make my night as agreeable as my evening has been; and I confess
that I've had enough of that sort of thing for to-day. Good-night,
Monsieur Raymond! I am going to bed, and I advise you to do the same."

"Yes, neighbor, yes, I'll do the same. Sleep well. Your servant!"

Raymond took his candle with an offended air and went to his room,
locking the door behind him. I laughed at the crazy fellow's pretensions
and folly, and got into bed, where I soon fell asleep. A noise, the
nature of which I could not determine, soon woke me. I listened, and
called to Raymond, to find out if he were ill; he did not answer, and I
heard nothing more, so I went to sleep again. I did not wake until eight
o'clock; the sun was shining brightly into my room, indicating a lovely
day. As I was at Montmorency, although against my will, I would at all
events enjoy the delightful walks in the neighborhood and have a taste
of the pleasures of the country before returning to Paris. Our cabriolet
could not be repaired as yet, and we should have to wait for it.

While I was dressing, I called to Raymond and asked him if he wanted to
take a walk before breakfast. He did not answer; apparently he was still
asleep. But his door was ajar, and I seemed to remember that he had
closed it the night before. I entered, and called him again:

"Come, come, lazybones! it's late; wake up!"

No answer. I looked at his bed: he was not there. So he had risen
earlier than I and gone out before me. I was turning away, when I saw
Raymond's coat, waistcoat, and breeches spread out on chairs, where he
had put them to dry. What! he had gone out without coat or breeches?
that was very strange! Thereupon, I remembered my neighbor's schemes,
his dallying with the servant, and the wager he proposed when he was
eating his supper. My uncertainty was at an end: Monsieur Raymond had
set out to prove to me that he was not to be resisted; he had gone to
lie with the stout damsel who had wiped him and rubbed him so
thoroughly. But inn servants do not stay in bed until eight o'clock; the
girl must have been up long before. Why had Raymond not returned to his
bed? Did he want the whole household to know where he had passed the
night? I did not see the point of that very clearly; however, I
determined to ascertain the fact. I called and rang; the same servant
appeared; her aspect was unchanged; she had a smile on her lips, her big
eyes were wide open, and her manner alert and determined. She had
anything but a bashful air; I supposed that she was probably accustomed
to nocturnal visits. I looked at her and laughed.

"Did you call, monsieur?"

"Yes, my child."

"What can I do for you?"

"How is our groom?"

"Oh! he's all right, monsieur; they've put a compress on his foot."

"And the carriage?"

"That don't amount to much--only a matter of a couple of hours. But the
man who owns the vineyard where you upset followed after the blacksmith;
he wants his pay for the damage you did on his land; he says you pulled
up more'n a dozen vines."

"Good! we have got to pay him because we nearly killed ourselves on his
poles; let him have a hundred sous.--By the way, my lass, tell me now
what you've done with my friend?"

"With your friend?"

"Yes; the gentleman who came with me."

"Oh! the man that lost his shoes, and that I had to rub so long!"

"Exactly."

"Pardi! I haven't done anything with him, and I wouldn't have anything
to do with him, although he was after me like a thirsty dog! Mon Dieu!
what a fellow!"

"It's no use to pretend, my dear; he slept with you; I don't see any
harm in that, but where in the devil is he now?"

"What's that you say? he slept with me? Bless my soul! that's a good
one! It's a lie, d'ye hear! I don't sleep with anybody that don't suit
me, and your big baby didn't suit me at all. Has he got the face to say
that? Ah! I'd tear his eyes out if I heard him!"

"It seems to me that when you tell him where your room is, you shouldn't
make so much noise because of what I've said to you."

"My room! I told him where my room was! Good Lord! do you mean to tell
me---- Ha! ha! ha!"

The servant, who had turned purple with wrath, suddenly began to roar
with laughter. I waited a long while for that outburst of merriment to
cease; the buxom creature held her sides, and was obliged to sit down
before she could speak. She recovered herself at last.

"Let me tell you, monsieur, that the door I mentioned to your friend
ain't the door to my room at all, but it leads into a big room like a
loft, where there's a lot of sun and it's always dry as a bone; that's
why the master picked it out to keep the fruits he's going to preserve,
such as pears and apples and grapes; and then provisions, such as bacon
and ham and sausages!"

"Whatever you choose; but I suppose he keeps the room locked?"

"Yes, monsieur; but, for all that, he swore that things kept being
stolen; and for the last few days, I don't know whether it's to catch
the thieves or not, but I've noticed that the door was only latched."

"And that is where you sent my companion?"

"Yes, monsieur."

"I don't see what he can have been doing there all night. But he must be
somewhere. Come, my girl, take me to your storeroom."

"I'll go and get the master, because we ain't allowed to go there."

"I don't care for the prohibition; I must find my companion, who can't
have gone to visit the Hermitage or to walk in the valley, in his shirt
and drawers."

"That's so; it ain't the custom."

Paying no heed to the servant, who went to tell her master, I left my
room, ascended the stairs, and walked through a long corridor, at the
end of which I saw a door. It was at some distance from the inhabited
portion of the house; and I could understand that Raymond might easily
have called without making himself heard. But why had he remained there?
That is what I was determined to know. I pushed the door, which was not
locked, and saw Raymond with one leg in a trap, sitting upon a pile of
hams, where he had fallen asleep.

My arrival made him open his eyes. He held out his arms with an
expression which I cannot describe.

"Ah! my friend! my savior! set me free, I implore you!"

"What in the devil are you doing here?"

"I am caught like a rat in a trap, as you see; I can't budge. I've been
here since one o'clock this morning; I shouted and called, but no one
came, and I had to make the best of it. When I found that no one heard
me, I sat down on the first thing I could find, and at last I fell
asleep; but I ache in every limb. I shan't forget Montmorency!"

I was sorely tempted to laugh, but Raymond's long face aroused my pity.
I was trying to release him from the trap, but to no purpose, when our
host arrived with the servant. At sight of the latter, my poor companion
made a horrible face, while the girl laughed till she cried.

"Aha! morgué! so I have caught my thief!" said the landlord, as soon as
he caught sight of Raymond; but when he came nearer, he was greatly
surprised to recognize the guest to whom he had lent his slippers.
Raymond told a not improbable story of a trifling indisposition which
surprised him in the night and compelled him to seek a certain place
which he thought was upstairs; and in that way he had fallen into the
trap set in the storeroom.

Our host apologized profusely. He alone knew the secret of the trap, and
he hastened to release my companion. Raymond went to his room to dress;
but he was in a savage humor and did not care to inspect the outskirts
of Montmorency. He was afraid that the night he had passed on the hams,
in his shirt, would give him the rheumatism, and he longed for the
moment when we might start for Paris. I might have joked my neighbor on
the hard luck that pursued him in his _bonnes fortunes_, but I was
considerate and held my peace. I left him to rub his own shoulders,
legs, and posteriors; and, after breakfasting, sallied forth alone to
visit those delightful spots which Grétry and Jean-Jacques still adorn;
for men of genius never wholly die. I will not describe scenes with
which the reader is as familiar as myself; I should teach him nothing,
and if I should make any blunders they would be detected; but if some
day I visit a distant and desert country, if I see some Gothic château
or some chapel tumbling to decay, I promise you a glowing description of
it; for then I shall be able to say whatever comes into my head, without
fear of contradiction.

Let us return to Raymond. He waited impatiently for my return from my
walk. The cabriolet was mended, the horse harnessed, and we were at
liberty to start. I helped in my two invalids, for Raymond was little
better off than the groom; he could hardly move. I took my seat between
them, and, after paying the innkeeper's account, which included the
slippers in which my companion returned to Paris, we started for the
capital, where we arrived without accident, because I did not allow
Monsieur Raymond to take the reins. On reaching our abode, we dismissed
the cabriolet and gave the groom something by way of compensation for
his sprained foot, which would keep him in the house a few days. I paid
everything and presented to my companion a statement of our expenses
overnight, as follows:

                                                          _F.  C._

  For the cabriolet, which we kept one day longer than
  we intended                                              30  00

  For the peasant woman and her son, who acted as our
  guide and helped us to pick up our horse                  6  00

  For the hire of three donkeys at midnight                 9  00

  For repairing the cabriolet                              12  00

  For injury to vines                                       5  00

  For accommodation at the inn, lodging, supper, and
  breakfast                                                28  00

  For slippers for Monsieur Raymond                         2  50

  For the servant who rubbed Monsieur Raymond               3  00

  For fire on two hearths, a most unusual thing in inns     2  00

  For the groom, who sprained his foot trying to stop our
  horse                                                    20  00
                                                           ______

  Total                                                   117  50

On examining the items of expense of our pleasure party, to which he
might have added his costume, which was almost completely ruined, from
the hat to the shoes, Raymond heaved a profound sigh, and he was rather
long about taking from his purse the fifty-eight francs seventy-five
centimes that he owed me. Our account being adjusted at last, we betook
ourselves to our respective apartments.



XX

SUSPICIONS OF THE MIND.--APPREHENSIONS OF THE HEART


Thanks to my neighbor, I had not availed myself of Madame de Marsan's
courteous invitation; but I proposed to go soon to make my excuses to
her, and I would be careful to go alone; it seemed to me that that would
be preferable in every way.

Doubtless Caroline was awaiting me impatiently; I must make haste to put
an end to her anxiety. I had promised to return during the night; but
unforeseen events---- It was after two o'clock in the afternoon, when I
hastened to Rue Caumartin.

This time she was not at her window; but could I expect her to give
herself a twist in the neck in order to see me a moment sooner? No! I
was too sensible to demand that. I went upstairs and rang--no answer.
She had gone out! She had probably got tired of waiting for me, and had
gone out for a walk, perhaps to make some new purchases. There was
nothing for me to do but to go away and return; but I concluded to ring
once more. I did so, to no purpose. I went downstairs in an ill humor,
because I was annoyed; nothing annoys one more than a postponed
pleasure. I had no right to be angry because she had gone out; still, it
seemed to me that she might have waited for me. I walked away,
scratching my ear; indeed, I believe that I scratched my head. Was it a
presentiment? Alas! I had never yet found a faithful woman! But I had
vowed not to distress myself beforehand; that never does any good. I
determined to do my best not to distress myself afterward either! I
should be more certain of being happy.

As I turned into the boulevard, I saw her. What a costume for a morning
walk! She caught sight of me and seemed embarrassed. She came toward me,
however. We both smiled, but I believe that neither of us felt any
inclination that way; it is so easy to distinguish a forced smile!

"Ah! here you are at last!"

"Yes: does that surprise you?"

"I didn't expect you so late."

"I quite believe that you didn't expect me."

"Have you just come from my rooms?"

"Yes; and you?"

"I have been for a little walk."

"What a dress!"

"I don't see anything uncommon about it."

"Not in comparison with the one you wore on Rue des Rosiers?"

"You always have something unkind to say!"

"I don't see what there is unkind in what I said."

"I suppose you'd have me go out in cap and apron!"

"They wouldn't be unbecoming to you."

"But I have no desire to wear them."

"Oh! I believe you!"

"To hear you, anyone would think that before you knew me I was a stupid,
awkward country girl!"

"I am well aware that you were not an innocent maid."

"Are we going to stay here on the boulevard all night? I am going home;
are you coming with me?"

I hesitated; but I went with her. When we were in her apartment,
Caroline joked me about my severe air. In truth, what right had I to
reproach her? I was far from amiable sometimes, I knew; and a man who
scolds and grumbles is seldom loved. True; but a man who is loved never
appears to scold; he is always right. I kissed Caroline, and peace was
made. We dined together, and I took her to the theatre; but although I
did my best to amuse her, she did not seem to enjoy herself very much.
She appeared to be distraught, preoccupied; I was almost tempted to find
fault with her, but I restrained myself, for she would have said that I
was always complaining! But if she had been as she used to be, I should
have had no cause to complain. Ah! I say again, when a man ceases to be
lovable, it means that he is no longer loved.

It was near midnight when I went home. A secret hope led me to grasp the
knob hurriedly. No bouquet! and yet it was the day! Could Nicette have
forgotten me? That would have caused me a pang, a very sharp pang. But
what childish nonsense! How could I expect her to bring me flowers all
the year round, when I did not condescend to go to her to bid her
good-morning? In the depths of my heart, however, I was not indifferent
to those tokens of her remembrance of me; I was touched by them, much
more, perhaps, than I supposed; I realized it from the grief that I felt
at her neglect; I had become so accustomed to that homage! It seemed to
me that it was my due. Why should I conceal it? I flattered myself that
Nicette loved me; I believed her to be capable of constancy; and while I
did not choose to abuse her love, I was not at all sorry to inspire it.
I determined to investigate her conduct; I determined to see her, to
speak to her. I would rise the next morning at six and prowl about the
little flower girl's booth. What strange mortals we are! For a whole
month I had neglected Nicette; and because I thought that she had
forgotten me, I was consumed by a longing to see her again, to know what
she was doing and what her sentiments were! Was it love, self-esteem,
jealousy, vanity, or simple curiosity on my part? Call it what you
please, it was as I have described it.

As for Caroline, I determined not to torment myself any more about her;
she was either faithful or unfaithful; in the first case, I was wrong to
suspect her; in the second, she deserved neither my love nor my regrets.
That is a very fine dilemma which I propose to all jealous lovers,
present and future. But they will reply that when a man is able to talk
sensibly he is not in love. To that I have nothing to say, for I am
inclined to think that it is true.

I was up at six o'clock. At that hour I was quite certain not to meet
any acquaintances before whom I should blush to be seen speaking to a
street peddler. I soon reached the place where Nicette was accustomed to
display her wares. But I saw nothing; could it be that I was too early?
had she moved to another quarter? I accosted a messenger whose stand was
a few feet away; those fellows know everything.

"My friend, wasn't there a flower girl who used to stand in front of
this house?"

"Yes, monsieur; she was here up to a week ago."

"And she no longer stands here?"

"Oh! she isn't very far off. Thirty yards or so farther along you'll see
a little shop; that's where she is now."

"A shop, do you say?"

"Yes, monsieur; it isn't very big, but it's well arranged, all the
same."

I turned to walk away--but perhaps that man could tell me something.
Nicette had a shop; what was I to conclude from that? I trembled to
think! Had some other man been more fortunate than I? had she listened
to some other man? and did another possess that treasure which I might
have obtained and which it had cost me such a struggle to respect?

I returned to the messenger, put some money in his hand, and began to
question him.

"Do you know this flower girl?"

"Yes, monsieur, I know her--not very well, though, for she's a bit
proud; she don't talk much to anybody but her customers; and even then
you mustn't say too much, or she'll send you about your business. Oh!
she's a good girl, I tell you! She's virtuous, and the virtuous ones are
always noticed."

The man's praise of Nicette caused me the keenest delight; I should have
been sorry to learn that I could no longer esteem her.

"You say that she's virtuous, eh?"

"Yes, monsieur; we messengers know what's what; and then, I see
everything that goes on. It isn't that Mamzelle Nicette lacks lovers.
Oh! pardi! the whole quarter, if she chose! she's so pretty! and she has
a fine lot of customers. It's hardly six weeks since she set up on this
street; but the young men soon spied her, and there's a whole mob of
dandies that come to buy flowers, just to make love to her, you
understand. But Mamzelle Nicette don't sell anything but bouquets. I
must do her that justice. She won't listen to the swells any more than
the footmen; and when some sly fellow orders flowers of her, to have her
bring them to him, he gets caught, for she just sends them by the
wigmaker's little girl."

I walked away, overjoyed by all that I had learned; in two bounds I was
in front of Nicette's shop. She was already arranging her jars of
flowers on boards placed outside, in the street. When she saw me, she
gave a cry of surprise, dropped the carnations she had in her hand,
blushed scarlet, and could hardly stammer:

"What! is it you, monsieur?"

I smiled at her astonishment and entered her shop, where I seated myself
on a stool and looked at her.--How pretty she was! Joy made her even
prettier, and glistened in the look with which she met mine.

"Is it really you, Monsieur Dorsan, you, in my shop? Ah! I didn't expect
such a pleasure! I had stopped hoping for it!"

"Why so, Nicette?"

"Why--it is so long!"

"That is true. But I have things to do which make it impossible----"

"Oh! I believe you, monsieur. Besides, aren't you your own master? and
how can you give a thought to a girl who sells flowers?"

There was something so touching in the way she spoke, that I was deeply
moved. How could I ever have forgotten such charm, such innocence, such
susceptibility? I could not understand it.

She was still standing in front of me; I took her hand, and I believe
that I was actually on the point of drawing her down on my knees. She
made no resistance; she glanced anxiously about, but had not the
strength to go away from me. What imprudence! what was I doing? We were
in full sight of passers-by, and someone might come in at any minute.
She had nothing but her reputation, and I was about to besmirch it!
Poor child! she would sacrifice it to me, in her dread of displeasing
me.

I dropped her hand and moved away from her, looking toward the street.
She understood me, and thanked me with her eyes.

"So you were able to hire a shop, Nicette?"

"Yes, monsieur; I've made a lot since I've been in this quarter. I am
economical and spend very little; I am sure that I can get along all
right. I don't think I did wrong, did I?"

"No; I know that you are behaving as well as possible."

"You know it?"

"I have never doubted it. Your bouquets have shown me, moreover, what a
grateful heart you have."

"Oh! can I ever forget what you did for me?"

"Haven't you made any acquaintances on this street?"

"No, monsieur; I don't want to make any."

"Aren't you bored, being all alone?"

"How can I be bored? I always have something to think about?"

"What do you do in the evening?"

"I read, and I am learning to write."

"Do you know how to write?"

"A little; before long I shall know how to write well, I hope. There's
an old gentleman who gives me lessons sometimes."

"What need is there of your knowing any more than you do?"

"That's true, monsieur; if you don't want me to, I won't learn any
more."

"Oh! I don't say that. Study, Nicette, since you enjoy it; you weren't
born to sell flowers. But take my advice, and don't try to rise above
the condition in which fate has placed you; it rarely succeeds."

"Oh! I'm not trying to do anything of the sort, monsieur; I'd just like
to be not quite so stupid as I used to be."

"My dear girl, you may be ignorant, but you can't be stupid; you will
always be charming; your natural wit does not need the resources of
education to attract esteem, any more than your charms need the help of
art to win admiration. Ah! Nicette, be always as you are now, as I first
saw you! Do not change!"

She listened to me in silence; her sweet glance approved all that I
said; we understood each other so well! But impatient customers were
already beginning to look at her flowers; I felt that I must go. I said
adieu, but I continued to stand in front of her. It was impossible to
take a kiss, I realized that; she divined my thought, and we both
sighed. To part so coldly! Ah! if we had been in my room! I was certain
that I had but to say the word, and she would come; but I refrained from
saying it, for she would have been lost. I pressed her hand and fled. I
felt that I must fly from her, in order not to adore her.



XXI

CONFIDENCE


As a fortunate change in our destiny reconciles us to life, as a lucky
throw of the dice brings us nearer to wealth, as a noble deed reconciles
the misanthrope to mankind, as the acceptance of a play calms the wrath
of an author, as a bottle of old wine makes the drunkard forget his
pledges, as a sunbeam causes the traces of the storm to disappear, so
the sight of a pretty woman makes us forget our virtuous resolutions,
her love banishes from our hearts the memory of our last mistress's
perfidy, and her virtues reconcile us to women in general, whom we take
a vow to shun whenever we are deceived, and whom we do not shun, because
it is not in nature to do it.

Thus the sight of Nicette always led me to esteem her more highly. I
reproached myself for sometimes speaking ill of a sex which contains
models of sensibility, refinement, and sweetness, and which often
redeems a weakness by a hundred estimable qualities. The result in this
instance was that I thought I had done wrong to suspect Caroline, that
nothing in her conduct ought to arouse my jealousy, and that, by
reproaches and unfounded distrust, we often embitter a heart that we
might have made ours forever.

I even went so far as to say to myself that it was my own fault that I
had been deceived so often, and that I had invariably done the opposite
of what one should do to retain a woman's love. We go very far with the
syllogisms that we propound to ourselves. At the rate at which I was
going on, I might have ended by satisfying myself that the infidelities
of our female friends are simply the consequences of our behavior toward
them, when I happened to pass Tortoni's just as Raymond went in with a
man of some sixty years, with an awkward figure, and an inane,
disagreeable face, who was obliged to use a cane to support his left
leg, but whose costume denoted wealth and his manner a remnant of
dandyism.

I was not at all anxious to sit down with them, despite Raymond's
entreaties; he exclaimed at once that we must breakfast together. I
pretended not to hear him, and took my place in a corner, at some
distance from Raymond, of whom I had fought shy since our trip to
Montmorency. But, as I drank my chocolate, I noticed that the
conversation of the two gentlemen was very animated. I was convinced
that the gouty old fellow was telling his friend about some amorous
affairs, which he took pains to vaunt in the highest terms so that he
might still pose as a gay young rake. Would he not do better, I thought,
to attend to his infirmities? He rose at last, and I supposed that
Raymond would go with him; but, no: he remained behind and joined me at
my table.

"Good-morning, my friend! Well! have we recovered from the fatigue of
travel?"

"You are the one to answer that question. Thank heaven! I didn't sleep
on a pile of hams, with my leg caught like a plump lark!"

"Ah! the sly hussy! I admit that I looked a good deal like a sparrow;
but I don't feel it now, I rubbed myself so hard yesterday! I used up
two bottles of cosmetic for the skin, and three phials of Ceylon oil;
so that I have recovered all my elasticity this morning. Tell me, do
you know that man who was with me just now?"

"No."

"That was Monsieur de Grandmaison."

"I never heard of him."

"He's a very rich man, enormously rich!"

"He's enormously ugly!"

"He's an ex-financier, contractor, promoter."

"Yes, I understand."

"He gives delightful balls."

"Not for himself, surely."

"Oh! he's still quite a rake."

"He doesn't look it."

"Because he drags his leg a little; but that doesn't prevent his making
conquests."

"From buying them, you mean."

"That's what I mean; but it all comes to the same thing. Between
ourselves, I admit that he didn't invent gunpowder, and that his
education is confined to the rules of subtraction and multiplication,
which he understands perfectly. But still, for all that, he has the
prettiest women in Paris."

"That doesn't speak well for the prettiest women in Paris."

"He was telling me just now of a new intrigue he is on the point of
consummating. Ha! ha! it's most amusing! She's a ravishing young beauty,
and he is going to steal her from a young man."

"Some kept woman."

"It seems that the little one is worth her price, and that she hangs
back; and then, too, the young man, who is jealous no doubt, keeps her
very close. For all that, they've seen each other--at the window, in the
first place; then, letters and propositions. Grandmaison, who knows how
to manage such affairs, talked about cashmere shawls and diamonds! The
little one's a coquette, and it seems that her young lover keeps her on
a bourgeois footing. The poor fellow will soon be plundered."

I had a feeling of uneasiness, which as yet I dared not analyze;
Raymond's story, to which I had listened mechanically, interested me
deeply at last; the words _window_, _cashmere shawls_, and _diamonds_
aroused vague suspicions in my mind, which I blushed to harbor when I
recalled Monsieur de Grandmaison's age and appearance. My self-esteem
refused to admit that such a rival could be preferred to me; but a
secret voice told me that self-esteem often deceives us. I determined to
ascertain the truth, and I proceeded to ask Raymond certain questions,
which, I was sure, would prove to me that I was wrong to torment myself.

"Where does this Monsieur de Grandmaison live?"

"Rue Caumartin, in a magnificent house that he owns; it's just at the
end of the street, near the boulevard."

I felt a shudder run through my whole body, my gorge rose, a weight
descended on my breast--all in a second, and as the result of a mere
word. I continued my questions, however, affecting the utmost
tranquillity.

"And this young beauty?"

"Lives just opposite him, in a small house where there's no concierge,
on the second floor front. Grandmaison saw her first at her window; it's
a broad street, but he has an excellent glass that he had made to watch
the ballets at the Opéra. It's a little telescope; it brings everything
right under your eyes, and you can imagine how pleasant it is, while a
dancer is making a pirouette, to fasten it on----"

"Well, go on: this young woman?"

"As I was saying, he assured himself with his glass that she was young,
pretty, well built, and not faded. Oh! his glass is invaluable for
that!"

"But the lover?"

"The lover doesn't live with her. He goes very often to see her; but he
doesn't sit at the window, naturally; so that Grandmaison has only
caught a glimpse of him, for she is careful to leave the window as soon
as the young man arrives."

"Well?"

"Well, everything is going as smoothly as possible. Grandmaison took the
little one to a closed box at the Opéra night before last, the lover
being in the country."

At that point, I could no longer control myself, and, entirely
unconscious of what I was doing, I struck the table between my neighbor
and myself such a violent blow that the cup of chocolate bounded up into
his face as he leaned over the table to speak to me. The bulk of the
liquid deluged Raymond's waistcoat and shirt frill. He jumped back,
startled by the gesture that had escaped me. Ashamed of having allowed
my trouble, my wrath, my frenzy, to appear, I tried to recover myself; I
composed my features and apologized. Raymond, uncertain whether he could
safely approach me, asked for a glass of water to clean his face.

"Pardon! a thousand pardons! my dear Raymond, I don't know what caught
me then.--You were saying that, the day before yesterday----"

"You gave me a terrible fright. Are you subject to nervous spasms?"

"No, no! it was mere absent-mindedness.--You were saying----"

"The devil! you ought to look after that. Thanks to you, I have got to
go home to change my waistcoat and shirt."

"Oh! that's nothing.--So, the night before last he took the young woman
to a closed box at the Opéra, eh?"

"Yes, yes.--Is there any more on my face?"

"None at all; you look splendid. Go on."

This compliment restored Raymond's good humor; he tucked his frill out
of sight and resumed the conversation.

"Yes, they were there, in a box----"

"So, it's all over, is it?"

"Oh, no! not yet. The beauty hangs back, you understand, and Grandmaison
isn't the man to push matters so fast--with his bad leg, he needs all
the conveniences. Oh! if it had been one of us two, that would have been
the end; we are sad rascals, you know!"

"But since then?"

"He saw the little one again yesterday morning, outside the walls. He
promised to give her a magnificent cashmere shawl, genuine Turkish,
to-night, if she'd take supper with him at his house; moreover, a
complete apartment, a lady's-maid, a carriage at her service, and a
hundred louis a month, to say nothing of presents, if she would agree to
stay."

"Well?"

"She has accepted."

"She has accepted!"

I sprang to my feet so suddenly that Raymond recoiled and looked at me
uneasily.

"Did it take you again, neighbor?"

"No, nothing's the matter. Let us go out and get a breath of air."

And I took Raymond's arm and led him away. He followed me, making a wry
face. Doubtless I pinched his arm without noticing it, for he begged me
to let it alone; but I did not hear him.

"My dear Dorsan, your muscles keep contracting; let my arm alone,
please."

"Oh! these women! these women! But why do I feel this weight at my
heart? for I do not love her."

"Let me go, my friend, I entreat you!"

"Oh! it's because it is cruel to be constantly deceived in this way! to
be fooled again and again! and for whom, I ask you?"

"I don't know what you ask me, but let me go; you hurt me; I shall be
obliged to call for help."

"But is it really she, after all? I must confound her.--Raymond!"

I turned toward my companion, and not until then did I notice his
piteous expression and terrified eyes; I released his arm, and, becoming
a little calmer, asked him what the matter was.

"The matter! Faith! you seem to have attacks of brain fever; you squeeze
my arm so that you make me yell, and you utter exclamations that I don't
understand."

"I was thinking about something that I'll tell you of later. But let us
go back to this intrigue of your friend: it interests me very much.
Monsieur de Grandmaison sups to-night with his new conquest?"

"Yes, to-night."

"I am very curious to see this woman who you say is so pretty."

"Faith! so am I, for I don't know her any more than you do, and I am
looking forward to seeing her."

"What! you are to see her?"

"Certainly; I am invited to the supper, with five or six agreeable
roués, intimate friends of Grandmaison. As he is naturally a little
stupid, when he has told a woman that he'd like--you understand--he
can't think of anything else to say to her to amuse her; and as he
desires to be sparing of his pleasures, because he's not so robust as
you and I are, he reserves his ardor for the night; he always invites a
number of friends to supper, in order to put his charmer in the right
mood."

"A most excellent device, and very pleasant for his guests!"

"You must understand that we always get something out of it. These
women, when they have a large stock of susceptibility, are never
satisfied with Grandmaison, who's an invalid!"

"I understand: you are his friend and deputy."

"I am whatever anyone wants me to be! Oh! we have great sport at these
little supper parties! we laugh like lunatics! The food is delicious and
the wines exquisite! no constraint, no ceremony; we joke and sing and
drink; and the jests, the puns, the remarks with a double meaning, the
spicy anecdotes, the smutty couplets! There's a rolling fire of them;
everybody talks at once, and nobody hears what the others say; it's
delicious!"

"You make me regret that I am not one of you."

"Would you like to be, my dear fellow? Parbleu! if you would, I will
venture to introduce you."

"Really! could you do it?"

"I can do anything I choose! you know very well that everything succeeds
that I undertake."

"I had forgotten that. But this Monsieur de Grandmaison doesn't know
me."

"What difference does that make? I know you, and that's enough!
Introduced by Raymond, you will be welcome."

"Do you think that I might venture?"

"Why, of course! So long as a man is hilarious and tells amusing
stories, he's sure of being well received at Grandmaison's; that's why
he's so fond of me."

"Oh! if it's only a matter of providing amusement, I promise you some
for this evening."

"You're our man; it's agreed, then. Meet me at the Café Anglais at ten
o'clock; that's the hour of meeting."

"I will be there, I give you my word."

"But if you will accept my advice, you'll take a little orange-flower
water to calm your nerves."

"Never fear! I shan't have another attack."

"Good-bye, then, until ten o'clock to-night!"

Raymond left me, and I reflected long upon all that I had learned. The
woman was Caroline; I could not doubt it; and yet a feeble ray of hope
still gleamed in the depths of my heart. I determined to go to her, but
to conceal my feelings, and to try, if possible, to read her heart, to
detect her treachery in her eyes. But, above all, I would be sensible,
philosophical, and try to penetrate myself with the truth of these two
lines:

    "Let dandies rage, let fools cry lack-a-day;
     The wise man, cozened, silent goes away."



XXII

THE LITTLE SUPPER PARTY


I arrived at her apartment. My appearance did not seem to embarrass her;
she greeted me with a smile and spoke to me as usual. Could it be that I
had suspected her wrongfully? But she did not observe my agitation! The
secret excitement which I strove to conceal would not have escaped the
eyes of love! They see everything, divine everything! And Caroline asked
me no questions, although I was on fire and talked at random; although I
was momentarily on the point of exploding and could hardly refrain from
outward manifestations of the torments I was undergoing!--No, she did
not love me.

I told her that I intended to pass the day with her. I fancied that I
could detect embarrassment in her glance; but she speedily recovered
herself.

"You always give me pleasure by staying with me," she said at last, in
that soft voice which had fascinated me at our meeting on the boulevard.
Ah! such voices are as deceitful as the others!

In vain did I try to compose my features and assume a cheerful air; I
could not manage it. I felt as if something were choking me, suffocating
me. I had had that feeling so often!--I went to the window, but
instantly turned away; I must not run the risk of being recognized in
the evening. Oh! what a tedious day it was! I put forward the dinner
hour; never, I think, was a dinner so dreary to me! Caroline complained
of a headache; but I did not complain. If I could only have made love to
her! I tried; but her replies seemed commonplace beyond words to me. A
conversation between two people who have ceased to love each other is
woefully stupid.

I suggested that we go to the theatre. She declined; her headache was
growing worse, and she felt very uncomfortable.

"Perfidious creature!" I said to myself; "I understand! Why not say to
me frankly: 'I no longer love you'? I should be less angry with you if
you did that. But, no, falsehood and dissimulation must needs be added
to inconstancy; you must always deceive us!"

"Would you like me to stay with you?" I asked, pretending to be anxious
about her health.

