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Title: Christmas Stories from French and Spanish writers
Author: Ogden, Antoinette
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Christmas Stories from French and Spanish writers" ***

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A detailed Transcriber's Note is at the end of this file.



    CHRISTMAS STORIES



    CHRISTMAS STORIES
    FROM
    French and Spanish Writers

    BY
    ANTOINETTE OGDEN

    [Illustration]

    CHICAGO
    A. C. McCLURG AND COMPANY
    1892



    COPYRIGHT
    BY A. C. MCCLURG AND CO.
    A. D. 1892



    [Illustration: Christmas
    Stories

    FROM FRENCH
    AND SPANISH
    WRITERS BY
    ANTOINETTE
    OGDEN

    CHICAGO
    A·C·Mc.CLURG & COMPANY
    M·D·CCCXCII]



CONTENTS.


                                                  PAGE

    A BIRD IN THE SNOW                              11
      From the Spanish of Armando Palacio Valdés.

    A CHRISTMAS IN THE FOREST                       33
      From the French of André Theuriet.

    THE LOUIS-D'OR                                  41
      From the French of François Coppée.

    A CHRISTMAS SUPPER IN THE MARAIS                51
      From the French of Alphonse Daudet.

    THE PRINCESS AND THE RAGAMUFFIN                 59
      From the Spanish of Benito Pérez Galdós.

    A TRAGEDY                                       91
      From the Spanish of Antonio Maré.

    THE THREE LOW MASSES                           103
      From the French of Alphonse Daudet.

    THE POET'S CHRISTMAS EVE                       117
      From the Spanish of Pedro A. de Alarcón.

    I TAKE SUPPER WITH MY WIFE                     135
      From the French of Gustave Droz.

    THE YULE LOG                                   147
      From the French of Jules Simon.

    THE MULE AND THE OX                            177
      From the Spanish of Benito Pérez Galdós.

    SOLANGE, THE WOLF-GIRL                         201
      From the French of Marcel Prévost.

    SALVETTE AND BERNADOU                          213
      From the French of Alphonse Daudet.

    MAESE PÉREZ, THE ORGANIST                      221
      From the Spanish of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer.

    THE TORN CLOAK                                 245
      From the French of Maxime du Camp.



CHRISTMAS STORIES.



A BIRD IN THE SNOW.

From the Spanish of ARMANDO PALACIO VALDÉS.


He was born blind, and had been taught the one thing which the blind
generally learn,--music; for this art he was specially gifted. His
mother died when he was little more than a child, and his father,
who was the first cornetist of a military band, followed her to the
grave a few years later. He had a brother in America from whom he had
never heard; still, through indirect sources he knew him to be well
off, married, and the father of two fine children. To the day of his
death the old musician, indignant at his son's ingratitude, would
not allow his name to be mentioned in his presence; but the blind
boy's affection for his brother remained unchanged. He could not
forget that this elder brother had been the support of his childhood,
the defence of his weakness against the other boys, and that he had
always spoken to him with kindness. The recollection of Santiago's
voice as he entered his room in the morning, shouting, "Hey there,
Juanito! get up, man; don't sleep so!" rang in the blind boy's ears
with a more pleasing harmony than could ever be drawn from the keys
of a piano or the strings of a violin. Was it probable that such a
kind heart had grown cold? Juan could not believe it, and was always
striving to justify him. At times the fault was with the mail, or
it might be that his brother did not wish to write until he could
send them a good deal of money; then again, he fancied that he meant
to surprise them by presenting himself some fine day, laden with
gold, in the modest _entresol_ in which they lived. But he never
dared communicate any of these fancies to his father; only when
the old man, wrought to an unusual pitch of exasperation, bitterly
apostrophized the absent one, he found the courage to say: "You must
not despair, father. Santiago is good, and my heart tells me that we
shall hear from him one of these days."

The father died, however, without hearing from his son, between a
priest, who exhorted him, and the blind boy, who clung convulsively
to his hand, as if he meant to detain him in this world by main
force. When the old man's body was removed from the house, the
boy seemed to have lost his reason, and in a frenzy of grief he
struggled with the undertaker's men. Then he was left alone. And what
loneliness was his! No father, no mother, no relatives, no friends;
he was even deprived of the sunlight, which is the friend of all
created things. He was two whole days in his room pacing the floor
like a caged wolf, without tasting food. The chamber-maid, assisted
by a compassionate neighbor, succeeded in saving him from this slow
process of suicide. He was prevailed upon to eat. He spent the rest
of his life praying, and working at his music.

His father, shortly before his death, had obtained for him a position
as organist in one of the churches of Madrid, with a salary of
seventy cents a day. This was scarcely sufficient to meet the running
expenses of a house, however modest; so within a fortnight Juan sold
all that had constituted the furniture of his humble home, dismissed
his servant, and took a room at a boarding-house, for which he paid
forty cents a day; the remaining thirty cents covered all his other
expenses. He lived thus for several months without leaving his room
except to fulfil his obligations. His only walks were from the house
to the church, and from the church back again. His grief weighed
upon him so heavily that he never opened his lips. He spent the long
hours of the day composing a grand requiem Mass for the repose of
his father's soul, depending upon the charity of the parish for its
execution; and although it would be incorrect to say that he strained
his five senses,--on account of his having but four,--it can at least
be said that he threw all the energies of his body and soul into his
work.

The ministerial crisis overtook him before his task was half
finished. I do not remember who came into power, whether the
Radicals, Conservatives, or Constitutionals; at any rate, there was
some great change. The news reached Juan late, and to his sorrow.
The new cabinet soon judged him, in his capacity as an organist, to
be a dangerous citizen, and felt that from the heights of the choir,
at vespers or in the solemnity of the Mass, with the swell and the
roar from all the stops of the organ, he was evincing sentiments of
opposition which were truly scandalous. The new ministers were ill
disposed, as they declared in Congress through the lips of one of
their authorized members, "to tolerate any form of imposition," so
they proceeded with praiseworthy energy to place Juan on the retired
list, and to find him a substitute whose musical manoeuvres might
offer a better guarantee,--a man, in a word, who would prove more
loyal to the institutions. On being officially informed of this,
the blind one experienced no emotion beyond surprise. In the deep
recesses of his heart he was pleased, as he was thus left more time
in which to work at his Mass. The situation appeared to him in its
real light only when his landlady, at the end of the month, came to
him for money. He had none to give her, naturally, as his salary had
been withdrawn; and he was compelled to pawn his father's watch,
after which he resumed his work with perfect serenity and without a
thought of the future. But the landlady came again for money at the
end of another month, and he once more pawned a jewel of the scant
paternal legacy; this was a small diamond ring. In a few months there
was nothing left to pawn. So the landlady, in consideration of his
helplessness, kept him two or three days beyond the time and then
turned him out, with the self-congratulatory feeling of having acted
generously in not claiming his trunk and clothes, from which she
might have realized the few cents that he still owed her.

He looked for another lodging, but was unable to rent a piano, which
was a sore trial to him; evidently he could not finish his Mass. He
knew a shopkeeper who owned a piano and who permitted him to make
use of it. But Juan soon noticed that his visits grew more and more
inopportune, so he left off going. Shortly, too, he was turned out
of his new lodgings, only this time they kept his trunk. Then came
a period of misery and anguish,--of that misery of which it is hard
to conceive. We know that life has few joys for the homeless and
the poor, but if in addition they be blind and alone, surely they
have found the limit of human suffering. Juan was tossed about from
lodging to lodging, lying in bed while his only shirt was being
washed, wandering through the streets of Madrid with torn shoes, his
trousers worn to a fringe about his feet, his hair long, and his
beard unshaven. Some compassionate fellow-lodger obtained a position
for him in a café, from which, however, he was soon turned out, for
its frequenters did not relish his music. He never played popular
dances or peteneras, no fandangos, not even an occasional polka.
His fingers glided over the keys in dreamy ecstasies of Beethoven
and Chopin, and the audience found some difficulty in keeping time
with their spoons. So out he went again through the byways of the
capital. Every now and then some charitable soul, accidentally
brought in contact with his misery, assisted him indirectly, for Juan
shuddered at the thought of begging. He took his meals in some tavern
or other in the lowest quarter of Madrid, ate just enough to keep
from starving, and for two cents he was allowed to sleep in a hovel
between beggars and evil-doers. Once they stole his trousers while he
was asleep, and left him a pair of cotton ones in their stead. This
was in November.

Poor Juan, who had always cherished the thought of his brother's
return, now in the depths of his misery nursed his chimera with
redoubled faith. He had a letter written and sent to Havana. As he
had no idea how his brother could be reached, the letter bore no
direction. He made all manner of inquiries, but to no effect, and
he spent long hours on his knees, hoping that Heaven might send
Santiago to his rescue. His only happy moments were those spent in
prayer, as he knelt behind a pillar in the far-off corner of some
solitary church, breathing the acrid odors of dampness and melting
wax, listening to the flickering sputter of the tapers and the faint
murmur rising from the lips of the faithful in the nave of the
temple. His innocent soul then soared above the cruelties of life
and communed with God and the Holy Mother. From his early childhood
devotion to the Virgin had been deeply rooted in his heart. As he had
never known his mother, he instinctively turned to the mother of God
for that tender and loving protection which only a woman can give a
child. He had composed a number of hymns and canticles in her honor,
and he never fell asleep without pressing his lips to the image of
the Carmen, which he wore on his neck.

There came a day, however, when heaven and earth forsook him. Driven
from his last shelter, without a crust to save him from starvation,
or a cloak to protect him from the cold, he realized with terror
that the time had come when he would have to beg. A great struggle
took place in his soul. Shame and suffering made a desperate stand
against necessity. The profound darkness which surrounded him
increased the anguish of the strife; but hunger conquered in the
end. He prayed for strength with sobs, and resigned himself to his
fate. Still, wishing to disguise his humiliation, he determined to
sing in the streets, at night only. His voice was good, and he had a
rare knowledge of the art of singing. It occurred to him that he had
no means of accompaniment. But he soon found another unfortunate,
perhaps a trifle less wretched than himself, who lent him an old
and broken guitar. He mended it as best he could, and with a voice
hoarse with tears he went out into the street on a frosty December
night. His heart beat violently; his knees trembled under him. When
he tried to sing in one of the central thoroughfares, he found he
could not utter a sound. Suffering and shame seemed to have tied a
knot in his throat. He groped about until he had found a wall to lean
against. There he stood for awhile, and when he felt a little calmer
he began the tenor's aria from the first act of "Favorita." A blind
singer who sang neither couplets nor popular songs soon excited some
curiosity among the passers-by, and in a few minutes a crowd had
gathered around him. There was a murmur of surprise and admiration at
the art with which he overcame the difficulties of the composition,
and many a copper was dropped in the hat that dangled from his arm.
After this he sang the aria of the fourth act of "Africana." But too
many had stopped to listen, and the authorities began to fear that
this might be a cause of disturbance; for it is a well-established
fact with officials of the police force that people who congregate in
the streets to hear a blind man sing are always prompted by motives
of rebellion,--it means a peculiar hostility to the institutions; in
a word, an attitude thoroughly incompatible with the peace of society
and the security of the State. Accordingly, a policeman caught Juan
energetically by the arm and said, "Here, here! go straight home now,
and don't let me catch you stopping at any more street corners."

"I'm doing no harm!"

"You are blocking the thoroughfare. Come, move on, move on, if you
don't want to go to the lock-up."