"No, no, thanks! All I need is rest; I shall have forgotten all about it
to-morrow."

She could not conceal the fright caused by my proposition, which would
have upset all her plans. It was in my power to prevent their execution
that evening by remaining with her; but what would the result be? I
should simply postpone the catastrophe, and I should not have the
pleasure of confounding her an hour or two hence! Ah! I had no desire to
postpone that moment! I wished that it had already arrived. When we know
that we are to undergo a painful trial, the moments that precede it are
more cruel than those that follow it.

The clock struck eight; she went to bed, in order to try to sleep. That
was the signal for me to retire. I bade her good-night. She came to me
to kiss me; she pressed my hand, and her eyes were dry, her heart beat
no faster!--I left the house; it was high time, for I was on the point
of breaking out!

I was not sorry to have two hours before me previous to meeting Raymond.
I had time to calm myself and to decide what course to pursue. I felt at
once that the fresh air did me good. I have had that experience hundreds
of times; an atmosphere more or less heavy has a great influence on our
way of looking at things, especially when we are so unfortunate as to
have excitable nerves. A little rain, a little wind, calms or arouses
our passions; those which are natural are submissive to nature, and,
thank heaven! I know no other passions and do not agree with those
persons who declare that all passions are natural.

For my sake she left her aunt, her little Jules, and many others! Why
should she not leave me as well? She had ceased to love me: that was not
a crime. But she had deceived me: that, I believe, was what distressed
me most; for it humiliates one to be deceived, especially when one is
old enough one's self to deceive.

However, such a liaison is bound to end, a little sooner or later. What
did it matter? I was no longer in love with her. That, I believe, was
why I was so incensed with her. I was vexed because I had allowed her to
anticipate me. Love forgives many things that self-esteem refuses to
forgive.

If Nicette should deceive me! then, I felt that my grief would be a very
different matter. I remembered how disturbed, how agitated, I was when I
learned that she had taken a shop; and yet, I was only her friend. I
tried to think of Nicette; that was the best remedy for Caroline's
treatment of me.

I walked the whole length of the boulevards. I had had time to reason
with myself, and I had fully decided upon my course of action. I
realized what an idiot a man must be to torment himself over the
treachery of a woman who has thrown others over for him. Indeed, how can
one rely on the word of a person who has no other guaranty to offer than
previous infidelities.

I decided, therefore, to amuse myself at Mademoiselle Caroline's
expense. That is the most satisfactory vengeance one can wreak on a
woman who deceives one. Every vengeance which savors of hatred,
jealousy, or anger denotes a lingering remnant of love; it is not real
vengeance.

At ten o'clock I was at the Café Anglais. I ordered a glass of punch,
pending Raymond's arrival. I did not propose to muddle my wits, but I
desired to attain that degree of excitement which makes one less
sensible of the folly of other people. My neighbor appeared, in the
careful négligé of a lady killer. One would have thought, from his
radiant expression, that he was the hero of the evening's festivities.

"We shall have great sport," he said, taking a seat by my side, and
resting his elbow on the next table, regardless of the fact that he put
it in the dish of rice and milk of an old habitué.

"What the devil, monsieur! be careful what you're doing!" said the old
gentleman, putting down his newspaper. Raymond apologized profusely, and
removed his thoroughly drenched elbow from the bowl with such vivacity
that he rolled it onto the white trousers of a dandy who was reading the
_Journal des Modes_.

The dandy made a great outcry, the old habitué scolded Raymond roundly,
and I saw that his apologies would soon bring matters to a climax. As I
did not propose that any fresh scrape should interfere with our going to
Monsieur de Grandmaison's, I made haste to intervene, striving to
pacify the two gentlemen and to restore peace. I succeeded at last, and,
dreading some new mishap, I dragged Raymond out of the café.

"The evening seems to open inauspiciously," I said, as I led him toward
Rue Caumartin.

"Pshaw! far from it! this incident promises sport. It wasn't my fault
that that old politician stuck his rice right under my arm; he ought to
have eaten it, instead of reading his newspaper; and then it wouldn't
have happened.--But it's half-past ten; let's make haste; I'll bet
they're waiting for us."

"For you, you mean."

"Oh! I wrote Grandmaison a line to tell him I should bring one of my
friends; so he expects you."

We arrived at Rue Caumartin and entered a pretentious mansion; it was
directly opposite Caroline's rooms. We ascended a superb staircase; we
passed through several antechambers, lighted by globes suspended from
the ceiling, where half a dozen lackeys were yawning. Everything denoted
opulence and ostentation. I had not all that to offer her. I had thought
that I was doing a great deal for her: I had straitened myself and run
into debt; and what had I to show for it?--Ah! I was not likely to
forget my experience as a protector!

My heart beat fast as I drew near the little salon where the company
awaited us; but I soon recovered my self-possession. We entered the
room, where I saw four men, but the host was not among them.

"Ah! good-evening, my friends!" said Raymond, running from one to
another of the guests to shake hands. "Allow me to present a friend of
mine, a good fellow, who has a fancy to enjoy himself with us
to-night.--But where's Grandmaison?"

"In the boudoir; he's taming his pet before supper."

"Ah! to be sure! to be sure! they are making their final arrangements,
perfecting their agreement. Have you seen her, messieurs?"

"Not yet. They say she's charming!"

"Fascinating; and almost a novice!"

"The deuce! that's a marvel!"

"So Grandmaison wishes us to be less indecent than usual."

"Good! We'll proceed by degrees, so as not to frighten her. But still,
this little one must be trained, and, really, Grandmaison is not the man
to do it!"

"Poor man! the utmost he can do will be to say a word or two to
her--after supper."

"He's not a blunt talker, like Joconde."

"No; but his wine is delicious."

"And he has an excellent cook."

"Upon my word, I have the greatest esteem for him!"

"For the cook?"

"No; for Grandmaison, you sorry joker!--Come, messieurs; no remarks with
a double meaning; that's forbidden to-day. Besides, I am for morals
before everything!"

During this pleasant conversation, I amused myself by examining the four
gentlemen. One, who was short, stout, and red-headed, contented himself
with laughing at every sally of the others, but did not venture to add
any of his own. He who talked most was a little man of some fifty years,
who tried to outdo the younger men by assuming the airs of a rake and
uttering all the obscenities that came into his head. A thin, pallid
young man, whose hollow, lifeless eyes betrayed his abuse of life, was
stretched out in an easy-chair, and swayed to and fro as he addressed
an occasional senseless rhapsody to the jocose Raymond, who was in his
element. A tall, bulky individual, with large oxlike eyes and a nose
that would have put a colocynth to shame, completed the circle, which,
in my opinion, lacked only Monsieur le Baron de Witcheritche.

At last a door at the end of the room opened and Monsieur de Grandmaison
appeared, dragging his leg after him. But he was alone.

"Where is she? where is she?" cried all the guests, with one voice.

"One moment! one moment, pray! you'll see her in a moment. She is giving
a little attention to her toilet. When I told her that she was to sup
with some friends of mine, she didn't want to appear in négligé; and
then, too, I am not sorry to let her see all the presents I have for
her. I left her with a lady's-maid. A little patience and some
punch--that will help us to wait for our supper."

Raymond presented me to Monsieur de Grandmaison, who exhausted himself
in commonplace felicitations upon my kindness in honoring his little
party. I answered in fear and trembling, lest he should recognize me;
but my apprehension soon vanished; I saw that Monsieur de Grandmaison
needed his opera glass to distinguish objects.

An enormous bowl of punch was brought, and the gentlemen did it so much
honor that I was very doubtful what their condition would be at supper.
The tall man with the stupid face, whom the others called _milord_, did
nothing but fill his glass and empty it; while the little red-headed
fellow, whom I heard them call Zamorin, stuffed himself with macaroons,
cake, and biscuits, to assist him to wait for the supper.

The old rake and the languid young man questioned Grandmaison concerning
his new mistress's features; and the host went into her charms in
detail, promising to inform them more fully on the morrow.

"What shall we call her?" inquired Raymond.

"Her name is Madame Saint-Léon. A pretty name, isn't it, messieurs?"

"Yes, very pretty. I think a great deal of the name myself."

"Has she any children?"

"Idiot! didn't I tell you that she was almost a novice?"

"True; but _almost_ doesn't mean that----"

"Nonsense! hold your tongue, Raymond; you insult innocence!" said
Monsieur Rocambolle, the old rake. "I am sure that Grandmaison found
this woman at Les Vertus."

Enchanted by his jest, Monsieur Rocambolle turned, with a laugh, to the
young man; who laughed with him, showing two or three discolored teeth,
his only remaining ones.

Amid the general clatter, as I did not wish to seem bored in the
agreeable company of these gentry, I said at random whatever came into
my head; and sometimes, without any effort to that end, I had the
pleasure of making the merry fellows laugh.

"Didn't I tell you that he was a wag, a delightful fellow?" cried
Raymond.

I was a delightful fellow! I swear that I had taken no pains to be
delightful, but I fancy that my companions were not exacting.

Supper was announced, and Grandmaison looked at his watch.

"Three-quarters of an hour," he said; "she must be ready; I will fetch
her. Go into the supper room, and I will bring her to you there."

He left the room, and Raymond, who was familiar with the locality, led
us into a round, elegantly decorated room, in the centre of which was a
table laden with everything calculated to flatter the sight, the smell,
and the taste.

A handsome clock on a low white marble mantel marked within a few
minutes of midnight.

"The devil!" exclaimed Monsieur Rocambolle; "almost twelve o'clock! We
shall have mighty little time to enjoy ourselves."

"Or to eat," said Zamorin.

"Wait, wait, messieurs," said Raymond, who always insisted upon finding
a way to provide for everything; "I'll set it back an hour."

"Well said! well said!" cried all the others. "That devil of a Raymond
is never at a loss! he's as inventive as a girl."

Overjoyed to display the resources of his imagination, Raymond ran to
the clock, raised with startling rapidity the globe that covered it,
moved back the hands, and set the regulator so far toward _slow_ that,
from the way in which he went about it, I concluded it would not be
midnight for two hours. Our attention was diverted by Monsieur de
Grandmaison's voice, which announced the arrival of her whom all the
guests awaited, but how much less impatiently than myself!

All eyes were turned toward the door by which she was to enter; I alone
stood aside, in such a position that she would not see me at once. We
heard the rustling of her gown, but at that moment there was a loud
report in the room; Raymond had broken the mainspring of the clock; and
to cover up his stupidity, he hurried away from the fireplace and ran to
meet the beauty who was to be presented to us.

She appeared at last, escorted by Monsieur de Grandmaison and by
Raymond, who had taken possession of her other hand and was already
pouring forth all the pretty things he was capable of saying. I saw her,
and my heart beat more violently, my chest swelled. That was the last
time that her presence ever produced any effect on me.

She was magnificently dressed: an emerald necklace gleamed on her
breast, a very handsome comb and long earrings added to the splendor of
her costume. She entered the room with downcast eyes, assuming a modest
air almost exactly like that which deceived me the first time I saw her.
That woman was able to do whatever she chose with her face.

"Now," thought I, "let us see how she will endure a sight of me."

She raised her eyes to the company at last; instantly a concert of
praise and compliments burst forth. She was in truth very fair to look
upon, and the gentlemen vied with one another in their efforts to find
words enthusiastic enough to depict their ecstasy and enchantment. How
happy she was at that moment! there was a flush on her brow, but it was
a flush of pleasure, of pride, not of modesty.

"But where's my friend?" cried Raymond, looking about for me. He spied
me in the corner from which I was observing the scene, ran to me, seized
my hand, and dragged me toward Caroline.

"Come on," he said; "come, I say, and see the Three Graces! She's Hebe,
she's Venus, she's Psyche, she's----"

Raymond was interrupted by a cry from Caroline. She glanced at me as I
began to pay my respects to her, congratulating Monsieur de Grandmaison.
She turned pale, stammered, tried to recover herself; but the shock was
too sharp; she tottered, and fell upon her latest adorer. He, being then
occupied in responding to his friends' congratulations, received the
young woman's weight as he was about to take a pinch of snuff, to help
him to make some witty response. The poor man was not strong enough to
resist that unexpected blow; his left leg was always out of line, and
Caroline's weight causing the right one to bend, Monsieur de Grandmaison
fell heavily, trying to grasp what was nearest him, which happened to be
Monsieur Rocambolle's thigh. He clung to that, which he supposed to be
an integral part of the person, but his hand grasped nothing but the
cotton wool with which the old libertine stuffed his breeches in order
to improve his shape. The broadcloth split and tore, and Monsieur
Rocambolle's fictitious thigh remained in Monsieur de Grandmaison's
hand.

While Monsieur Rocambolle angrily reclaimed his cotton posterior, while
the toothless youth threw himself upon a couch, laughing like a maniac,
while Zamorin looked to see if the supper were growing cold, and while
milord gazed from one to another of the company with eyes that seemed to
be starting from his head, Raymond, wishing to repair the damage
unassisted, rushed to the table in search of something to give the
fainting woman. As he put out his hand for a carafe, he overturned a
decanter of madeira, also a candelabrum, the candles in which fell upon
a fromage glacé and went out. The decanter fell on Monsieur de
Grandmaison's face, who swore that his nose was broken; while Zamorin,
seeing the havoc Raymond was making on the supper table, called loudly
for help. The servants hastened to the spot, but their presence served
only to increase the confusion. Caroline was still unconscious, or
pretended to be in order to conceal her embarrassment; Monsieur de
Grandmaison continued to curse, Monsieur Rocambolle to shout, Zamorin to
lament, and the young man to laugh; the Englishman tried to put a bottle
or two of champagne in a safe place; and Raymond, in attempting to
assist the young woman, to raise Grandmaison, and to restore order,
overturned furniture, smashed bottles and plates, sent a chicken in one
man's face, a pie into another's lap, and ended by falling upon a small
table laden with liqueurs and brandied fruits.

What further business had I at Monsieur de Grandmaison's? My revenge was
complete; the confusion was at its height; the scene of pleasure was
transformed into a scene of uproar and distress; singing had given place
to outcries, bonsmots to lamentations, drunkenness to wrath, merriment
to gloom; in a word, Caroline had seen and recognized me, and the effect
had surpassed my anticipations. I was satisfied; and leaving them all to
extricate themselves from their plight as best they could, I left
Monsieur de Grandmaison's house, thoroughly cured of the sentiment the
young flowermaker had inspired in me.



XXIII

THE TWO VISITS.--THE LESSON IN HANDWRITING


On the following morning, at nine o'clock, my doorbell rang. I was still
in bed, reviewing the events of the evening, and laughing at that which
had been powerless hitherto to extort a smile from me, because a single
sentiment had filled my mind and prevented me from considering the scene
from its comic side. But now that my head was cool, my heart tranquil,
and my mind no longer tormented by the anticipation of what was to
happen, I thought of the different personages I had left at Monsieur de
Grandmaison's house; I fancied that I could see them gathered about the
lost supper, lost by the exertions of Monsieur Raymond; and I laughed
all by myself, as if I were still in their midst.

If at that moment some inquisitive mortal, escorted by the _Diable
Boiteux_ or some other imp, had perched on the roof of my house and
amused himself by watching me, he would have thought, no doubt, that I
was temporarily insane. For my own part, I cannot see that it was any
more extraordinary to laugh at those reminiscences than it would have
been to weep at them; but we are never astonished to see a person shed
tears; whereas, if you laugh all by yourself, you are looked upon as a
madman or an idiot. Can it be that tears are more natural to man than
laughter?

My concierge, who, as I believe I have already told you, did my
housework every morning, opened my door and ushered in my neighbor
Raymond, who, seeing that I was in a hilarious mood, thought that his
presence was responsible for it, and stood for a moment uncertain
whether to be angry or to join in my laughter. He prudently adopted the
latter course, and approached my bed chuckling.

"Well, my dear fellow, it was a warm evening! Ha! ha! ha! You are still
thinking about it, aren't you?"

"Yes, but I look to you for the details of the catastrophe."

"And I to you for an explanation."

"Do you want it in the Bois de Boulogne again?"

"No, no! Ah! you fox! the lovely Caroline had some reason for fainting
when she saw you!"

"A perfectly natural reason: I am the young man whom Monsieur de
Grandmaison has replaced."

"Is it possible? Gad! it was a unique situation! And to think that it
was I who took you to the supper and introduced you to poor Grandmaison!
Deuce take it! you never said a word, you did not give me your
confidence, although I am devoted to you, heart and soul!"

"I wanted to arrange a surprise."

"You succeeded mighty well!"

"Tell me how the evening ended?"

"Very dismally. There wasn't any supper. The young woman insisted on
retiring. Poor Grandmaison's face was cut by a bottle of wine that fell
on him, heaven knows how, and we had to leave them at liberty to go to
bed. But I fancy the night passed very differently from what they
anticipated. We parted in an execrable humor. Rocambolle was angry about
his cotton padding, Zamorin regretted the supper, and the other the
youthful beauty whom he hoped to seduce. I am the only one of the party
who takes everything philosophically, as you know. But I confess that I
was impatient to see you, to learn the cause of the catastrophe which
disturbed the festivities. I came near waking you up last night, in
order to find out earlier."

"You did very well to let me sleep."

"Well, I must go, neighbor; but, I beg you, have a little more
confidence in me another time! You know how close-mouthed I am; you can
safely tell me anything! I always receive it under the seal of secrecy.
I should have made an excellent inquisitor, or an _illuminé_! I love
secrets. In the matter of secrets, I am absolutely impenetrable. For
instance--I am a Freemason: have I ever divulged the secrets of the
order?"

"You have told me that there weren't any."

"True, true; but I said that to deceive you the better. Adieu,
neighbor!--By the way, do you know the news? They say that the Baron de
Witcheritche wears horns. There's a young musician who offered to show
the baroness how to play the serpent; the husband consented, because it
would be one more string to their bow, and it might be useful on
occasion. Moreover, the baron thought that he would compose some little
duets for the violin and the serpent, that he and his wife could perform
in company. So the musician came every morning to give her lessons; but
one fine day, Witcheritche, who was supposed to be in the country,
returned home unexpectedly; he found the teacher's method of instruction
too progressive and the baroness too apt. It seems that Witcheritche
wasn't as fond of music as usual that day; for he shrieked and swore;
his wife wept, the musician skipped; in short, there was a scandalous
scene. Little Friquet, whom I happened to meet the other day, told me
about it; he had it from his aunt, who had it from Madame Bertin, who
had it from Crachini, who had it from Gripaille, who had it from a young
lady who lives in the house with Witcheritche. But I say that we
shouldn't be too ready to believe rumors; we should go back to the
fountain head. I am going to the baron's this morning; I shall see
whether he is on cool terms with his wife, and I'll find a way to make
him tell me everything, without seeming to do so, by just mentioning the
serpent. Adieu! I have to finish a little vaudeville for which I have an
order from Rue de Chartres."

"Have you had a play accepted at some theatre?"

"Why, I have had plays accepted everywhere."

"It's strange that they are never produced."

"Oh! I'll tell you why that is: when they are not produced at once, I
withdraw them! I have a will of my own, you know. Withdrawn at once, if
not produced as soon as I request it. It's like my pictures, my little
water-colors, which I don't send to the Salon, for fear they'll be hung
in a bad light. A man should have some pride; veritable talent is
centred within itself, and there always comes a time when its envelope
is pierced.--Adieu, neighbor! I'll give you a chance to dress."

"That man ought to be happy," I said to myself, thinking of Raymond; "he
has no doubt of anything; he believes himself to be intellectual,
talented, and handsome. If a woman doesn't listen to him, it's because
she's afraid of loving him too well; if his poems are not printed, it's
because the publishers are ignorant; if his plays are not accepted, a
cabal of authors is responsible: his self-esteem does not allow him to
look at things from any but a flattering point of view. I am convinced
that he believes himself to be courageous, although he fought a duel
with bulletless pistols; and that he would consider himself a soldier if
he were in the band of the national lottery; just as he thinks he has a
fine leg because he has fat calves, and beautiful hair because he's as
woolly-headed as a negro. However, he is happy, and that's the main
point. Happy people are not so rare as they are said to be; for there
are many in the world who resemble neighbor Raymond."

If it had not been so late, I would have gone to see Nicette; to read in
her eyes that sentiment so sweet, so affectionate, and, perhaps, so
true, that I had never found in Mademoiselle Caroline's lovely eyes; I
say _perhaps_, for I dared not trust anything or anybody.

On going out I unconsciously took the direction of Rue Caumartin, nor
did I stop until I reached the corner of that street and the boulevard.
It was all a matter of habit; habit is responsible for many things that
we do. In fact, it is a sort of second nature, it binds us in default of
love. How many people there are who have ceased to love each other, and
who remain together from habit! I do not refer to those who are married;
they cannot do otherwise.

In order to put an end the sooner to that habit, which could not be very
deeply rooted, as my intimacy with Caroline had lasted only two months,
I determined to call upon Madame de Marsan, with whom I recalled that I
had been more or less in love. At all events, I owed her a visit for the
invitation which she had sent me, and of which I had been unable to
avail myself, thanks to my travelling companion.

She lived on Faubourg Saint-Honoré, I remembered, near the first street
on the right; in any event, I could inquire; rich people are well known
and are always easy to find; it is only the poor who are ashamed of
their poverty whom no one knows; but then, it is so seldom that anyone
seeks them. I bent my steps toward Faubourg Saint-Honoré and inquired
for Monsieur de Marsan. Three or four persons eagerly showed me his
house, pointed it out with their fingers. Evidently Monsieur de Marsan
was a very wealthy man! everybody knew him or wished to appear to know
him. Really, wealth is a fine thing!

His house was, in fact, of imposing aspect; less elegant, less
ostentatious perhaps, than Monsieur de Grandmaison's; but I suspected
that it was more productive, and to a man of calculating mind that
advantage is certain to outweigh others. It was only twelve o'clock;
might I see madame? It was very early for the first call on a pretty
woman, especially one who has passed her thirtieth year. The further a
lady recedes from her springtime, the more time she spends at her
toilet, so that she cannot be visible very early. At fifteen, a girl
appears just as she happens to be; at twenty, she receives callers in a
simple négligé; at twenty-five, she poses before her mirror for some
time before she appears; at thirty, she takes much pains with her
toilet; at thirty-six--but that would carry us too far; let us pause at
thirty-six.

The concierge told me to go up to the first floor, the left-hand door;
that led to madame's apartment. Monsieur's offices were on the ground
floor. I walked through several rooms, and found at last a young
lady's-maid--who was not pretty, and with whom no man was likely to
tarry when he was going to see her mistress. I asked for madame, gave my
name, and the maid went to announce me. I waited only five minutes; that
is not too long to wait to see a pretty woman, when so many wealthy
fools, vulgar parvenus, and public officials have the assurance to keep
visitors waiting an hour before they condescend to show their inane
faces.

"You may enter, monsieur," said the lady's-maid, and she ushered me into
her mistress's presence. This prompt reception seemed to me of favorable
augury.

I found Madame de Marsan sitting on a causeuse in a pretty little room
decorated in the daintiest style, where the light, being filtered
through double curtains and blinds, was very soft. I spied a piano, a
harp, and music. I have a great liking for women who are fond of music,
and a greater for those who play or sing; it is a sure resource in
idleness; and a woman who does nothing thinks too much.

Madame de Marsan received me with an amiable smile, in which I fancied
that I could detect a shade of vexation. I attributed it to the absence
of zeal on my part in calling upon her; and that course of action,
which, however, was not premeditated, served me better than the most
assiduous love-making would have done. She was piqued; she believed that
she had surely subjugated me, and she had not seen me since. In truth,
that must have seemed very strange to her after the way I had ogled her
at the theatre and my conduct at Vauvert's; it surprised myself, for I
now thought her a hundred times prettier than Caroline.

She did not reproach me, however; but I made haste to apologize for
having failed to avail myself of her invitation, and told her what had
happened to Raymond and myself. The story of our adventures at
Montmorency made Madame de Marsan laugh heartily; and merriment, by
banishing the etiquette and formality of a first interview, permitted
our minds to understand each other and our hearts to divine each other.

In order to prolong my visit, I urged Madame de Marsan to sing to me.
She consented, and acquitted herself with a grace and good taste that
fascinated me. She accompanied herself perfectly on the piano; in short,
she was a thorough musician. How she must have suffered at Vauvert's
party!--But I realized that I must not unduly prolong the first
interview. It is judicious to make people desire one's presence, and not
to be too lavish of one's self at first, especially with women who are
accustomed to homage and love-making; in fact, to being assiduously
courted. Hitherto I had never had the art of concealing what I felt;
perhaps I was boasting too soon, but I had determined to be on my guard
in the future! My last adventure had revived all my grievances against a
sex which I could not shun, but to which I would gladly have repaid a
part of the torments it had caused me.

I took leave, therefore, of Madame de Marsan.

"Will you be as long again without letting me hear from you?" she asked,
as I rose to go.

"No, madame; I shall take frequent advantage of the permission you
accord me to come to see you and listen to your singing. I trust that
you will not consider that I abuse it."

"Be assured, monsieur, that I shall never complain of that. You love
music, and we will sing together sometimes. I go out very little; and it
will be very good of you to make one of our little circle."

She was a charming woman. I am inclined to think that I say that every
time my heart takes fire. But, no matter; I may as well repeat it, as
the same sentiments were constantly renewed in my heart. What she had
said to me could not have been more amiable. She could not see me too
often--that was almost a declaration! I left her, with the most
flattering hopes stirring in my breast, believing that I was adored
already. To be sure, according to what Raymond had told me, it would not
be her first weakness; he had spoken, I think, of three or four
_inclinations_. But I refused to judge Madame de Marsan according to the
remarks of my neighbor, who was a liar and a slanderer.

"I will go to her house this evening," I thought. But, no; that would be
altogether too soon! I had vowed never again to go so fast in an
intrigue, but to try to learn first of all the character of the woman
who attracted me, to avoid letting my sentiments appear until I was sure
of hers; and lo! I had taken fire already! I wanted to obtain everything
at once! Ah! I was incorrigible; I should never know how to spin out a
genuine romance.

I determined not to go to Madame de Marsan's again for two days.
Meanwhile, I must have distraction; not that I was still thinking of
Mademoiselle Caroline! so far as she was concerned, I was thoroughly
cured; indeed, I had concluded that the wound was not very deep.
However, if I were left to my own devices, my natural impatience would
drive me to Madame de Marsan. But had I not always Nicette to oppose to
ennui, sorrow, and, above all, new love affairs?--I would see her; but
not yet, for it was only two o'clock. I should be seen talking with her,
and that was what I did not want. I must wait until night; so I went
home, thinking that I would try to straighten out my affairs a little
before dinner.

I found there a letter from my sister. Poor Amélie! She complained that
I had entirely forgotten her. In truth, it was now September, and I had
not yet been to see her. If I could have gone for two or three days; but
that was impossible! when I was once there, she would never let me
go.--She wrote of a superb match she had found for me: sixteen years
old, beauty, virtue, and fortune. I agreed that the combination was
dazzling, but it did not tempt me as yet; perhaps in two or three
years--we would see. I made up my mind, however, to go to Amélie and her
husband for a fortnight during the autumn; indeed, it was essential that
I should do something to set my affairs in order, for my liaison with
the flowermaker had disarranged them sadly. The deuce! at the rate
things had been going, my income would soon have disappeared. I was much
indebted to her for leaving me soon enough to prevent my ruining myself.
With six months of strict economy, I should be able to pay my debts; for
six months, therefore, I would abstain from those passions that cost so
dear; Mademoiselle Caroline had proved that the women for whom we do the
most are not the ones who love us best.

At nightfall, I went to see Nicette. Her shop was closed; but I saw a
light through the glass over the door. I knocked softly, fearing to
attract the attention of the neighbors. I had every appearance of a
lover who is afraid of being seen.

"Who is there?" she asked.

"It's I, Nicette; it's----"

But I did not need to give my name; the door was already open and she
was before me. I entered the shop, closing the door behind me; then
paused to examine the girl, who was all alone amid the flowers and
shrubs which filled the whole shop, save a small space where there were
a table and a chair. The table was covered with paper, pens, and books;
and a single candle lighted that little room, where the different
flowers diffused a most agreeable odor.

She bade me sit beside her.

"How kind you are to come to see me, Monsieur Dorsan, and to think of me
sometimes!"

"Don't you think of me, Nicette?"

"Oh! all the time! but that's no reason why--why--I mean, it's very
different!"

"What were you doing when I came?"

"I was writing, monsieur--learning my lesson."

She blushed as she said it. I glanced at the table and saw several
sheets of paper covered with large letters--a name written again and
again--and that name, mine! Poor Nicette!

I looked at her; she blushed even more, and stammered, lowering her
eyes:

"I beg your pardon, monsieur, for taking your name for a copy; but I
thought that my benefactor's name ought to be the first thing that I
wrote."

I took her hands and pressed them.

"Really, Nicette, I do not deserve so much friendship--if you knew me
better!"

"Oh! I know you well enough by all that you have done for me."

"Are you happy now?"

"Yes, monsieur; I can't be more so."

The tone in which she said that, and the melancholy expression of her
face, gave me much food for thought.

"You seem to me much changed, Nicette."

"How, monsieur?"

"You are pale, and a little thinner than you were."

"But I am not sick."

"Perhaps this smell of flowers----"

"Oh! I've been used to that a long time."

"I miss in your manner that light-heartedness and vivacity that I
noticed at the time of our first meeting."

"Oh! a person can't be always the same."

"Still, if you have nothing to distress you----"

"No, monsieur, no, I haven't anything."

"Your eyes tell me the contrary. Dear Nicette, you have been crying."

"No, monsieur; and even if I had--why, sometimes one cries without
knowing why, and without being unhappy."

We said nothing more. I did not choose to question her further, for I
thought that I could guess what caused her distress. She did not look at
me again; doubtless she was afraid that I would read her eyes. She was
pensive and silent. Nor could I find anything to say. Her sadness had
infected my heart. But the silence had a charm which we both enjoyed.
However, I thought that I ought to try to divert her thoughts, and at
the same time turn my own mind from reflections that were too hazardous.
I went to the table and looked at the paper and the writing.

"You write well already, Nicette."

"Not any too well yet, monsieur; but I hope, with time----"

"Do you still take lessons?"

"No, I haven't any teacher now; he said things to me that I didn't like;
he didn't want to give me the word I wanted for a copy; he always made
me write: _Commencement, commonly, exactly_; and I didn't see why I
couldn't learn just as well by writing _Dorsan_ as _commonly_, although
it isn't so long. That made him angry, so I sent him away; I can get
along without him. I know how to write the small letters too."

"Let me see."

"Oh! my hand would tremble before you, monsieur."

"Why so? I will give you a lesson."

"Will you, really?"

"Why, yes; to be sure."

She seated herself at the table; I placed a chair close beside hers, put
my right arm about her, and guided her hand with mine; my face touched
her hair; her whole body was against mine; I inhaled her sweet breath,
and I could count the beating of her heart. Ah! what pleasure that
lesson afforded me! Unconsciously, without premeditation, I made her
write _I love you_ again and again. My hand trembled as violently as the
hand I was guiding. But a tear fell from her eyes. The pen dropped from
our hands. I have no idea how it happened; but Nicette's pretty face was
hidden against my breast, her two arms were about me, and mine pressed
her fondly to my heart. At that moment I felt that even if Madame de
Marsan, or any other woman, were present, I would not put Nicette's arms
away.

We had been a long while in that position and did not think of changing
it. Nicette was happy, and I--I must confess it--enjoyed a pleasure that
I had never known before, a pleasure of which I had no conception,
undisturbed by any desire for which I need blush. But, engrossed as I
was by the present, I could not answer for the future; another caress
might kindle a conflagration.

There came a loud knock at the door of the shop. Nicette started from my
arms, and I looked at her with some disquietude.

"Who can have come to see you so late? You told me that you had no
acquaintances."

"I don't know who it is; I don't expect anybody!"

Her eyes reassured me; they could not lie! But the knocking was
repeated, and we distinguished these words:

"Open the door, open quick, Mamzelle Nicette! your mother's very sick
and wants to see you."

Nicette ran to the door and recognized the daughter of one of Madame
Jérôme's neighbors. The girl told her that her mother had had an
apoplectic attack as the result of a violent quarrel with her daughter
Fanchon; and feeling very ill, she longed to see the child she had so
unjustly turned out of doors. Nicette flew about the shop; in an instant
she had taken off her apron and put on her cap.

"Adieu, adieu, Monsieur Dorsan!" she said, in a trembling voice, and
with eyes filled with tears; "my mother is sick and I must forget
everything."

We left the shop; she took the little girl's arm and dragged her away;
the child could hardly keep pace with her. I soon lost sight of them.

Sweet girl! she possessed all the virtues, and I loved her better than I
thought, more dearly than I had ever loved. The most convincing proof
that I really loved her was that I had thus far respected her innocence;
but I felt that I must avoid going to see her at night; to be alone with
her would be too dangerous. If it had not been for that knocking--I do
not know what might have happened.

I decided to return to Madame de Marsan, so as to turn my thoughts from
Nicette; I must give my brain occupation, in order to allow my heart to
become calmer. By that means I should at least provide myself with a
pardonable motive for my new follies.



XXIV

THE BOURGEOIS COMEDY.--THE REHEARSAL


For several days my conduct was really most exemplary; I paid court to
Madame de Marsan, concerning whom my neighbor had told me too much. I
did not go again to see Nicette at night; and when I passed her shop
during the day, I bade her good-morning without stopping. Her black
dress told me of the loss she had sustained, but I did not ask her for
any details of Madame Jérôme's death.

Madame de Marsan was a very agreeable, lively, coquettish person; I
found several young men assiduously attentive to her, but had no idea
whether they were more fortunate than I. I was not sufficiently enamored
of her to be jealous; and yet, it annoyed me to see that swarm of
admirers who so often forced themselves between her and myself. Twenty
times I was tempted to cease to augment their number, but a secret hope
whispered to me that I was the preferred one and that I should distance
all my rivals.

Madame de Marsan's receptions were delightful: the company was select,
the women were pretty, the men well bred; courtesy without affectation
or reserve was the ordinary rule; we were lively and cheerful without
ceasing to be decent, gallant without mawkishness; and if anyone did say
something a little spiteful, it was said in the good-natured tone in
which one may say anything with impunity. The music was excellent,
without being pretentious; sometimes they played for high stakes, but
you could never detect the faintest emotion on the faces of the players;
in good society, people know how to lose their money with a charming
grace.

The month of October was drawing near, and before the winter should come
and open the season for balls Madame de Marsan proposed to give a party
at her country house, at which there were to be some theatricals. I had
been hearing of this function for a long while, and extensive
preparations were being made therefor. The matter of the plays to be
given was thoroughly discussed, and at last they fixed upon _Le Barbier
de Séville_ and _Fanchon la Vielleuse_. Madame de Marsan insisted that I
should take part. I had never acted in anything but charades, but I
could not refuse to do whatever she wished. I was cast for Lindor, and
she for Rosine; I could not complain of that arrangement. The other
parts were distributed, and Raymond was not forgotten; he was an
invaluable man for bourgeois comedies. As for Monsieur de Marsan, he
never took part in theatricals. In large parties, husbands are of no use
except to provide the money.

On the appointed day, Madame de Marsan went to her country house, where
all the actors were to report a week before the performance, in order to
have plenty of time to rehearse and arrange the stage business. Raymond,
who had left me in peace for some time, came to me now every morning to
urge me to hear him repeat the rôle of Bartholo; and as he was to appear
in _Fanchon_ also, in the part of the Abbé de Lattaignant, I must needs
teach him the airs he had to sing; for, although he held himself out as
a great musician, it took him a fortnight to learn a vaudeville
couplet, even though he always had some score or other in his pocket.

"They'd have done much better to give some short new play instead of
this interminable _Fanchon_," my neighbor said to me every morning. "I'd
have written one myself! indeed, I have some all written, which would be
just the thing for amateurs!"

"You ought to suggest them."

"Pshaw! there's that Madame Saint-Marc, Madame de Marsan's friend, who's
determined to play Fanchon, because, I suppose, she thinks she's very
pretty _en marmotte_. And that tall thin fellow who wants to play
Sainte-Luce--we shall see how it goes. I myself could have played the
officer much better than the abbé; the part's better suited to my figure
and style; however, I'm willing to take the other part to oblige; I
sacrifice myself. I hope, however, that if we have time, before the
fête, they'll play my little opera, _Les Amants Protégés par Vénus_;
there are only three short acts, but very spectacular. Listen, this is
the first----"

"I'm studying my part."

"Never mind, I want you to judge of the effect. The stage represents a
magnificent country house, where preparations for the wedding of the
lovers are in progress. The princess begins and says:

    "'Prince, 'tis here that we're to be united.
      How happy I am! how----'"

I listened no longer; and although the fête was not to come off for ten
days, I rid myself of Raymond by leaving Paris for Madame de Marsan's
country house, where I was not sorry to arrive in advance of the rest of
the guests. I hoped there to find a more favorable opportunity; and
opportunity is such a precious thing! Many people have owed their
happiness to it; all that is necessary is to know enough to grasp it.

This time I had obtained such directions as were necessary to prevent my
going astray, and in due time I arrived at Madame de Marsan's estate. It
was almost a little château; the situation was delightful, the
surroundings beautiful; the gardens seemed quite extensive and very well
kept, the apartments decorated with refined taste, and so well arranged
that a large number of guests could easily be accommodated. But I
postponed my examination of these details, being in haste to present my
respects to the mistress of the house.

"Madame is alone," said the maid; "none of the guests have arrived yet."

I had hoped that that would be the case.

"And Monsieur de Marsan?"

"Oh! monsieur won't come until the day of the party or the day before.
He never meddles in such things."

I could not have chosen my time better. I hastened to surprise her. The
welcome I received satisfied me that she was flattered by my zeal.

"It is very good of you to come first," she said; "we can rehearse a
scene from _Le Barbier_ together. Our parts are very long, you know,
and, for my part, I have a very poor memory."

"I will do whatever you please, madame."

"Come first of all to look at our theatre. I am sure that you expect to
find a cramped little place, where your head touches the flies, and the
houses are smaller than the actors. Come, monsieur; I am determined that
the sight of our playhouse shall arouse a spirit of emulation in you."

She laughingly led me into the garden; the theatre was in the centre. It
was large, convenient, and excellently arranged. The auditorium was
tastefully decorated and would hold about three hundred people.

"Well, monsieur! what do you say to our theatre?"

"That it would put many provincial theatres to shame."

"And we flatter ourselves, too, that we give better performances than
one sees in the provinces. We do not shrink from anything: comedy,
vaudeville, opéra-comique! We play everything except tragedy."

"Why that exception?"

"You will agree that in the best amateur company at least half of the
performers are good for nothing and provoke laughter, which in our
theatre is never prohibited; but we noticed that the audience always
laughed more at tragedies than at other plays; and as we could not
mistake that for applause, we have ceased to play any but merry pieces;
now, when we cause laughter we can persuade ourselves that it is a sign
of approval. There is always some way of sparing one's self-esteem, you
see. At our last performance we had a most complete success! We gave
_Porceaugnac_, with all the scenic accessories; nothing was forgotten; I
fancy that we bought all the syringes in Montmorency. But it was
charming, and it made a great sensation. It was spoken of in Paris; we
even had an article in the paper. You will agree, monsieur, that our
honor is involved now in maintaining our reputation."

I promised Madame de Marsan to do my best to make myself worthy to
appear upon her stage; and we left it, to stroll through the garden. It
was almost a park; it was possible to lose one's self there, and I hoped
to take advantage of that fact. There was a little clump of trees, a
grotto, a bridge, which lacked nothing but water, dense, bosky groves,
shaded paths, turf that was always green, several pretty little
elevations, a subterranean path, a cliff, a waterfall, and all the games
that can be played in a garden. It was a delicious spot, into which it
seemed to me that ennui could never find its way. Madame de Marsan gave
me a small bedroom overlooking the fields. I should have been delighted
with it, except that it was a long way from hers. I reproached her for
it, and she answered with a jest. Patience! perhaps my turn would come.

Meanwhile, it was incumbent on me to learn my part. Madame de Marsan
wished to rehearse some scenes that night, and she left me to study. No
constraint, no etiquette in the country.

"Here," she said, "everyone does what he pleases--rises in the morning,
goes out to walk, stays in the house, goes away, returns, as his fancy
bids him. So long as you are prompt at meals, and, above all, at
rehearsals, you are absolutely your own master."

I promised to conform to the established rules, and buried myself among
the trees to study the rôle of Almaviva. But the thought that I was
alone in that house with Madame de Marsan--for servants and workmen do
not count--that thought made my mind wander. What! I was under the same
roof with a pretty woman, who allowed me to make love to her without
apparent displeasure, who seemed indeed to manifest something more than
interest in me--and I could be satisfied with anything less than a
complete victory!--I saw that I had to do with an accomplished coquette,
who perhaps pretended to be sensible to my attentions in order to keep
me bound to her chariot for a longer time.

I looked forward to dining tête-à-tête with Madame de Marsan, but a
tiresome neighbor came to call, and he dined with us. I had an idea that
his presence was as disagreeable to her as to me, but, of course, she
must seem to be delighted to see him. Luckily, at the table the neighbor
talked for three; we were able to think of whatever was in our minds,
and still the conversation did not languish. The old gentleman hardly
gave himself time to breathe: he described his property to us in detail,
from the main entrance to the garden wall; we knew just how many acres
of land he had, and what his kitchen garden brought him in; how many
trees he had planted, the number of his hens, how many eggs they laid in
a week, what they were worth in the market, and a thousand other details
no less interesting to us. But while he was talking, my eyes carried on
a very different sort of conversation with Madame de Marsan. The
neighbor, engrossed by his crops and his betterments, did not notice it.
I discovered that loquacious people are sometimes very convenient. At
last, about half-past seven, the neighbor concluded to go home, to see
how many eggs his hens had laid during the day. He took his leave, and I
was alone with Madame de Marsan. We went out for a walk in the garden;
the verdure, the shadows, the silence, everything was conducive to
tenderness. I tried to speak of love; the coquette replied only by
repeating some of Rosine's lines. I continued, paying no heed to her.
She rebuked me.

"That isn't right, monsieur," she said; "you haven't studied your part;
you don't know a word of it."

"But, madame, I am not talking about our play."

"What's that, monsieur! didn't we agree to rehearse?"

"We have plenty of time."

"No; I have a bad memory."

"Then you refuse to listen to me?"

"On the contrary, but give me my cue."

"You have known a long while that I love you, that I adore you."

"I know that all that is in your part, but you ought to say it
differently."

"I see, madame, that you take pleasure in tormenting me."

"Anger--passion--that's right! I assure you that you will act
splendidly!"

What a woman! it was impossible to make her reply to the question that
interested me. We returned to the salon; I was in an execrable humor. I
rehearsed with the book in my hand, but I said my lines so badly that
Madame de Marsan laughed at me incessantly. I left her and went to bed;
I was almost tempted to remain no longer in that house. However, I did
remain; but I cursed womankind, all of whom played fast and loose with
me. The only one who combined all the estimable qualities, the only one
who manifested genuine affection for me, was the very one of all who
could neither be my wife nor my mistress.

The next day I decided to learn my rôle; perhaps that complaisance on my
part would be considered worthy of recompense; at all events, as I was
to act, I did not choose to make a more awkward appearance than the
others; so I studied Count Almaviva. I went into the garden, my _Barbier
de Séville_ in my hand. I have always been able to learn easily when I
chose; in less than four hours I was able to act almost the whole play.
I said nothing at dinner; I wished to surprise Madame de Marsan, who
asked me laughingly if I knew it as well as I did the previous evening.
When it was dark, we went to the salon; she refused to rehearse in the
garden, on the pretext that it was too cool there. Was that really her
reason? She took her part; I did not need mine, as I knew it perfectly.
We rehearsed our scenes; I acted with such vigor and earnestness, such
truth to nature, that she was struck dumb. Now it was my turn to scold
her; I was obliged to correct her, to show her what to do; but she was
delighted with my talent, and did whatever I bade her--let me take her
hand, squeeze it, kiss it, throw myself at her feet.

"What! is all this in the play?" she asked, deeply moved.

"Yes, madame, it's all there."

And, taking advantage of my position, of all the privileges that my rôle
of stage lover gave me, I was in a fair way to make rapid progress, when
we heard a commotion out of doors. In a moment the door of the salon
opened and Raymond appeared.

"The devil take the man!" I muttered; "upon my word, he was born to be
always in my way!"

Seeing me at Madame de Marsan's feet, he whipped his part out of his
pocket, and began to shout at the top of his lungs:

"'Ah! malediction! that savage, piratical villain, Figaro! How can one
leave his home one moment, and not be sure that on returning----'
Madame, I have the honor of presenting my respects; I am punctual, you
see.--Good-evening, my dear Dorsan! Why on earth did you start off
yesterday afternoon without me? I would gladly have come with you. Well!
I know my lines already, you see. I have a superb memory! With the
prompter's help, I am all right."

Madame de Marsan thanked Raymond for his promptitude and complimented
him upon his ease. Her agitation had disappeared; we went on with our
rehearsal, and she was engrossed by her part. My hopes were crushed
again! Infernal Raymond!

The next day all the members of the troupe arrived; it was impossible to
find a moment for a tête-à-tête; we were rehearsing from morning till
night, and when _Fanchon_, in which Madame de Marsan did not appear, was
being rehearsed, she had so many orders to give about costumes and the
details of the fête, that I could not obtain the briefest interview with
her. Alas! but for Raymond I should have been happy, I am sure; the
auspicious moment had arrived; and he who would subdue a cruel fair must
not allow such moments to escape him; they may recur with an emotional
woman, but they are very rare with a coquette.

Raymond was in the seventh heaven: he was immersed in business to his
ears; first of all, he had his two parts to learn, which was no small
thing for him; then, Madame de Marsan had given him the general
supervision of the scenery and the orchestra; moreover, as the young
woman who was to play Fanchon was her intimate friend, and as the
performance happened to come on her birthday, she requested him to
compose a scene referring to that coincidence, to be added to the
vaudeville which was to close the performance. Raymond sweated blood and
water to produce that little impromptu. In the morning, as soon as I was
awake, he came to tell me what he had done; he always had the beginning
of his couplets, but he could not succeed in completing one; and he
transferred that task to me, begging me to make use of him whenever I
wished to celebrate anyone's birthday. After breakfast he hurried to
the theatre, turned everything topsy-turvy, examined the scenery, and
regretted that he had not the necessary time to arrange some new
mechanism, because he would have liked to put a transformation scene in
his little contribution; but, in default of demons--for Madame de Marsan
would not hear of them, for fear of fire--and of nymphs,--an article not
to be found in the neighborhood,--Raymond confined his efforts to having
a wreath descend upon Fanchon's head; and he urged the gardener, who had
charge of the machinery, to be sure to make a superb one, and to suspend
it by a cord from one of the roof timbers on the day of the performance.
Then my neighbor proposed to introduce two little Cupids, who, instead
of appearing from a cloud, were to come up from the prompter's
box--which was likely to produce more effect--and to present bouquets to
all the actors and actresses on the stage.

The great day drew near; the rehearsals proceeded with great zeal and
activity; everyone considered that his honor was at stake, and
determined to outdo the others. How much occupation an amateur
theatrical performance affords! what anxiety and toil! what a world of
details! how much trouble people take! But, on the other hand, what joy
to win applause! and one is certain of that in advance, even though one
acts wretchedly. We all knew our parts, except Raymond, who stumbled
through Bartholo's lines and could not remember a single one of
Lattaignant's. The ladies scolded him, but his reply was always the
same:

"With the prompter's help, you'll see how glibly I'll rattle it off."

On the night before the performance we were to have a dress rehearsal on
the stage, with all the lights. Raymond had not been seen since
morning; at six o'clock, the hour appointed for the rehearsal, he had
not come. We waited in vain; they searched the whole house, the garden,
the wood; everybody was engaged in the search; the servants were sent
around the neighborhood, with orders to bring Monsieur Raymond back,
dead or alive. We could not begin without him; we were in despair, at
our wits' end; for there was no one to take his place. How could anyone
learn two long parts between night and morning? The ladies were on the
point of weeping with indignation, when, about eight o'clock, Raymond at
last appeared, drenched with perspiration, covered with dust, and
leading by the hand two chubby, rosy-cheeked little boys, five or six
years old, smeared with dirt and dressed in dirty, mud-stained blouses.

"Where have you been?" was the general cry; the ladies were for
beginning operations by beating him.

"That's right!" said Raymond; "scold me savagely, when I have nearly
killed myself finding two Cupids for you! I have been scouring the
neighborhood ever since morning; I am sure that I have travelled a good
ten leagues! But nothing but sulky faces, squint eyes, flat noses
everywhere! At last I found what I wanted at Saint-Denis; but see how
fresh and plump they are! they'll make two first-class Cupids."

The aspect of the two little fellows, for whom Raymond had bought candy
to bribe them, and who were smeared with it to the ears, soon allayed
the wrath of the company.

"What about their mother?" asked Madame de Marsan.

"She's a dairywoman at Saint-Denis. She's overjoyed to have her children
play two little Cupids, and she's coming to see them to-morrow; I
promised her a place behind the rear curtain. Now, just have these
little rascals cleaned up a bit, and you'll see how pretty they are!"

The young lady who was to play Fanchon did not understand why Cupids
were needed, not knowing that a little surprise was being prepared for
her. Madame de Marsan tried to repair Raymond's indiscretion. The
rehearsal went on and lasted until one in the morning, when, being
thoroughly exhausted, we all went to bed, longing ardently for the
morrow; and Raymond intrusted his two Cupids to the housekeeper, with
instructions to cleanse them and make them get up early, so that he
would have time to teach them what they had to do.



XXV

ALMAVIVA AND ROSINE.--A SCENE ADDED TO _LE BARBIER DE SÉVILLE_


The great day arrived. The ladies rose early; the thought of their
costumes had kept them awake. The men, who are sometimes as coquettish
as the ladies, were all absorbed by their costumes or their rôles. I was
less engrossed by the great affair of the evening, because my passion
for Madame de Marsan, intensified by the obstacles it had encountered,
occupied my thoughts quite as much as the play. But the busiest of all
was Raymond. He was out of bed at daybreak. He sought out the two little
peasants, and tried to make them move gracefully, and to teach them a
little stage business, while he told them what they would have to do in
the evening. The children stared at him, jumped into the air when he
told them to dance, fell on the ground when he tried to make them stand
on one leg, and began to cry when he told them to smile. My neighbor
took them to the gardener, now transformed into a scene shifter, and
repeated the lesson to him. The gardener was a dull-witted lout, who
knew nothing at all, but who chose to pretend to understand instantly
whatever was said to him.

"Do you know what you have to do to-night, my friend?" Raymond asked
him.

"Yes, monsieur."

"First, the wreath of flowers----"

"Yes, monsieur."

"Which you are to lower on Fanchon's head."

"Fanchon's--yes, monsieur."

"You are to fasten it to a cord hanging from the beam; do you know
whether there is one?"

"Oh! yes, monsieur; there was one for that gentleman with the syringes
they acted the last time, that was so funny! Monsieur Pourceau--Pourceau--the
man who wouldn't take physic before people, you know."

"Just so, my man, just so.--Well, when the wreath is all fixed, you must
make a dozen fresh, pretty bouquets, and give them to these children,
who will be dressed as Cupids."

"Say! I know 'em; they're Madeleine's boys."

"Pay attention to what I say."

"Yes, monsieur."

"When they have the bouquets, you'll take them to the prompter's box."

"Yes, monsieur, to the box, I understand."

"And they are to go out on the stage when I clap twice with my hands."

"Yes, monsieur, with your hands."

"Don't forget anything, my friend."

"No, monsieur. Oh! you needn't be afraid; I'm used to play-acting here!"

Raymond next betook himself, with the two children, to the costume room.
He found no knit flesh-colored tights, because such costumes are rarely
used by amateurs. He was obliged to be content with nankeen trousers,
over which they were to wear their little white tunics: these, with the
girdle, the band, the bow, and the quiver, should make the illusion
complete. After urging the wig-maker, who had come from Montmorency for
the occasion, to outdo himself in dressing the Cupids' locks, Raymond
forgot everything but his rôles, and set about learning them for the
evening. A numerous and select party of guests had arrived from Paris,
and they strolled about the house and gardens. Madame de Marsan, despite
the necessary preparations for the play, did the honors of her house
with no less grace than good breeding. Monsieur de Marsan did not arrive
until a few moments before dinner on the day of the fête. He was
detained in Paris by business on the Bourse; he knew that his wife was
spending a lot of money, and he had to devote his attention to making an
equal amount in order to maintain the equilibrium. In the evening, many
of the people of the neighborhood, carefully selected from the most
eligible, who had received invitations for the performance, were on hand
promptly. Thus the auditorium was certain to be entirely filled, for the
last rows of chairs were thrown open to some of the villagers. It is
much more agreeable to act before a large audience; empty benches are
never flattering to the actor, even at an amateur performance.

The hour to begin had arrived. Our little hall was full. Raymond kept
looking through the hole in the curtain, to see where the ladies were
sitting whom he proposed to ogle.

"Time to begin!"--Such was the cry of all who were ready; but everybody
was not ready, and it seemed as if Raymond would never finish dressing.
After each garment that he put on, he ran to look through the hole, with
his jar of rouge in one hand and his rôle in the other.

"Hurry! hurry!" we shouted at him from all sides, and pushed him back
toward his dressing room; then someone ran to Madame de Marsan's room,
to ask if Rosine was ready. The four amateurs who formed the orchestra
had twice played through the overture to _Richard Coeur de Lion_,
which served as overture to _Le Barbier_. They were about to begin it a
third time, because they had no other music with them; the audience
began to lose patience and some faint murmurs were heard. But at last we
were ready, and Raymond, who was the machinist, raised the curtain.

I knew my lines very well, and my feeling for Madame de Marsan, who
looked prettier than ever in the costume of Rosine, imparted to my
acting the warmth and genuineness which befit the rôle of a lover like
Almaviva. The young man who played Figaro was spirited, good-looking,
and daring. We played with great _verve_, our scenes went off
excellently, and the audience was delighted. At the moment when Bartholo
was to appear at the window with Rosine, Raymond, trying to raise the
blind, jerked it so violently that it was detached and fell on the lamps
which did duty as footlights; luckily, the sight of Madame de Marsan,
who was delicious in her Spanish costume, covered Raymond's
awkwardness. The first act went without a hitch. In the second, Raymond,
whose memory was fatigued already, could not say a word without the
prompter, and he stood in front of his box all the time, with his eyes
fixed upon it and his ears strained to hear. Often the prompter had to
repeat the words three times, Raymond meanwhile abusing him when he did
not prompt, and telling him to be quiet when he did prompt him in some
speech that he thought he knew. Thus he made of Bartholo a veritable
Cassandra; but such an audience as ours could not fail to be indulgent;
moreover, all the other rôles were well done; we entered into the spirit
of our parts and filled the stage with animation. We were wildly
applauded; and Raymond assumed his share of the applause, although he
confused us terribly when he was on the stage with us.

The third act began with Raymond on the stage. He walked forward and
took his stand in front of the prompter's box.

"'What temper! what temper! [_To the prompter_: Why don't you prompt
me?] She seemed appeased! Will someone tell me [Don't prompt me.]--will
someone tell me who in the devil put it into her head to--to [Prompt me,
will you?]--to refuse [What's that? I don't hear you.]--to refuse to
take lessons from Don Basile. [Don't prompt me!] She knows that he is
interfering about my marriage. Do everything in the world--do--do--[What?
what do I say next? What the devil! you don't know how to prompt at the
right time!]'"

The audience concluded to laugh at our Bartholo; whereat Raymond rubbed
his hands with a satisfied air, and, whenever he returned to the wings,
exclaimed:

"How pleased they are! how it amuses them! No audience at the Français
ever laughed so much!"

The play came to an end at last, in spite of Raymond, who did all that
he could to prevent it; but Rosine's grace, Figaro's hilarity, and,
lastly,--for one must do one's self justice,--the warmth, the passion,
the ardor which gave life to my performance of Almaviva made the
illusion complete; I obtained a brilliant triumph, and I read in Madame
de Marsan's eyes the pleasure that my success afforded her.

_Le Barbier_ at an end, the performance of _Fanchon_ was hurried
forward. All of the cast of the first play, with the exception of Madame
de Marsan and myself, were to appear in the second. We two had plenty of
time to change our costumes. All the dressing rooms opened on the
garden; those of the ladies were separated from ours only by an avenue
of lindens. Having resumed my civilian costume, I went out into the
garden for a breath of air. The second play had begun long before, and
everybody was on the stage or among the spectators. The solitude and
tranquillity of the garden were in refreshing contrast to the clamor not
far away. I was not sorry to be able to saunter there for a moment; but
as I crossed the avenue of lindens, I saw a lady come from one of the
dressing rooms opposite. I stopped; it was Madame de Marsan; it was my
Rosine. She recognized me and came toward me.

"Where is Monsieur le Comte Almaviva going, pray?"

"I came out to enjoy this cool shade a moment; but I missed something:
Almaviva cannot be happy without Rosine."

"Rosine is not at all sure that she ought to go with you."

"What! after consenting to allow yourself to be abducted?"

"In truth, I should play the cruel now with a bad grace; but remember
that you swore to be true to me! to love me always, to love none but
me!"

"Oh! I swear it again! I have no other desire than to repeat it every
moment!"

"But where are you taking me? we seem to be going a long way. Why do you
take the darkest paths? Why are we going in under these trees? It is too
dark here!"

"Dear Rosine, what can you fear, with me?"

"Dear Lindor, I am ill at ease."

"Did you not intrust yourself unreservedly to me?"

"Ah! I fear that I was not wise. What are you doing? Kissing me like
this! Oh! that isn't in the play."

"Do we refuse a kiss to the lover who is to be our husband?"

"Stop--Lindor--Dorsan---- Oh! this scene----"

"Dear Rosine, what is it but the natural sequel? ought it not to crown
our love?"

Madame de Marsan tried in vain to resist; it was too late; I had entered
too completely into the spirit of my rôle, and she had identified
herself with hers. We added to _Le Barbier de Séville_ the scene which
the audience does not see, but which it may well divine after the union
of Almaviva and Rosine. For some time the thicket had witnessed that
charming scene, half lighted by the moon. The fervor with which we
played our parts caused us to forget the world and the fête. I was
determined that Almaviva should obtain as great a triumph in the thicket
as on the stage, and Rosine was so prompt in response that I could not
lag behind. We had not begun to think of the dénouement, when it was
hastened by an unforeseen incident; but, to explain it, we must return
to the theatre.

_Fanchon_ was acted indifferently well; many of the actors, not knowing
their parts, had skipped several scenes; Raymond had done the same with
his lines; so that the play was soon done. Neither Madame de Marsan's
absence nor mine was noticed; the actors supposed that we were in the
audience, the spectators, that we were behind the scenes.

The vaudeville being finished, Raymond arranged his little scene in
honor of the lady who had played Fanchon, and whose birthday it was.
Everyone sang his or her couplet, and Raymond called for Madame de
Marsan and myself to sing ours. As he did not find us, and as the
dénouement was at hand, he ran into the wings and seized the cord to
which was attached the surprise that was to descend upon Fanchon's head.
He pulled it slightly, and the weight that he felt above set his mind at
rest, convincing him that the gardener had not forgotten to attach the
wreath.

The moment had come; the orchestra played

    "What grace, what majesty!"

That was the signal for the wreath to descend. Raymond let the cord go;
a sudden murmur ran through the hall, then bursts of laughter arose on
all sides.

"Stop! stop!" someone called from the stage. Raymond put his head out
from the wings to witness the tableau, and saw that, instead of a wreath
of flowers, he had lowered a syringe on Fanchon's head.

The confusion was at its height; the hall rang with laughter, while on
the stage wrath at Raymond's blundering folly was still predominant. The
young lady who had played Fanchon was obliged to push the syringe away
from her head. Raymond dropped the cord and ran out on the stage,
crying:

"It wasn't my fault; it's Pourceaugnac's syringe--and that idiot of a
gardener forgot to take it off! It should have been a wreath. But we'll
make up for this.--Forward, Cupids!"

He gave the signal, the orchestra played Zéphire's air from _Psyche_,
and everybody waited impatiently for what was coming. Again Raymond
clapped his hands.

"Come on, Cupids!" he cried; "come out, I say!"

But nothing came out of the prompter's box. The audience, tired of
waiting to no purpose, prepared to leave the hall, and the actors to
vacate the stage. In vain did Raymond try to detain them, crying:

"They're coming! they'll appear in a minute! they must be putting on the
bands!"

Nobody listened to him. In his rage he determined to find his Cupids, at
all events; he jumped down into the prompter's box, looked under the
stage and in every corner of the building, but he did not succeed in
finding them.

The two little fellows were dressed and ready two hours before it was
time for them to appear. The gardener, bewildered by all the orders he
had received, had entirely forgotten the wreath; but he had made some
bouquets, which he gave to the children, then led them to the prompter's
box and said:

"Stay here; you're to go on the stage when you're called."

The children waited quietly for half an hour; but they were tired by
that time; they thought that they had been forgotten; and as they could
enjoy themselves much more in the garden than under the stage, they
left their bouquets there and went outside to play. In running about
they approached the house, and saw on the ground floor, in a
well-lighted room, a sideboard covered with innumerable delicacies, the
bare sight of which made them open their mouths and lick their chops.
They stopped, sighed, nudged each other, divined each other's thought,
and looked behind them in obedience to the natural instinct of the man
who is about to do wrong. There was no one in sight; all the servants
had deserted the house for the play.

"Oh! see the nice things, brother!" said the smaller of the two; "we
never saw anything like 'em!"

"Oh! Fanfan, mustn't that be sweet?"

"Say, Jean; just think--if we could eat some of it!"

"Look at them cakes!"

"There's no one there; let's climb in! Come on!"

They easily climbed in the ground-floor window; they ran to the
sideboard, stuffed their mouths full, made aprons of their tunics, and
filled them with fruit, meats, and cakes; lapped the cream that they
could not carry away; dug their fingers into jars of preserves, and took
refuge finally in the attic, to eat at their ease what they had filched.

While the little peasants were regaling themselves, Raymond was scouring
the whole estate to find his Cupids. As he came out of the theatre,
after a vain search, he met Monsieur de Marsan, who was looking for his
wife, the company being surprised at her continued absence.

"Have you found them?" inquired Raymond.

"I don't know where she is; people are asking for her; ordinarily, I am
not called upon to interfere in anything."

"Whom are you talking about?"

"My wife, who is not here to do the honors of the fête."

"Parbleu! Madame de Marsan can't be lost; she'll turn up; but my two
Cupids--I am more anxious about them; for I must give them back to their
mother, who is not Venus; and she'll break one of her little pitchers
over my head if her brats are not found. Let us search the gardens
together; the little rascals must be somewhere here."

Monsieur de Marsan followed Raymond, hoping to find his wife rather than
the two little fugitives. They walked through part of the garden, and
Monsieur de Marsan proposed to return to his guests, feeling sure that
his wife must be with them; but Raymond detained him, telling him that
he, Marsan, was responsible for the Cupids, as they were lost on his
premises. They drew near the swing, which was close to the clump of
trees where I was playing my scene with Madame de Marsan.

"They are over in this direction," said Raymond; "I hear the swing
moving; I was sure that my little blackguards were amusing themselves."

They reached the swing, but saw nothing.

"There's no one here, you see," said Monsieur de Marsan.

"It's strange," said Raymond; "I still hear the same noise. Why--it's in
this direction--in the thicket! What the devil are they doing there?"