It is really encouraging to see how careful our authorities are in
clearing the streets of blind singers; and I really believe, in spite
of all that has been said to the contrary, that if they could keep
them equally free from thieves and murderers, they would do so with
pleasure. Juan went back to his hovel with a heavy heart, for he was
by nature shrinking and timid, and was grieved at having disturbed
the peace and given rise to the interference of the executive power.
He had made twenty-seven cents. With this he bought something to eat
on the following day, and paid rent for the little pile of straw on
which he slept. The next night he went out again and sang a few more
operatic arias; but the people again crowded around him, and once
more a policeman felt himself called upon to interfere, shouting at
him to move on. But how could he? If he kept moving on, he would not
make a cent. He could not expect the people to follow him. Juan moved
on, however, on and on, because he was timid, and the mere thought of
infringing the laws, of disturbing even momentarily the peace of his
native land, was worse than death to him. So his earnings rapidly
decreased. The necessity of moving on, on the one hand, and the fact
that his performances had lost the charm of novelty, which in Spain
always commands its price, daily deprived him of a few coppers. With
what he brought home at night he could scarcely buy enough food to
keep him alive. The situation was desperate. The poor boy saw but one
luminous point in the clouded horizon of his life, and that was his
brother's return to Madrid. Every night as he left his hovel with his
guitar swinging from his shoulder he thought, "If Santiago should be
in Madrid and hear me sing, he would know me by my voice." And this
hope, or rather this chimera, alone gave him the strength to endure
life. However, there came again a day in which his anguish knew no
limit. On the preceding night he had earned only six coppers. It had
been so cold! This was Christmas Eve. When the morning dawned upon
the world, it found Madrid wrapped in a sheet of snow six inches
thick. It snowed steadily all day long, which was a matter of little
consequence to the majority of people, and was even a cause of much
rejoicing among æsthetes generally. Those poets in particular who
enjoy what is called easy circumstances spent the greater part of
the day watching the flakes through the plate-glass of their study
windows, meditating upon and elaborating those graceful and ingenious
similes that cause the audiences at the theatre to shout, "Bravo,
bravo!" or those who read their verses to exclaim, "What a genius
that young fellow is!"

Juan's breakfast had been a crust of stale bread and a cup of watery
coffee. He could not divert his hunger by contemplating the beauty
of the snow,--in the first place, because he was blind, and in the
second, because, even had he not been blind, he would have had some
difficulty in seeing it through the patched and filthy panes of his
hovel. He spent the day huddled in a corner on his straw mattress,
evoking scenes of his childhood and caressing the sweet dream of his
brother's return. At nightfall he grew very faint, but necessity
drove him into the streets to beg. His guitar was gone. He had sold
it for sixty cents on a day of similar hardship. The snow fell with
the same persistence. His legs trembled as they had when he sang
for the first time, but now it was from hunger rather than shame.
He groped about as best he could, with great lumps of mud above his
ankles. The silence told him that there was scarcely a soul on the
street. The carriages rolled noiselessly along, and he once came
near being run over. In one of the central thoroughfares he began
to sing the first thing that came to his lips. His voice was weak
and hoarse. Nobody stopped to listen. "Let us try another street,"
thought he; and he went down the Avenue of San Jerónimo, walking
awkwardly in the snow, with a white coating on his shoulders and
water squirting from his shoes. The cold had begun to penetrate into
his very bones, and hunger gave him a violent pain. For a moment
with the cold and the pain came a feeling of faintness which made
him think that he was about to die, and lifting his spirit to the
Virgin of the Carmen, his protectress, he exclaimed in his anguish,
"Mother, have pity!" And after pronouncing these words he felt
relieved and walked, or rather dragged himself, to the Plaza de las
Cortes. There he grasped a lamp-post, and under the impression of the
Virgin's protection sang Gounod's "Ave Maria." Still nobody stopped
to hear him. The people of Madrid were at the theatres, at the cafés,
or at home, dancing their little ones on their knees in the glow
of the hearth,--in the warmth of their love. The snow continued to
fall steadily, copiously, with the evident purpose of furnishing a
topic for the local column of the morning paper, where it would be
described in a thousand delicate phrases. The occasional passers-by
hurried along muffled up to their ears under their umbrellas. The
lamp-posts had put on their white night-caps, from under which
escaped thin rays of dismal light. The silence was broken only by
the vague and distant rumble of carriages and by the light fall of
the snowflakes, that sounded like the faint and continuous rustle
of silk. The voice of Juan alone vibrated in the stillness of the
night, imploring the mother of the unprotected; and his chant seemed
a cry of anguish rather than a hymn of praise, a moan of sadness and
resignation falling dreary and chill, like snow upon the heart.

And his cry for pity was in vain. In vain he repeated the sweet name
of Mary, adjusting it to the modulations of every melody. Heaven and
the Virgin were far away, it seemed, and could not hear him. The
neighbors of the plaza were near at hand, but they did not choose
to hear. Nobody came down to take him in from the cold; no window
was thrown open to drop him a copper. The passers-by, pursued, as it
were, by the fleet steps of pneumonia, scarcely dared stop. Juan's
voice at last died in his throat; he could sing no more. His legs
trembled under him; his hands lost their sense of touch. He took a
few steps, then sank on the sidewalk at the foot of the grating that
surrounds the square. He sat with his elbows on his knees and buried
his head in his hands. He felt vaguely that it was the last moment of
his life, and he again prayed, imploring the divine pity.

At the end of a few minutes he was conscious of being shaken by the
arm, and knew that a man was standing before him. He raised his head,
and taking for granted it was the old story about moving on, inquired
timidly,--

"Are you an officer?"

"No; I am no officer. What is the matter with you? Get up."

"I don't believe I can, sir."

"Are you very cold?"

"Yes, sir; but it isn't exactly that,--I haven't had anything to eat
to-day."

"I will help you, then. Come; up with you."

The man took Juan by both arms and stood him on his feet. He seemed
very strong.

"Now lean on me, and let us see if we can find a cab."

"But where are you going to take me?"

"Nowhere where you wouldn't want to go. Are you afraid?"

"No; I feel in my heart that you will help me."

"Come along, then. Let's see how soon I can get you something hot to
drink."

"God will reward you for this, sir; the Virgin will reward you. I
thought I was going to die there, against that grating."

"Don't talk about dying, man. The question now is to find a cab;
if we can only move along fast enough--What is the matter? Are you
stumbling?"

"Yes, sir. I think I struck a lamp-post. You see--as I am blind--"

"Are you blind?" asked the stranger, anxiously.

"Yes, sir."

"Since when?"

"I was born blind."

Juan felt his companion's arm tremble in his, and they walked along
in silence. Suddenly the man stopped and asked in a voice husky with
emotion,--

"What is your name?"

"Juan."

"Juan what?"

"Juan Martínez."

"And your father was Manuel Martínez, wasn't he,--musician of the
third artillery band?"

"Yes, sir."

The blind one felt the tight clasp of two powerful arms that almost
smothered him, and heard a trembling voice exclaim,--

"My God, how horrible, and how happy! I am a criminal, Juan! I am
your brother Santiago!"

And the two brothers stood sobbing together in the middle of the
street. The snow fell on them lightly. Suddenly Santiago tore himself
from his brother's embrace, and began to shout, intermingling his
words with interjections,--

"A cab! A cab! Isn't there a cab anywhere around? Curse my luck!
Come, Juanillo, try; make an effort, my boy; we are not so very far.
But where in the name of sense are all the cabs? Not one has passed
us. Ah, I see one coming, thank God! No; the brute is going in the
other direction. Here is another. This one is mine. Hello there,
driver! Five dollars if you take us flying to Number 13 Castellana."

And taking his brother in his arms as though he had been a mere
child, he put him in the cab and jumped in after him. The driver
whipped his horse, and off they went, gliding swiftly and noiselessly
over the snow. In the mean time Santiago, with his arms still around
Juan, told him something of his life. He had been in Costa Rica,
not Cuba, and had accumulated a respectable fortune. He had spent
many years in the country, beyond mail service and far from any
point of communication with Europe. He had written several letters
to his father, and had managed to get these on some steamer trading
with England, but had never received any answer. In the hope of
returning shortly to Spain, he had made no inquiries. He had been
in Madrid for four months. He learned from the parish record that
his father was dead; but all he could discover concerning Juan was
vague and contradictory. Some believed that he had died, while others
said that, reduced to the last stages of misery, he went through
the streets singing and playing on the guitar. All his efforts
to find him had been fruitless; but fortunately Providence had
thrown him into his arms. Santiago laughed and cried alternately,
showing himself to be the same frank, open-hearted, jovial soul
that Juan had loved so in his childhood. The cab finally came to
a stop. A man-servant opened the door, and Juan was fairly lifted
into the house. When the door closed behind him, he breathed a warm
atmosphere full of that peculiar aroma of comfort which wealth seems
to exhale. His feet sank in the soft carpet. Two servants relieved
him of his dripping clothes and brought him clean linen and a warm
dressing-gown. In the same room, before a crackling wood fire, he was
served a comforting bowl of hot broth, followed by something more
substantial, which he was made to take very slowly and with all the
precautions which his critical condition required. Then a bottle of
old wine was brought up from the cellar. Santiago was too restless
to sit still. He came and went, giving orders, interrupting himself
every minute to say,--

"How do you feel now, Juan? Are you warm enough? Perhaps you don't
care for this wine."

When the meal was over, the two brothers sat silently side by side
before the fire. Santiago then inquired of one of the servants if the
Señora and the children had already retired. On learning that they
had, he said to Juan, beaming with delight,--

"Can you play on the piano?"

"Yes."

"Come into the parlor, then. Let us give them a surprise."

He accordingly led him into an adjoining room and seated him
at the piano. He raised the top so as to obtain the greatest
possible vibration, threw open the doors, and went through all the
manoeuvres peculiar to a surprise,--tiptoeing, whispering, speaking
in a falsetto, and so much absurd pantomime that Juan could not help
laughing as he realized how little his brother had changed.

"Now, Juanillo, play something startling, and play it loud, with all
your might."

The blind boy struck up a military march. A quiver ran through the
silent house like that which stirs a music-box while it is being
wound up. The notes poured from the piano, hurrying, jostling one
another, but never losing their triumphant rhythm. Every now and
then Santiago exclaimed,--

"Louder, Juanillo! Louder!"

And the blind boy struck the notes with all his spirit and might.

"I see my wife peeping in from behind the curtains. Go on, Juanillo.
She is in her night-gown,--he, he! I am pretending not to see her. I
have no doubt she thinks I am crazy,--he, he! Go on, Juanillo."

Juan obeyed, although he thought the jest had been carried far
enough. He wanted to know his sister-in-law and kiss his nephews.

"Now I can just see Manolita. Hello! Paquito is up too. Didn't I tell
you we should surprise them? But I am afraid they will take cold.
Stop a minute, Juanito!"

And the infernal clamor was silenced.

"Come, Adela, Manolita, and Paquito, get on your things and come in
to see your uncle Juan. This is Juanillo, of whom you have heard me
speak so often. I have just found him in the street almost frozen to
death. Come, hurry and dress, all of you."

The whole family was soon ready, and rushed in to embrace the blind
boy. The wife's voice was soft and harmonious. To Juan it sounded
like the voice of the Virgin. He discovered, too, that she was
weeping silently at the thought of all his sufferings. She ordered a
foot-warmer to be brought in. She wrapped his legs in a cloak and put
a soft cushion behind his head. The children stood around his chair,
caressing him, and all listened with tears to the accounts of his
past misery. Santiago struck his forehead; the children stroked his
hands, saying,--

"You will never be hungry again, will you, uncle? Or go out without
a cloak and an umbrella? I don't want you to, neither does Manolita,
nor mamma, nor papa."

"I wager you will not give him your bed, Paquito," said Santiago,
trying to conceal his tears under his affected merriment.

"My bed won't fit him, papa! But he can have the bed in the guests'
chamber. It is a great bed, uncle, a big, big bed!"

"I don't believe I care to go to bed," said Juan. "Not just now at
any rate, I am so comfortable here."

"That pain has gone, hasn't it, uncle?" whispered Manolita, kissing
and stroking his hand.

"Yes, dear, yes,--God bless you! Nothing pains me now. I am happy,
very happy! Only I feel sleepy, so sleepy that I can hardly raise my
eyelids."

"Never mind us; sleep if you feel like it," said Santiago.

"Yes, uncle, sleep," repeated the children.

       *       *       *       *       *

And Juan fell asleep,--but he wakened in another world.

The next morning, at dawn, two policemen stumbled against a corpse in
the snow. The doctor of the charity hospital pronounced it a case of
congealing of the blood.

As one of the officers turned him over, face upward,--

"Look, Jiménez," said he; "he seems to be laughing."

[Illustration]



A CHRISTMAS IN THE FOREST.

From the French of ANDRÉ THEURIET.


Christmas Eve that year was bleak and cold, and the village seemed
benumbed. The houses were closed hermetically, and so were the
stables, from which came the muffled sound of animals chewing the
cud. From time to time the clacking of wooden shoes on the hardened
ground resounded through the deserted streets, then a door was
hastily opened and closed, and all relapsed into silence. It was
evident from the thick smoke rising through the chimneys into the
gray air that every family was huddled around its hearth while the
housewife prepared the Christmas supper. Stooping forward, with their
legs stretched out to the fire, their countenances beaming with
pleasure at the prospect of the morrow's festival and the foretaste
of the fat and juicy blood-sausages, the peasants laughed at the
north wind that swept the roads, at the frost that powdered the
trees of the forest, and the ice that seemed to vitrify the streams
and the river. Following their example, my friend Tristan and I spent
the livelong day in the old house of the Abbatiale at the corner of
the hearth, smoking our pipes and reading poetry. At sundown we had
grown tired of seclusion and determined to venture out.

"The forest must be a strange sight with this heavy frost," said I
to Tristan. "Suppose we take a turn through the wood after supper;
besides, I must see the sabotiers from Courroy about a little matter."

So we pulled on our gaiters, stuffed our pipes, wrapped ourselves in
our cloaks and mufflers, and penetrated into the wood.

We walked along cheerfully over the rugged, hardened soil of the
trenches furrowed with deep, frozen ruts. Through the copse on either
side we saw mysterious white depths. After a damp night the north
wind had transformed the mists and vapors that overhung the branches
into a tangle of snowy lace. In the half light of the gloaming we
could still distinguish the sparkling needles of the junipers, the
frosted puffs of the clematis, the bluish crystallizations of the
beech, and the silver filigree of the nut-trees. The silence was
broken by the occasional creaking of the frozen limbs, and every now
and then a breath of impalpable white dust dampened our cheeks as it
melted there.

We walked along at a steady pace, and in less than an hour caught
sight of the red and flickering glow of the sabotiers' camp pitched
on the edge of the forest above a stream that flowed down toward
the valley of Santonge. The settlement consisted of a spacious,
cone-shaped, dirt-coated hut and a cabin with board walls carefully
sealed with moss. The hut answered the combined purposes of
dormitory and kitchen; the cabin was used for the stowing away of
tools and wooden shoes, and also for the two donkeys employed in
the transportation of goods. The sabotiers, masters, apprentices,
friends, and children were seated on beech logs around the fire in
front of the hut, and their mobile silhouettes formed intensely black
profiles against the red of the fire. Three short posts driven into
the ground and drawn together at the top formed the crane, from which
hung an iron pot that simmered over the coals. An appetizing odor
of stewed hare escaped from the tin lid as it rose and fell under
the puffs of vapor. The master, a lively, nervous, hairy little man,
welcomed us with his usual cordiality.

"Sit down and warm yourselves," said he. "You find us preparing the
Christmas supper. I'm afraid we'll not sleep over soundly to-night.
My old woman is ill. I've fixed her a bed in the cabin where she'll
be more comfortable, and warmer on account of the animals. My boy has
gone to Santonge to get the doctor. There's no time to be lost. My
little girl is kept busy running from the cabin to the hut."

We had no sooner taken our seats around the fire than the snowflakes
began to whirl about in the stillness above us. They fell so thick
and fast that in less than a quarter of an hour we were compelled to
protect the fire with a hurdle covered with sackcloth.

"By my faith! gentlemen," said the sabotier, "you'll not be able to
start out again in this storm. You'll have to stay and have your
Christmas supper with us,--and taste of our stew."

The weather was certainly not tempting, and we accepted the
invitation. Besides, the adventure amused us, and we were delighted
at the prospect of a Christmas supper in the heart of the forest. An
hour later we were in the hut, and by the light of a miserable little
candle-end we had our Christmas supper, devouring our hare-stew with
a sharp appetite and washing it down with a draught of unfermented
wine that scraped our throats. The snow fell thicker and thicker,
wrapping the forest in a soft white wadding that deadened every
sound. Now and then the sabotier rose and went into the cabin, then
came back looking worried, listening anxiously for the good woman
from Santonge. Suddenly a few metallic notes, muffled by the snow,
rose softly from the depth of the valley. A similar sound from an
opposite direction rang out in answer, then followed a third and a
fourth, and soon a vague confusion of Christmas chimes floated over
the forest.

Our hosts, without interrupting the process of mastication and while
they passed around the wine-jug, tried to recognize the various
chimes by the fulness of the sounds.

"Those--now--those are the bells from Vivey. They are hardly any
louder than the sound of the donkey's hoofs on the stones."

"That is the bell of Auberive!"

"Yes; and that peal that sounds like the droning of a swarm of
beetles, that's the Grancey chimes."

During this discussion Tristan and I began to succumb to the combined
action of warmth and fully satisfied appetite. Our eyes blinked, and
before we knew it we fell asleep on the moss of the hut, lulled by
the music of the Christmas chimes. A piercing shriek followed by a
sound of joyful voices woke us with a start.

It had ceased snowing. The night was growing pale, and through the
little skylight we could see above the fleecy trees a faint light in
the sky, where a belated star hung quivering.

"It is a boy!" shouted the master, bursting in upon us. "Gentlemen,
if you think you would like to see him, why, I should be very glad;
and it might bring him luck."

We went crunching over the snow after him to the cabin, lighted by a
smoky lamp. On her bed of laths and moss lay the young mother, weak
and exhausted, her head thrown back, her pale face framed in by a
mass of frowzy auburn hair. The "good woman," assisted by the little
girl, was bundling up the new-comer, who wailed feebly. The two
donkeys, amazed at so much stir and confusion, turned their kindly
gray faces toward the bed, shook their long ears, and gazed around
them with wide, intelligent eyes, blowing through their nostrils
puffs of warm vapor that hung like a thin mist on the air. At the
foot of the bed stood a young shepherd, with a black and white
she-goat and a new-born kid.

"I have brought you the she-goat, Ma'am Fleuriot," said he, in his
Langrois drawl. "You can have her for the boy as long as you wish."

The goat was baaing, the new-born child wailed, and the donkeys
breathed loudly. There was something primitive and biblical about the
whole scene.

Without, in the violet light of the dawn, while a distant church-bell
scattered its early notes through the air, one of the young
apprentices, dancing in the snow to keep warm, sang out at the top
of his lungs that old Christmas carol, which seemed then full of new
meaning and poetry,--

    "He is born, the little Child.
      Ring out, hautbois! ring out, bagpipes!
    He is born, the little Child;
      Let us sing the happy news."

[Illustration]



THE LOUIS-D'OR.

From the French of FRANÇOIS COPPÉE.


When Lucien de Hem saw his last bill for a hundred francs clawed
by the banker's rake, when he rose from the roulette-table where
he had just lost the débris of his little fortune scraped together
for this supreme battle, he experienced something like vertigo, and
thought that he should fall. His brain was muddled; his legs were
limp and trembling. He threw himself upon the leather lounge that
circumscribed the gambling-table. For a few moments he mechanically
followed the clandestine proceedings of that hell in which he had
sullied the best years of his youth, recognized the worn profiles of
the gamblers under the merciless glare of the three great shadeless
lamps, listened to the clicking and the sliding of the gold over the
felt, realized that he was bankrupt, lost, remembered that in the
top drawer of his dressing-table lay a pair of pistols,--the very
pistols of which General de Hem, his father, had made noble use at
the attack of Zaatcha; then, overcome by exhaustion, he sank into a
heavy sleep.

When he awoke his mouth was clammy, and his tongue stuck to his
palate. He realized by a hasty glance at the clock that he had
scarcely slept a half-hour, and he felt the imperious necessity of
going out to get a breath of the fresh night air. The hands on the
dial pointed exactly to a quarter of twelve. As he rose and stretched
his arms it occurred to him that it was Christmas Eve, and by one of
those ironical freaks of the memory, he felt as though he were once
more a child, ready to stand his little boot on the hearth before
going to bed. Just then old Dronski, one of the pillars of the trade,
the traditional Pole, wrapped in the greasy worn cloak adorned with
frogs and passementerie, came up to Lucien muttering something behind
his dirty grayish beard.

"Lend me five francs, will you, Monsieur? I haven't stirred from this
place for two days, and for two whole days seventeen hasn't come out
once. You may laugh at me all you like, but I'll bet you my fist that
when the clock strikes twelve, seventeen will be the winning number."

Lucien de Hem shrugged his shoulders; and fumbling through his
pockets, he found that he had not even money enough to comply with
that feature of gambling etiquette known among the frequenters of
the establishment as "the Pole's hundred cents." He passed into the
antechamber, put on his hat and cloak, and disappeared down the
narrow stairway with the agility of people who have a fever. During
the four hours which Lucien had spent in the den it had snowed
heavily, and the street, one of those narrow wedges between two rows
of high buildings in the very heart of Paris, was intensely white.
Above, in the calm blue black of the sky, cold stars glittered. The
exhausted gambler shivered under his furs, and hurried along with a
blank despair in his heart, thinking of the pistols that awaited him
in the top drawer of his dressing-table. He had not gone a hundred
feet when he stopped suddenly before a heart-rending spectacle.

On a stone bench, near the monumental doorway of a wealthy residence,
sat a little girl six or seven years old, barely covered by a ragged
black gown. She had fallen asleep there in spite of the bitter cold,
her body bent forward in a pitiful posture of resigned exhaustion.
Her poor little head and her dainty shoulder had moulded themselves
into the angle of the freezing wall. One of her worn slippers had
fallen from her dangling foot and lay in the snow before her. Lucien
de Hem mechanically thrust his hand into his vest-pocket, but he
remembered that he had not even been able to fee the club waiter. He
went up to the child, however, impelled by an instinct of pity. He
meant, no doubt, to pick her up and take her home with him, to give
her shelter for the night, when suddenly he saw something glitter in
the little slipper at his feet. He stooped. It was a louis-d'or.

Some charitable soul--a woman, no doubt--had passed there, and at
the pathetic sight of that little shoe in the snow had remembered
the poetic Christmas legend, and with discreet fingers had dropped a
splendid gift, so that the forsaken little one might still believe in
the presents of the Child-Christ, and might awake with renewed faith
in the midst of her misery.