Monsieur de Marsan went forward; Raymond followed him. The moon at that
moment was much too bright! we were petrified.

"It's Almaviva and Rosine!" said Raymond, jumping back. Monsieur de
Marsan alone retained his presence of mind.

"Madame," he said, calmly addressing his wife, "your guests are asking
for you; you are needed for the festivities; you must try to arrange
your business and your pleasures so that they will not interfere with
each other."

With that, he coolly turned on his heel and returned to the house.
Madame de Marsan had fainted; Raymond stood like a statue. I rushed from
the thicket, pushing him roughly aside, in an instant was at the
courtyard, then on the Paris road, and reached the capital at two in the
morning.



XXVI

WHERE WILL IT END?


After the adventure of the thicket, it was impossible for me to go again
to Madame de Marsan's house, or to see her in public. So that we were
obliged to cover our liaison with a veil of mystery. With many women
that fact would have simply added to the charm; but I was afraid that
with Madame de Marsan, who loved to be surrounded by adorers and by
admiring homage, the impossibility of gratifying her vanity by her
conquest of me would speedily abate her love. If we no longer met at her
house, it was solely out of respect for the proprieties; for, as Raymond
had witnessed the catastrophe, I had no doubt that it was known to
everybody.

What surprised me most was that I had not seen him since that memorable
evening: a week had passed, and I had not even met him on the stairs;
doubtless he dreaded my wrath. He evidently kept out of sight when he
heard me coming; for as we lived on the same landing and both went in
and out several times during the day, we did not usually pass two days
without meeting.

Madame de Marsan and I were in regular correspondence; we made
appointments, we went into the country together, and sat in closed boxes
at the theatre. I enjoyed her society more, seeing her only _en
tête-à-tête_. There was no longer between us that swarm of young dandies
who were constantly fluttering about her, and whose presence was far
from agreeable to me; when we were alone, she could not play the
coquette so successfully and amuse herself by tormenting me. So that,
for my part, I was not at all sorry that we met as we did, but I was
very much afraid that it was not the same with her. Already our
correspondence was beginning to drag, our assignations were becoming
less frequent; she constantly found something to prevent her meeting me:
a reception, a ball, some festivity which she could not possibly avoid
attending. I had no faith in her excuses, because I knew that her
husband left her entirely at liberty to do as she chose. If she refused
to keep an appointment with me, it was because she preferred to create a
sensation at a ball or a concert; in a word, to make conquests, to
surround herself with admirers and attentions, rather than to be alone
with me. The conclusion to be drawn from that state of affairs was very
simple: Madame de Marsan did not love me, had never loved me. She had
smiled upon me solely from caprice; had given me hopes from coquetry;
had yielded by chance; and would leave me because she was bored.

One morning, opening my door suddenly, I saw Raymond going downstairs
and caught him by his coat tail.

"Great heaven! I thought you were dead, Monsieur Raymond!" said I.

"Good-morning, my dear neighbor! It's a fact--I haven't seen you since
the _Barbier de Séville_."

"That is true; and I counted upon you to tell me how the festivities
came to an end."

"Oh! you must have heard all about it from----"

"From whom?"

"You know whom I mean. To tell the truth, I was afraid you were angry
with me."

"Why so?"

"Because I took her husband to the thicket."

"Aha! so it was you who brought him there, was it?"

"That is to say, it was I and it wasn't. He was looking for his wife,
and I was looking for the Cupids, who were giving themselves indigestion
in the attic; the little rascals nearly burst, and their mother declared
it was my fault and wanted to tear my eyes out! I was in hard luck at
that party!--But to return to your adventure--if you had let me into the
secret of your liaison with Madame de Marsan, it wouldn't have happened;
on the contrary, I would have induced the husband to abandon the idea of
looking for his wife! But there, as I am always saying to you, you won't
ever tell me anything! your reticence leads to surprises! in fact, you
are responsible for my having to give up going to Monsieur de Marsan's."

"Why so?"

"Why so! it's easy enough to see: the wife, knowing what--what I saw,
receives me very coldly; and the husband's another oddity. I wished to
try to arrange matters; it was no easy task, but still, as it was
night, and moonlight--and then, with a shrewd wit one can make anything
look all right."

"Well?"

"Well, when you had gone, I tried first to help Madame de Marsan, who
had fainted, as I thought; but the moment I put my salts to her nose,
she got up without help, threw the salts into my face, and ran off and
locked herself in her room. When I saw that, I said to myself: 'I must
go to the husband and throw dust in his eyes.'--I went to the salon, and
motioned to Monsieur de Marsan to step out to speak to me; at first he
was unwilling to leave the écarté table, but he finally made up his mind
to it. I led him into a corner and said: 'Monsieur, you mustn't believe
all you see, especially by moonlight, because the moon changes the
aspect of things, and you may be misled. The scene they were rehearsing
in the thicket was of my invention, and was to be played after the
_Barbier_: it was a love scene, and in love scenes the actors sit very
near together, on each other's knees sometimes, take hold of hands,
embrace--in fact, the more things they do, the more complete the
illusion.'--That was rather clever, eh?"

"Very clever; and what reply did Monsieur de Marsan make?"

"He hardly let me finish; then he said in a very sharp tone: 'Be good
enough not to weary me with any more of your nonsense, and never to open
your mouth again on that subject!'--And, with that, he turned on his
heel. Faith! I confess that I call that very ill-mannered! I try to give
a husband the matrimonial prism, and he receives me like a dog in a game
of tenpins! you must agree that it was not very pleasant. To cap the
climax, a moment later up comes the dairywoman with her two brats, who
were purple in the face; they had just been found in an attic; and the
impudent peasant began to abuse me, and promised me that, if they burst,
her husband would summon me before the magistrate! As if it was my
fault! Why, I told them to act the part of Cupid, not to stuff
themselves with food!--Faith! when it came to that, I took my hat, and
taking advantage of Figaro's cabriolet--he was driving back to Paris--I
turned my back on the fête, vowing that I would never again compose
anacreontic scenes for peasants."

My neighbor left me when he had finished his story. Despite the
assurance that I had given him that I harbored no resentment against him
on account of that incident, he seemed to me to retain in my presence a
constrained, embarrassed air which was not usual with him. He had left
me, whereas ordinarily I had hard work to get rid of him. I sought in
vain a reason for this behavior, which was not natural in Raymond.
However, it mattered little to me what maggot he had in his brain; it
surprised me more than it interested me.

There was something that surprised and troubled me much more: for a long
time I had received no bouquets from Nicette. At first, I thought that
her mother's death might have kept her busy for some days; but that had
taken place more than six weeks before, and still I found nothing at my
door! I had become so accustomed to those tokens of remembrance, that
every evening, when I went home, I hastily put my hand to the doorknob;
but I found nothing, and I said to myself sadly:

"She too has forgotten me! I might reproach her, but I do not want her
to do from a sense of duty what I had thought was a pleasure to her."

It was a long time since I had seen her; I woke too late in the morning;
in the evening, I was either with Madame de Marsan, or some friend would
drag me away to one of the parties which began to be more numerous with
the approach of winter. Besides, I knew how dangerous it was to go to
see her in the evening!--Meanwhile, my meetings with Madame de Marsan
were daily becoming less frequent and more depressing; she was simply
waiting for an excuse to break with me altogether; and I, from a spirit
of contradiction, refused to furnish her with one.

For several days we had not met; but we had arranged to dine together on
a certain day; it was almost like granting me a favor. We dined at the
Cadran-Bleu; the sight of the Méridien, just opposite, reminded me of
the much livelier repast of which I had partaken with Mademoiselle
Agathe; and I said to myself that the grisette, who deceives one openly,
is a hundred times preferable to the _petite-maîtresse_ who clings to us
when she does not love us. The dinner was a gloomy affair, despite my
efforts to prolong it; at seven o'clock we had nothing more to say to
each other. I suggested the theatre, but there was no play that
attracted her; it was not the season for walking, and I did not know
what to suggest, or how to amuse her. At last she began to complain of
pain in the stomach and head, of the vapors, in short. She decided to go
home and to bed early, and I applauded the idea, which was a great
relief to us both. We left the restaurant; I was going to take her home
in a cab, as usual, but she preferred to go on foot, thinking that the
walk in the fresh air would do her good. It was dark, and we had no fear
of unpleasant meetings. We walked along like a husband and wife of
twenty years' standing, exchanging a word every five minutes. We
reached Rue Saint-Honoré and should soon pass Nicette's little shop; but
it would surely be closed, and I was very glad of it. As we drew near I
saw that the shop was still open; the shrubs had not been taken inside.
It was too late to turn back. Indeed, why should I turn back? Was I not
at liberty to give my arm to whomever I chose? Yes; but still I hoped
that she would not see me.

We reached the shop; Nicette was at her door; she saw me, and by some
inexplicable whim Madame de Marsan chose to stop to examine her flowers.

"Here's a lovely orange tree," she said; "for a long time I have wanted
one in my boudoir; I like this one very much; don't you think it
pretty?"

"Yes, madame, very pretty."

I was embarrassed; I kept my eyes on the ground, avoiding Nicette's.

"I am afraid it's too large, though," continued Madame de Marsan. "Have
you any others, my girl?--Well! why don't you answer?"

Nicette did not hear her; she had her eyes fixed on me, and doubtless
her expression was very eloquent, for Madame de Marsan, greatly
surprised, scrutinized her closely; her pretty face, her confusion, my
emotion, my embarrassed manner, aroused in Madame de Marsan's mind
suspicions, which undoubtedly went beyond the truth. Women divine very
swiftly, and their imagination travels fast. Madame de Marsan no longer
loved me, but she had the curiosity which no woman ever loses on that
subject, and, in pure deviltry, she pretended to be very fond of me.

She entered the shop, leaning nonchalantly on my arm; she bestowed an
amorous glance on me and addressed me in the familiar second person,
which she had not done twenty times at the very outset of our liaison.

"What do you think of these trees, my dear fellow? tell me which you
like, my dear Dorsan; I want to choose the one you like best."

Vexation and anger were suffocating me; I was hardly able to stammer a
few disjointed words. I glanced at Nicette; I saw her turn pale and
stagger; her eyes filled with tears; they seemed to say to me:

"She loves you! do you love her?"

Madame de Marsan saw it all; she smiled maliciously and watched Nicette
closely.

"What's the matter with you, child?" she asked, in a contemptuous tone;
"you seem very much excited."

"Nothing, madame, nothing's the matter," the poor girl replied, in a
trembling voice, looking at Madame de Marsan and at me in turn.

"What's the price of this orange tree?"

"It's--it's--whatever you choose to give, madame; I don't care."

"What's that? you don't care? That's a strange answer!--What do you
think, my dear Dorsan? Come, answer; I don't know what's the matter with
you to-night, really!"

"When you are ready, madame, we will go."

"Ah! I see, monsieur; you have reasons for not wanting to stay in this
place with me; my presence embarrasses you--and seems to grieve
mademoiselle! Ha! ha! this is too good! to grieve this poor child!--that
would be cruel beyond words! Come, monsieur, when you choose. But, I beg
you, don't leave her in despair.--Adieu, my girl!"

She left the shop at last, and I followed her after glancing at Nicette.
But she was crying and did not look at me.

When we were in the street, Madame de Marsan laughed as if she would
die, and joked me about my amours and about the innocent flower girl. I
made no reply, although I might have made some very mortifying remarks;
we must be indulgent to the woman who has been weak for our sake. I left
her at her door. I was in great haste to see Nicette again; I was
determined now to tell her all my thoughts, all my sentiments; I
proposed to conceal from her no longer the genuine passion which she had
inspired, and which I had fought against to no purpose. She shared it; I
could not doubt that. We would be happy together; yes, I would abandon
myself thenceforth to the dictates of my heart, which told me that I
must possess Nicette. The friendship between us was simply a pretext to
conceal our love; we could not misunderstand each other! Why those
fruitless efforts to overcome the sentiment that drew us toward each
other? Why should cold prudence deprive us of happiness? Is love a
crime, pray? and can that which makes us so happy make us guilty?

I ran, I flew--at last I stood before her shop; it was closed, and I
could see no light within. I knocked: there was no reply. Was she
asleep? No, no; I was sure that she would not be able to sleep. I
knocked again--no reply! Where could she be? I passed an hour in front
of her shop. I knocked again, but to no purpose. I was convinced that
she was inside, but that she was determined not to admit me, that she
was weeping and did not wish me to see her tears. Perhaps she feared
that I would reproach her for her conduct before Madame de Marsan. Dear
Nicette! Far be it from me to reprove your love.

"I will see her to-morrow," I thought; "I will console her, and I shall
easily triumph over the resolutions of the night! Since it must be, I
will wait till to-morrow."



XXVII

MY STAR PURSUES ME


I did not sleep; my mind was too disturbed, my heart too agitated for me
to obtain any rest. All night long I formed plans, prudent, extravagant,
and delicious. Nicette was always included in those charming visions of
the future, which my imagination conceived so readily; I transformed her
into a shepherdess, a great lady, a _demoiselle_; she and I were
together in a palace, in a village, in a desert; but, wherever we were,
we were happy. Ah! how sweet it is to dream waking dreams when one loves
and believes one's self to be loved in return!

I rose at daybreak; I had twenty schemes in my head, and, as usual, I
could not decide upon any one. First of all, I must see Nicette; that
was the most important thing. My toilet was soon completed; I was sure
that I always looked well to her.

I left my room; everybody was still asleep in the house, unless there
was somebody who was very much in love. Madame Dupont, who had ceased to
be amorous, kept me waiting a century before she pulled the cord of the
porte cochère; at last she heard me knocking and shouting at her window,
and I was free.

In less than five minutes I was in front of the shop; it was still
closed. I was surprised; Nicette was usually such an early bird.

Should I wait? should I knock? I stood hesitating in the street, when a
messenger passed. It was the same one I had questioned some time before;
he recognized me, touched his hat as he passed, and took his seat some
twenty yards away. I walked toward him, with no definite idea what I was
going to do. The messenger, who was pleased with my conduct on the
former occasion, hastened to offer me his services.

"I have nothing for you to do, my friend," I said, in a decidedly dismal
tone, mechanically putting a five-franc piece in his hand.

He stared at me in amazement, and waited for me to speak before he
ventured to put the coin in his pocket. I looked toward Nicette's shop
and pointed at it.

"That flower girl is rather late about opening, it seems to me," I said.

"Oh! it's early yet; but still, she's been a bit lazylike for some time.
Well, well! it isn't surprising!"

"Why so?"

"When a woman gets love into her head!"

"How do you know? Who told you she was in love?"

"Oh! a man don't have to be very sharp to see that kind of thing! you
see, I've been on this square twenty year, so I ought to know pretty
well what's going on in the quarter."

"What do you know about this girl? What have you seen? Answer, and keep
nothing back. Here, take this."

I felt in my pocket again and put more silver in the messenger's hand,
whereat his amazement redoubled and he looked into my face for symptoms
of insanity.

"You told me that this girl was virtuous and honest, and that she did
not speak to anybody, because she preferred not to."

"That's true, monsieur, that's true. She's honest enough still; but when
a girl's young, she may take a liking for someone, and----"

"Explain yourself more clearly! What makes you think that?"

"Pardi, monsieur! because I see the fellow come to see her."

So Nicette had deceived me! Nicette did not love me! No, I could not
believe it. I determined to question the man further. I leaned against
the post that adjoined his stone bench; I needed support, for I trembled
at the thought of finding my misery confirmed.

"You say that you see someone come to her shop?"

"Yes, monsieur."

"Since when?"

"Why, it was about three weeks ago that the man came prowling around
here; at first he came in the morning, to buy flowers; then he came at
night, just at dusk, and talked a little; then he stayed longer; and
it's got so now that he comes almost every night and talks an hour or
two with the pretty little flower girl. But I think everything's all
straight as yet; the shop door's always open, and unless they meet
somewhere else, which is possible enough, for women are sly, and it
ain't safe to trust to virtuous airs!----"

"What does he look like?"

"Well, he ain't exactly a young man, perhaps about forty years old; nor
he ain't very handsome, either; but as to his get-up, he's one of your
sort, a man who looks as if he was somebody! And you can see that the
little flower girl, who put on airs with us poor folks, might have been
flattered to make the conquest of a swell; that's probably what caught
her!"

"And he comes every night?"

"Yes, monsieur, pretty near; he don't hardly ever miss a night now."

"That's enough."

I strode away from the messenger; the poor fellow had unsuspectingly
torn my heart; at the very moment that I proposed to abandon myself
without reserve to my love for Nicette; to turn my back on society of
which I was weary, so that I might live with her and for her--at that
moment, I lost her thus! She loved another, and I believed myself to be
sure of her love! With that sweet delusion vanished the blissful future
of my waking dreams that morning.

I was still in the street; I could not go away. At last the shop opened;
Nicette appeared; she was pale and downcast; but I had never seen her
when she was so pretty, I had never been so deeply in love with her.

The little traitor--with that innocent air! Alas! had I the right to
complain? had she given me her troth? had I told her that I loved
her?--But was it necessary to tell her so? It seemed to me that we
understood each other so perfectly. We had both been deceived!

Should I speak to her? Of what use was it now? what could I say to her
that would interest her? No; I would not see her or speak to her again;
I would forget her!

I do not know how it happened; but, with the firm intention to avoid
her, I had walked toward her; and I found myself in front of her shop,
where I stopped, in spite of myself.

She came to meet me with an air of constraint; her eyes were red, as if
she had wept much; what could be the cause of her distress? I did not
know what to say, and I stood mute in front of her; she too was
thoughtful.--And this was the interview in which the confidence and
unreserve of love were to reign supreme!--Poor mortals! our plans are
drawn on the sand.

"I came last night," I said at last, in a tone which I strove to render
cold.

"Last night--yes, I saw you, with--with that lady."

"No, I mean a few minutes later--I came back and knocked."

"I was not here."

"I thought you never went out."

"I went out last night."

"You might have been at home, and have preferred not to let me in."

"Why so, monsieur?"

"Sometimes a person doesn't like to be disturbed when she has company."

"Company!"

"Yes, you understand me perfectly well; will you tell me again that you
have no visitors? For the last three weeks, hasn't a gentleman come to
see you--almost every evening?"

She was embarrassed, she blushed. The messenger had not deceived me.

"Well, mademoiselle, you don't answer. Is it the truth?"

"Yes, monsieur, it's the truth."

She admitted it! ah! I would have liked to have her deny it, I should
have been so happy to believe her!--Further doubt was impossible! there
was no more hope for me! I must go. I cast a last glance at her and
left the shop abruptly, for I did not choose to let her see the
suffering she caused me. She made a movement to detain me, then paused
in her doorway, contenting herself with looking after me.

I resolved to think no more of her; she was no better than the rest!--In
truth, I was unlucky in love! I had never yet fallen in with a faithful
woman; they had all deceived me, betrayed me, played fast and loose with
me; but all their perfidies had caused me less pain than I suffered
because of Nicette's inconstancy! She saw that I loved her; all women
see that at a glance! She did everything to attract me! To think that
one so young should be so skilled in feigning love and sensibility and
gratitude! I could never again believe in anything or anybody.

But, before forgetting her entirely, I proposed to see the man who had
replaced me in her heart, the man who had beguiled her, whom she loved!
What a lucky dog he was! At that moment I would have given all that I
possessed to be loved by Nicette.

I had been told that he went to see her every evening; I would see him
that very day. There was a café almost opposite the shop, where I could
wait unobserved, for I did not choose that the ungrateful girl should
witness all the torments of my feeble heart.

I passed the day as best I could, and at five o'clock I betook myself to
Rue Saint-Honoré. When I came in sight of her shop, I looked to see if
she was in the doorway. She was not there, and I slipped into the café
unseen by her. I took my seat at a table that touched the window, and
ordered a half-bowl of punch, because it would naturally take me some
time to drink it. The waiter made me repeat my order; no doubt he took
me for an Englishman or a Fleming; but I cared little. I took up a
newspaper to keep myself in countenance, and kept my eyes fixed on the
flower shop.

The time seems very long when one anticipates a pleasure, and still
longer when one is suffering and in dread. Would the darkness never
come! It was October, and should have been dark at six o'clock. Could it
be that it was not yet six? I looked at the clock; it marked only
half-past five; it was probably slow. I looked at my watch; twenty-five
minutes past five! It was cruel! I tried to drink the punch that was
before me, but it was impossible for me to swallow; I had not dined, but
I had been suffocating since the morning.

At last the daylight faded. How was I to see what happened inside the
shop? how was I to distinguish that man's features? I hoped that she
would have a light. Sure enough, she came out with a light and began to
carry in her flowers. What sadness, what depression in her whole aspect!
She seated herself in the shop, beside the table, but she did not write!
She sighed and glanced often into the street. She was expecting
someone--and it was not I!

It was almost seven o'clock, and no one had appeared. Suppose he should
not come? Should I be any happier then? Had she not agreed that morning
that I knew the truth? And had her blush, her embarrassment, told me
nothing?

A man appeared and entered the shop; he sat down beside her. Great God!
did not my eyes deceive me? It was Raymond! Raymond with Nicette!
Raymond her lover! No, no; that was impossible!

I rushed out of the café to make sure of the truth. Someone ran after me
and stopped me. It was the waiter; I had forgotten to pay. I did not
understand very well what he said, but I put three francs in his hand
and he left me. The darkness allowed me to remain in the street unseen
by Nicette, while I could see her plainly. It was in very truth Raymond
whom I had seen, whom I saw. He was talking to her very earnestly, and
she listened with attention. I read in her eyes the interest she took in
what he was saying; she seemed more distressed than ever, she wept. He
took her hand and squeezed it tenderly! She did not withdraw it! That
lovely hand abandoned to Raymond! Ah! it was all over, I could no longer
doubt my misfortune. I felt that I must fly while I still had strength
to do so, and must never see her again! If only I could at the same time
banish her image from my thoughts! But the idea that she loved Raymond
crushed me, haunted me incessantly! So it was for Raymond's benefit that
I had preserved intact that flower which it would have been so sweet to
me to pluck! I respected her innocence, and this was my reward!

If some respectable young man, of obscure station like herself, had won
her heart while seeking her hand, I might perhaps have consoled myself;
at all events, I should have been proud of having kept her pure and
worthy of his vows. But that such a fellow as Raymond should triumph
over Nicette! By what spell could he have fascinated her? He was neither
young nor handsome; he was a stupid, vain, chattering bore! If there was
anything lovable about him, I had never discovered it! And that was the
man she preferred to me! Oh! these women!

I was no longer surprised at the embarrassment I had observed in
Raymond's manner when we last met. The traitor! so that was why he
avoided me. The fellow was my evil genius, in very truth! He knew that
I knew Nicette; he knew, perhaps, that I loved her. If I had listened to
nothing but my rage, I should have gone to him and insulted him. But how
can one obtain satisfaction from a dastard? and would his death make
Nicette what I formerly believed her to be? I would despise one and
forget the other; that was the only course for me to pursue.

Once more I sought in repose oblivion of my suffering. What a different
night from the last! Last night, forming delightful plans based upon
love and constancy; to-night, cursing that sentiment and the woman who
had inspired it! If the weariness caused by such tempests of emotion
made me doze for a moment, my first thought, on reopening my eyes, was
of all my blasted hopes.

When I was dressed, I could not resist the longing to talk with Raymond.
I promised myself to retain my self-control, to hold myself in check,
and to conceal the state of my heart. I hastened across the landing and
knocked and rang at his door. The concierge knew that he was at home; he
was not in the habit of rising early; still he did not open the door. I
rang again, and that time the bellrope remained in my hand. I heard
sounds at last; I recognized his heavy tread, and soon his nasal tones
greeted my ears.

"Who is it making such a row at my door before seven o'clock? It's
outrageous to wake a man up like this!"

"It's I, neighbor; it's I, Dorsan; I want to talk with you."

For some seconds he did not reply, and when he did I knew by his voice
that he was not gratified by my call.

"What! is it you, my dear neighbor?"

"Yes, it's I."

"What brings you here so early?"

"You shall learn; but first let me in; I don't like to talk through a
door."

"I beg your pardon--you see, I'm in my nightshirt."

"Bah! what difference does it make to me, whether you're in your
nightshirt, or naked, or fully dressed? I have no desire to examine your
person. Open the door! then you can go back to bed; that won't interfere
with my talking to you."

"You see, I passed most of the night writing birthday rhymes; and I am
still sleepy."

"Oh! morbleu! Monsieur Raymond, open the door, or I'll break it down!"

The tone in which I uttered the last words indicated a purpose to carry
out my threat. He did not wait for me to repeat it, but opened the door,
and, running back through his little reception room, jumped into bed,
where he wrapped himself up in the bedclothes, leaving nothing exposed
but his nose and his great eyes, which he turned from side to side with
an air of uneasiness, not venturing to look at me. I followed; the first
thing I saw on entering his bedroom was a dozen or more bunches of
orange blossoms, like those Nicette used to leave at my door; they were
symmetrically arranged on my neighbor's dressing table. That sight tore
my heart, but I had promised myself to be philosophical, so I sat down
beside Raymond's bed and tried to speak very calmly.

"How are you this morning, Monsieur Raymond?"

He gazed at me in amazement.

"Was it to inquire about my health that you broke my bellrope and
threatened to break down my door?"

"Oh! you must know that that was a joke! I had a question I wanted to
ask you.--You have some very pretty bouquets there; it seems that you
too are fond of orange blossoms?"

"Yes, yes; I like their odor very much; it's good for the nerves, and I
am very nervous, you know."

"There's a bond of sympathy between us, for these bouquets bear a
surprising resemblance to those that adorn my bedroom--and for which you
once expressed your admiration."

"Yes, that's true; indeed, I remember now that that was what gave me the
idea of having some myself."

"And are your flower dealer and mine the same?"

He did not know what to say, and his head disappeared for a moment under
the bedclothes.

"Well, neighbor?"

"Oh! I haven't any regular flower dealer; I go sometimes to one,
sometimes to another."

"Come, come, Monsieur Raymond, why fence with me; is this the confidence
of which you claim to set me an example? Are you afraid of making me
angry? Don't be afraid; I ceased to think about little Nicette a long
while ago."

At that, he took his whole head out from beneath the bedclothes, and
looked at me with a surprised and pleased expression.

"What! do you mean it? you have ceased to think about the little flower
girl?"

"I never thought about her!"

"Well! do you know, I almost suspected as much! Besides, we have Madame
de Marsan, who must occupy a good deal of our attention!"

"Never mind Madame de Marsan; tell me about your intrigue with Nicette."

"Oh! it isn't a long story! I confess that I am madly in love with her!
You know how pretty she is!"

"A saucy face!"

"The deuce! saucy! you call her saucy! you are hard to please."

"Well?"

"I go to make love to her almost every night. At first she was a little
inclined to be wild; but I was so skilful at wheedling her, that now she
can't get along without me, and I am sure that she adores me."

"Has she told you so?"

"Almost; besides, those things don't need to be told; they can be seen.
I know women so well!"

"You are more fortunate than I. So you have triumphed?"

"Not altogether as yet; but it won't be long, I am getting ahead very
fast. Look you, with women, just be assiduous, persistent, and
agreeable, and you can be sure of victory! Oh! I'm a crafty dog, I am, a
finished roué! A man must be that, to please the women. Sentiment,
sighs, tender words, those were all right once; nowadays, at the first
meeting, you inflame; at the second, you toy; at the third, you take a
kiss--pinch the knee, squeeze her, and she is yours."

I could not restrain an angry movement.

"And this is the man she loves!" I said, rising abruptly.

Raymond, terrified by my action, had buried himself anew under the
bedclothes.

"Do you still have nervous paroxysms?" he cried, without showing his
face.

"No, no, I'm all right. Adieu, Monsieur Raymond! be happy; and, above
all things, make Nicette happy."

With that, I left him, returned to my own room, and locked the door.
There I could at least give free vent to the passions which agitated me,
and which I had had the strength to restrain in Raymond's presence. My
heart was torn by love, jealousy, anger, and the most profound
melancholy in turn. I tried to regain my self-control and to overcome a
weakness at which I blushed; then I went out. For a week I courted the
distractions of society and abandoned myself to what men call pleasure.
But those things that once attracted me no longer had the slightest
charm for me. I went to the theatre, to balls, concerts, the most
brilliant parties; everywhere I was bored and discontented; wherever I
went, I carried in the depths of my heart a melancholy, a depression
which I could not overcome.

I was always delighted to go home; I was happier there; I sought new
suffering in my memories; but that very suffering had a charm for me
which I failed to find in society. But if I wished to forget _her_, I
must needs leave those lodgings. How could I fail to think of her in
that room, on that bed where she had slept! everything there reminded me
of her and fed my love for her. I felt that I must go away; that I must
leave Paris, where life had become unendurable to me. Distance, change
of scene, and time, which, they say, triumphs over everything,--those
were the remedies with which I must treat the insane passion that held
sway in my heart. I would go to see my sister; she had ceased to expect
me, but she would be none the less glad to see me; at all events, I
should find there people who loved me. It seemed to me that that would
do me good. My preparations were soon made. I locked the door of my
lodgings, which I retained, although I was resolved never to occupy them
again. I forbade Madame Dupont to let anyone enter except herself; she
was to take care of them. I paid two quarters' rent in advance, and
started for my sister's.



XXVIII

LIFE IN THE PROVINCES


I arrived in due time at the country estate where my sister ordinarily
passed the whole year. From a distance I saw that the window shutters
were closed. Could they be travelling? She surely would have written me.
I rang the bell at the gateway; the gardener admitted me and informed me
that Monsieur and Madame Déneterre had gone to Melun for the winter, and
that they came into the country on fine Sundays only. As the city was
only two or three miles distant, I set out on foot. It was beginning to
be dark, but there was a moon. On the way, I tried to imagine what had
induced my dear relations to change their mode of life. They used never
to leave their country house; but they had been married a number of
years, and they probably were beginning to find that they had not so
much to say to each other. Then the winter evenings seemed long to them,
I supposed, so it occurred to them to try passing them in town. That is
the way such fine plans for the future always end! Is there anything on
earth that is beyond the reach of the effects of time?

I came in sight of the first houses of Melun, a pretty little town,
where I used to enjoy myself immensely in the old days; I should surely
find it delightful, now that Paris was unendurable to me. This much was
certain, that change of scene necessarily causes distraction, and
distraction is the very best remedy for pains of the heart and mind.
Besides, I was no Werther; I had no inclination to nourish my love and
my sorrow in dense forests, or on the brink of a precipice. On the
contrary, I was trying to cure myself; that is the most sensible course;
less romantic, it is true, but more in accordance with nature; and I am
all for the natural.

I inquired my sister's address. I walked through a part of the town,
which would be its Faubourg Saint-Germain, and I soon found the
Déneterre mansion. In the provinces a family generally occupies a whole
house, whereas in Paris three families often live on the same floor. I
confess that it is pleasanter to be alone in your house, to be able to
do whatever you choose without fear of annoying your neighbors, to be
spared the necessity of meeting repulsive faces, insolent servants, and
snarling children on the stairs, to find no marks of a dog or cat on
your doormat, when for cleanliness' sake you keep no animals yourself;
and lastly, to be able to dismiss your concierge when he is
disrespectful, whereas in Paris you must bribe him, no matter how
insolent he may be, at the risk of passing the night in the street or at
the police station, because, in the company of your friends, you have
forgotten to keep watch of the time. These are some notable advantages
of the provinces over the capital.

My sister uttered a cry of surprise and delight when she saw me; she
threw her arms round my neck and kissed me.

"Is it really you, dear Eugène?" she said. "In truth, I didn't expect to
see you before next spring. Ah! it's very sweet of you to remember your
best friends at last."

I did not tell her that nothing but the desire to avoid Nicette had
driven me from Paris; there was no need of that; besides, I preferred to
be spared the comments of my dear Amélie, who was something of a gossip,
which one is sure to be when one lives in the provinces, where there is
not enough to do to keep people from meddling with their neighbors'
affairs.