A gold louis! That meant many days of rest and comfort for the little
beggar. Lucien was just about to awaken her and surprise her with
her good fortune when, in a strange hallucination, he heard a voice
in his ear, which whispered with the drawling inflection of the old
Pole: "I haven't stirred from this place for two days, and for two
whole days seventeen hasn't come out once. I'll bet you my fist that
when the clock strikes twelve, seventeen will be the winning number."

Then this youth, who was twenty-three years of age, the descendant
of a race of honest men,--this youth who bore a great military name,
and had never been guilty of an unmanly act,--conceived a monstrous
thought; an insane desire took possession of him. He looked anxiously
up and down the street, and having assured himself that he had
no witness, he knelt, and reaching out cautiously with trembling
fingers, stole the treasure from the little shoe, then rose with a
spring and ran breathlessly down the street. He rushed like a madman
up the stairs of the gambling-house, flung open the door with his
fist, and burst into the room at the first stroke of midnight. He
threw the gold-piece on the table and cried,--

"Seventeen!"

Seventeen won. He then pushed the whole pile on the "red." The red
won. He left the seventy-two louis on the same color. The red came
out again. He doubled the stakes, twice, three times, and always with
the same success. Before him was a huge pile of gold and bank-notes.
He tried the "twelve," the "column,"--he worked every combination.
His luck was something unheard of, something almost supernatural. One
might have believed that the little ivory ball, in its frenzied dance
around the table, had been bewitched, magnetized by this feverish
gambler, and obeyed his will. With a few bold strokes he had won back
the bundle of bank-notes which he had lost in the early part of the
evening. Then he staked two and three hundred louis at a time, and
as his fantastic luck never failed him, he soon won back the whole
capital that had constituted his inherited fortune.

In his haste to begin the game he had not even thought of taking off
his fur-lined coat, the great pockets of which were now swollen with
the rolls of bank-notes, and heavy with the weight of the gold. Not
knowing where to put the money that was steadily accumulating before
him, he stuffed it away in the inside and outside pockets of his
coat, his vest, his trousers, in his cigar-case, his handkerchief.
Everything became a recipient. And still he played and still he won,
his brain whirling the while like that of a drunkard or a madman. It
was amazing to see him stand there throwing gold on the table by the
handful, with that haughty gesture of absolute certainty and disdain.
But withal there was a gnawing at his heart, something that felt like
a red-hot iron there, and he could not rid himself of the vision of
the child asleep in the snow,--the child whom he had robbed.

"In just a few minutes," said he, "I will go back to her. She must
be there in the same place. Of course she must be there. It is no
crime, after all. I will make it right to her,--it will be no crime.
Quite the contrary. I will leave here in a few moments, when the
clock strikes again, I swear it. Just as soon as the clock strikes
again I will stop, I will go straight to where she is, I will take
her up in my arms and will carry her home with me asleep. I have done
her no harm; I have made a fortune for her. I will keep her with me
and educate her; I will love her as I would a child of my own, and I
will take care of her,--always, as long as she lives!"

But the clock struck one, a quarter past, half-past, and Lucien was
still there. Finally, a few minutes before two the man opposite him
rose brusquely and said in a loud voice,--

"The bank is broken, gentlemen; this will do for to-night."

Lucien started, and wedging his way brutally through the group of
gamblers, who pressed around him in envious admiration, hurried out
into the street and ran as fast as he could toward the stone bench.
In a moment he saw by the light of the gas that the child was still
there.

"God be praised!" said he, and his heart gave a great throb of joy.
Yes, here she was! He took her little hand in his. Poor little
hand, how cold it was! He caught her under the arms and lifted her.
Her head fell back, but she did not awake. "The happy sleep of
childhood!" thought he. He pressed her close to his breast to warm
her, and with a vague presentiment he tried to rouse her from this
heavy sleep by kissing her eyelids. But he realized then with horror
that through the child's half-open lids her eyes were dull, glassy,
fixed. A distracting suspicion flashed through his mind. He put his
lips to the child's mouth; he felt no breath.

While Lucien had been building a fortune with the louis stolen from
this little one, she, homeless and forsaken, had perished with cold.

Lucien felt a suffocating knot at his throat. In his anguish he
tried to cry out; and in the effort which he made he awoke from
his nightmare, and found himself on the leather lounge in the
gambling-room, where he had fallen asleep a little before midnight.
The _garçon_ of the den had gone home at about five o'clock, and out
of pity had not wakened him.

A misty December dawn made the window-panes pale. Lucien went out,
pawned his watch, took a bath, then went over to the Bureau of
Recruits, and enlisted as a volunteer in the First Regiment of the
Chasseurs d'Afrique.

Lucien de Hem is now a lieutenant. He has not a cent in the world but
his pay. He manages to make that do, however, for he is a steady
officer, and never touches a card. He even contrives to economize, it
would seem; for a few days ago a comrade, who was following him up
one of the steep streets of the Kasba, saw him stop to lay a piece
of money in the lap of a little Spanish girl who had fallen asleep
in a doorway. His comrade was startled at the poor lieutenant's
generosity, for this piece of money was a gold louis.

[Illustration]



A CHRISTMAS SUPPER IN THE MARAIS.

From the French of ALPHONSE DAUDET.


M. Majesté, a seltzer-water manufacturer of the Marais, has just
indulged in a little Christmas supper with a few friends of the Place
Royale, and walks home humming. The clock at St. Paul's strikes two.
"How late it is!" thinks the good man as he hurries along. But the
pavement is slippery, the streets are dark, and then, in this devil
of an old neighborhood which belongs to the time when carriages were
scarce, there are the greatest number of turns, corners, steps, and
posts in front of the houses for the accommodation of horsemen, all
of which are calculated to impede a man's progress, particularly when
his legs are heavy and his sight somewhat blurred by the toasts of
the Christmas supper. M. Majesté reaches his destination at last,
however. He stops before a great doorway above which gleams in the
moonlight the freshly gilded coat-of-arms, the recently retouched
armorial-bearings which he has converted into a trade-mark.

                               Former
                          Hôtel de Nesmond.
                            MAJESTÉ, JR.,
                     Seltzer-water Manufacturer.

The old Nesmond coat-of-arms stands out, resplendent, on all the
siphons of the factory, on all the memoranda and letter-heads.

The doorway leads directly to the court,--a large, sunny court which
floods the narrow street with light even at noon, when the portals
are thrown open. Far back in this court stands a great and ancient
structure,--blackened walls covered with lace-work and embroideries
of stone, bulging iron balconies, stone balconies with pilasters,
great high windows crowned with pediments, and capitals rearing
their heads along the upper stories like so many little roofs within
the roof, then above it all, set in the very slate, the mansard
dormer-windows, like the round mirrors of a boudoir, daintily framed
with garlands. From the court to the first story rises a great stone
stairway gnawed and worn green by the rains. A meagre vine dangles
along the wall, lifeless and black like the rope that swings from
the pulley in the attic; and the whole has an indescribable air of
sad grandeur and decay.

This is the ancient Hôtel de Nesmond. In the broad light of day it
has quite a different aspect. The words "Office," "Store," "Entrance
to the work-rooms," in bright gilt letters, seem to rejuvenate
the old walls and infuse a new life into them. The drays from the
railroad shake the iron portals as they rumble through, and the
clerks step out on the landing to receive the goods. The court is
obstructed with cases, baskets, straw, wrappers, and pack-cloth. One
is conscious of being in a factory. But at night, in the death-like
stillness, with the winter moon casting and tangling fantastic
shadows through the confused intricacy of all these roofs, the old
dwelling of the Nesmonds resumes its lordly air. The court of honor
seems to expand; the wrought-iron of the balconies looks like fine
lace; the old stairway is full of shadows in the uncertain light, of
mysterious recesses like those of a cathedral; there are empty niches
and half concealed steps that suggest an altar.

On this particular night M. Majesté is deeply impressed with the
grandeur of his dwelling. The echo of his own footsteps startles
him as he crosses the great deserted court. The stairway seems even
broader than usual, and peculiarly heavy to climb. But that is the
Christmas supper, no doubt. At the first landing he stops to take
breath; he leans on one of the window-sills. So much for living in
a historic mansion! M. Majesté is certainly not a poet, oh, no! and
still as he gazes around him at this lordly old place, which seems to
be sleeping so peacefully under its benumbed, snow-hooded roofs, as
he looks down into this grand, aristocratic old court which the moon
floods with a bluish light, weird fancies flash through his brain.

"Suppose the Nesmonds should take it into their heads to come back,
eh?"

Just then there is a violent pull at the door-bell. The portal swings
open instantly, so brusquely that it puts out the light of the
lamp-post in the court. From the shadow of the doorway come rustling
sounds and confused whisperings. There seems to be a great crowd
wrangling and jostling to get in. There are footmen, a multitude
of footmen, coaches with glass panes glimmering in the moonlight,
sedan-chairs swaying lightly between two torches whose long flames
writhe and twist in the draught of the doorway. In a second the court
is crowded; but at the foot of the stairway the confusion ceases.
People alight from the coaches, recognize one another, smile, bow,
and make their way up the stairs, chatting softly as though they were
quite familiar with the house. There is much rustling of silks and
clanking of swords on the landing, and billows of white hair, heavy
and dull with powder. Through the faint sound of the airy tread comes
a thin, high quiver of voices and little peals of laughter that has
lost its vibration. All these people seem old, very old,--eyes that
have lost their fire, slumbering jewels that have lost their light,
antique brocades that shimmer with a subdued iridescence in the light
of the torches, and above it all a thin mist of powder that rises at
every courtesy from the white-puffed scaffoldings of these stately
heads. In a moment the place seems to be haunted. Torches glitter
from window to window and up and down the curving stairways; the very
dormers in the mansard twinkle with joy and life. The whole mansion
is ablaze with light, as though a great burst of sunset had set its
windows aglow.

"Merciful saints! they will set the house on fire!" thinks M.
Majesté; and having recovered from his stupor, he makes an effort to
shake the numbness from his legs, and hurries down into the court,
where the footmen have just lighted a great bonfire. M. Majesté goes
up to them, speaks to them; but they do not answer; they stand there
chatting among themselves softly, and not the faintest breath issues
from their lips into the freezing shadow of the night. M. Majesté
is somewhat put out. He is reassured, however, when he realizes that
this great fire with its long straight flames is a most peculiar
fire, which emits no heat,--which simply glows, but does not burn.
The good man therefore sets his mind at rest, goes upstairs again,
and makes his way into the store.

These stores on the first floor must have been grand reception-halls
in their day. Particles of tarnished gold still cling to the angles.
Mythological frescos circle about the ceilings, wind round the
mirrors, hover above the doorways, vague and subdued, like bygone
memories. Unfortunately there are no curtains or furniture anywhere,
nothing but baskets, great cases filled with leaden-headed siphons,
and the withered limb of an old lilac bush rising in black outline
outside the window. M. Majesté enters. He finds the rooms crowded and
brilliantly illumined. He bows, but nobody seems to notice him. The
women, in their satin wraps, lean on their cavaliers' arms and flirt
with ceremonious, mincing graces. They promenade, chat, separate into
groups. All these old marquises really seem quite at home. One little
shade stops, all of a quiver, before a painted pier-glass; then she
glances smilingly at a Diana that rises out of the wood-work, lithe
and roseate, with a crescent on her brow.

"This is I; think of it! And here I am!"

"Nesmond, come and see your crest!" and they laugh immoderately at
the sight of the Nesmond coat-of-arms displayed on the wrappers above
the name of Majesté, Jr.

"Ha, ha, ha! Majesté! There are some majesties left in France after
all, then!"

And there is no end of merriment, of mincing coquetries. Little
trills of laughter rise like the notes of a flute in the air. Some
one exclaims suddenly,--

"Champagne! champagne!"

"Nonsense!"

"Yes, indeed, champagne. Come, Countess, what say you to a little
Christmas supper?"

They have mistaken M. Majesté's seltzer-water for champagne. They
naturally find it somewhat flat. But these poor little ghosts have
such unsteady heads! The foam of the seltzer-water somehow excites
them and makes them feel like dancing. Minuets are immediately
organized. Four rare violinists provided by Nesmond strike out with
an old melody by Rameau, full of triplets, quaint and melancholy in
its vivacity; and you should see the pretty little grandmothers turn
slowly and bow gravely in time with the music.

Their very finery seems freshened and rejuvenated by the sound,
and so do the waistcoats of cloth-of-gold, the brocaded coats and
diamond-buckled shoes. The panels themselves seem to awake. The old
mirror, scratched and dim, which has stood encased in the wall for
over two hundred years, recognizes them all, glows softly upon them,
showing them their own images with a pale vagueness like a tender
regret.

In the midst of all this elegance M. Majesté feels somewhat ill at
ease. He is huddled in a corner, and looks on from behind a case of
bottles. But gradually the day dawns. Through the glass doors of
the store one can see the court growing light, then the top of the
windows, then all one side of the great parlor. Before the light of
day the figures melt and disappear. The four little violinists alone
are belated in a corner; and M. Majesté watches them evaporate as the
daylight creeps upon them. In the court below he can just see the
vague form of a sedan-chair, a powdered head sprinkled with emeralds,
and the last spark of a torch that a lackey has dropped on the
pavement, and which blends with the sparks from the wheels of a dray,
rumbling in noisily through the open portals.

[Illustration]



THE PRINCESS AND THE RAGAMUFFIN.

From the Spanish of BENITO PÉREZ GALDÓS.


I.

Pacorrito Migajas was a great character. He stood a trifle over two
feet from the ground, and had just turned his seventh year. His skin
was tanned by the sun and the wind, and his wizened face suggested
a dwarf rather than a child. His eyes, adorned with long eyelashes
that looked like black wires, were full of vitality and resplendent
with mischief. His mouth was amazing in its ugliness; and his ears,
strangely like those of a faun, seemed to have been attached to his
face, rather than to have grown there. He was dressed in a shirt
of every possible shade of grime, and a pair of patchwork trousers
upheld by a single suspender. In the winter he wore a coat which he
had inherited from his grandfather. The sleeves had been cut off at
the elbow, and Pacorrito considered it a handsome fit, as overcoats
go. A rag which aspired to be a muffler was wound like a snake round
and round his neck, and on his head he wore a cap which he had picked
up at the Rastro. He had little use for shoes, which he considered
in the light of a hindrance, neither did he wear stockings, having a
great aversion to the roughness of the threads.

Pacorrito's ancestors could not have been more illustrious. His
father, accused of having attempted to make his way into a house
through the drain, went to Ceuta for a change of climate, and
died there. His mother, a great lady who for many years kept a
chestnut-stand in the Cava de San Miguel, had also fallen somehow
into the hands of the authorities, and after much ado with judges and
notaries, had repaired to the Alcalá jail. Pacorrito had one sister,
but this last relative had deserted her post at the tobacco factory
and flown to Sevilla in amorous pursuit of an artillery officer. Up
to the present she has not returned.

Migajas was therefore alone in the world, with no protection but that
of God, and no guide but his own will.


II.

The pious reader need not fancy that Pacorrito was in the least
daunted or disturbed at finding himself alone; not he. In his brief
career he had had occasion to study the ways of the world, and he
knew a thing or two about the fraud and vanity of life. He filled
himself with energy and confronted the situation like a hero. He was
on excellent terms with numerous persons of his age and quality, and
even with bearded men, who seemed disposed to protect him, so by dint
of push he got the better of his sad condition.

He sold matches, newspapers, and lottery tickets,--three branches
of industry which, if intelligently pursued, might certainly be
productive of honest gain. And so it happened that Pacorrito was
never in want of a penny or so to assist a friend in need, or to
treat his acquaintances of the fair sex.

He was spared all domestic worries, all household cares and
exigencies. His palaces were the Prado in summer, and the portals of
the _Casa Panadería_ in winter. By nature he was frugal and wisely
inimical to the pomps of the world. He slept anywhere, ate whatever
he found, just as the birds do, and suffered no anxiety on this
score, because of the religious submissiveness that filled his soul,
and his instinctive faith in that mysterious Providence which deserts
no one, great or small. One might be apt to conclude from this that
Migajas was happy. It seems natural enough that he should be. He
was deprived of relatives, it is true, but he enjoyed the precious
boon of liberty. As his wants were few, the fruit of his labor kept
him in plenty, and he was not indebted to any one for anything. His
sleep was disturbed neither by cares nor ambition. He was poor but
contented; his body was destitute, but his spirit was rich in peace.
Well, in spite of all this, my lord Pacorrito was unhappy. Why?
Because he was in love,--over ears in love, as they commonly say.

Yes, sir, this very Pacorrito, who was so small, so ugly, so poor,
and so alone, loved. Inexorable law of life, which permits no being,
whatever his condition, to elude the despotic yoke of love! With
a mind free from impure thoughts, our hero loved. He loved with a
dreamer's idealism, yet at times he felt that ardent fire which set
the blood boiling like the very devil in his veins. The object of his
thoughts aroused every variety of sensation in his volcanic heart. He
had days of sweet Platonicism, like Petrarch, then again, he was warm
and impetuous, like Romeo. And who, pray, had inspired Pacorrito
with this terrible passion? No less a person than a great lady who
wore silk and velvet gowns, beautiful furs and gold eyeglasses,--a
great lady with flaxen ringlets that fell on her alabaster neck, and
who had been known to sit at the piano for three days in succession.


III.

Who was this celestial beauty, and how came Migajas to make her
acquaintance? This is how it happened: Our hero's mercantile
operations extended over a great part of one of the streets opening
into the Puerta del Sol,--a busy thoroughfare lined with beautiful
shops, the show-windows of which are resplendent at night, and
display all the marvels of industry. One of these stores, which is
kept by a German, is always full of exquisite trifles and novelties.
It is the great bazaar of childhood, both juvenile and adult. During
the Carnival it is hung with grotesque masks; in Holy Week it is
filled with figures of saints and pious images. At Christmas and New
Year's it is all Bethlehem mangers and Christmas-trees, laden with
toys and magnificent presents.

Pacorrito's mad passion began when the German filled his show-window
with the most enchanting collection of richly dressed ladies that
Parisian fancy could conceive. Almost all of them were two feet tall.
Their faces were of highly refined wax, and the crimson of fresh
roses could not equal the glow of their chaste cheeks. Their immobile
eyes of blue glass shone with a splendor surpassing that of the
human pupil. Their hair of softest crimped wool could with greater
justice be compared to the rays of the sun than that of most great
ladies; and the strawberries of April, the cherries of May, and the
coral from the deep seas were ugly things compared to their lips.
Their good breeding and deportment were such that they never stirred
from the spot where they were placed. They merely creaked the wooden
joints of their knees, their shoulders, and their elbows, when the
German sat them at the piano or made them raise their eyeglasses to
look out into the street. Otherwise they were no trouble whatever,
and no one had ever heard them say, "This month is mine."

There was one among them,--what a woman! She was the tallest, the
most lithe, the most beautiful, the most sympathetic, the most
elegant,--in a word, the greatest lady of them all. She was no doubt
a person of high degree, judging from her grave, grand manner and
that patronizing air which was so becoming to her.

"Grand woman! She is the paragon!" thought Pacorrito the first time
he saw her, and for a whole hour he stood before the show-window,
rooted to the sidewalk.


IV.

Pacorrito had reached the state of emotional excitement, the delirium
peculiar to heroes of romance. His brain boiled; writhing, stinging
serpents wound themselves around his heart; his mind was a volcano;
he despised life; he longed for death; he soliloquized; he gazed
at the moon; he soared beyond the seventh heaven. Many a time had
night overtaken him in a melancholy ecstasy before the show-window,
oblivious to everything, oblivious to his very business interests.
It might be well to state at once that our good Migajas met with
no rebuff. I mean that his mad passion was to a certain extent
reciprocated. Who can measure the intensity of a heart of tow and
sawdust? The world is full of mysteries. Science is vain and will
never penetrate the depths of things. Who will draw the line defining
the exact sphere of the inanimate? Where does the inanimate begin?
Down with the pedant who stands before a stone or a cork and says,
"Thou hast no soul." God alone knows the true dimensions of the
invisible limbo, wherein rests all that which does not love.

Pacorrito was quite sure of having stirred his lady's pulse. She
gazed at him, and without moving a muscle, opening her mouth, or
winking an eye, she spoke soulful things to him, now sweet as
hope, now sad like the prescience of tragic events. This naturally
fanned the flame that burned in our friend's heart, and his daring
imagination conceived dramatic plans of conquest, and even of
matrimony.

One night the faithful lover repaired punctually to the tryst. The
lady was seated at the piano, her hands suspended over the keys,
and her divine face turned to the street. The ragamuffin and she
exchanged glances; and what passion, what idealism, in that look!
Sighs and tender thoughts were following one another, when an event
occurred which clipped the thread of this sweet communion and
shattered at one blow the happiness of both lovers. It was one of
those sudden catastrophes that inflict a mortal wound and lead to
suicides, tragedies, and other lamentable things.

A hand proceeding from the interior of the shop was thrust into the
show-window; it caught the lady by the belt and disappeared with her
within. Pacorrito's amazement was followed by a sense of misery so
intense that he longed to die there and then. To see the object of
his love vanish as though she had been swallowed by the insatiable
grave, to be unable to rescue her or follow her, were it to the
bottomless pit, ah, here was a blow which was beyond human endurance!

Migajas was about to drop on the sidewalk. He thought of suicide; he
invoked God and the Devil.

"They have sold her!" he muttered hoarsely; and he pulled his hair
and scratched his face and kicked, and as he did so he dropped his
matches, his lottery tickets, and his newspapers. Worldly interests,
you are not worth a sigh!


V.

After a time, when he had recovered from his violent emotion, he
glanced toward the interior of the store and saw two or three grown
persons and several little girls talking with the German. One of
these little girls held in her arms the lady of his thoughts. He felt
like rushing upon them frantically, but he forbore, for it occurred
to him that his appearance was not in his favor, and that there would
be every chance of his getting a sound drubbing and being handed over
to the police. He stood rooted to the threshold, meditating upon the
horrors of the slave-trade, upon this heinous Tyrolese institution
wherein a few dollars decided the fate of honest creatures, exposing
them to the savage destructiveness of ill-bred children. Human nature
appeared to him in all its baseness. Those who had purchased the lady
left the shop and entered a luxurious carriage. And how they laughed,
the wretches! Even the wee fellow, the most petted and spoiled of
them all, no doubt, took the liberty of pulling the unfortunate
doll by the arms, although he had the greatest quantity of toys
appropriate to his age and for his own exclusive enjoyment. The grown
persons, too, seemed satisfied with the new acquisition.

While the footman stood by to receive orders, Pacorrito, who was
a person of heroic and daring resolutions, conceived the idea of
swinging behind the carriage. This he did with that agility peculiar
to the ragamuffin when he wishes to take a ride across the city.

Stretching his neck to the right, he saw the arm of the lady who had
been sacrificed to lucre sticking out of the window. This rigid arm
and its pink fist spoke forcibly to his imagination, calling to him
through the rumble of the wheels:

"Save me, save me, my Pacorrito!"