My sister sent for her husband, who had gone to play billiards with some
friends.

"So he no longer passes all his evenings at home?" I asked Amélie.

"Oh! my dear, the evenings are very long in winter, and one must do
something. In the provinces, gambling is the general rule; one must
needs conform to it and do as others do."

"That is true; it is what I have always thought, and what I told you at
the time of your marriage, when you were laying out a scheme of life
which resembled nothing ever heard of. You told me that I was a
heedless, foolish fellow, because I laughed at your plans of seclusion,
and of the happiness you were to enjoy in solitude; and now you have
abandoned that solitude!"

"Oh! only for the winter; for in winter the country is very dismal; you
see nobody, you can't walk or drive. Everybody flocks to the town, where
they give receptions, play cards, dance sometimes--in short, enjoy
themselves. That's why we came. What would you have? we must do as
others do."

"Why, it seems perfectly natural to me. At all events, you are happy,
aren't you?"

"Yes, my dear, very happy! My husband is the best of men; a little
obstinate, to be sure, and not always willing to listen to me when I
prove to him that I am right. The result is that we dispute sometimes;
but that's nothing!"

"Oh, no! besides, we must do as others do, must we not?"

"You haven't kissed my children yet, my two little boys; they are
charming little fellows, perfect demons! But bright! you may judge for
yourself."

"Where are they?"

"They're in bed; it's nearly eight o'clock."

"We mustn't wake them."

"No; you shall see them to-morrow. It's more than a year since you came
to see us--fifteen months at least! They have grown tremendously in that
time! The older one is four now, and the younger three. You can tell us
whom they look like."

Déneterre's appearance interrupted our conversation. My brother-in-law
manifested great pleasure at my arrival; he embraced me with sincere
cordiality, urged me to pass the winter with them at Melun, and I saw in
his eyes that his heart agreed with his lips; I noticed simply that when
he came in he had in his hands a billiard cue, which he stood in a
corner. We talked business and the news of Paris for a moment. Déneterre
was in good spirits; his cotton mill was prosperous, his business was in
excellent shape, he hoped to be able to retire and live on his income in
a few years.

While we were talking, Amélie went in and out, gave orders, had a room
made ready for me, invited me to take something before supper.

"I never take supper," I said.

"You must do it here, my dear; it's one of the customs of the province,
and it's not disagreeable, I assure you."

"All right; I'll take supper when I am hungry."

"Speaking of eating," said Déneterre, "where are the children? Why don't
they come to kiss their uncle?"

"They're in bed, my dear," said Amélie.

"In bed, already! why, that's ridiculous! You put them to bed too
early."

"Their health requires it."

"Boys don't need to sleep so much."

"Boys who run about and play all day must need rest when night comes."

"No matter; I want them to come to kiss their uncle."

"They can do it just as well to-morrow morning."

"To-morrow! to-morrow! that won't be the same thing at all. I'm going to
get them."

"What! wake them up! upon my word! I would like to see you--just to make
them sick."

"You're the one who makes them sick, making them sleep like dormice."

"At this rate, I shan't have anything to say about my own children."

"They are boys; it's my place to train them."

"You don't understand anything about it; besides, it isn't my fault that
they're not girls."

As I saw that the discussion was becoming warm, I made haste to change
the subject by taking the billiard cue and handing it to Déneterre.

"Is this cue yours?"

"Yes; it's a prize cue that I won at pool not long ago."

"Ah! so you play pool, do you?"

"Every night; I am a very good hand at it."

"Very well; go and finish your game. No ceremony between us, you know.
Besides, I am tired and am going to bed."

"Until to-morrow, then," said Déneterre, taking his prize cue eagerly;
"you must join us to-morrow, and you will see what progress I've made
since last year, especially since I have been using a patent cue."

Déneterre left us, and Amélie took me to my room, showing me on the way
a large part of the house, and telling me in detail all that she had
lately had done to it, and the further improvements that she had in
view. I noticed in my sister's conversation something of the tone of the
old gentleman with whom I had dined at Madame de Marsan's country house,
and who dilated so complacently on the details of his barnyard and
hencoop. But I began to understand that the story of the birth of a
chicken and the education of a rabbit might be of great interest to
people who had nothing else to do.

In the course of our conversation, I asked my sister if she often had
disputes with her husband.

"Disputes!" she exclaimed, with a surprised look; "why, we never have
any."

"I thought that just now----"

"Oh! you call that a dispute! why, my dear boy, that was nothing at all;
we have a hundred little arguments like that during the day; but they're
not disputes! You see, when two people live together, it's very hard to
be always of the same opinion."

"I should think that it would be more agreeable."

"But it's impossible! Ah! my dear Eugène, anyone can see that you're a
bachelor! you know nothing at all about married life; but before long I
hope that you will know all the joys of marriage, of which you have no
conception now."

"No; I agree that I have no conception of them."

"Patience, it will come in time. Good-night, dear Eugène; until
to-morrow!"

My sister left me, and I went to bed reflecting on the manner of life of
which Amélie and her husband had just given me a specimen; and yet it
was a delightful household, so everybody said. This much was
certain--that my sister was virtuous, and true to her husband, and that
Déneterre was very fond of his wife and children. Why, then, those
frequent disputes?--I saw that my sister was right: I had undertaken to
argue about conjugal happiness, and I did not know what it was. I
concluded that the best thing I could do was to go to sleep.

The journey had tired me, but the sight of my sister and her husband had
diverted my thoughts from my grief, for all troubles yield at last to
time and to distraction. I fell asleep in a more tranquil frame of mind
than I had known for a long while; and I should doubtless have slept
well into the forenoon, if my dear nephews had not taken it upon
themselves to wake me. At seven o'clock I heard a great noise in my
room; I felt somebody pulling my leg and my arm; I opened my eyes and
saw my sister's two children, who had climbed on my bed and were amusing
themselves by playing tricks and tumbling all over me. While I, still
half asleep, gazed vacantly at them, I heard a roar of laughter behind
me; I drew the curtain aside and discovered Déneterre seated a few feet
from the bed and laughing at my surprise.

"Well!" he said; "here they are; what do you think of them?"

"Why, they are in excellent condition, so far as I can see."

"Aren't they fine boys?"

"Yes, indeed."

"Ah! I'll make hearty little chaps of them, I tell you! They're such
merry, lively rascals!"

"So I see; just tell them not to pinch me so hard. Here's one of them
who won't let go my calf."

"It's only play, my dear fellow. They wake me like this every morning.
Tell me, is there any greater pleasure?"

"Yes, to a father, it must be perfectly charming; but to an uncle, you
see, it hasn't quite the same fascination."

"Parbleu! it rests entirely with you to become acquainted with that
pleasure; marry, and have children; they'll caress you as these little
fellows caress me."

"Oh! I shall do it some day, no doubt."

"Come, my hearties, kiss your uncle and let him dress."

To prove their affection, the "hearties" threw themselves on my stomach,
seized my head, and, while kissing me, rubbed their faces clean and
wiped their noses on my cheeks and nose; they tried to see which would
kiss me the more. I was suffocating, I cried for mercy; their papa was
forced to order them to desist, but they listened to him no more than to
me, and kept on as before. Luckily, my sister arrived and the scene
changed.

"What!" she exclaimed, striding angrily toward her husband; "you brought
the children to their uncle before I had washed and dressed them and
combed their hair?"

"Well! what of that, my dear love? must they be in their Sunday best to
bid their uncle good-morning?"

"It isn't a question of Sunday best; but I should have liked Eugène to
see them first when they were decently clean; and when they have once
begun to play, it isn't possible to keep them looking decent. But you do
everything without consulting me!"

"I assure you, my dear sister, that I consider them very nice as they
are."

"Come, young gentlemen, breakfast is waiting."

The word _breakfast_ caused my little rascals to decamp at once; they
were soon off my bed, and I was able to rise.

It seemed to me that examples of wedded bliss succeeded each other
rather swiftly under my sister's roof. But I was inclined to think that,
if I should marry, I should not take them as patterns in the matter of
bringing up children. But I had arrived only the night before, and it
was fair to wait before forming a final judgment.

I went downstairs and joined the family in the dining room. While we
breakfasted, Amélie and her husband described their daily life to me. In
the morning, business, housekeeping, and a walk when they had any time
to themselves; in the evening, Déneterre went to the café to play pool,
while his wife dressed to go out. Every evening in the week was taken:
Monday, at the notary's, a small and select party. The most notable of
the townspeople met there. There was little card playing, but much
political discussion, and one could learn there the news of all the
cabinets in Europe; the interests of each of the powers were discussed,
and the _Moniteur_ was read aloud. Tuesdays, at the house of a retired
merchant; he was a rich man and entertained handsomely: beer, cake, and
sweetened water flavored with orange. The play was for very high stakes:
boston for six _blancs_, and écarté for five sous; the bets sometimes
went as high as seventy-five centimes! But all games were played there;
whist and boston with great skill. No one called for six tricks unless
he had eight, or stood unless he held an _indépendance_; so that it was
very unusual to see a _remise_ in the course of the evening. Wednesdays,
the evening was spent with the widow of the justice's clerk, who had
four daughters to marry and no money to give them. There they played
innocent games or acted charades or proverbs. In the first place, those
games do not wear out cards, and require fewer candles; in the second
place, the young men soon become well acquainted with the young ladies
while playing such games. They talk and laugh together; and many a
passion has had its birth in crambo, or the little box of _amourettes_.
While whispering a _confidence_, one can easily put in a word of love;
while pretending to sulk, one can say many things! That is the way more
than one marriage is made; and when one has four daughters to look
after, no means should be neglected. However, everything was all right
at the widow's; the games were carried on with the strictest decorum,
and blind-man's-buff seated was prohibited. Thursdays, the meetings were
at an ex-councillor's. Everybody was not received there; only the cream
of society. The guests were forbidden to talk politics, war, affairs of
state, or newspaper rumors. There was no card playing, because that was
a bad example for the young; there was no dancing, because madame la
conseillère, who was old but coquettish, could never obtain a partner;
there were no charades, because they disturb the orderly arrangement of
a salon, and may result in marring the furniture and tearing curtains;
there were no innocent games, because the councillor considered them
indecorous; there were no refreshments, because well-bred people never
need anything of the sort. With these restrictions, one could say and
do whatever one chose, and, of course, enjoy one's self immensely. On
Fridays they met at the house of an elector, whose wife, who was young
and pretty, followed all the fashions of the capital. There you did
whatever you chose; no restraint, no ceremony. Dancing was permitted,
and singing, when anyone desired to sing. Sometimes there was
instrumental music, because there was a piano. All sorts of games were
played, from loto to chess; and you could risk a sou or a louis at your
pleasure. Everybody said what came into his head; they laughed and joked
and talked as they liked; opinions were free; almost all the newspapers
were to be found there, and all sorts of refreshments were provided. It
was after the style of the receptions in the Chaussée d'Antin at Paris.

On Saturdays--ah! that was the day when they all met at my sister's.

"You will see what fun we have," she said to me; "such a noise, such
_go_! You can't hear what anyone says, but we laugh, and everyone tries
to be merrier than the rest. Why, sometimes the time passes so quickly,
that they are still here at half-past ten!"

"Half-past ten in the morning?"

"Why, no! in the evening. Are you mad?"

"Do you call that late?"

"I should say so! the custom is to go home at ten o'clock precisely."

"Great heaven! I am no longer surprised that your children wake you up
at seven o'clock! But on Sundays?"

"Oh! on Sundays we meet at monsieur le maire's. There are always a lot
of people there. He has a billiard table, and, besides that, the young
people dance. You can judge for yourself what fun we have. That, my
dear Eugène, is the way we employ the week. As you see, there is some
new pleasure every day, and we have no time to be bored."

"You have no theatrical performances?"

"Very seldom; but we get along without them."

"No concerts?"

"Why, what about those we give among ourselves? And then, in fine
weather, there are the drives about the neighborhood, which are
beautiful: the little forest of La Rochette, Trois-Moulins, and a
thousand delicious spots. And fishing and hunting, and the news of the
town; the little intrigues that everybody knows about after a week, the
quarrels, the gossip, the comments, the fashions, which we think about
here even more than they do in Paris; and the parties, dinners,
baptisms, weddings; ah! the weddings above all! they give us something
to talk about for a month!--Oh! you'll see, my dear brother, that we
have a much better time in the provinces than they do in Paris."

My sister did not interrupt her enumeration of the pleasures of
provincial life until she saw her husband giving coffee to the little
boys, when a slight discussion ensued.

"Why do you give those children coffee? it won't do them any good."

"Bah!"

"It excites them."

"Bah!"

"And then, they don't sleep at night."

"Bah! bah!"

"Oh! how you tire me with your _bah! bah!_ I tell you, I don't want them
to drink it!"

"Just a drop."

"It makes no difference."

"It's three-fourths milk."

"If there were twice as much, it would make no difference.--Come here,
messieurs, and don't drink any more."

"I want some more!"

"Here, my boy, drink this."

"Will you obey me this minute!"

"Come, come, let them alone."

"No, I don't want them to drink it."

And my sister seized the cup, her husband held fast to it, and the
children squealed. Luckily, between them the cup was broken and the
coffee spilled, which fact put an end to this scene of domestic bliss,
to which I found it difficult to accustom myself. The day was employed
in showing me the town and taking me to see my sister's intimate
acquaintances. I let her take me wherever she wished; I was so
complaisant and docile that she was enchanted. She found me much more
staid and reasonable than at my last visit.

After dinner, Déneterre took me to play a game of pool at his café; then
we went home to get my sister to go to a reception. It was Thursday,
unluckily for me. I had fallen upon the ex-councillor's day, and I saw
none but cold, forbidding faces, and stiff, formal figures. Fortunately,
the guests did not arrive until half-past eight and left at a quarter to
ten, so that the soirée lasted only an hour and a quarter; the first
third was occupied in salutations and reverences, the second in
exchanging commonplaces and nodding the head in assent, and the last in
yawns, concealed with the hand, the handkerchief, or the snuffbox.

The next evening belonged to the elector; it compensated me to some
extent for the boredom of the preceding one. I found there several
pretty women and a little less formality and more merriment. In the
course of a week I ran the whole gamut of receptions and knew the whole
town. I was well received everywhere; I was rich and unmarried: that was
more than was necessary to assure me a warm welcome.

I began to become accustomed to the conjugal discussions, and to the
pranks of my nephews, who were little demons in very truth. I saw that,
taking everything together, my sister and her husband were happy; in the
finest weather of one's life storms may arise; a picture must have
shadows to bring out the lights. Their little quarrels did not prevent
their loving each other, and their children's defects were graces in
their eyes. However, I hoped that, if I ever married, I should have
fewer petty _discussions_ with my wife, and I resolved to bring up my
children in an entirely different way; but perhaps I should have
troubles which my sister and her husband had never known.

I had been in the province a fortnight. I cannot say that I enjoyed
myself exactly, but at least I was not discontented. The novelty of the
life, the original faces that I saw every night, my sister's affection
and her husband's--all these served to divert my thoughts; time produced
its inevitable effect, my melancholy disappeared, and I became what I
used to be. However, I had not entirely forgotten Nicette; I felt that I
still loved her; but when the thought of her came to my mind, I had the
strength to put it aside, and I imposed silence on my heart.

I would have been glad to fall in love anew--were it only a caprice, one
of those flames which used to set me on fire so quickly; perhaps that
would cure me entirely. But long for it as I would, I could not compel
any such feeling! I looked about me; I saw some good-looking women, some
few faces formed to please; but I saw nobody who resembled Nicette.



XXIX

MADEMOISELLE PÉLAGIE.--A SCHEME TO MARRY ME


My sister, who was really a most excellent woman,--due allowance being
made for her tendency to be a little obstinate,--was overjoyed that I
had ceased to speak of returning to Paris. She had no mercy on herself
in her endeavors to procure for me what she called new pleasures every
day. She would have been so delighted to induce me to settle at Melun!
From time to time, she would ask my opinion concerning the young women I
had seen the night before; she would dilate in great detail upon the
virtues, talents, and amiable qualities of each one of them; then she
would extol the pleasures of wedded life, the joy of having children,
which, however, did not prevent her shrieking after her boys the next
moment, and disputing with her husband; but it was understood that those
were among the joys of wedded life. Ah! my dear sister! I saw what you
were driving at! you had gone back to your favorite idea; you were
determined, in short, that I should do as others did, for that was your
constant refrain. And then, to negotiate the marriage of one's brother
is an affair of such vast importance in a small town!--What an
exhaustless source of interviews, confidential communications, visits,
parties, new dresses--and, therefore, of pleasure!

For some time I did not allow myself to be tempted. However, I was
beginning to believe that one might as well do as others do, especially
when one has lost that desire to flutter about the fair sex, that
longing for every pretty woman, which is so natural to young men. There
was only one for whom I had had any longing, for many weeks past--but
she had deceived me, so I must needs forget her as well as the rest.

I had noticed for several days that my sister seemed even more content
than usual; I often saw her whispering with Déneterre, who in the end
always did what she wanted him to. They extolled still more warmly the
joys of wedlock, but they said nothing more about any of the young women
I had already seen; they evidently had some new hope; no doubt, I should
soon learn what was in the wind.

"I shall try to make myself look very nice to-night," said Amélie one
day. "You will go with me, won't you, dear Eugène? It's Madame Lépine's
evening,--she was the elector's wife,--and they say there'll be a good
many people there."

"But I seem to see the same persons every time."

"Ah! there'll be some new faces for you to-night; Madame de
Pontchartrain has returned from her place in the country, and she will
be there."

"Who is this Madame de Pontchartrain?"

"A most respectable person, who has an income of seven thousand francs
and is seventy years old."

Very respectable, no doubt; but I could not see why I should be
especially interested in Madame de Pontchartrain. Doubtless I should
learn the answer to the enigma in the evening.

After dinner madame set about dressing. I had thought that Parisian
women were coquettes, but since I had lived in the provinces I had
learned to do justice to the belles of the capital, who passed two hours
less before their mirrors than the beauties of a small town. Déneterre
went off to play pool, and I walked in the garden while my sister was
dressing; for the first time I was vexed by her slowness; I was in a
hurry to arrive at Madame Lépine's--I, who ordinarily accompanied my
sister solely to oblige her; but one sometimes has presentiments.

My sister was ready at last; Déneterre returned, and we started. We soon
reached our destination; in a small town no two houses are far apart. We
were announced in due form; for in the provinces you may not enter a
salon in good society without being announced. I glanced around at the
guests and saw no unfamiliar faces. I was almost angry; but while Madame
Lépine was arranging the different games, I saw my sister go to her and
heard her say:

"My brother won't play cards to-night; don't count on him for boston or
reversis; he prefers the games."

I had not said anything of the sort to her; what did it mean, that she
took that step without consulting me? I was just on the point of
demanding an explanation, when the servant announced:

"Madame de Pontchartrain and her niece."

Aha! there was a niece! I began to understand. All eyes turned toward
the door; I did like everybody else, and I saw a tall, thin, angular,
yellow-skinned woman, who, despite her age, held herself very erect and
seemed to have retained all the vivacity of youth; that was the aunt;
let us say no more of her, but give our attention to the niece.

A flattering murmur ran about the salon as she entered. In truth, she
was very pretty; of medium height, but well set up; and if she was a
little stiff in her carriage, it was the result of her training. Her
features were regular, complexion rosy, hair very beautiful, and eyes
very large; as for their color, I could not as yet discover it, for she
kept them fixed on the floor.

While Madame Lépine went to meet Madame de Pontchartrain and her niece,
and all the young women whispered together as they scrutinized the
newcomer, in whom they were undoubtedly seeking defects which they would
speedily find,--for women are very skilful in detecting at a glance
anything disadvantageous to their rivals,--I noticed that my sister
looked furtively at me, trying to read in my eyes the impression that
Mademoiselle de Pontchartrain had produced on my heart.

Ah! my poor Amélie! my heart was perfectly calm!--calm, do I say? alas,
no! it was not calm as yet, but it was not that young woman who excited
it. I wished that it were; she was very pretty; she might well attract
any man, and I should have been delighted to love her.

The niece's name was Pélagie; I heard her called so by her aunt, who had
taken her seat at a whist table from which she would not stir until it
was time to go home. She urged her niece to enjoy herself, to be less
shy; Pélagie blushed, and replied very gently:

"Yes, aunt."

The young woman seemed to be the personification of innocence.

Madame Lépine took possession of Mademoiselle Pélagie and led her to the
circle formed for the games. I took my place by her side; I was curious
to make the acquaintance of that young novice. I noticed that all the
other young women watched me when they saw me place my chair beside
Pélagie's; jealousy and spite were blazing in their eyes already! In the
provinces, people are so quick to interpret the slightest action, the
slightest indication of preference! But it mattered little to me what
they thought; I was at liberty to do whatever I chose.

How uncharitable young women are to one another! Those who came
regularly to the receptions enjoyed the bashfulness and embarrassment of
the newcomer, and tried to intensify them by putting the most difficult
questions to her in the games and making her do what was likely to
confuse her most. I detected their petty malice, and I tried to put
Mademoiselle Pélagie more at her ease. Once she attempted to thank me,
and began a sentence the end of which I did not hear; but she raised her
eyes an instant, and I was able to see that they were of a very tender
shade of blue, and sweet in expression.

Madame Lépine, who was a very amiable person and did her best to
entertain her guests, asked Madame de Pontchartrain if her niece was
musical.

"Yes, madame," the old aunt replied; "Pélagie sings, and accompanies
herself on the piano."

Immediately all the young women begged Pélagie to sing them something.
They hoped to find food for criticism. Pélagie demurred very awkwardly;
she glanced at her aunt, who gave her a look which clearly signified
_sing_; whereupon she rose; I escorted her to the piano and offered to
accompany her.

"No, monsieur," she said; "I will play my own accompaniment."

Surely any other woman would have thanked me in a different way; but
Pélagie was innocence itself, and I saw that she had not learned to
embellish her speeches.

She sang us an old ballad in six stanzas. The subject was love; but no
one would have suspected it from listening to Pélagie, who imparted
absolutely no expression to her voice or to the instrument. Any Parisian
girl, even when fresh from her boarding school, would have played and
sung much better than that; she would have rolled her eyes gracefully,
whereas this one did not lift them from the keys; she would have put
some soul into the words of love, whereas this one repeated them as
coldly as possible. The comparison at the first blush seemed unfavorable
to Pélagie; but when I reflected that that which prevented her from
performing more brilliantly proved her innocence and virtue, I
considered that her awkwardness was entirely to her credit.

My sister was enraptured. She saw me sit beside Pélagie, speak to her
often, escort her to the piano, and take her back to her chair. That was
more than was necessary to indicate the birth of love; and, of course,
it would naturally end in marriage.

The party came to an end; everybody took their leave; but Amélie found
an opportunity to present me to the great-aunt, who honored me with an
almost affable glance. As I went downstairs, I found myself beside
Pélagie; I could not do otherwise than offer her my hand. She looked at
her aunt; a glance authorized her to accept, and she held out her hand
as awkwardly as possible. I was careful to touch only the tips of her
fingers; I had fallen in with the manners and customs of the town.
However, the ladies lived only a few steps away; so we soon reached
their house, where we left them after the three conventional bows; I
observed, by the way, that Pélagie was very proficient in the matter of
courtesies.

When we reached home, Amélie turned the conversation upon Mademoiselle
Pélagie; I expected it, and I let her talk with her husband. They vied
with each other in extolling her to the skies.

"She's a charming girl!"

"Upon my word, she's the prettiest girl in Melun!"

"And so perfectly well bred!"

"Wonderfully so! a strict education; but what manners! what decorous
behavior in company!"

"She is innocence personified."

"She's an excellent musician."

"And no one would suspect it, because she makes no pretensions."

"Her aunt has no other heir; she's an excellent match!"

"The man who gets her won't make a bad speculation!"

"And he can be sure of his wife's virtue."

Annoyed by my silence, my sister addressed herself to me at last.

"Well, Eugène, tell us what you think of Mademoiselle de Pontchartrain."

"My dear girl, what do you expect me to add to your eulogies of her?"

"Aren't you of our opinion?"

"Why, yes, pretty nearly."

"Oh! you don't choose to admit it, but I saw well enough that you
thought her pretty."

"Pretty; to be sure she is."

"And well bred."

"As to that, I think so, but----"

"In short, she pleased you, my dear brother?"

"Pleased me! oh! come now! I haven't said anything to prove----"

"But I can't see why it isn't perfectly natural. Surely your lady
friends in Paris can't resemble the charming Pélagie?"

"Resemble her! Oh! as to that, I agree with you absolutely."

Amélie seemed quite content; in vain did I tell her that she was
mistaken; she was persuaded that I was in love with Pélagie. Déneterre
kept repeating that it would be an excellent match; and as I could not
make them stop talking, I adopted the expedient of going to bed.

For several days nothing unusual disturbed the even tenor of life under
my sister's roof. Every evening I went with her to some reception; for
when I attempted to stay behind, she always found some way to make me do
as she wished. So that I saw Mademoiselle Pélagie every evening, for she
accompanied her aunt, who never failed to be on hand for her game of
whist or reversis, which she even played in the morning, with three
dowagers who had done nothing else for fifteen years, and in whose eyes
their game was of such importance that one wept when her king was
trumped, and another fell ill because she had discarded the knave of
hearts.

Pélagie took part in the minor games, but she continued to be as shy and
embarrassed as on the first day I saw her. As she was very pretty, the
other young ladies had no mercy on her. Some of the young lady killers
of the town undertook to make to her the pretty, gallant speeches which
men of wit no longer venture to use, because they are too trite. But the
wit of the dandies of Melun seemed to make no impression on Pélagie's
mind; she listened very coldly to their compliments, and made no other
reply than a low bow. The young men, vexed to produce so little effect,
went elsewhere to play the butterfly. I alone remained true to
Mademoiselle de Pontchartrain, and I alone obtained from her replies not
quite so laconic. To be sure, I paid her no embarrassing compliments,
and placed myself on her level by talking with her of the simplest
subjects. She seemed a little less timid with me; she began to raise her
eyes when she answered me; and twice I fancied that she actually smiled
at me. Decidedly I was a favored mortal.

The novelty of this method of making love amused and distracted me. My
heart was still perfectly tranquil in Pélagie's presence; and yet, since
I had known her I had thought less of Nicette. The young innocent filled
my thoughts, and, while I had no love for her, I liked to be with her;
her pretty face did no harm, but her shyness and her artlessness
attracted me even more.

My sister had ceased to talk about her, but I saw she was well pleased.
The great-aunt treated me very affably; she interrupted her game
sometimes to inquire for my health; which fact indicated the
extraordinary favor with which she regarded me. The young ladies, it
must be said, no longer evinced the same interest in me, manifested much
less pleasure at my arrival, and did not make me pay a forfeit at the
kissing stage of their games; but as I attached no value to the
privilege, I paid no heed to their indifference. The mammas whispered to
one another as they looked at me, while the papas smiled slyly at me;
everything indicated that a great event was expected; I was perhaps the
only one who gave no thought at all to the subject with which the whole
town was agog.

Déneterre was the first to open my eyes.

"When's the wedding to be?" he asked me one evening, rubbing his hands.

"What's that? what wedding?"

"Parbleu! yours!"

"Mine! with whom, pray?"

"With whom! with whom! Ah! you choose to be close-mouthed! But we have
eyes, my dear fellow, and we know what to think."

"But I believe I have eyes, too, and I have seen nothing to imply----"

"Come, come, my dear Eugène," interposed my sister, "why pretend any
longer with us, your best friends? You love Pélagie; what do I say? love
her? you adore her; I am sure of it. The whole town knows it, too; it's
no longer a mystery."

"Oho! the whole town knows that----"

"Yes, my dear. And the young woman has shown her preference for you;
that also is very easy to see: moreover, no one should claim to cut you
out. The aunt considers you a very suitable match; she knew our mother
and she thinks a great deal of our family. When her niece is married,
she will settle three thousand francs a year on her, and leave her the
rest of her property at her death. It seems to me that that is not to be
despised; with what you have now, you will be in comfortable
circumstances, and you will make a charming couple. Tell me, when do you
want me to go to ask for her hand?"

I listened to my sister, and I admit that I was greatly surprised by
what I heard. However, on mature reflection, I realized that my conduct,
which would never have been noticed at Paris, might well, in a small
town, give rise to the conjectures which were relied upon to induce me
to marry Mademoiselle de Pontchartrain.

Amélie and her husband told me so often and so earnestly that I loved
Pélagie, that I began to think that they would end by making me believe
it. And, after all, should I be so badly off if I married that young
innocent? If I was not in love with her, perhaps I should be all the
happier; moreover, I was well aware that I was incapable of a new love;
the most that I could do was to stamp out that which still tormented me
in spite of myself.

Beside the innocent Pélagie, I should pass placid days; she was bashful,
virtuous, well bred; a husband would be able to mould her as he chose.
Friendship, they say, is more durable than love; I would begin with
friendship for my wife, so that I might love her the longer. I should
not be jealous; I should have one less source of torment. I should have
children, whom I would bring up on a very different plan from my
sister's. Finally, having a gentle, guileless, and taciturn wife, we
should have none of those little discussions which Amélie called
conjugal amenities, but which were in my eyes very unpleasant quarrels.

All these reflections produced a state of indecision, which my sister
interpreted in accordance with her favorite idea. Persuaded that I loved
Pélagie secretly, that Pélagie adored me, and that our union would make
me the happiest of husbands and ensure my future peace of mind, Amélie
urged me, harassed me, persecuted me, to induce me to authorize her to
ask for the hand of Mademoiselle de Pontchartrain. At every moment in
the day she drew for me a new picture of the delights of wedded life.
Déneterre did the same; in the first place, to please his wife, and,
secondly, because he thought it would be a good match for me; to cap the
climax, even messieurs my nephews had been taught their lesson, and
every day, as they climbed on my knees or my shoulders, they would say:

"When are you going to invite us to the wedding, uncle?"

I am naturally weak, as you must have noticed; tired of being tormented
from morning till night to marry, I saw that I must either make up my
mind to do it or leave the town, where I was already pointed out as
Mademoiselle de Pontchartrain's future husband.

But if I returned to Paris, what should I do there, tired as I was of
bachelor life, and conscious of a craving to love, to attach myself to
someone, and to detach myself from her whom I had loved so dearly?--No,
I would marry, I would adore my wife if possible, and pray that she
would prove my rock of salvation.

The result of these reflections was that I said one day in response to
my sister's entreaties:

"Do whatever you choose."

Amélie asked no further questions; she threw her arms around me, kissed
me, and, giving me no chance to add a single word, flew to Madame de
Pontchartrain's to sue for Pélagie's hand for her brother. In half an
hour she returned with the answer, which was favorable.

"She gives her to you!" she cried from the foot of the stairs; "she is
yours; everything is agreed upon and settled; to-morrow I will attend to
publishing the banns."

I considered that my sister had been a little too expeditious; it was
impossible now to retract; the request had been made and granted, and I
was bound!--What! I was going to marry Pélagie, whom I hardly knew? It
seemed to me that it must all be a joke; I could not accustom myself to
the idea of being Mademoiselle de Pontchartrain's husband.



XXX

AN INTERVIEW WITH MY INTENDED


After my marriage was decided upon, I received permission to go alone to
Madame de Pontchartrain's to pay court to Pélagie in her aunt's
presence. In the evening, I sometimes escorted the ladies into society
and took them home. It was not infinitely entertaining to me. I began to
be weary of all that etiquette and ceremony, of all those provincial
puerilities; but I determined that, when I was once married, I would go
back to Paris and teach my wife another way to live.

Despite all the efforts my sister made to hasten what she called the
instant of my happiness, I could not become Pélagie's husband in less
than a month; and in that time I hoped to become better acquainted with
my promised bride. To be sure, I saw her every evening; but it was
always in company, playing parlor games, where everybody's eyes were
fastened on us, trying to divine what two people who are to be married
say to each other. Poor dears! in vain did you prick up your ears and
stretch your necks, trying to catch our lightest words; you could not
possibly hear anything to enlighten you upon that subject, because
Mademoiselle Pélagie and I had never spoken of it.

It may seem surprising that a promised husband had not spoken of love
and marriage to her to whom his troth was plighted; but I confess that I
did not care to admit everybody to the secret of my thoughts, and in
company it would have been very hard for me to say anything to Pélagie
which would not be overheard by all the ears that were constantly on the
alert about us. Moreover, how can one discuss an interesting subject
while playing _La Sellette_ or _Monsieur le Curé_? I hoped to be less
constrained with her in the morning, but the aunt was always there;
often, too, some acquaintance came to make a call. I could not see
Pélagie alone for an instant; it was impossible to carry on a connected
conversation with her, and I began to be impatient. It seemed to me very
natural to make the acquaintance of one's wife before marriage; I felt
sorely tempted to consign to the Evil One all that provincial etiquette
which was so utterly devoid of sense. I decided to apply to my sister to
obtain for me an interview with my intended.

"Amélie, I should be very glad to have a little conversation with
Pélagie."

"Well, what prevents you, my dear? don't you see her every morning and
evening, if you choose?"

"Yes, to be sure, I see her in the morning, but always in the presence
of her aunt and three or four old mummies who would deprive the most
impassioned lover of all desire to make love. Besides, Pélagie is very
shy; how can you expect her to describe her sentiments before people?"

"Why, my dear, you ought to divine them easily enough from the hints she
lets fall."

"My dear girl, at the point we have reached I cannot be content with
hints; I want something positive; in short, I want to know what sort of
a person I have to do with."

"But you are allowed to talk freely enough, I should think."

"Ha! ha! that is delicious! but I tell you again, it isn't enough for
me."

"In the evening, you always sit beside her; you can whisper to her and
squeeze her hand."

"My poor Amélie, you make me laugh with your provincial privileges; a
man has much greater ones in Paris with young women he isn't proposing
to marry."

"So much the worse for the girls in Paris, brother."

"Or so much the better, for, after all, severity overdone is often
harmful; when the principles of virtue are once engraved on a girl's
mind, I don't see why she should not be allowed a reasonable degree of
liberty; those who would make missteps would surely have done it later;
but those who would always behave themselves, and would not abuse the
privilege of listening to foolish talk, they, my dear Amélie, would
bring with them, when they marry, a guarantee of their virtue; for you
will agree that there is no great merit in being innocent when it is
impossible to be anything else."

"Oh! what ideas you have about women, brother! It is easy to see that
you have been spoiled in Paris."

"I have much less narrow ideas than yours as to the training of girls,
sister; for example, I strongly approve the English method, by which
they are allowed to do whatever they choose before marriage. In London,
an unmarried girl goes out alone to call on her friends and
acquaintances. She may go to a concert or theatre with a young man,
without arousing the suspicion that he is her lover. She goes to balls
without a mentor; and in society she may laugh and talk and lead the
conversation, without being called to order by her parents. But when she
is once married, there's a great difference; she must lead an orderly,
quiet life, devoted entirely to the care of her household and her
children; she goes out only with her husband, receives no men except in
his presence, and at parties and receptions consorts with persons of her
own sex, who, like herself, refrain from joining the men, whom they
generally leave at table after dinner to drink and tell stories. Well!
do you think that such a very bad system? For my part, I am convinced
that there are fewer deceived husbands in England than in France."

"Bah! they are deceived there before marriage, that's all the
difference."

"And here, after marriage."

"Brother!"

"Oh! don't be angry; I didn't mean that for you."

"Well! what is the point of your remarks?"

"I want you to procure me a tête-à-tête with Pélagie."

"A tête-à-tête! do you mean it?"

"With my future bride, it will be perfectly proper!"

"But propriety--good morals!"

"Propriety and good morals cannot be offended."

"But the custom!"

"Your customs are beginning to be very irksome to me; and if you don't
obtain me the interview I desire, I am quite capable of decamping some
fine morning and leaving you with my intended and her aunt and all the
gossip of the town on your hands!"

"Oh! mon Dieu! the reckless fellow! he makes me shudder!--Well, I'll try
to arrange it. After all, you're to be married in a week, and--and--in
fact---- But I have an idea: I will go to Madame de Pontchartrain and
ask her permission to take her niece with me to make some purchases that
are necessary for her wedding; she can't refuse me; then I'll bring
Pélagie here, and you can talk to her at your leisure."

"That's a happy idea!"

"But I trust, my dear, that you will behave yourself, and----"

"Don't be alarmed! Really, you have a very low opinion of me."

"The fact that I am going to fetch your intended proves the contrary."

My sister did, in fact, go to Madame de Pontchartrain's. My threat of
leaving Melun had made poor Amélie tremble; she had not even been
willing to let me go to Paris to purchase the indispensable gifts;
Déneterre had undertaken to do all that. I did not insist, for I might
have fallen in with somebody in Paris who would have made me forget my
marriage.

Amélie succeeded in her mission; she soon returned with Pélagie, who, on
seeing me, blushed and courtesied as if I were a stranger.

"Here is my brother, who will be delighted to talk with you," said
Amélie, as she led Pélagie into the house. "I have a thousand things to
do, and I am compelled to leave you for a few minutes; but you will be
united in a week, so I can see no great harm in leaving you together."

Amélie left us, and I was alone with my future wife at last. Pélagie
seated herself at a considerable distance from me, so I began by placing
my chair close to hers and taking possession of both her hands. I was
glad to see that she made no effort to withdraw them. I gazed at her for
several minutes; she kept her eyes fixed on the floor and said not a
word. I concluded that if I did not begin the conversation we should sit
in silence and without moving all day long; indeed, it was my place to
begin.

"You know, mademoiselle, that we are to be married?"

"Yes, monsieur."

"In a week, I shall be your husband."

"Yes, monsieur."

"Does the prospect please you?"

"Yes, monsieur."

"Then you love me a little?"

"Yes, monsieur."

That was not bad for a beginning. Still, I was anxious to obtain
something besides that everlasting _yes, monsieur_.--I tried to go about
it so as to make her reply less briefly.

"When you first saw me, did you pick me out from the rest, prefer me to
other young men?"

Doubtless that question seemed embarrassing to her; it was some time
before she answered, but at last I heard a _yes, monsieur_.

"Had your heart never spoken before you saw me?"

"I don't know, monsieur."

"What! do you mean that you have been in love before?"

"Oh! no, monsieur; I don't know anything about love."

"Why, you do now, don't you?"

"No, monsieur."

"Then you don't love me?"

"Yes, monsieur."

"Would you prefer another to me?"

"I don't know, monsieur."

"Suppose you should be married to someone else, would you be sorry?"

"I don't know, monsieur."

"Then, why do you marry me?"

"I don't know, monsieur."

I nearly lost my patience; the woman would surely drive me mad with her
gentleness. I began to be afraid that I had mistaken stupidity for
innocence and awkwardness for timidity! But her hand trembled; probably
she was afraid that she had angered me. I felt that I must control
myself and not frighten her; that was not the way to attract her and win
her confidence.

"Pélagie."

"Monsieur."

"My dear girl, when you are going to marry a man, you mustn't call him
_monsieur_."

"What shall I say, then?"

"Call me your _dear_; I hope always to be that."

"Yes, my dear."

"Has your aunt brought you up very strictly?"

"Yes, my dear."

"Don't you ever receive any young men at your house?"

"No, my dear."

"Do you like society?"

"Yes, my dear."

"When we are married, what would you like to do?"

"Whatever you like, my dear."

"Shall we remain here, or go to Paris to live?"

"Oh! I don't care. But----"

"Well! go on, don't be afraid to speak."

"I think I should like Paris better."

"In that case, I am delighted to agree with you."

And I kissed her hand, to manifest a little affection. She hastily
withdrew it.

"Pélagie, a promised husband may kiss his betrothed's hand as much as he
pleases."

"Really?"

"I give you my word."

Instantly she offered me both hands. Her docility was charming; it was
something, at all events.

"Pélagie, what has your aunt ever said to you about me?"

"She told me I might listen to you."

"And then?"

"That you had asked for my hand, and she had given it to you."

"So she didn't consult you beforehand?"

"No, my dear. What for?"

"Why, to know if you liked me."

"Oh! it wasn't worth while."

"But it seems to me that if----"

"I am too well bred not to obey my aunt."

"But if I had been old, ugly, and gouty?"

"That wouldn't have made any difference."

"You would have married me just the same?"

"Of course, if my aunt had said so."

"Why, then you have no inclination for me?"

"What is an inclination?"

"What! has your aunt never told you that you must love your husband?"

"Oh, yes!"

"And be faithful to him?"

"Oh, yes!"

"Do whatever he wishes?"

"Oh, yes!"

"And never listen to other men?"

"Oh, yes!"

I could stand it no longer; I leaped from my chair. Pélagie, terribly
frightened, rose also and looked at me. I paced the floor with long
strides. But she came toward me.

"Have you hurt yourself?" she asked, opening her eyes to their fullest
extent. I could not help smiling at her question. I put my arms around
her and embraced her with considerable warmth; I was determined to try
to animate her at any cost. At first she tried to release herself; but I
told her that a future husband had the right to hold his intended in his
arms.

"Oh! that makes a difference," she said; and she ceased to resist.

"He may kiss you, too," I said; and I proceeded to kiss her repeatedly,
on her cheeks and her lips. She made no objection.--See how dangerous
ignorance often is! there was an innocent with whom a man might do
whatever he chose by means of false arguments.

But as I heard my sister I released Pélagie, who allowed herself to be
kissed with charming docility. Indeed, I fancied that she was beginning
to show some animation.

"Come," said my sister, as she entered the room, "it's time to go back
to your aunt, my dear Pélagie; she might not like it if you should stay
away any longer. You have had plenty of time to talk, and you will have
still more when you're married. Take your shawl and let us go."

Pélagie took her shawl without a word, and prepared to go with my
sister. I bade her adieu, whereupon she gave me a decidedly tender
glance. I believed that my kisses had produced some effect on her heart,
and that belief made me a little more hopeful of the future.

I realized now that my bride had no intelligence; perhaps I might have
gone further; but I must needs make the best of it. I did not think
that, in order to be happy, one must have a genius for a wife; bright
women are generally very tiresome in their homes, and she who devotes
her time to displaying the gifts she has received from nature very
rarely thinks of taking care of her children and gratifying her husband.
As soon as a woman believes herself to be more intelligent than her
husband, she refuses to be governed by him. Moreover, I had had many
liaisons with clever women, and the result had not been flattering to
me. Agathe, Caroline, and Madame de Marsan were all bright. And Nicette?
she was, too; and yet---- Well, it was very fortunate that my betrothed
was not. I was well aware that there was a great distance between a
genius and a blockhead, and that if pretentiousness is irksome,
stupidity is even more so. But I hoped that marriage, which works so
many metamorphoses, would succeed in forming Pélagie's judgment. I had
already fancied that I could see that my caresses had stirred her
pulses. There is a time when nature seems benumbed; at such a time a
crisis is necessary. Perhaps Pélagie's heart and mind only needed that
crisis to develop rapidly.



XXXI

I MARRY


The great day arrived when I was to utter that solemn _yes_ which would
bind me forever. Forever is a very long time--it is very short when one
is happy!

At times melancholy thoughts oppressed me. I was not in love with the
woman I was about to marry, and I felt that it was the absence of love
that made us walk so carelessly toward the altar. Love, who charms the
present and embellishes the future, is a god whose presence is most
essential on the wedding day; he ought always to preside on such
occasions. However, I proposed to do without him; indeed, I must, for
whom could I love now? I should have ceased to think of _her_, but I
still thought of her. She did not love me; and if she had loved me,
could I have married her? It would have been madness; but is the madness
which makes one happy so very blameworthy?

I felt tears in my eyes. Was that the proper way to begin that day? It
was my last thought of her. Henceforth I would never think of the past.
I must try to be light-hearted, to be amiable with Pélagie. Amiable! she
would not notice it! But, no matter; I must forget myself.

My sister was the first who entered my room. I fancy that she noticed my
depression; she kissed me and embraced me, and assured me that I should
be very happy.

"God grant it!" I thought. "Thus far I have not been happy in love;
perhaps I shall be in marriage."

I overcame my weakness and was myself once more. Poor Amélie! she was so
pleased when she saw me smile!

By the way, where were my wife and I to live? I had not given that
matter a thought; but I was not at all disturbed, for my sister had
undertaken to look out for everything, and she was not the woman to
forget anything so important. However, I felt that I should be very glad
to know where I was to take my better half that night.

"You haven't told me yet, sister, where I am to live."

"That goes without saying, my dear."

"Nevertheless, you will have to tell me, for I can't guess."

"Has not Madame de Pontchartrain a magnificent house, of which she
occupies only one-half? You are to live there with your wife."

"At her aunt's? I don't like that very much."

"Don't be disturbed; your suite is by itself, and a long way from hers;
you need have nothing to say to each other, except when you please. I
knew, of course, that you would like to be by yourself, and I have had
everything arranged with that end in view."

"All right.--By the way, has Pélagie received all the usual gifts?"

"Yes, my dear; have you forgotten that I showed them to you yesterday
and told you Déneterre had spent three thousand francs out of the money
you gave him?"

"True; it had gone out of my head."

"Pélagie will be enchanted, I assure you. There's a beautiful set of
jewelry--and shawls--and dress materials."

"Very good; so, then, there's nothing for me to do to-day but to get
married?"

"Mon Dieu! that's all, my dear."

"So much the better. What time is it to be?"

"At eleven o'clock you are to call for your wife and take her to the
mayor's office. We shall have two carriages; I have ordered them."

"Two carriages! it seems to me that's very few."

"There are no more to be had in town."

"That makes a difference."

"But this evening we shall have several sedan chairs and Bath chairs."

"Aha! so they have those things here?"

"To be sure; they are very convenient and much less dangerous than your
horse vehicles, which always frighten me."

"It is true that in a Bath chair the steed doesn't take the bit in his
teeth. And from the mayor's office we go to the church?"

"Yes; at one o'clock."

"And then?"

"Then we come back here, and chat until three."

"Where is the wedding feast to be?"

"Here, my dear. At first Madame de Pontchartrain insisted on having it
at her house, but I finally carried the day. We shall be much more free
here, you know. We can laugh and sing and frolic."

"I confess that I shall be delighted to be allowed to frolic. And the
ball is to be here also, I suppose?"

"Oh! no, my dear; the ball is to be at Madame de Pontchartrain's; she
has a superb salon, where three sets can dance a quadrille at once.
Besides, it's more proper at night to be where the bride can
conveniently be put to bed!"

"What's that? put the bride to bed? I fancy that that's my business."

"No, my dear; don't you know that it's the custom for the bride's near
relations to take her to the nuptial chamber and undress her and put her
to bed?"

"You will do me the kindness to abridge all that ceremonial, which I
consider utterly ridiculous, as much as you possibly can. It seems to me
to be the bridegroom's place to undress his wife and put her to bed--or
to postpone putting her to bed if he and she please. They are entirely
at liberty to suit themselves."

"Oh! brother, think of what decency demands!"

"My dear girl, some people are so decent that they end by being
indecent; just as some people are so bright that they end by making
fools of themselves. Extremes meet; too great strictness breeds
debauchery, just as extreme rigidity of morals often ends in their
entire subversion. _Summum jus, summa injuria._ The savages who live in
countries where they are not ruled by civilized man should have pure
morals, since they follow the inspiration of nature; and yet that
extreme purity which leads them to go naked and to conceal nothing from
one another resembles a refinement of libertinage among us. Diogenes,
who wanted to be a wise man, was nothing better than a fool; and Crates,
who considered himself a philosopher, was simply disgusting; and how
many writers there are who, by dint of trying to rise to the sublime,
fall into bathos! and scholars who, while striving to be profound, are
simply ludicrous! and actors who, in their efforts to be natural, appear
absurd! and dancers who fall to the ground because they try to jump too
high! The moral of all this is that we should seek a happy medium in
everything, and that when a husband and wife have complied with the
behests of the law and of religion they should be allowed to go to bed
without having somebody else place them solemnly between two sheets;
which, in my opinion, is better adapted to offend decency than to
gratify it."

"I am very sorry, my dear, but the custom----"

"I tell you, if I were in love with my wife, I would make short work of
this custom! but let us say no more about it; I will submit to whatever
you say."

"Very well; dress yourself and come to breakfast."

I felt that I must dress myself with care; the least one can do is to
try to make himself presentable on his wedding day. Although Pélagie had
said that she would have married me just the same if I had been old and
ugly, I liked to think that she would notice the difference. I was soon
ready; unless he is a conceited fop, a man cannot spend much time over
his toilet, and I did not, like Raymond, reflect for a quarter of an
hour where I should place a pin or how I should arrange the ends of my
cravat. Speaking of my neighbor, I regretted that he was not at Melun;
he would have assumed the duties of best man, and would certainly have
invented something new; but it would probably have resulted to my
disadvantage, so perhaps it was as well that he was not there.

My nephews came jumping and prancing into my room, to tell me that
breakfast was waiting; they were already in their gala costumes, and
were so wild with delight that we could not hear ourselves talk. Happy
age, when the least novelty, the slightest change in the daily habits,
the idea of a party, a wedding, a grand dinner--of anything, in fact,
that suggests confusion and disorder--causes intoxicating delight! We
ought to retain longer the characteristics of childhood.

I found Déneterre in full dress. He came to me, embraced me, pressed my
hand with a satisfied air, and said to me in a half solemn, half comical
tone:

"Well! you're one of us now!"

I looked at him with a smile, and stifled a sigh which would have been a
rude answer to his congratulations.

"Come, let's eat, and eat heartily!" said my brother-in-law, taking his
seat at the table. "You need to lay in some strength to-day, my dear
boy."

So the chapter of jests had begun; but it was likely to be brief in a
small place, where remarks with a double meaning were frowned upon. At
all events, they might say what they pleased; I was determined to accept
everything with a good grace. But I thought it well to follow
Déneterre's advice and eat heartily; that was the best thing for me to
do until night.

"Let us hurry," said Amélie; "it's almost eleven; we mustn't keep your
wife waiting, dear Eugène."

"Of course not; that would not be polite; I am ready to start."

"Come, Déneterre, have you finished?"

"For heaven's sake, give me time to swallow!"

"Oh! how long it takes you to do anything! Do put on the children's
hats!"

"What! are you going to take them to the mayor's office?"

"Certainly."

"That's all folly; it won't amuse them, and they'll crowd the carriage;
it's much better not to take them till we go to the church."

"But I insist on their going now! Do you suppose that I dressed them up
just to leave them at home?"

"But I tell you we can come back and get them in a little while."

"And I tell you that I propose to take them now."

"There won't be any room for them."

"You can hold them on your knees."

"So that they can kick me and soil the ladies' dresses!"

"They'll keep quiet."

"It would be something new!"

"Oh! how you tire me with your arguments!"

"You are a most obstinate creature!"

The clock struck eleven, and I put an end to the discussion by
announcing that I was going; my sister and her husband did the same, and
we took the little boys. I was very sure that that would be the result.

The two carriages were in front of the house; the coachmen wore white
gloves and had huge bouquets. All the neighbors were at their doors or
windows; a wedding in a small town is such a momentous event! it
furnishes a subject of conversation for more than a week.

We took five minutes to go about as far as the length of one of the
shorter boulevards in Paris; the horses were not used to coaches, and
their drivers drove very slowly in order that they might seem to be
starting on a journey. We arrived at last and were shown into the large
salon, where the intimate friends and the distinguished personages
invited to the first ceremony were assembled. I did not see my bride,
and started to go in search of her; but I was detained; I could not be
allowed to enter her bedroom yet.

"She's coming," said Madame de Pontchartrain; "be patient, my dear
Dorsan, you will soon see her."

I had no difficulty in being patient; still, I wished that it was all
over. I was beginning to be deathly tired of the compliments everyone
paid me, to which I soon ceased to be able to reply, because everyone
said the same thing.

At last Pélagie appeared, escorted by her aunt and my sister. Her dress
was magnificent, and her face even prettier than usual. The compliments
began anew. I listened to them now with more pleasure; the presence of a
pretty woman always suggests compliments to me, and I was not displeased
by the admiration my bride aroused.

I hastened forward to take her hand; she kept her eyes fixed on the
floor and seemed to have resolved not to raise them during the day. I
led her toward the door and to the carriage, heedless of the
remonstrances of her aunt and my sister, who called after us:

"That isn't right! wait! wait! It isn't your place to take her hand!
You're disarranging the programme!"

I cared not a whit for the programme. Madame de Pontchartrain almost
lost her temper; my sister calmed her by attributing my heedlessness to
my excessive love. We entered the carriages, which process took nearly
ten minutes, because, in the first place, no one would get in first, and
then no one would take the rear seat. I had to hold myself hard to
refrain from pushing them all into the carriages--the ceremonious
idiots, who stood an hour on the steps! Poor lovers, who marry in the
provinces, how your tempers are tried! At last we were all seated.
Déneterre was compelled to walk with the children, who had already torn
the trimming of three dresses and stained several white satin shoes with
mud. Really, the little rascals were most amusing!

We arrived at the mayor's office. As there is seldom a line of people
waiting to be married in provincial towns, we were not obliged to wait
an hour for our turn. The ceremony was performed quickly enough, and I
was married according to law; there was no drawing back.

To reach the church we had to repeat the same nonsense with respect to
the carriages; it took even longer to arrange the order of march, for
several people had joined us at the mayor's office, and the procession
was swelled by three sedan chairs and two Bath chairs. My wedding had
stirred the town to its centre; the church was filled with people, and
we could scarcely force our way through the crowd. Those who were not of
the wedding party had come to criticise, those who were, to admire; and
the idlers, loiterers, working girls, matrons, and old women, to say
their say concerning the bride and groom.

Everybody knows what a marriage is, for it is easy to procure the
pleasures of marriage in Paris. I will not therefore go into the
details of mine; it resembled others as to form, and several times I
heard some such words as:

"That's a pretty couple; they are both very good-looking."

A body always likes to hear such remarks.

At last the fatal _yes_ was pronounced. Pélagie said it so low that
nobody could have heard her; for my part, I showed much firmness. We had
a sermon preached to us--a little long, perhaps, but very touching and
moving. How can one fail to be moved when one is pledging one's self for
life?--I glanced at Pélagie; she did not weep; her eyes were cast down,
her manner was as reserved, her demeanor as modest as usual, and she
showed no more than her ordinary emotion. That vexed me; it seemed to me
that she should have wept.

At last all was over; I was married! We left the church between three
rows of sightseers, and went to my sister's; we spent three-quarters of
an hour in going the distance of a gunshot; to be sure, our procession
was increased by about half of the town, and we had to return salutes
and courtesies at every step.

When we reached the house, it was only half-past one, and we did not
dine till three. What were we to do in the interval? That was the most
difficult part of the whole day. Some old women proposed a game of
boston or whist, but Madame de Pontchartrain thought that it would be a
breach of etiquette to play cards on a wedding day morning; it is good
form to do nothing; it is amusement enough to talk, sitting very
straight for fear of rumpling one's gown.

Without asking our dear aunt's opinion, I went down into the garden with
my wife. I wanted to entice her into some solitary path; not that I
proposed to exert my marital rights already; but I wanted to try to
read Pélagie's heart and find out what her present feelings were.--It
was impossible to be alone; all the young women followed us; the
inquisitive little hussies would not let us out of their sight. Two
young married people afford so much food for thought! they are so pretty
to look at--when they are pretty; and you know that we were.

I could do nothing more than take my wife's hand; I squeezed it
tenderly--very tenderly--and she looked at me and smiled.--"The deuce!"
thought I; "can it be that she understands that language?"

"You hurt my fingers," she remarked mildly, withdrawing her hand.

It was enough to drive one to despair! I had no further desire to walk
with her alone.

Luckily, the hour for the feast arrived. We betook ourselves, with the
utmost formality, as before, to the dining room; we took our seats in
the order demanded by convention. I was at one end of the table, my wife
at the other; that was the best way to encourage harmony between us; and
then, everyone knew that we should come together at last.

The greatest tranquillity reigned during the early courses; we sat very
straight, watched one another, passed the dishes, ate, and declared
everything divine, exquisite, delicious: that was substantially the
whole of the conversation. I had no desire to enliven it; I was sober,
yes, pensive. Sometimes I glanced at my wife; her eyes were constantly
fixed on her plate. Madame de Pontchartrain's expressed the satisfaction
she felt at the reserved demeanor of the bride and groom; we certainly
could not be charged with acting like two madcaps.

Upon examining the guests, I found that I had at my right a pretty,
vivacious young blonde, with whom I had several times laughed and joked
when we met in society, so far as laughter was permitted in the circles
that we frequented. I began to talk with her by way of distraction, but
she replied with marked coldness, reserve, and brevity. What did that
mean? Mon Dieu! I had forgotten that I was now a _married man_. I was
still inclined to play the gallant with young ladies, but I had lost my
title of bachelor, which was worth a hundred times more in their eyes
than all the pretty speeches I could make them as a Benedick.

However, I was determined to amuse myself at any price. I tried to eat;
but I was not hungry.

"I will drink, then," I said to myself; "but I must take care; a
bridegroom should keep his head clear."

The dessert came at last; our appetites were a little appeased; the wits
of the party began to shine, the jokers to hazard a bonmot or two or a
very sly remark; the young men tried to laugh, and the women did their
utmost to consider it all very amusing. My sister was in ecstasies; she
did her best to encourage this well-intended merriment. As for
Déneterre, he was so busily engaged in carving, and in looking after the
small table at which his children were sitting with six other children,
that he had no time to put in a word.

The dessert and liqueurs increased the general hilarity to the highest
point, augmented as it was by divers little pranks on the part of my
nephews, who knocked over two piles of plates, broke three glasses,
overturned sauce on several ladies' dresses, while coming to the large
table to fetch for themselves things that were promised them but that
did not arrive quickly enough to satisfy them. But they knew that on
such a great day they had carte blanche, and they made the most of it.
Everybody agreed that they were dear little fellows, even the ladies who
would have to change their dresses. Their papa and mamma were
enraptured, which was quite natural.

The signal was given, and we left the table.

"How is this?" I whispered to my sister; "no song?"

"You know very well that it isn't good form nowadays, my dear. Is there
singing at the great weddings in Paris?"

"No; but there is at those where the guests enjoy themselves."

"We stick to custom."

"And the garter?"

"Fie! fie! we have done away with that; it was indecent!"

"Oh! it was indecent, was it? I see that I must not do at my wedding
party or to my wife anything that the most rigid rules of chastity do
not permit. I trust, however, that you have not suppressed anything
else."

"Oh! no, brother! besides, I am sure that to-day you have no desire
to----"

"To what?"

"Why, to----"

"To what, in heaven's name? Finish."

"Why, a desire to--with your wife---- Oh! you know what I mean."

"The deuce! surely you are joking, my dear girl? Do people no longer
marry for that here? is that suppressed, too?"

"No, my dear, no! but a man generally leaves his wife in peace the first
day. The poor child has been so excited!"

"Yes; it is astounding how excited she looks!"

"You must give her time to recover herself."

"Go to the deuce, my dear Amélie, with all your nonsense! What is the
meaning of all this affectation? as if it must not come to that at last!
I don't like this prudery which denotes dissimulation pure and simple. I
know by experience that those who cry scandal the loudest are the ones
who in secret have the least virtue. The modesty of rakes and kept women
is much more easily shocked than that of virtuous men and decent women.
Fans hide more prostitutes than virgins, and veils are worn from
coquetry, not from modesty; in short, those who make so much fuss and
hang back at first are the ones who jump the highest afterward."

"Well, you are free to do as you please, brother."

"That is very fortunate!"

Poor Amélie! how she had changed since she had been living in that
paltry town! So this was the banquet at which we were to laugh so loud
and have so much sport! For my own part--and I have been to many
weddings--I confess that the merriest are those of honest folk who are
not afraid of violating etiquette and the proprieties every moment.
Commend me to the poor people for real enjoyment! But I realized that on
this occasion I must say with the song:

    "When we are beggars, then we'll make merry!"

My wife disappeared. Ah, yes! to dress for the ball--that was it. I had
nothing to say against that custom; in any event, I should have been
careful not to say it; I should have had all the young women about my
ears. Two dresses, sometimes three--that was one of the pretty customs
of that day.

We returned to Madame de Pontchartrain's for the ball. It was the first
time that I had ever seen wedding festivities divided between two
places; but I found that I learned many things at Melun.

We assembled in the salon, which was lighted by candelabra that must
have done duty in the time of King Pepin le Bref. The guests invited for
the ball arrived in a swarm; no one ever dreams of missing a fête in a
small town. The bride appeared in her ball dress, which was in very good
taste. I looked at her, but her eyes were still _in statu quo_. I
ventured to say to her, under my breath:

"Do lift your eyes a little; you have such lovely eyes!"

"Aunt told me not to."

That was all I could extort from her. I had nothing to say to that; it
would have been ill-advised for me to play the master so soon.

The orchestra began to play; we had two violins and a clarinet; also a
little fifer, to imitate Colinet; it was superb--at all events, it was
the best that could be had in the town. They played contradances that I
had never heard in Paris. I surmised that they were composed by the
leader of the local orchestra; it was impossible to make the mistake of
confusing them with those of Rubner, Weber, and Tolbecque.

There was plenty of dancing; and in that amusement the pleasure was not
feigned, for youth loves to caper. The young men disputed with one
another the privilege of dancing with the bride, who was always engaged
for fourteen or fifteen quadrilles ahead. The groom's turn never comes
on such occasions; but on his wedding day he is easily consoled, and a
thing that would have distressed him terribly the day before makes no
difference to him when he is married. How a title changes one's way of
feeling and of looking at things!

I too danced; I was very glad to have that resource to occupy my time,
and I was as persistent as my wife.

"Do take a little rest," some young man would say to me; "you'll tire
yourself out."

But I paid no heed, for I thought less than they did of what I still had
to do.

Toward the end of the evening, however, I danced with Pélagie; the ball
had warmed her up a little: her cheeks were flushed and her bosom rose
and fell more rapidly; she was really very pretty, and I ought to have
deemed myself very lucky to possess so many charms. I began to look at
my watch and to think that the time passed very slowly.

But it was growing late, and many people had already taken leave. It was
one o'clock in the morning! a big slice taken off the night. Madame de
Pontchartrain made a sign to my sister, and they led my wife away. I
divined the meaning of that, and I waited until I might be allowed to
join Pélagie.

The ceremony seemed to me very long! Not until three-quarters of an hour
had passed did Amélie return and motion to me that at last I was at
liberty to go to my wife.

All the guests departed; I did the same; fleeing from the jests that
bored me to death, I left the ballroom and bent my steps toward the wing
which I was to occupy thenceforth.

I was directed to my bedroom; I had been careful to take a light,
otherwise I should have broken my neck in some of the innumerable rooms
of that old house, and the time would have been very ill chosen for an
accident. I saw a light--that must be the place. I opened a door and
entered a very handsome bedroom, furnished somewhat _à l'antique,_ but
provided with everything. Two wax candles were burning on the mantel; I
recognized several articles of mine on a table, for my sister had taken
pains to have all my wardrobe transported to my new abode. I was at
home; so far, so good. To make sure of not being disturbed, I bolted the
door, then walked toward the bed, the curtains of which were drawn--from
bashfulness, of course.

I heard no sound. Could she be asleep already? or was she pretending to
be? I drew the curtains aside, and I saw no one in the bed, which had
not been disturbed.