VI.

Under the archway of the great dwelling before which the carriage
stopped, Pacorrito's illusion vanished. A servant informed him that
if he soiled the flagstones with his muddy feet, he would have his
back-bone broken. Migajas retired before this overwhelming argument,
but from that instant his heart was filled with a scorching thirst
for vengeance. His fiery nature impelled him forward into the night
of the unforeseen, into the arms of his fortune. His soul was well
fitted to noisy and dramatic adventures, so what should he do but
make a compact with those who removed the garbage from the house
where his beloved lived enslaved; and by this means--which may not
have been altogether poetical, but which revealed the shrewdness of
a heart as big as the top of a pine-tree--he found his way into the
palace. How his heart throbbed as he went up the stairs and into the
kitchen! The thought of being near her confused him so that more than
once his basket fell from his hand, spilling its contents down the
steps. But nowhere could he see his lady-love. He often heard the
screams of children at play, but nothing more.

The servants, because he was so little and so ugly, played many a
trick upon him. One alone, who seemed more compassionate than the
rest, gave him sweetmeats. One cold morning the cook, through pity
or through sheer wickedness perhaps, gave him a draught of wine that
was as biting and fiery as the very devil. The ragamuffin felt a warm
and delightful current run through his whole body while hot vapors
rose to his head. His legs trembled; his limp arms fell beside him in
voluptuous abandon. A stream of playful laughter rose from his heart
and gurgled from his lips; and Pacorrito held on to the wall with
both hands to keep from falling. A vigorous kick somewhat modified
his mirth, and he left the kitchen. His brain was topsy-turvy. He had
no idea where his steps were leading him. He ran along staggering and
laughing, first over cold tiles, then over smooth boarded floors,
then over soft, warm carpets. Suddenly he caught sight of an object
on the floor. He stood petrified for a second; then he uttered a roar
of pain and fell upon his knees. Heavens! There, stretched before him
like a corpse, with a crack through her alabaster brow, a broken arm,
and dishevelled locks, was the lady of his thoughts.

For a moment our hero was speechless. His voice was smothered in
his throat. He pressed the cold body to his heart and covered it
with burning kisses. The lady's eyes were open, and she gazed with
melancholy tenderness at her faithful lover, for she lived, in spite
of her wounds. Pacorrito knew it by the singular light of her calm
blue eyes, that emitted little flames of love and gratitude.

"Señora, let me know who reduced you to this sad condition!" he
exclaimed in pathetic and anguished tones. His pain was soon followed
by a burst of rage, and he thought of the great revenge he would take
upon the perpetrators of the iniquity. Just then he heard footsteps
approaching, so he tucked the lady under his arm and started on a
run. He went down the stairs, crossed the court, and broke into the
street. He could scarcely be said to be running; he was flying, like
a bird that has stolen grain, heard a report, and feeling itself
unhurt, determines to put the greatest possible distance between
itself and the gun. He ran past one, two, three, ten streets, till he
thought he was far enough away to be in safety, and then stopped to
rest, laying the object of his insensate tenderness upon his knees.


VII.

Night came upon him, and he welcomed with delight the soft shadows
that hid the daring act and protected his love. He examined her
injured body carefully, and concluded that the wounds were not
serious, although one might have seen her brain, had she had one,
through the opening in her skull, and the sawdust of her heart poured
out in copious streams through the rents in her breast. Her gown
was in shreds, and part of her hair had been dropped in the hasty
flight. His soul overflowed with sorrow when he realized that he had
not the money with which to meet the situation. As he had given up
his business, naturally his pockets were empty, and a loved woman,
particularly if she is in poor health, is a source of unlimited
expense. Migajas laid his hand sadly upon that part of his rags
wherein he had habitually kept his coin, but nothing was there.

"At this critical moment," thought he, "when I need a house, a bed,
a world of doctors and surgeons, an abundance of food, a bright fire
and a dressmaker, I have nothing--nothing!"

But as he was very tired, he laid his head upon his idol's body and
fell asleep like an angel.

Then a great miracle took place. The lady began to revive, and
finally rising to her feet, showed Pacorrito a smiling countenance.
The wound had disappeared from her noble brow; her lithe form was
without a rent, her gown neat and whole. On her curled and perfumed
locks she wore a coquettish hat trimmed with minute flowers,--in a
word, she stood before him in all her beauty just as he had known her
in the show-window.

Migajas was dazzled, stupefied, dumb. He fell on his knees and
worshipped her as people do a divinity. Then she took the ragamuffin
by the hand, and in a voice clear, pure, and sweeter than the song of
the nightingale, she said to him,--

"Pacorrito, follow me! I want to show you my gratitude, and tell you
of the sublime love with which you have inspired me. You have been
loyal, constant, generous, heroic; you have rescued me from the power
of those Vandals that tortured me. You deserve my heart and my hand.
Come, follow me! Do not be foolish; do not think you are inferior to
me because you are in rags."

Migajas gazed at the lady's elegant, luxurious attire and said sadly,
"My lady, where can I go in this dress?"

The lady did not answer; she merely led Pacorrito by the hand into a
mysterious region of shadows.

The ragamuffin soon found himself in a grand parlor brilliantly
illumined and filled with beautiful objects. The first moment of
bewilderment passed, he distinguished a thousand different figures
and statuettes, like those that peopled the shop in which he had
seen his beloved for the first time. What greatly surprised him was
to see all the fine ladies who in shimmering gowns had occupied
the show-window with his friend come forth to meet them. His lady
accepted their homage with grave and ceremonious courtesy. She seemed
to belong to a higher caste than they. Her queenly manner, her proud
though not haughty bearing, suggested dominion. She immediately
presented Pacorrito. For his part he was much confused and grew
redder than a poppy when the princess, taking his hand, said,--

"Allow me to present to you the Señor Don Pacorrito de las Migajas,
who will honor us with his presence to-night."

The wings of his heart drooped, as they say, when he compared the
luxury that surrounded him with his own poverty, his rags, his
bare feet, his torn trousers upheld by a single suspender, and his
coat-sleeves cut off at the elbow.

"I can divine your thoughts," said the princess, aside. "Your dress
is not the most appropriate for a celebration like this. As a matter
of fact, you are not presentable."

"Señora, that deuced tailor of mine," stammered Migajas, "has been
false to his word, and--"

"Never mind; we will dress you here," said the noble lady.

The valets in this strange mansion were tiny and very comical
monkeys. Wee parrots of the kind known as perricos acted as pages,
to say nothing of a great number of paper birds. They immediately
set to work to repair, as far as it was possible, Pacorrito's
unfortunate appearance. They slipped his feet into a pair of tiny
gilded match-boxes that made the most stylish boots; they cut a
neck-cloth for him out of half a little red paper lantern and turned
an osier flower-pot into a sort of pastoral hat which they trimmed
elaborately with flowers. As Pacorrito had never been decorated,
they took a metal plate from an elegant Kepi and hung it around
his neck, by way of a decoration, and also a match-box, which was
round and looked like a watch, and the cut-glass stopper of a small
bottle of perfumery. The paper birds conceived the happy thought of
putting an ivory paper-cutter in his belt, to figure as a sword or
dagger. Thanks to these and numerous other inventions for concealing
his tatters, our friend looked so handsome that no one would have
recognized him. As he caught sight of himself in the mirror-top of a
work-box, he swelled with pride. He was radiant.


VIII.

The ball now began. A number of canaries from their respective cages
sang waltzes and _habaneras_. The cornets and the clarionets too were
very skilful in pressing their keys all by themselves; the violins
pinched their own strings; and the trumpets blew into each other.
Migajas thought this music was entrancing. It is unnecessary to say
that the princess danced with him. The other ladies found partners
among the officers of the army and the sovereigns who had left their
horses outside. Among these were Prince Bismarck, the Emperor of
Germany, and Napoleon. Migajas was beside himself with pride and
excitement. It would be impossible to describe the emotions of his
soul as he dashed into the dizzy whirls of the waltz with his beloved
in his arms. Her soft breathing and an occasional stray lock of her
golden hair caressed his cheek, tickling him gently and producing a
strange intoxication. A loving glance or a little sigh of fatigue
would every now and then put a climax to his madness.

Suddenly the monkeys appeared and announced supper. This caused a
great commotion. Migajas rejoiced greatly, for with no prejudice to
the spiritual character of his love, the poor little fellow was very
hungry.


IX.

The dining-hall was superb and the table exquisite. The china was of
the very finest manufactured for dolls, and a multitude of bouquets
showed their colors and scattered their fragrance from egg-stands
and thimbles. Pacorrito sat at the princess's right. They began to
eat. The parrots and paper birds waited upon them with such order
and rapidity that they seemed like soldiers drilling before their
general. The dishes were delicious. Everything was raw, or at all
events cold. Migajas was rather pleased with the supper at first, but
he was soon surfeited. The menu was as follows: bits of sponge cake,
turkeys smaller than birds, which one could swallow at a mouthful,
gilt-heads no bigger than almonds, a rich supply of hemp-seed, a pâté
of bird-seed à la Canaria, bread-crumb à la perdigona, a fricassée
of pheasants' eyes with a sauce of wild mulberries, a salad of moss,
delicious sweetmeats, and every possible variety of fruit, harvested
by the parrots from the tapestries where they were embroidered, the
melons being as small as grapes and the grapes as small as lentils.
During the supper the company chattered ceaselessly,--all but
Migajas, who, being short of wit, sat there and said never a word.
He was confused in the presence of so many gold-corded and uniformed
generals. He was amazed, too, at finding so much loquacity and
frolicsomeness in these great men, who had stood stiff and dumb in
the show-window as though they were made of clay.

The one known as Bismarck, in particular, never stopped to draw
breath. He said the wildest things imaginable, pounded the table with
his fist, and threw bread balls at the princess. He flung his arms
about most marvellously, just as though a string were attached to
their hinges, and somebody under the table had hold of it.

"What fun I am having!" said the chancellor. "My dear princess, when
a man spends his life adorning a mantel-piece in the cheerful company
of a clock, a bronze figure, and a pot of begonias, he really needs
recreation; and at a festival like this he lays in a supply of mirth
for the year."

"Ah, happy, a thousand times happy, they whose only duty consists
in adorning mantelpieces!" said the lady, in melancholy tones. "It
may be wearisome, but you do not at least suffer as we do,--we whose
lives are a prolonged martyrdom; we, the toys of the small men. It
would be impossible for me to make you understand, Prince Bismarck,
what we suffer when one pulls our right arm, another our left; when
this one cracks our head, that one quarters us or leaves us in the
water to soak, or rips us open to find out what is inside of us!"

"I can imagine it," said the chancellor, opening his arms and
clapping them together several times.

"How unfortunate!" said Espartero and two of the emperors at once.

"I was the least unfortunate of all," said the lady, "for I found
a friend and protector in the valorous and faithful Migajas, who
managed to save me from the barbarous torture."

Pacorrito blushed to the very roots of his hair.

"Valorous and faithful!" repeated all the dolls, in admiring chorus.

"And therefore to-night, when our Genius Creator permits us to come
together for this great celebration, I chose to honor him by bringing
him with me and offering him my hand as a sign of alliance and
reconciliation between the lineage of dolls and that of well-bred,
compassionate children."


X.

At this Prince Bismarck looked at Pacorrito with an expression of
such malignity and sarcasm that our illustrious hero was filled with
wrath. At the same instant this wretch of a chancellor aimed a bread
ball at Migajas, and fired it so accurately that the bridegroom came
near being blinded for life. But Migajas was a prototype of prudence
and circumspection, so he controlled his feelings and was silent. The
princess threw him a glance of love and gratitude.