What did that mean? I was certainly in my apartment--everything that I
found there proved it. In that case, where could my wife be? Did it mean
that we were to have a bedroom each? Why, of course; and that was why
they hoped that I would leave my wife in peace. "The devil take them
with their nonsensical customs!" thought I.--If I had only known it
sooner! However, I wanted my wife; I was determined to have her, I must
have her. I had not married a pretty doll who never opened her mouth and
kept her eyes on the ground all day to be alone at night and occupy a
separate bed; the least I could expect was some little compensation for
the ennui I had suffered.--I would sleep with my wife--that was my
resolution--even though I must turn the whole house upside down to
attain that end.

I reflected first of all that my wife's room could not be far from mine.
I concluded to try to find it, and to avoid making a noise if possible;
for that would cause scandal in the household of Madame de
Pontchartrain, who thought perhaps that I had married her niece to
obtain the right to make love to her at those innocent parlor games.

I looked about and discovered a door which I had not noticed at first. I
took a candle, opened the door, and found myself in a fine salon. That
was very well; I continued my inspection of my suite. There was a door
facing me; where did that lead? Into a dining room. Another door opened
into a passageway; I went on and found a toilet room freshly painted;
all very pleasant, but not what I was looking for at that moment.

I returned to the salon. Whither did that other door lead? To my wife's
room, no doubt; since I had been prowling about the salon as if I were
playing hide-and-seek, I must have passed it many times. I tried to open
it by turning the knob, but it resisted; it was locked on the inside. No
more doubt: my wife was there, and had been advised to lock herself in.
Ah! what sly creatures they were in that country!

I knocked--no answer. I knocked again, louder.

"Who is there?" someone asked at last; and I recognized Pélagie's voice.

"It's I, my dear love."

"Oh! is it you, monsieur my husband?"

"Yes, my dear; come, let me in quickly."

"What for?"

"Parbleu! I'll tell you in a minute. Open the door."

"Oh! I can't!"

"You can't! what does that mean? that's decidedly new!"

"My aunt told me not to."

"Your aunt doesn't know what she says. As she has been a widow
thirty-three years, perhaps she has forgotten that husbands and wives
sleep together."

"Oh, yes! I know that you will sleep with me finally; but she told me
that modesty requires me to postpone the time as long as possible."

"And I tell you that we must sleep together at once; modesty has nothing
more to do with our love; hymen has its rights, and you must listen to
it now; the pleasures it permits should not alarm your modesty."

"I don't understand all that."

"I will make you understand it when I am with you. Open the door, I beg
you. I can't begin to instruct you with this door between us."

"I'm afraid that my aunt----"

"Look you, madame, I am your husband, after all; you swore this morning
to be obedient and submissive to me, and you are violating your oaths
already! Come, Pélagie, I beg you, let's not begin with a quarrel; open
the door at once; if you don't, I'll set the house on fire."

"Oh! mon Dieu!"

She opened the door instantly; she was in her chemise and hurried back
to hide herself in her bed; but it was easy for me to find her now. I
still had a few obstacles to overcome; but they were not at all
disagreeable; indeed, I should have been very much distressed if I had
not encountered them! On this occasion the rose was not without thorns.

Let us draw the curtain over the mysteries of hymen, although they are
one of Polichinelle's secrets.



XXXII

RETURN TO PARIS


The first days of married life are called the honeymoon. But the only
honey I enjoyed was a grand row with Madame de Pontchartrain on the day
after my wedding, because she perceived by her heavy eyes, her gait, in
fact, by a thousand symptoms which never escape a dowager's glance, that
I had already plucked the rose of hymen. She went so far as to reproach
me, to accuse me of immodesty, brutality, a purely animal passion, and
declared that I wanted to kill her niece. It would have required the
patience of a cherub to listen unmoved to such nonsense; and as I am no
angel, I sent our aunt about her business; I forbade her to meddle in my
affairs thereafter, and especially enjoined upon her to refrain from
offering advice to my wife. Madame de Pontchartrain shrieked and stormed
and raved; I withdrew to my apartment; and there we were at swords'
point!

Old women are great talkers, and the dear aunt was spiteful and
vindictive in addition. Instead of trying to forget that scene, she
thought only of revenging herself for what she called my base conduct.
On the next day, the whole town knew that I was a hot-tempered,
ungentlemanly libertine, and that I had begun already to make my wife
very unhappy.

However, my sister, who knew me and loved me, made haste to contradict
all the rumors that the old aunt put in circulation to my discredit; she
fell out with Madame de Pontchartrain, because she did not share her way
of looking at things. In the town, some believed the aunt, others my
sister; opinions were divided; it would almost have split the community
into two hostile camps, except that they were generally agreed as to the
main point, that is, the pleasure of making unkind remarks and the love
of scandal.

I was very little disturbed by what the people of Melun thought and said
of me, but I was deeply interested in my wife, and I was desirous that
she should not agree with her aunt.

Pélagie found herself in an embarrassing position: her aunt told her not
to listen to me, and I told her not to listen to her aunt, who did all
that she could to induce her to come often to her apartments, while I
did my best to prevent her going there. Madame de Pontchartrain told
Pélagie that she ought to command, to force me to obey her--in a word,
to be the mistress; while I tried to make her understand that when a
woman can do nothing but play parlor games, dance, embroider, and sing
ballads, she ought to call in her husband to assist her in managing her
household.

All this frequently threw my wife into a state of painful uncertainty. I
had been her husband only a few days, and her aunt had been her mentor
from infancy. She was afraid of her, and I should have been very sorry
to arouse such a feeling with respect to myself. The result was that she
obeyed her aunt rather than me; and that had already brought about
several of those little _discussions_ which I desired to avoid. If
Pélagie had had any wit or judgment, she would have felt that her aunt
was wrong. But, alas! she had nothing of the sort; and dullards are much
harder to lead than bright people. I hoped that she would acquire those
qualities, and that, having her eyes opened in regard to a certain
matter, she would become less stupid with regard to others; but I was
beginning to lose that hope.

There was one point, however, upon which we were in accord: that was our
right to sleep together. As to that, Pélagie was entirely of my opinion;
she no longer dreamed of having a separate bed, and was never tempted to
lock her door. I would have bet that it would be so; these little
innocents!--when they are once started, nothing will stop them!

I had no desire to remain at Melun; but before taking my wife to Paris,
it was necessary that I should have lodgings prepared for her reception.
I could not take her to my little bachelor apartment; it was not
suitable for us, nor did I wish her to know anything about it.

To find suitable lodgings, have them furnished and put in order, and
engage servants, would detain me in Paris at least a week; and if I
should leave my wife in her aunt's power for a week, God only knew in
what frame of mind I should find her when I returned! An hour passed
with Madame de Pontchartrain always caused a quarrel between Pélagie and
me. When she left her aunt, who had persuaded her that she ought not to
listen to me, she made it her business to do just the opposite of what I
told her, to tease me and make me angry; it was extremely difficult for
me to bring her back to other ideas and to make her realize her errors.
If she should pass a week without seeing me, it would be impossible for
us to live together.

What was to be done? I did not propose to live in the province any
longer; I was beginning to have my fill of it, and I felt that if I were
obliged to live there I should die.

My sister saw my plight; and despite her desire to have me settle down
in her vicinity, as she saw that I did not enjoy the pleasures of
wedlock as I ought at Melun, she offered to send Déneterre to Paris, to
prepare an apartment for me. I accepted her offer gratefully; and my
brother-in-law set off, with full instructions from me.

I prayed that he might return very soon. The time seemed terribly long
to me. I was obliged to remain constantly with my wife; and to be always
in the company of a person who has nothing to say, who often does not
understand what you say to her--what torture!

At first I had hopes; the nights were some slight recompense; but hope
soon vanished, and even the nights sometimes seemed wearisome to me. Ah!
then I realized what a trivial thing mere beauty is! We become
accustomed to everything, to an ugly face as well as a lovely one; but
when, with the lovely face, we find no sustenance for the mind or heart;
when a little mouth is mute or says only foolish things; when two great
eyes have no expression; when the smile is always the same; when the
voice expresses no feeling--then there is nothing to do but yawn and
fall asleep beside that little chef-d'oeuvre of nature.

But when we listen to some attractive person, who has the power to
describe what she feels, whose eyes and voice are equally eloquent, who
charms us by her thoughts and attracts us by her conversation, do we pay
any heed to her ugliness? No, we forget it; more than that, it actually
disappears, and the face that repelled us at first becomes agreeable to
us.

    "Are men of great minds ever ugly?"

Doubtless beauty combined with wit aids materially in seducing us; but
if we can have only one of the two, I am sure that in marrying we should
not set great store by externals. That one should take a pretty
mistress, without bothering one's head as to her mental powers, is
perfectly natural; one can leave her as soon as she becomes a bore. But
a wife! a companion for the rest of one's life! what a difference! I
know there are many husbands who spend less time with their wives than
with their mistresses; but I am not speaking for their benefit. When I
married, I intended to have a happy home, not to leave my wife and run
after other women; and yet, as you will see, that was what I was obliged
to do.

Déneterre had been away twelve days, and still he did not return. Madame
de Pontchartrain, who knew that I proposed to take my wife to Paris, was
more savage than ever; she tried every day to play some fresh trick on
me; she watched for her niece as the cat watches for the mouse; and
whenever she saw her, she inflamed her against me. All my time was
occupied in defeating her little plots; we played _Guerre ouverte_ in
the house, and that afforded me a little distraction.

By dint of slandering me, the old lady had come to believe a portion of
her slanders; and if by chance I went to some reception, which very
rarely happened, I was conscious that a confused, incessant muttering
and whispering began as soon as I appeared. Some looked at me, others
turned their heads away; the old dowagers and the mothers, who were hot
partisans of Madame de Pontchartrain, lost no time in moving away from
me; there were some who even made a gesture of alarm at my approach, as
if I were plague-stricken.

I laughed at all this with the sensible, reasonable people; but they
were not in the majority; besides, it is much easier to speak unkindly
than kindly of a person; it would seem that faults are apparent to every
eye, and that good qualities keep out of sight.

At last Déneterre returned. My apartment was waiting for me on Boulevard
Montmartre; I could occupy it at once; everything was ready for my wife
and myself, and our servants were engaged.

I did not propose to delay. I urged Pélagie to hurry with her trunks and
boxes and bundles. She seconded me warmly enough; I believe that at
heart she was not sorry to escape from her aunt's authority, and to see
new places. And such places! Paris! the paradise of womankind! and the
hell of---- Great heaven! I forgot that I was one myself!

It was all over; I had bid my sister, her husband, and my nephews adieu.
Pélagie went to take leave of her aunt, for I would not have her fail in
courtesy toward her. Madame de Pontchartrain refused to allow her niece
to go; I was obliged to go after her. She declared that I had no right
to take her away, and tried to detain her by force. I was compelled to
abduct my wife; the old aunt pursued us to the front door and threatened
to come to Paris after us. But I knew that she would not; people do not
play boston in the morning there.

We started; and in my delight I kissed my wife! It was just six weeks
since my wedding, and five months since I had left Paris.

At last I saw it again, that splendid city, and I exclaimed:

    "Hail! city of uproar, and of mud and smoke!"

I prefer thy uproar to the gossip and scandal and petty malignity of the
provinces; thy mud to the grass that grows in the untrodden streets of a
small provincial town; and thy smoke to those solid pleasures--which I
have failed to find elsewhere.



XXXIII

RAYMOND REAPPEARS


The new apartment, in which we installed ourselves at once, was large,
convenient, and well arranged. I noticed that there was a room adjoining
my study, where I could easily have a bed placed in case my wife should
be indisposed and should prefer to sleep alone; for it is well to
anticipate everything.

We had two servants, a maid and a cook; those were all that we needed. I
had neither horses nor intrigues, consequently I had no occasion for the
services of a Frontin or a Lafleur, who, having nothing to do, would be
driven to emptying my wine cellar, seducing my maid-servants, and
robbing me, to pass the time away.

During the first fortnight after our arrival in Paris, my wife did not
give me a moment's rest; I had to take her everywhere: to drive, to the
theatre, to concerts, to the monuments and curiosities of every sort.
She compelled me to go all over the city with her in the mornings, being
determined to become acquainted with every quarter. She was never weary
of gazing in admiration at the Palais-Royal, and she would stand by the
half-hour in front of milliners' and dry goods shops; she was in
ecstasies, in the seventh heaven!--All the people, the noise, the
vehicles, the beautiful dresses, the young men who, on the fashionable
promenades and at the theatres, ogle women so respectfully and make such
pretty grimaces to those who meet their approval--all these fascinated
Madame Dorsan, who began to lift her eyes and even to flash some very
innocent little glances therefrom. Oh! as for that, I was sure it would
come.

I knew Paris by heart; I got a little tired of parading through the
streets every day; still, a husband should be obliging. Thank heaven!
the time came when there was nothing more to see unless we began over
again; which my wife would not have been sorry to do; but I needed rest.
Moreover, she discovered that a young wife could without impropriety go
out alone in the morning; she knew our quarter very well, and I saw that
she would make the most of the liberty I gave her.

At last I could breathe freely. I was tired to death of plays, driving,
and questions; I was delighted to be alone. I had as yet had no time to
visit my little apartment on Rue Saint-Florentin. If my wife had known
that I had a bachelor apartment, if her aunt had learned of it, I should
have been adjudged guilty of carrying on secret intrigues. But I had no
desire for anything of the sort; never again would I take any woman to
my former lodgings. I wished that I had never taken one there.

There was one spot which I longed yet dreaded to pass. While escorting
my wife about Paris, I had always managed to avoid taking her there.
Why? I had no very clear idea; but I wanted to go there first alone; I
should be more at liberty to stop; I should find my friend the messenger
there, and perhaps I might---- But, no; I would not question him; what
need had I to do it now?

My wife was asleep; it was only eight o'clock, and we did not breakfast
until ten; I had time to go out for a moment. I proposed to visit my
former lodgings; I walked in that direction, but it was also the
direction in which Nicette lived. Passing through Rue Saint-Honoré, I
had not the strength to resist the secret longing that impelled me
toward the flower shop. I walked very fast at first, but the nearer I
approached it, the more I slackened my pace. I did not intend to go in,
nor did I intend to speak to her; but I felt that I would like to see
her.

I saw the shrubs standing in front of the shop; I crossed the street in
order not to be on the same side. If I should pass close to her, she
might speak to me, and I knew that at the sound of her voice I should
stop in spite of myself.

I made up my mind at last to pass, and I walked very quickly, just
glancing across. But I did not see her; I saw a woman with an ordinary
face--oh! not in the least like Nicette. Thereupon I crossed over and
walked by the shop; she was not there. I turned, walked back, and
stopped, pretending to examine the flowers. The woman came to me and
asked:

"Does monsieur wish to buy something?"

"No, no!" I said, and walked away toward my messenger's stand; I was
impatient to question him. But he was not there; I waited nearly an
hour, and at last he came; he recognized me at once.

"Your servant, monsieur; if I'd known you was here---- It's a long time
since I saw you, monsieur."

"That is true; and during that time?"

"Bless me! there's been lots of changes; the pretty flower girl ain't
there any more."

"She isn't?"

"No, monsieur; she sold her stock to Mère Thomas, who you see yonder in
her place."

"She sold her stock?"

"Yes, monsieur, and sold it well, too; for it's a good shop. But they
say Mamzelle Nicette didn't need it, because she'd made her
fortune--come into money."

"And where is she now?"

"Bless my soul! monsieur, I don't know; she didn't say where she was
going, and we don't never see her now."

"And that man who used to come to see her every day?"

"Why! he kep' on coming, but not so often toward the end."

"Did he take her away?"

"I don't know nothing about it, monsieur; but I'm inclined to think she
sold her stock of her own accord."

"When was that?"

"Why, near six weeks ago."

"And you don't know where she's gone?"

"No, monsieur."

I paid the messenger and walked away; it was useless to question him any
further. Nicette had left her shop; what had become of her? what was she
doing? was she living with Raymond? That seemed impossible. Could he
have hired an apartment for her? I did not know what to think, but I
hastened to Rue Saint-Florentin.

My concierge uttered a cry of surprise when she saw me.

"Ah! there you are, monsieur! We really thought you must be dead! Do you
know you've been away almost six months?"

"I know it, Madame Dupont. Give me my keys, please."

"In a minute, monsieur, in a minute. I've taken good care of your rooms,
I've had your furniture beaten every month, and I've scrubbed and----"

"Oh! I'm not at all disturbed. By the way, does Monsieur Raymond still
live on my landing?"

"No, monsieur, no; he's left, and in his place----"

"Do you know his address?"

"Yes, monsieur; he left it here; he lives now on Rue Pinon, near the
Opéra, No.---- Oh, dear! I've forgotten, but it will come to me. Here's
your keys, monsieur."

"And that number, Madame Dupont?"

"It's surprising; I knew it just the other day. But it ain't a long
street."

"That's very lucky."

"Oh! wait a minute! I forgot, it was so long ago! I've got a letter for
you; it's been here six weeks."

"A letter!"

"Yes. A young woman brought it."

"A woman! give it to me, pray."

"Here it is, monsieur."

I took the letter and hastened upstairs to my room, to escape the
concierge's chatter. Once more I was in that dear apartment! how glad I
was to be there! But the letter! It seemed to me that the writing--ah! I
dared not hope--I broke the seal; it was she--Nicette--who had written
to me!

     "MONSIEUR:

     "It's a long time since you came to see me, and I didn't know why
     you had abandoned me; you seemed to be angry the last time you
     spoke to me, and I thought you were angry with me, but I couldn't
     guess why. To-day I have heard that you are married; I know that
     you can't think of me any more, or speak to a flower girl. I take
     the liberty of writing to you only to say good-bye. I am going to
     sell my shop and go away to some place where I can be alone, not
     see anybody, and cry all I want to; for I am very unhappy, and I
     can't get over it; it isn't my fault. I have inherited a lot of
     money from my mother and an aunt who's left me all she had, and I
     have more than enough to live on. But I don't forget that I owe you
     everything, that you took pity on me when everybody else abandoned
     me, and saved me from want. I shall never forget it! Adieu,
     monsieur! I wish you every happiness in your home; may your wife
     make you happy! she must love you dearly! Adieu, my dear
     benefactor!

     "NICETTE."

I read the letter several times. I could not help putting my lips to the
characters she had traced. Was that the language of a deceitful woman?
And yet I saw--saw with my own eyes Raymond sitting beside her, holding
her hands. I knew that he saw her every day; he himself told me so; but
could I place any faith in what Raymond said? Ah! if I had not seen him
with her!

But why torment myself so? Was she not lost to me forever? was I not
married? It did not occur to me to be false to my wife, but I longed to
know whether Nicette loved me! I resolved to find Raymond and to try to
make him talk; that was not difficult, but to make him tell the truth
was no easy task.

It was late, and as my wife might be disturbed by my absence I returned
to her, but with the firm intention to visit my old lodgings again, and
often.

I carefully folded Nicette's letter and took it away with me when I left
my bachelor apartment for my home.

Who could have told Nicette that I was married? My concierge did not
know it; if she had, she would surely have mentioned it to me. It must
have been Raymond. But how did he know? I was considering this question
as I approached my house, when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned
and saw Raymond! Never, I must confess, had the sight of him afforded me
so much pleasure.

"Well! here you are, my dear fellow!"

"Good-morning, Monsieur Raymond!"

"So you're in Paris now, eh?"

"As you see."

"Dear Dorsan! it seems a century since I saw you!"

"I assure you that I too am very glad to see you."

"Really? such an excellent friend! By the way, accept my
congratulations; I understand that you have made a magnificent marriage,
that you have a divine wife!"

"Oho! you know that, do you?"

"Yes; one of my friends, who happened to be at Melun, told me; you must
have met him in society--Monsieur Regnier?"

"Yes, I believe I do remember him."

"Well! it was he who told me the whole story. Ah! I was almost angry
with you.--'What!' I said to myself; 'my dear Dorsan, my friend, is
married, and doesn't let me know! me, who am so interested in his
welfare!' Oh! it was very ill done of you!"

"You are too kind, really; but my wife is expecting me, and I cannot
stay any longer. And yet, I should be glad to talk with you. Won't you
breakfast with me?"

"Won't I!"

"I will introduce you to my wife."

"I shall be enchanted to make her acquaintance."

Raymond accompanied me home; he seemed delighted by the cordiality of my
greeting, especially as it was so unusual. He did not suspect that my
eager desire to talk with him was due to the fact that he alone could
tell me about Nicette, where she was and what she was doing. But I felt
that I must be prudent and not question him too abruptly; otherwise, he
would divine my sentiments, and it was more necessary than ever that I
should force them back into the depths of my heart.

When we reached the house, I found that my wife was not anxious about
me, for she was breakfasting without me. I presented Raymond, who
confounded himself in compliments and high-flown praise which must have
bored Pélagie; but women of little intellect often attach the greatest
value to compliments; with such women one can make one's self most
agreeable with commonplace remarks, and in that respect Raymond was well
endowed.

The conversation, therefore, was confined to the pleasures of Paris, and
the sensation that such a woman as my wife must cause in society; for
Raymond always came back to that; he could not understand how a woman
who had always lived in the provinces could be so pretty and have such
distinguished manners; he was inexhaustible, but I breakfasted without
listening to him. As for Pélagie, having learned that she might smile at
another man than her husband, she smiled at each of Raymond's
compliments, which gave her a chance to show her teeth.

I saw that I could not mention Nicette that morning; my wife did not
leave the room; so I must needs be patient.

"Where do you live?" I asked Raymond.

"Rue Pinon, No. 2. I have left my old lodgings; you had ceased to be my
neighbor, and they had lost all their charm."

"I mean to come to see you."

"Oh! don't put yourself to that trouble; a bachelor is seldom at home; I
will come to see you, with your permission, and pay my respects to
madame now and then."

"You will gratify us."

"But I must leave you now; I have three appointments for this morning. I
have so many acquaintances! and not a moment to myself! Adieu, my dear
friend!--Madame, I lay at your feet the homage that your charms
deserve."

And Raymond took his leave, well pleased with his last compliment. He
was the same as ever.

"That gentleman is very pleasant," said Pélagie, when he had gone.

She thought him charming; I was sure that she would. That my wife should
like Raymond did not surprise me; but Nicette!

I dared not call on Raymond the same day; but the next day I could wait
no longer, and I went to see him. He was not in; he had already gone
out.

"Does he live alone?" I asked the concierge.

"Yes, monsieur; all alone."

I went away; I would have liked to know more, but I was almost sure that
Nicette did not live with him. I left my name with the concierge, so
that Raymond might know that I had been to see him; that would bring him
to my house, and perhaps I might be able to speak with him alone.

He did not fail to come the next day. He was extraordinarily touched by
my kindness in calling on him. He promised to show his attachment for
me by coming often to see me.

I paid little heed to all the pretty things he said to me; I was vexed
because my wife did not leave us. How could I find an opportunity to
talk of Nicette? Parbleu! I would ask Raymond to dine; then I would
suggest that we go to the theatre in the evening; after dinner my wife
would go to dress, and she always spent at least three-quarters of an
hour at her toilet; during that time---- Yes, that would do.

I invited Raymond to dine with us informally; he grasped my hand and
squeezed it till he made me wince, so pleased was he with my kindness; I
read in his eyes that he could not understand it. Certainly he must have
found me considerably changed. Doubtless he concluded that it was the
effect of marriage.

The dinner was fairly cheerful; Raymond's conversation never flagged.
Formerly, I was bored to death by his chatter, but it was a distraction
now; for I was not accustomed to hearing conversation, and I began to
experience satisfaction when anyone relieved me from a tête-à-tête with
my wife.

Everything happened as I had foreseen. I proposed the theatre; my
proposition was accepted, my wife went off to dress, and I was alone
with Raymond at last.

I led the conversation imperceptibly to his conquests.

"By the way," said I, "what did you do with the little flower girl?"

"Whom do you mean? little Nicette?"

"Yes, little Nicette, whom you used to go to make love to every
evening."

"Oh! it's a long while since that was all over, and I have ceased to
think of her! I have had so many others since!"

"She was your mistress, then?"

"Yes, for three or four days; and then I dropped her."

"Don't you see her now?"

"Never. I don't even know where she is, for she has left her shop. Oh!
somebody keeps her now, I presume. That little creature had the most
absurd pretensions! she wanted to play the lady, and that sickened me!
When I want a _petite-maîtresse_, I don't apply to a flower girl.
Everyone should stay where she belongs.--By the way, speaking of
_petites-maîtresses_, let us speak of your wife. She is really
beautiful! and so amiable, too! and she fairly sparkles with wit! I saw
that at the first glance. Deuce take it! how lucky you are, my dear
fellow!"

When he began to talk about my wife, I ceased to listen to him. I
thought of what he had told me of Nicette; he declared that she had been
his mistress! could it be true? Ah! if I had not seen him in her shop, I
would have spurned the idea as a ghastly lie. So it was impossible to
find out what had become of her! Perhaps I should never see her again!

That thought saddened me, and I could not banish it from my mind. My
wife returned, having completed her toilet. Raymond offered her his arm;
I motioned to Pélagie to accept it, as it was not customary for a wife
to take her husband's arm when another gentleman offered his. If I had
been in love with my wife, I would have snapped my fingers at such a
custom; but, on the contrary, I was delighted to be able to go by myself
and dream undisturbed.

Raymond was enchanted to have on his arm a pretty woman who thought that
everything that he said was charming. He went to the play with us, and
carried the whole burden of the conversation. I did what I could to
take part in it and to divert my thoughts; but, in spite of myself, I
kept falling back upon my memories. Luckily, neither of them perceived
it: my wife enjoyed the play and Raymond, and he was in ecstasies over
what he said and what Pélagie replied.

When the play was over, we all went home. Ah! how I longed then for a
separate room! but I dared not suggest it.

That day gave birth to a depression which I could not overcome. My wife
said nothing, but I was very sure that she found Raymond much more
attractive than me. What idiocy to bind one's self to a person whose
sentiments have nothing in common with one's own! I said that to myself
every day, and every day I spent a little less time with my wife. I left
her to be amused by Raymond's conversation; and I went off to my little
bachelor apartment, to think; often I wrote there, and read, and worked;
I was so comfortable there! I let my thoughts stray back to happier
days; to the days when I used to find bunches of orange blossoms hung at
my door. Ah! how happy I might have been then! but I did not know enough
to appreciate my good fortune. Not until those moments were past and
gone forever did I realize all their worth! and when I left my little
apartment to go back to the other, I regretted them more keenly than
ever.



XXXIV

I SHOULD HAVE FORESEEN IT


Whether we are sad or merry, happy or wretched, rich or poor, the Fates
spin the web of our days none the less. Mine was no longer of silk and
gold; but still the days passed; they seemed longer to me than if I had
been happy; that was all the difference, and therein people who are fond
of life should find some compensation; for years of sorrow count double.

I had been married only a year, and I had already acquired all the ways
of an old married man. I did not go out with my wife in the morning; she
knew Paris as well as I did, and no longer needed my company; she went
out to pay visits, to make purchases, or to walk; I either worked at
home or went my own way. We almost always had someone to dinner, very
frequently Raymond, who had become the friend of the family. It was not
that I liked him any better than formerly; no, I did not look upon him
as a friend in the least degree; but he had become necessary to me, he
diverted my thoughts, he went about with my wife; he was always at our
service if we needed him to take part in a game or to do an errand; he
was really extremely obliging. Lastly, he had known Nicette, he was the
only person with whom I could talk of her now and then; that reason
alone was sufficient to lead me to seek his society. And yet, it was to
him that I owed a part of my sorrow; but he had rendered me a service by
showing Nicette to me as she really was. If she had listened to him,
she must have listened to many others! In a word, his presence was often
painful to me, and yet I constantly sought it--I always hoped that he
would contradict what he had told me about her.

As for my wife, she could not do without Raymond; he was with her almost
every evening, while I went to my little bachelor apartment. They played
together; Raymond played the flute a little, and my wife the piano; they
both sang also. Raymond was an inferior musician, and my wife was never
in time; together, they considered themselves very fine. And then,
Raymond had a supply of compliments and gallant phrases which delighted
my wife, who had plenty of self-esteem and coquetry, and loved to be
told that she turned all the men's heads and that she was as witty as a
demon.

I confess that I had never been able to tell my wife that she had
overmuch wit. Indeed, I had long since ceased to tell her that she was
pretty; it seemed superfluous to me; I had told her so when I was
courting her, and I could not keep saying the same thing forever. Such
talk seems to me most futile; a husband and wife ought to prove their
love to each other without having to pay each other compliments. But
Pélagie, who did not know what to reply when you talked to her on a
subject of real interest, knew enough to smile at flattery; and Raymond
declared that her smile said many things. If I attempted to talk
sensibly with her, she yawned; thereupon I left her, only too glad when
Raymond was there to take my place.

I was wrong, perhaps, in allowing my wife to do whatever she chose; but
how would it have served me to put restraint upon her, to restrict her
in the gratification of her tastes? It would have made us both unhappy.
We married without love, and we were not made to live together. My wife
was bored when alone with me, and I did not enjoy being with her. When I
tried to talk sensibly to her, to urge her to give a little more time to
her housekeeping instead of thinking solely of gewgaws and dress and
pleasure, then Pélagie would weep and say that her aunt was justified in
calling me a tyrant! What reply could I make to that?--none at all! I
cannot bear to see a woman weep. If I had no love for my wife, I did not
choose that she should have cause to complain of my treatment; so I
allowed her to buy whatever gave her pleasure, and to go to all the
balls and festivities to which she was invited. Pélagie spent on
dresses, jewels, cabs, and trifles much more than she brought me; but I
held my tongue, to avoid little _discussions_. I was determined to do my
best to keep the peace, at all events.

Perhaps I should not have left her so often to listen to the whispering
of dandies and the soft speeches of salon seducers; but, in truth, it
was impossible for me to be jealous. Moreover, my mind was at ease on
that score; Pélagie had been brought up very strictly; she was
high-principled, and her manners were so modest and bashful! To be sure,
she no longer kept her eyes on the floor, and even played the coquette a
bit; but I was none the less confident of her fidelity. And then, too,
the young men who paid court to her in society never came to my house; I
seldom had any male guest except Raymond; and faith! if a man must
torment himself in anticipation, his mind would never be at rest.

I hoped to have children; I would have loved them dearly; I would have
looked after their education, and it would have been a great joy to me.
But I had not had that satisfaction, and the greatest pleasure I knew
was to go to my little apartment on Rue Saint-Florentin. There I seemed
to be a different man; I fancied myself still a bachelor. In that house
nobody knew that I was married; but I never slept there, and my
concierge must have thought that I was leading a strange life; I paid
her generously, however, and she indulged in no comments. Indeed, who in
the house had any reason to complain of me? I took nobody there, I made
no noise, I spoke to nobody, and I did not even know who occupied
Raymond's apartment on my landing.

For some time past, my wife had been going more frequently than ever to
balls and parties which lasted far into the night. I am no foe to
gayeties, but I was afraid that her excessive indulgence in them would
injure her health. I reproved her mildly, and she answered sharply; a
dispute arose, and madame, who had taken a tone which was entirely new
to her, and which surprised me in a woman who had always seemed so
timid,--in the modest Pélagie,--put an end to the discussion by
announcing that she proposed to have a separate room, so that she might
be more at liberty.

I asked nothing better. I had a bed put in the room adjoining my study,
which was separated from my wife's bedroom by the salon, the reception
room, and a small music room. I took possession of my new quarters that
same evening. Raymond, being informed of the new arrangement, said that
it was an excellent idea, and that it was all that we needed to make a
most charming household.

Pélagie spent money freely; with the purpose of trying to put a curb on
the follies she was beginning to commit, I began to go into society
with her. It would still have been easy for me to form intrigues, to
make conquests; for a young husband is as warmly greeted in Paris as a
bachelor in the provinces; but I had no inclination for those liaisons
of a moment, for those amourettes which do not touch the heart; I was
faithful, but not amorous.

Raymond, too, was most constant in his pretended great friendship for
us; often he was obliging enough to bring my wife home when I did not
care to stay so late as she did; and as we no longer slept together,
Madame Dorsan could come in whenever she pleased, and I know nothing
about it. I ceased to say anything to her, for I noticed that she
consistently did just the opposite of what I urged her to do.