"What fun I am having!" repeated the chancellor, clapping his wooden
hands together. "Before it is time to resume our place beside
the clock and listen to its unceasing tic-tac, let us fathom the
depths of pleasure and intoxication,--let us be happy! If the Señor
Pacorrito would favor us by calling the daily paper, we might laugh a
little."

"The Señor de Migajas," said the princess, kindly, "did not come here
to make us laugh. But there is no reason why we should not enjoy
hearing him call out the paper or even matches if he is willing to do
so."

The ragamuffin could find no words with which to answer his beloved.
He was sorely incensed at the proposition, which he judged to be a
fling at his dignity and decorum.

"Let him dance!" shouted the chancellor, impertinently; "let him
dance on the table! and if he refuse to do so, I move that he be
stripped of the fine clothes we dressed him in, and be left ragged
and barefooted as he was when he came."

Migajas felt all his blood rush to his heart. He was blind with rage.
"Do not be cruel, my dear prince," said the princess, smiling; "leave
him to me. I will take it upon myself to dispel the storm that is
rising within our good Migajas here."

A loud peal of laughter greeted this reply, and all the dolls,
and the most celebrated generals and emperors of the world,
simultaneously fell to pounding one another's heads like the Punch
and Judy puppets.

"Make him dance! make him call matches!" they clamored.

Migajas felt faint. The sentiment of dignity was so powerfully
developed in him that he would have died rather than have gone
through the suggested degradation. He was just about to reply
when the malignant chancellor, pulling a long thin straw from a
work-basket and wetting the end of it in his mouth, drove it into
Pacorrito's ear with such a quick movement that the latter did not
realize the familiarity of the act until he had suffered the nervous
shock produced by tricks of this sort.

Blind with rage, he put his hand to his belt and drew the
paper-cutter. The ladies shrieked and the princess fainted; but
the enraged Migajas, far from being pacified by this, seemed to be
growing more and more infuriated, and rushing upon his insolent
adversary, he began to deal blows right and left. The air was filled
with yells, threats, and imprecations. The parrots croaked and the
very birds moved their paper tails in sign of panic.

Nobody laughed now at the daring Migajas. A few moments later the
chancellor might have been seen going about gathering up his arms and
legs (a strange case which cannot be explained), and all the emperors
were noseless. They gradually, however, with a little glue and a
great deal of innate skill, mended one another,--a rare advantage,
this, of puppet surgery. The princess, having recovered from her
swoon through the virtue of smelling-salts, administered by her pages
in a filbert-shell, called the ragamuffin aside, and leading him to
her private apartments, spoke as follows:--


XI.

"Most illustrious Migajas, what you have just done, far from
lessening my love for you, has only increased it, for you have given
evidence of indomitable valor by your easy triumph over this swarm
of scoffing puppets, the most despicable class of beings on earth.
The tender sentiments that bind me to you move me to propose that you
become my husband with no further delay."

Pacorrito fell on his knees.

"As soon as we are married, the emperors and chancellors will all
venerate you as they do me, for I must tell you that I am queen of
this division of the world. My titles are not usurped; they are
transmitted by the divine law of puppets established by the Supreme
Genius that created us and governs us."

"My lady," Migajas said, or tried to say, "my happiness is so great
that I cannot express it."

"Very well, then," said the lady, with great majesty, "since you are
willing to become my husband, and consequently prince and lord of
this puppet kingdom, I must inform you that in order to do so you
will have to renounce your human personality."

"I do not exactly grasp your Majesty's meaning," said the ragamuffin.

"You belong to the human race. I do not. Our natures being different,
we cannot unite. There is but one way. Give up your humanity. It is
the easiest thing in the world, believe me. It is only necessary that
you will it. Now, answer me. Pacorrito, son of man, will you be a
puppet?"

The peculiar nature of this request set the ragamuffin to thinking
for a few seconds.

"And what does this thing of being a puppet consist in?"

"You will be like me. Our nature is perhaps nearer perfection than
yours. We are to all appearances devoid of life, but we live,
believe me. To the imperfect senses of man we lack movement, words,
affection, but this is far from being the case. You have had an
opportunity of judging how we move, how we speak, and how we feel.
Our fate, for the present at least, is not a very happy one. We are
the toys of your children, and even your men, but as a compensation
for this disadvantage we are eternal."

"Eternal!"

"Yes; we live forever. When these wicked children of yours break us,
we rise with a new life out of our destruction, and are born anew,
describing a mysterious and everlasting circle from the shop to the
children, from them to the Tyrolese factory, and thence to the shop
again through the ages everlasting."

"Through the ages everlasting!" repeated Migajas, absorbed.

"It is not always rose-color with us; but, on the other hand, you
see, we do not know death, and then our Genius Creator permits us to
meet at certain great festivals to celebrate the glory of our race,
as we have done to-night. We cannot elude the laws of our being,--it
is not given us to enter the reign of humanity, although men can
easily enter ours, and in fact have very often been known to become
puppets."

"A most extraordinary thing!" exclaimed Pacorrito, full of amazement.

"You know the requirements of puppet initiation. I have nothing more
to say. Our dogmas are very simple. Now, meditate upon it, and answer
my question, Will you be a doll?"

The princess's attitude was that of a priestess of antiquity.
Pacorrito was captivated.

"I want to be a doll," declared the ragamuffin, resolutely.

The princess then proceeded to trace diabolical characters in the
air, and to utter great words which Pacorrito had never heard before,
and which were neither Latin, Chinese, nor Chaldean. He concluded
that they were Tyrolese. When this was consummated, the lady threw
her arms about Migajas, saying,--

"Now you are my husband. I have the power of marrying, and also of
receiving neophytes into our Great Law. My darling little prince,
may you be blessed through time everlasting!" And the whole court
of figures entered, singing, "Through time everlasting!" to the
accompaniment of canaries and nightingales.


XII.

They all promenaded through the parlors in couples. Migajas gave his
arm to his royal consort.

"What a pity," said she, "that our hours of pleasure should be so
brief! Soon we shall have to return to our places."

His Serene Highness, Migajas, from the moment of his transformation,
had begun to experience the queerest sensations. The strangest of
these consisted in his having lost the sense of taste and the notion
of food. All he had eaten lay within him as though his stomach had
been a basket containing a thousand pasteboard viands which he did
not digest, which had no substance, weight, taste, or nourishment.
Moreover, he was no longer master of his movements, and was
compelled to keep time when he walked, which was a difficult thing
to do. He felt himself growing hard, as though he were being turned
to bone, wood, or clay. He thumped himself, and behold! his body
resounded like porcelain. His clothes, too, had grown hard, and were
in every respect precisely like his body.

When he found himself alone with his little wife and clasped her
to his bosom, he experienced no human or divine sensation of
pleasure,--nothing but the harsh shock of two hard, cold bodies. He
kissed her cheek; it was frozen. In vain did his hungry spirit call
upon nature. Nature in him was what it is in a piece of pottery. He
felt his heart throbbing like the machinery of a watch. His thoughts
alone survived; the rest was all unfeeling matter.

The princess seemed very happy. "What is the matter, my love?" said
she, observing Pacorrito's expression of distress.

"I am weary, bored, bored to death, my dear," said the lover, gaining
assurance.

"You will get accustomed to it. O happy hours! If this lasted much
longer, we could not endure it!"

"Does your Highness call this happiness?" observed Migajas. "What
coldness, what emptiness, what rigidity!"

"The after-taste of human things still lingers in your soul, and
you are still a slave to the views of your depraved human senses.
Pacorrito, I shall have to implore you to control these paroxysms, or
you will be the demoralization and destruction of every living doll."

"Life! life! blood! heat!" shouted Migajas, in despair, gesticulating
like a maniac. "What is happening to me?"

The princess clasped him to her bosom, and kissing him with her red,
waxen lips, exclaimed:

"You are mine, forever, forever, through time everlasting!"

Just then they heard a great commotion, and the sound of many voices
crying,--

"It is time! it is time!"

The clock struck twelve, and all had disappeared, princess, palace,
dolls, and emperors. Pacorrito was left alone.


XIII.

He was left alone in the most complete darkness. He tried to scream,
but he was voiceless. He made frantic attempts to move, but he could
not; he had turned to stone.

He waited in anguish. Day dawned at last; and Pacorrito had resumed
his old appearance, but strange to say, he was all of one color, and
apparently all of one substance,--his hands, his arms, his rags, his
hair, and even the newspapers which he held in his hand.

"There is no doubt about it," said he; "I have turned into a stone."

Before him he saw a great sheet of plate-glass, with some letters on
it, running backward. Around him was a multitude of statuettes and
fancy ornaments.

"Horror! I must be in the show-window!"

A clerk took him carefully in his hands, and having dusted him, put
him back in his place.

His Serene Highness looked down upon the pedestal on which he stood,
and saw a card with the figures $12.00 upon it.

"Good heavens! I am worth a treasure! That, at least, partially
consoles one."

And the people stopped on the other side of the plate-glass to admire
the wonderful bit of clay statuary representing a ragamuffin selling
matches and newspapers. Everybody praised the artist, and laughed at
the droll expression and bungling figure of the great Migajas, while
he in the inmost recesses of his clay repeated in anguish,--

"A puppet! a puppet! forever! through time everlasting!"



A TRAGEDY.

From the Spanish of ANTONIO MARÉ.


It was a great city in the far North, a gloomy city with pointed
roofs that seemed to have been carved out of the fog. The birds that
hurried past it on their journey south said to themselves that it
looked like a forest of steeples. Under one of these pointed roofs
lived two young people whom the coldness of emigration had huddled
together in a closer intimacy. They were very unconscious of the
fog, and it never occurred to them that the city looked like a
forest of steeples; in fact, they never thought of the city at all,
and would scarcely have been surprised if they had heard it spoken
of as an orange grove,--for they were lovers. The little nest they
had built themselves under the pointed roof was bright with the
sunshine that came from them; and the few people who entered there
became intoxicated with a strange aroma of tenderness that surged to
their brains like the fumes of old wine, in sweet reminiscences or
disturbing suggestions.

It would not be perfectly correct to say that these young people
lived entirely alone; and had they not been so absorbed in each
other, living that life of double selfishness peculiar to lovers,
they could scarcely have helped feeling a soft blue gaze fixed upon
them, evening after evening, as they took their accustomed places
before the hearth.

On the mantel-piece which overhung the hearth was a small black
marble clock, a statuette of Psyche with butterfly wings made of
plaster, a little Italian shepherd of very primitively tinted clay,
and a bisque vase. Now, this vase was the gem of the drawing-room. On
its bosom was painted a running stream that broke into cataracts here
and there over glossy brown stones. Its pitch was amazingly abrupt.
It started at the brim of the vase and disappeared under it. On its
banks, far away in a misty perspective of pink and violet trees,
were a number of shadowy little shepherdesses, some carrying tender
lambs, others dancing the minuet, but all very blithe and merry. At
some distance from them, and at the very front, where the cataract
roared its loudest, stood a much larger shepherdess in clear relief,
thrusting herself boldly forward as though she meant to leap from
the parental vase, to which she was bound only by the tip of her
flowered skirt and the heel of her slippered foot. She held her crook
high in the air as if to balance herself in her flight. In her other
hand was a wreath of corn-flowers, with which she shaded a pair of
dreamy blue eyes that gazed in perpetual wonder at the world below.
Her sisters were simple little things, who were content to play with
a lambkin all day long in the sun, or dance the minuet under the
trees, but who had absolutely no ideas. Now, this particular little
shepherdess had not only ideas, she had thoughts, and what was more,
she was conscious of them. It was not to be wondered at that all
things fell in love with each other in this peculiar little room;
nor was it surprising that most things fell in love with the little
shepherdess. The wonder was that she, on the other hand, fell in
love with nothing. This superiority of thought was very isolating,
and her aloneness would have been unendurable but for the gratifying
nature of its cause. The clock was an unpleasant neighbor,--childless
and critical, which sometimes means the same thing. Its conversation
invariably took the form of a colloquy, stiff with rules, bristling
with maxims; besides, having gone through life measuring out time,
it had reached that stage of indiscriminate scepticism which is the
greatest possible damper on the open-mindedness of others.