Still, I was afraid that her lungs, which were delicate, would suffer
from such constant late hours. The next time that she was to go to a
ball, I advised her to stay at home; she would not listen to me. I
decided to go with her and to try to induce her to go home early.

Raymond accompanied us to the festivity in question, which was very
gorgeous and very largely attended. At midnight, satiated with dust and
écarté, I urged my wife to retire.

"What, monsieur!" replied Pélagie; "go away at the very pleasantest part
of the evening! Oh! I propose to stay till the end! You can go home to
bed; Monsieur Raymond will bring me home."

What was one to say to a little woman who seemed so determined? I went
up to Raymond, who anticipated my wishes.

"My dear fellow, go home if you're tired; I'll bring madame home."

"Will you? very good; I shall be much obliged."

I left the house, saying to myself:

"It's a great mistake to laugh at us poor husbands; for, upon my word,
anyone else in our place would do just as we do."

I went home and to bed. I slept about three hours; then something, I
know not what, awoke me; doubtless it was written that I should wake. I
pressed the repeater of my watch: three o'clock. I thought that I would
like to know if my wife was at home; ordinarily, I did not disturb
myself about it, but she had a cold which made me anxious about her
health; if she was not more careful of herself, it might become serious;
and, although I did not love her, although she did not make me very
happy, as I was more prudent than she, it was my duty to look after her
health.

That idea prevented me from going to sleep again; it seemed to me that I
should be more at ease if I were sure that she had come home. Why should
I not go to her room to make sure? I had never done such a thing since
we had slept apart; but my solicitude ought not to offend her; and
besides, I could go there without waking her, and she would not even
know that I had been to see her. I had a duplicate key to her bedroom,
which I had had made when we slept together, so that I could go in
without rousing her; for, in the early days of our marriage, she used to
go to bed before I came home, and always locked herself in because she
was afraid. I had forgotten to give her that key, which lay in my desk;
and she had probably forgotten that I had it.

I rose and felt my way to the desk, for I kept no light in my room at
night. I found the key, and stole softly from my room to go to my wife.

I walked noiselessly through the intervening rooms, I was careful not to
make a sound; one would have thought that I was on my way to an
assignation, but it was something very different. When I reached my
wife's door I saw a light through the keyhole.--"Good!" I said to
myself; "she's at home;" and I was about to creep away, when I fancied
that I heard voices. With whom could she be talking? The servants were
always in bed when we came home, as we had our own keys. I listened; I
could not hear very distinctly; but it seemed to me that that
voice--"Parbleu!" I thought; "that would be a strange thing!" A thousand
ideas crowded into my mind. I slipped the key in the lock very softly,
turned it quickly, entered the room, and--saw Raymond in bed with my
wife!

Surprise held me motionless for an instant. Raymond jumped out of bed
and ran about the room like a madman; he could not find the door,
although there were two. I came to myself and could not resist the
temptation to give him a kick that sent him to the floor. But I soon
regretted my imprudence. To make an uproar--a scandal--to let the whole
household know that I was--I lacked only that!--I put Raymond on his
feet, pushed him out of the room, threw his coat in his face, and even
gave him a light, so that he might not break his neck on the stairs; it
was impossible to be more polite than I was.

"Until to-morrow!" I said.

I imagined that he did not hear me; but, no matter; he had gone, and I
returned to my wife.

She had remained in bed; she did not stir.

"As you may imagine," I said to her, "I do not propose to publish this
abroad; however, madame, I am not in the humor to continue to live with
you; I may be willing to conceal your misconduct, but I do not choose to
witness any more of it. Henceforth we will live apart, as divorces are
no longer granted, and as we must remain united all our lives by the
laws when we have ceased to be united by any sentiment. It is probable
that the blame will be laid on me; people will say that I have deserted
you after making you unhappy, for so they often judge the acts of
others; but it matters little to me; I leave you everything here; you
have your property, and I have mine; henceforth let there be nothing in
common between us."

Pélagie did not say a single word in reply; indeed, I am inclined to
think that she fell asleep during my speech. I took a candle, closed her
door, and returned to my own room. I intended to go to bed again; but I
felt that I should not be able to sleep. No matter if a man be not in
love or jealous, he cannot see such things as that and remain cool.
Still, I was well content with the coolness I had displayed; except for
the kick administered to Raymond, I had borne myself like a genuine
philosopher; but I felt in the bottom of my heart that one is never a
philosopher in respect to those things which concern self-esteem and
honor. Honor! Ah! Figaro is right when he asks:

"Where in the devil has honor hidden itself?"

I decided to pack up my belongings; that would keep me busy, and I
should be able to carry everything away at daybreak, and to leave
forever that woman, to whom I had been married about eighteen months,
and who had already made of me a--but one does not care to speak that
word concerning one's self, although ready enough to apply it to
others.

This, then, is the result of that happy marriage!--Ah! my dear sister,
why did I hearken to you? Why did I marry a woman who did not love me--a
woman who was not suited to me in any one respect! If we had been happy
together, if I had enjoyed being with her, if I had not left her so much
to her own resources, perhaps it would not have happened!

So that young innocent, that Agnès, that little simpleton, had betrayed
me after only eighteen months! Perhaps it had been going on a long while
already; and once more it was Raymond who---- But, in truth, I should
have foreseen it; it was certain to happen.

"But," I said to myself, "this will be your last escapade, Monsieur
Raymond; to-morrow I will call upon you with a pair of pistols, which I
will load myself."

The day was beginning to break; I went down into the street, ordered a
messenger to go to my room with me, gave him all my goods and chattels
to carry, and bade adieu to my home. Thenceforth I would resume my
bachelor life.

I had my bundles carried to my old apartment. Ah! how rejoiced I was
that I had kept it! It was as if I had divined that I should return to
it some day. Madame Dupont stared at my bundles.

"Does this mean that monsieur is going to sleep in his room now?" she
asked slyly.

"Yes, Madame Dupont; after this I am going to live as I used to."

That business completed, I took my weapons and went to Raymond's
apartment.

"Where are you going, monsieur?" inquired the concierge, when she saw me
hurrying upstairs.

"To Monsieur Raymond's."

"Why, monsieur, didn't you know that he'd gone away?"

"What's that? gone away?"

"To be sure; he didn't sleep here; he took his things away during the
night, paid his quarter's rent, and told me to sell his furniture,
saying that he'd send someone for the money after a while. I don't know
what had happened to him, but he seemed so confused that at first I
thought he'd gone mad; he was in such a hurry that he didn't take time
to pack the most necessary things. And then he rushed off without
telling me where he was going."

"The coward! Woe to him if I ever meet him! But he is quite capable of
having left Paris!"

I left Raymond's concierge in open-mouthed amazement and returned to Rue
Saint-Florentin, to arrange my little apartment with a view to resuming
my former habits.



XXXV

MY NEIGHBOR


After a few days I recovered my tranquillity; even my spirits, which I
had lost, seemed to return with me to my old lodgings; sometimes I
fancied that I was still a bachelor; in truth, the best thing for me to
do, now that I had no wife, was to forget that I was married.

As I had foreseen, I was the one at whom the stones were thrown; I
received a letter from my sister, who informed me that it was a
frightful thing to have deserted my wife; that we simply must be
reconciled; that Madame de Pontchartrain was furious, and that Pélagie
was constantly asking her for money. In reply, I wrote my sister an
exact account of what had happened, begging her to keep it secret. I
knew that she would not, but I did not care if the good people of Melun
knew that I was a cuckold; I had no desire to go back there.

In my old lodgings I resumed my former mode of life, save for its
follies, in which I no longer indulged; indeed, it was necessary for me
to lead an orderly, economical life; for my dear wife was running
through her fortune very rapidly, and I foresaw that she would soon have
recourse to me, and that I should be obliged to make her an allowance.

I congratulated myself on the perfect tranquillity that I enjoyed in my
house; I realized that Raymond was no longer my neighbor. I should have
been glad to find him, however; but I searched Paris for him in vain; he
must have left the city.

Apropos of neighbors, I began to wonder who lived on my landing. I had
never seen anybody go in or out; it was clearly some person of very
sedentary habits. I was not curious; still, one likes to know who lives
so near one. Madame Dupont would tell me.

My concierge continued to do my housework; when she came one morning as
usual, she was delighted to find me inclined to converse a little.

"I believe you told me, Madame Dupont, that the rooms Monsieur Raymond
used to occupy are let?"

"Certainly they are, monsieur; they weren't vacant a week; somebody
hired 'em right away."

"I never happen to see a living soul go in or out; I never hear a
sound."

"Oh! the tenant's a very quiet party, never goes out, never has any
callers; it's all right, but I don't believe she has a very exciting
time."

"It's a woman, is it?"

"Yes, monsieur--and as to respectability and morals--oh! there's nothing
to be said."

"Is she an old woman?"

"Not by any means, monsieur; she's a young woman--very young."

"Oho! and pretty?"

"Yes, very pretty--as well as I can see under the big bonnet she always
wears."

"What! a young and pretty woman living all alone? no lovers, no
husband?"

"No one, I tell you! Oh! if anyone came, I should know it."

"But she must go out sometimes?"

"In the morning, very early, to buy what she needs; you're still asleep,
that's why you don't meet her. After that, she never stirs from her
room."

"It's very strange!"

"I've tried to talk with her now and then; but she won't talk; it's
impossible to get two words out of her. However, as she behaves decently
and pays on the dot, there's nothing to be said. But it seems to me that
people ought to be obliged to let you know who they are."

I could not help smiling at my concierge's reflection. What she had told
me of my neighbor aroused my curiosity a little, and at first I felt a
desire to know her; but why should I annoy the young woman? she did not
like society; perhaps she had her reasons for avoiding it. I determined
to respect her retirement.

I had ceased to go into society; I should have run the risk of meeting
my wife or of being beset with disagreeable questions concerning the
cause of our separation; in society, people are so indiscreet that they
always ask, from preference, the most unpleasant questions, and I did
not choose to afford them that pleasure.

I went to the play, to all the places where one is free from restraint.
Sometimes I caught a glimpse of my wife in a carriage, or in a box at
the theatre with two or three young men; it seemed that she had not
regretted Raymond very deeply, and I was not surprised; she was not so
constituted as to regret anyone. When I saw her in the distance, I
hastened away in the opposite direction; and she did the same; that was
the only thing in which we agreed.

I prayed that she might not have children now! I should have to be their
father, willy-nilly. How delightful it would be to be presented with a
little family that I must support!

"You should have gone back to your wife," someone will say; "then you
could have believed that you were the father of your children."

Thanks; I preferred to live in peace and receive such gifts as my wife
chose to send me.

I had been a bachelor three months; that time had passed very rapidly,
for ennui never found its way into my little apartment. I had resumed my
books and my music;--music! so soothing to the heart, and so sympathetic
with our joys and our sorrows! Every evening I sat down at my piano and
passed two or three hours there; it seemed to me that Nicette was with
me, that she was listening to me; I dreamed that she still loved me,
that she had never loved anyone else, and I was happy while cajoling
myself thus with chimeras; men are great children who cajole themselves
all their lives.

Sometimes I forgot the hour; the quiet of the night inclines the heart
to feed on illusions, and I abandoned myself to those illusions that
fascinated me. No one in the house had complained because I played so
late; there was no one above me but maid-servants, whom it did not keep
from sleeping; below was an old annuitant, slightly deaf; so that there
was nobody except my neighbor on the same landing who might be annoyed
by it; but I had asked the concierge if she had said anything about it,
and she said _no_. That woman was absolutely invisible; several times I
had fancied that I heard her door open, and had gone out quickly; for I
confess that I was curious to see her--but her door was already closed.

She might have passed me again and again, and I should not have noticed
her; but nothing arouses curiosity so keenly as an air of mystery. I
determined to rise very early some morning and try to see her. I made
that resolve at night, but I fell asleep and forgot it. I was not the
man to do sentry duty on the landing, or to stare through the keyhole
ten or fifteen minutes; I left such methods to Raymond.

I heard nothing more from Melun, and for some time past I had not seen
my wife; she left me in peace. I heard sometimes, from one of those
officious friends whom one meets in spite of one's self, try as one may
to avoid them, that Madame Dorsan was no more prudent in her conduct,
that she had the same mania for balls and dissipation, that her coquetry
increased every day, and a thousand other bits of news no less
agreeable. There were some who advised me to exert my rights and to
apply for an order to have her confined. I thanked them and turned on my
heel; I would swear that the very same people told Pélagie that I was a
tyrant, a bear, a wretch unworthy to be the husband of so pretty and
interesting a woman, and that I ought to be put under guardianship.

In order to avoid meeting my wife, I frequently went into the country,
not in the direction which fashion has made its own, but to those places
where the worthy bourgeois and little grisettes go to amuse themselves;
the little grisettes whom I used to follow! But I had grown wiser;
marriage had _matured_ my head considerably; I might say, had
_embellished_ it.

On a certain day I felt more content than usual with the world; I went
out on horseback and rode farther than I was accustomed to do. Darkness
overtook me at Vincennes; I urged my horse to a gallop, and returned to
Paris in time to avoid a storm that reminded me of the evening at
Montmorency.

After taking my horse to the stable, I returned home; I felt tired and
needed rest. I could hardly drag myself up the stairs. I was about to
open the door--but what was it that my hand touched? Could it be? I
dared not believe it, and yet I held the bouquet in my hand. I put it to
my nose, I inhaled its perfume with intoxicating joy. Yes, it was really
a bouquet--in the same place where she used to put them. Ah! it surely
was she who brought that one! who else could have made me that present?
I hurried into the room; I could hardly wait to examine it. When I was
inside and had struck a light, I gazed at that lovely bouquet and kissed
it; it was of orange blossoms, the exact counterpart of those she used
to bring me. Ah! it was she, of course, who sent it to me! But, in that
case, she was in Paris! she still thought of me! she still loved me!

All these ideas chased one another through my brain; I looked to see if
there was a note in the bouquet--nothing! I went to the door, I looked
in the keyhole and on the floor--nothing! I had only the bouquet; but
that was much! She must have been there; I flew downstairs to question
Madame Dupont. I forgot my fatigue.

"Has anyone been here to see me?" I asked the concierge.

"No, monsieur."

"What! no one has been to ask for me?--a young lady?"

"I give you my word, monsieur, that I haven't seen anybody who asked for
you, and I haven't been away from my door."

"Oh! you never see anything! you never used to see her before!"

"Who, monsieur?"

"Someone came, all the same, for I found this bouquet on my doorknob."

"Well, well! that's very funny; somebody must have made a mistake in the
door."

"Mistake! no, there's no mistake; it was she who came."

"She! who's she?"

"Raise the latch, Madame Dupont."

"What, monsieur! are you going out again now? Wait till the storm has
passed; it's raining bucketsful."

"Open the door, I tell you!"

The concierge dared not make any further suggestions. I went out; I had
no idea where I was going, but I was absolutely determined to find out
something about Nicette, to learn where she was. I hurried along the
street, looking all about me--no one! It was a terrible storm. I went
to Rue Saint-Honoré, to her former shop; it seemed to me that I might
learn something by going to the place where she used to live; but the
shop was closed, tightly closed. I knocked--there was no reply. I
entered the café opposite and asked the waiters if the former flower
girl had returned to her shop. They stared at me, having no very clear
idea what I was saying; I was so excited, and my rain-soaked clothes and
muddy boots gave me such a wild aspect, that they took me for a lunatic,
I doubt not. I left the café without obtaining any information. Where
should I go next? I was still determined to find her.--Ah! perhaps where
her mother used to live. It was a terribly long way, but I ran there
without stopping. It was quite late; I could find nothing open but a
grocery in the neighborhood of Mère Jérôme's house. I went in and
inquired; there I was at least more courteously treated than at the
café, because the grocer was more accustomed to see drenched and muddy
people. But I learned nothing; since Madame Jérôme's death her daughters
had not been seen in the quarter. So I must needs renounce all hope of
learning what had become of her! But, no; I would hope on; she had sent
me a bouquet, and perhaps she would return.

I went home sadly enough. I felt completely exhausted; my clothes were
stuck to my body; I could hardly walk, but I looked in vain for a cab;
it rained in torrents, and I did not meet a single one. I reached home
at last. Madame Dupont was waiting for me; the poor woman was terrified
when she saw the state I was in; she insisted on going upstairs to warm
my bed, on my taking something hot; but I refused her attentions; I
hoped that rest would restore me. When I entered my room, my teeth
chattered violently and my legs trembled under me. I felt far from well;
I crept into bed with Nicette's bouquet on my heart; it seemed to me
that that must cure me.

The next morning my concierge found me wildly delirious; I recognized
nobody; my head was on fire, my mouth was parched; I was consumed by a
burning fever. Fatigue, the storm, the mental agitation of the preceding
night, had all combined to make me seriously ill. In a few days I was at
the door of the tomb.

Who was there to take care of me? who would nurse me? My relations were
not in Paris. I had a wife, but she, instead of coming to my bedside,
would have fled from me for fear of contagion; strangers had to take the
place of kindred and friends.

For nine days I had no idea who was nursing me; I neither heard nor saw
anything. Not until the end of that time was the crisis safely passed; I
was saved, my delirium disappeared; all that I needed was good care,
quiet, and rest.

I half opened my eyes and looked about me with difficulty, trying to
collect my thoughts. I saw Madame Dupont by my side.

"Have I been delirious long?" I asked.

"Nine days, monsieur; oh! you've been very sick; you almost died! But,
thank heaven! you're saved; all you need now is patience and plenty of
rest. I was sure you'd be sick. The idea of going out in such a storm!
and all in a sweat, too! And when you came back, why, your eyes were
starting out of your head! But young men will never listen to advice!
And then, think of going to sleep with a nosegay under your nose! that's
very bad--very unhealthy!"

"What has been done with that bouquet?"

"It's in the other room there; never fear, you'll find it all right."

"Who has nursed me since I have been sick?"

"I have, and--your neighbor."

"My neighbor!"

"Yes, the lady on your landing. Oh! she has taken the best possible care
of you. As soon as she heard you was sick, she insisted on being your
nurse, and, my word! if she'd been nursing sick folks all her life, she
couldn't have done better."

"Where is she? I would like to thank her."

"Oh! you can thank her later. She's just gone to her room. But here you
are talking, and the doctor told us we mustn't let you talk! Go to
sleep, monsieur, go to sleep; it'll do you good."

Madame Dupont closed my curtains and refused to answer any more
questions. I was at a loss to understand the unknown lady's conduct; but
I was not strong enough to reflect long; I fell asleep wishing that I
might see her. Toward evening I woke. Someone was beside me. When I
moved, the person attempted to hurry away; but it was too late; my eyes
had met hers, I had recognized her: it was Nicette.

I cried out, and she returned to me.

"Oh! in heaven's name, speak to me!" I said; "so that I may be sure that
it is you!"

"Yes, yes, it's I, it's your Nicette. Oh! Monsieur Dorsan, pray don't
talk any more; the doctor has strictly forbidden it. That's the reason I
didn't want you to see me."

"Dear Nicette! as if the sight of you was not more powerful than all
their medicines! It is you! it is really you!"

I took her hands and pressed them and held them to my heart; I no longer
had strength to speak. She tried to calm me, but she was as deeply moved
as I was; the tears rolled down her cheeks and dropped on me; but how
sweet they were to us both!

"So it was you, Nicette, who nursed me during my illness?"

"Wasn't it my duty? Could I have trusted others to do it?"

"Then you were my neighbor?"

"Yes, monsieur."

"Cruel girl! you concealed yourself from me!"

"I thought that the sight of me would not give you any pleasure."

"You did not think that!"

"You are married."

"But you see that I have ceased to live with my wife."

"I didn't dare show myself to you, for fear that would make you leave
your lodgings."

"What an idea! O Nicette!"

"But I couldn't resist the longing to remind you of me; and that is why
you found the bouquet."

"Ah! it is to it that I am indebted for finding you. Nicette, don't
leave me again, I implore you!"

"Oh, no! I won't leave you again, monsieur, as you allow me to stay.
But, I beg of you, be calm, don't talk any more, and take a little
rest."

I yielded to her entreaties; in truth, I did need to pull myself
together. Nicette was with me, it was to her nursing that I owed my
life! I had difficulty in realizing my happiness. Ah! how blissfully
happy I was! and yet, some regret was mingled with my joy, when I
thought that Raymond---- But if that were not true, I should be too
happy.

Every day my convalescence advanced a step; but I was not content unless
Nicette was by my side; so she never left me. She seemed surprised by
the feeling that I manifested for her; I saw in her eyes all the
intoxicating joy that it caused her. It was plain, therefore, that she
still loved me. Often I flattered myself that it was so, and then I
abandoned myself to the affection that she aroused in me, I basked
blissfully in the fire of her glances, I laid my head on her breast and
inhaled her sweet breath. But when the image of Raymond appeared before
me, all my happiness vanished, my heart swelled, and I moved away from
Nicette.

She noticed these abrupt transitions from joy to gloom, these sudden
changes in my manner toward her.

"Are you thinking of your wife?" she asked me one day, when I had moved
away from her and sighed.

"No," I said, gazing at her in distress; "I am thinking of Raymond."

"Of Monsieur Raymond; and that makes you sigh?"

"Can you wonder at it? Did he not rob me of the greatest of blessings?"

"What do you mean? I don't understand you."

"Ah! Nicette, you loved him, and yet you say that you don't understand
me!"

"I--love him! Great God! who told you that?"

"I saw it; I know that he was your lover."

"My lover! O heaven! then I am a most despicable creature in your eyes!
And you believed that!"

Tears suffocated her; she could say no more. I ran to her, threw my arms
about her, and covered her with kisses; the mere suspicion that Raymond
had lied to me was perfect bliss.

"Nicette, dear Nicette, tell me how it all happened? I saw him in your
shop; he held your hands--and you admitted it yourself."

"Ah! could you believe that I loved anybody but you? I, who would give
my life for you--who have never given a thought to anybody else since I
first saw you! Oh! forgive me for loving you so much; perhaps it offends
you, but I must tell you now the whole secret of my heart. When I lived
in my shop, the only joy I had was to see you; every day I expected or
hoped to see you pass; but it happened very seldom. I used to bring you
bouquets as a pledge of my gratitude, and I would seize a moment when
the concierge was out to run up and tie them on your door. Sometimes I
saw you go by with a lady on your arm. Then I used to cry, for I would
say to myself: 'I shall never walk like that with him'--When I went a
long while without seeing you, I used to long to know something about
you, but I didn't dare go to your house to inquire. One day Monsieur
Raymond stopped to buy some flowers of me; he looked at me very hard,
recognized me, I suppose, and came again the next day. While he was
looking at my flowers, he paid me compliments, but I didn't listen to
him. Then he mentioned you, and I was very glad to listen to him. He
noticed that, for every time he came he talked about you, and I always
urged him to stay. He was the only person from whom I heard anything
about you; what he said made me sad, and yet I wanted to hear it. He
told me that you had twenty mistresses, that you loved all the women,
and that you had made fun of me; then he showed me the bouquets I had
carried to you, which he said you had given to him."

"The miserable cur! And you believed him, Nicette?"

"Alas! when I saw you come to buy flowers with that lady who--who called
you her dear friend and looked at me with such a sneering expression, I
thought he had told me the truth. That made me so unhappy that I
couldn't stay at home; I went out and walked about the streets most of
the night, hardly knowing what I did. It was while I was out that you
came. The next morning, when you came again, you seemed to be very
angry, and you left me very suddenly, you know; I wanted to call you
back, but I didn't dare. That evening Monsieur Raymond came; he talked
about you; I cried, and he tried to comfort me; he may have taken my
hands in his, but if he did I didn't feel it; I was thinking only of
you. He came again the next night, and then he wanted to talk about
himself: he said that he adored me, and a lot of other things; but he
said nothing more about you, and I wouldn't listen to him. I didn't let
him in again; he wrote me a long love letter, calling me cruel and
wicked. I have kept it to show you. At last he let me alone. I never saw
you after that. I came to this house and learned that you had gone away,
but had kept your apartment; that made me hope you would return. But one
day Monsieur Raymond passed my shop, and, being delighted to make me
unhappy, told me you were married. Alas! I should have expected it; I
knew that there must be many other women who loved you; and yet, I
became so miserable that I didn't have the courage to keep my shop;
besides, I was rich enough to get along without it. I came to this house
and found that the other apartment on your landing was empty, so I hired
it on the spot. That brought me nearer to these rooms where I passed
that night which changed the whole course of my life. But when you came
back here to live, I didn't dare to let you see me, because I was afraid
that the sight of me would not be pleasant to you.--That is the truth;
do you believe now that I have loved any man but you?"

When she had finished her story, Nicette went for Raymond's letter and
brought it to me. I no longer needed it to induce me to believe her; but
that final proof thoroughly convinced me that I had been deceived by
appearances and by Raymond's lies.

Ah! how delicious was that moment when I found that Nicette was worthy
of all my love! I hastened to tell her, in my turn, all that had
happened to me, all that I had felt when I believed that she was
Raymond's mistress. She wept with joy and love as she listened; she
gazed into my face, took my hands, and held them to her heart.

"So you did love me," she said, "and you love me still! Ah! how happy I
am!"

The story of my marriage and of Pélagie's conduct caused her the
greatest surprise; she could not conceive how my wife could fail to love
me. Dear Nicette! But for that miserable Raymond, I should still have
been free! but the ties which bound me to Pélagie were broken by nature,
if not by man.

"What!" she said; "are you not going back to your wife?"

"Never. That resolution was irrevocable before I found you; it can bring
no blame upon you."

"And you really want me to stay with you?"

"Do I want you to! Could I live without you now?"

"Oh! how happy I am going to be, monsieur!"

"Dear Nicette! no more _monsieur_, no more formal address! I am your
friend, your lover, and you are the whole world to me! Call me Eugène,
your Eugène!"

The evening passed away in this blissful conversation.

"I must go to my room now," said Nicette; "it is time to go to sleep,
and you need it."

"Oh! happiness has restored my health. But you are my nurse, and you
must not leave me."

She blushed and looked at me; but she had not the strength to deny me
anything.

"Dear Eugène," she said, "I am yours. This is surely the place where I
owe the reward of your love."

Oh! unalloyed ecstasy of true love, I had never known you before! Never
until that day did I really exist!



XXXVI

GREAT EVENTS.--CONCLUSION


A new dawn had risen for me; beside Nicette time fairly flew, and love
alone remained. It seemed to me that I loved her more dearly every day.
Sometimes the poor child feared that her happiness was only a dream. How
keen our pleasures were! how sweet our intercourse! Nicette was no
longer the poor flower girl whom I had known long before. Since she had
known me, she had striven incessantly to leave behind her every trace of
manners and mode of speech that might be unpleasant to me; she had
struggled to acquire the indispensable knowledge that she lacked. During
all the time that she had lived alone on my landing, she had devoted to
study every instant that was not given to thoughts of me. The result was
that she talked easily and expressed herself with facility; her manners
were refined, her appearance simple, but modest; she did not hold
herself perfectly stiff, or keep her eyes cast down, or assume the
prudish airs which distinguished Pélagie--before she was my wife; but
her demeanor was respectable, her glance sweet and expressive; her whole
aspect was most attractive; and her heart--ah! her heart was a treasure!

Six months had passed like a day since I had found Nicette; our
happiness would have been perfect but for her occasional fits of
melancholy, the cause of which I divined.

"You are married," she often said to me; "perhaps it is very wrong of me
to live with you. Suppose that you should despise me some day."

"Dear Nicette! drive away these thoughts, which my heart repels. Let the
world think and say what it will! If it blames me, it is wrong. In good
faith, which of the two deserves to be despised, the wife who deceives
her husband, or the mistress who is true to her lover?"

But one morning, while we were breakfasting, there came a violent ring
at my door. Nicette answered the bell and returned, followed by a woman
whom I recognized: it was Justine, Pélagie's maid.

My blood froze in my veins. Why had she come?

"Monsieur," said Justine, "madame your wife is very sick; when she came
home from a ball three days ago, she began to vomit blood; they think
she can't get well, and she wants to see you."

Nicette turned pale; I saw her stagger, but she ran to fetch my hat.

"Go, my dear," she said; "go at once; your wife is waiting for you. If
necessary, stay with her, don't come back! But try to save her life."

I hurried after Justine and returned to that house which I had thought
that I should never enter again. How everything was changed! What
confusion everywhere! I found my way at last to my wife's apartment and
approached her bed; I could hardly recognize her. Was this that Pélagie
who used to be so fresh and pretty?--I forgot her faults, and I was
conscious of no feeling for her but pity.

She held out her hand.

"I wanted to see you before I died," she said, in a faint voice.
"Eugène, forgive my wrongdoing. I am punished for it, as you see. If I
had listened to you, I should not be standing now on the edge of the
grave."

I tried to comfort her, to revive hope in her heart; but I could not;
she knew too well that the mainspring of life was broken.

I took my place by her side. The day passed without bringing any change
in her condition, but the night was terrible; and about five in the
morning, Pélagie ceased to live.

I shed tears over the remains of a woman whose life was so brief and
whose happiness was so deceptive.

Having completed the business to which this sad event required me to
attend, and having paid my wife's debts, I returned to Nicette.

"Well?" she said; "your wife?"

"She is no more!"

"Oh! my dear, let us weep over her fate! she might have been so happy if
she had loved you!"

To divert my thoughts from that occurrence, I formed the plan of taking
a journey with Nicette. That would complete her training; the sight of
Switzerland and Italy is always profitable to those who can think and
remember.

Nicette was ready to go with me; wherever she could be with me, she was
perfectly happy; it mattered little to her under what sky or in what
climate we were to pass our lives. To her I was the world, pleasure,
happiness. Ah! Nicette! love me so always! If you should ever be false
to me, then I should know that no one on earth is worthy of love or
faith.

We started in a berlin which I had bought, so that we were free to halt
wherever some monument should arouse our admiration, or some fact of
history our interest; that is the only agreeable and profitable way to
travel.

We made the tour of Switzerland. I was anxious to show Nicette the
splendors of Mont Cenis, and we stopped at an inn near the foot of the
mountain. I observed that there was a great commotion in the house. I
ordered a room, and the maid who showed us the way to it kept uttering
exclamations.

"What has happened here, in heaven's name?" I asked her; "you all seem
much excited. You have guests here, I suppose?"

"Yes, monsieur, a party of foreigners arrived this morning, to climb the
mountain; there are Englishmen and Frenchmen and Russians, a whole party
of sightseers, in fact. But that isn't what distresses us so. You see,
monsieur, this morning before breakfast all these gentlemen were
together, and they began to talk about tables d'hôte. One man said that
he liked them because he ate very fast; another declared that he was a
better eater than any of the rest, and that he'd eat six eggs before
breakfast and, even then, eat faster than anyone; they laughed at him,
so he bet ten louis, and an Englishman took the bet. The poor man
ordered hard-boiled eggs; he ate them, and then began his breakfast; oh!
he went at it in fine style, I tell you! and so he won his ten louis.
But just after, he turned yellow, red, and blue; they had to put him to
bed, and instead of climbing the mountain he's likely to die on our
hands."

"It's an Englishman, of course, who undertook that pretty trick?"

"No, monsieur; a Frenchman."

"A Frenchman!"

"If you want to see him, everybody's standing round his bed; everyone
has some remedy to save his life."

I was curious to see the fellow. I left Nicette and bade the girl show
me to the dying man's room. As I entered, he breathed his last, as a
result of his wager. I glanced at his face, and recognized my neighbor
Raymond.

       *       *       *       *       *


Typographical errors corrected by the etext transcriber:

interrupting her converversation=> interrupting her conversation {pg 78}

which I was detemined=> which I was determined {pg 198}

Typographical errors corrected by the etext transcriber:

even though one act wretchedly=> even though one acts wretchedly {pg
287}

       *       *       *       *       *





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