There was the little clay shepherd, to be sure, who was very
well thought of by the community at large. The shepherdess liked
him,--certainly she liked him,--and she sometimes spoke her thoughts
to him, but she never could have loved him, had the drawing-room been
the Desert of Sahara and he its only other inhabitant. She was always
perfectly frank with him whenever he broached the subject.

"In the first place, I do not believe that you are really in love,"
she said to him kindly; "you only think you are, because everybody
else seems to be. Reflect a little, and I am sure you will agree with
me,--for my part, I have given it a great deal of serious thought.
The air seems full of thrills for all of you lately, but you should
be very careful; a thrill is a dangerous prism through which to look
at life." And to herself she said, "Poor little fellow! he thinks he
can build a bonfire out of two straws."

She could not associate love with his healthy plumpness. He was
even-tempered, and had an occasional idea, but no theories; he
wanted things without longing for them; his love was tender but not
invariably delicate. She felt the fault to be in his head rather than
in his heart; he always acquiesced, but seldom understood.

On the table in the centre of the room was a Chinese mandarin, who
was also in love with the little shepherdess, but she absolutely
abhorred him. To her mind he was coarse and repulsive, in spite of
his wealth. His jokes never amused her. Still he was a humorist,
and had a way of wobbling his head and poking out his tongue that
threw the whole drawing-room into convulsions of laughter. Poor
little shepherdess! Well, she did what we all do under similar
circumstances. She built herself a world of her own,--a little
intellectual laboratory into which she dragged bits of careful
observation to be submitted to the tests of her theories. So, poised
like a sparrow on a twig, she continued to peer over the edge of the
mantel-piece, where she saw quite enough to set her thinking.

Her master and mistress were a source of constant study to her. Late
in the evening, when he sat on a broad, low chair before the fire,
and she on the floor resting her head against his knees, the little
shepherdess's eyes fairly glowed with concentrated attention. "So
that must be love," she thought, as she made a note of something
indefinable that quivered on their lips, or trembled on their eyelids
and made them droop. "I wonder how they feel! I wish I knew!" She was
watching her mistress with peculiar interest one night, when she saw
her slip her hand into her husband's coat-pocket, and draw out an
envelope with no stamp upon it. This she held for a second or two,
undecided as to whether she would read its contents. She looked up
inquiringly at her husband, then with a quick movement thrust it back
unopened, and laughingly threw her arms about his neck to drive away
the unpleasant impression. "That is a grave mistake," thought the
little shepherdess. "Why should there be anything that he should not
want her to know? As a principle, it is wrong. It is because people
build their love on illusions that they fear revelations. Why are
they so cowardly? I do not believe the truth to be as black as it is
painted. We should love, knowing,--that is the way. There must be
such a thing. Oh, when I love--" and her eyes grew misty at the very
thought, and the lace on her little bodice rose and fell.

The days came and went, and found her growing ever more dainty, and
more thoughtful too. At last she opened her blue eyes, one Christmas
Eve, upon what struck her at first as something alarming. It was
midnight; and a stealthy sound of creaking boots awoke her from her
first sleep and in the very midst of a wonderful dream. Her little
heart was beating very fast. At first she thought it might be a
burglar who had heard of her cleverness and her philosophies, and
who had broken into the house to steal her away, but in a second a
match was struck and she understood her mistake. Her master stood
before her in the middle of the room. She saw him tiptoe to the
door, close it tightly, then stand listening for a moment before
lighting the gas. What could he be so mysterious about? She rubbed
her eyes and watched him attentively. She soon discovered that he
held a bundle under his arm, and she smiled to herself knowingly.
"A Christmas present," she said; and she leaned so far forward that
she almost tipped off the mantel-piece. Her master sat down, laid
the package on his lap, and cut the strings with his penknife;
then he removed the wrappings as noiselessly as possible. Though
the little shepherdess had entirely recovered from her alarm, she
began to experience a sensation entirely new to her. She felt as
though there were a tight band around her waist that kept her
from breathing freely. Her head grew hollow; and a sickened sense
of misery--physical and mental anguishes writhing and knotting
themselves in the pit of her stomach--made her feel strangely faint.
What could this mean? Was it a foreboding? When the last wrapping was
carefully laid aside, she opened her eyes with a great effort and
looked upon the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. On the little
table directly opposite her, stood a figure about eight inches
high,--exquisite, dazzling! "A prince!" she thought at first; for he
was richly dressed, had a noble air, and on his short dark curls he
wore a crown. But no; he was not a prince.

As she looked at him again she realized that his crown was made of
laurels; then she saw too that he held a violin in his hand. He was
something greater than a prince; he was an artist. The master stood
off and looked at him with beaming joy, and the little shepherdess
felt her admiration increase with corroboration. Then he drew from
his pocket a pink wax taper, which he fitted into the laurel crown.
When it was lighted it shed a soft radiance. "What a beautiful idea!"
thought the shepherdess; "that is the halo of art, glorifying,
transfiguring everything." The master then blew out the light, and
smiling complacently, reached up to the chandelier. Just as he was
about to turn out the gas, the little artist looked up and saw
the shepherdess,--one long look of surprise and eagerness; their
glances met, and in that look they understood each other. Through
the darkness of that whole night he played her beautiful strains
of dreamy music that opened to her visions of blue skies and balmy
orange groves; for he came from Italy, where the very air must be
heavy with poetry and love, she thought. He told her wonderful tales
with his violin. He alternately flooded her mind with moonlight and
fairies, or peopled her fancy with vague forms of sorrow that filled
her little breast with sobs. What a rapturous night that was! A
bewitched moonbeam that peered in through a broken slat in the blind
lay there entranced. In the pauses of the music the plaster wings of
the little Psyche quivered audibly. As for the shepherdess, something
had permeated her soul like a subtile essence, and opened one by one
great vistas of feeling of which she had never dreamed even in the
boldest flights of her imaginings. All her senses seemed suddenly to
have grown exquisitely acute. "What a bursting heart there must be
behind it all!" she thought. "What a fund of sentiment! What must
he feel who, with a stroke of his bow, can change the aspect of the
world! It is he! It is he at last!"

Christmas morning dawned upon the world. The first rays of light
that penetrated into the drawing-room brought with them the muffled
sound of carriages hurrying over the snow, and the occasional shout
of a belated reveller mingling with the faint murmur from groups of
early church-goers. But what was this to the little shepherdess? The
day that had dawned for her was more momentous than Christmas. She
was almost surprised to find that it was not a dream. No, there he
stood; and he smiled at her with the eager smile of those who meet
again after a separation.

"You look as though you were about to take flight, you beautiful,
blue-eyed thing. Fly down to me. I will catch you in my arms," he
said, at which the little shepherdess blushed crimson. "Perhaps you
do not love me now that you see me in the light of day."

She was just about to answer something very clever about not fearing
revelations because she had all her life scorned illusions, when the
door suddenly opened, and her master entered on tiptoe. He walked
over to the table, stood looking at his purchase with satisfaction
for a few seconds; then taking it up in his hand, he discovered
that the pink taper did not fit tightly enough into the little
laurel crown. In moving the figure, it was apt to topple first to
one side, then another. So he stood it down, and twisting the upper
part carefully, he screwed it off, crown and taper, from the pretty
head, and carried them both into the next room. During this incident
a thought flashed through the little shepherdess's mind, and like
a flash too she determined to execute it. She pulled her left foot
with a jerk, and gave a little tug at her gown, and there she stood
on the edge of the mantel-piece, free. She threw a hasty glance at
the little shepherd, who looked on with a parched throat; it is even
possible that she smiled a kindly smile upon the black clock. Then
she gathered her skirts with both hands and jumped down. It was a
supreme moment. The lovers stood looking into each other's eyes.

"My precious one," he said, "you are mine at last. I have waited for
you through the ages, and you have come!"

And the little shepherdess, stepping up on a book, held her wreath of
corn-flowers over his head.

"I have no laurels to bring you," she said, "but I will crown you
with my trusting love." And she rose on her tiptoes and leaned
forward to lay her corn-flowers on his brow. But what was it? Why did
she start, and then lean farther forward and look again? What could
she have seen to make her eyes grow suddenly dim,--those clear eyes
that meant to see everything?

The fact of it was that under the laurels it was all hollow, hollow
down to his belt. Where his heart should have been, she saw a little
dust that exhaled a musty odor, and the wings of several dead flies.
Her brain reeled. Was this all, then? And the music, where had
the wonderful music come from, or was the music all? This was the
shepherdess's last speculation. She felt the book sinking beneath
her little feet; she grasped her crook nervously; then there was a
blank in her thoughts; she tottered, and crash! she fell and broke
into a thousand pieces at the feet of her lover. At first he felt
that he would die too. Then he composed himself, and when he came
to understand how it had all happened, he shrugged his shoulders.
"Women are all alike," said he. "They fancy they are thinking when
they are only brooding. They want to be analytical, and they are only
cavilous." And he tuned his violin, while his eyes rested on the
little plaster Psyche.

[Illustration]



THE THREE LOW MASSES.

From the French of ALPHONSE DAUDET.


I.

"Two truffled turkeys, did you say, Garrigou?"

"Yes, my reverend, two great, glorious turkeys stuffed with truffles.
I ought to know something about it, considering I helped stuff them
myself. I thought their skins would crack while they were roasting,
they were stretched so tight--"

"Merciful Saints! And I'm so fond of truffles too! Hurry there,
Garrigou, hand me my surplice. And what else did you see in the
kitchen besides the turkeys?"

"Oh, all sorts of good things. Ever since twelve o'clock we have been
plucking pheasants, hoopoes, hazel-hens, and heath-cocks. From the
pond they brought in eels, gold-fish, trouts, and--"

"About how big were the trouts, Garrigou?"

"Oh, about so big, my reverend; simply enormous--"

"Holy Fathers! I can just see them. Did you put the wine in the
vases?"

"Yes, my reverend, I filled them; but mercy! that isn't anything
like the wine you'll have later, after midnight Mass. You ought to
see the dining-hall at the castle,--all the decanters glittering
with the many-colored wines, and the silver, the plate, the chased
centre-pieces, the flowers, the candelabrum; I don't suppose there
has ever been such a Christmas supper! The Lord Marquis has invited
all the lords of the neighboring estates. There will be over forty at
the table, leaving out the bailiff and the notary. Ah, my reverend,
you are very lucky to be invited! The smell of the truffles haunts me
now, simply from having sniffed at those turkeys,--meuh!"

"Come, come, my child, let us beware of the sin of
greediness,--particularly on the night of the Nativity. Hurry off now
and light the tapers, and ring the first call for Mass; it will soon
be midnight, and we can't afford to lose time."

This conversation occurred one Christmas night in the year of
our Lord sixteen hundred and something, between the reverend Dom
Balaguère, formerly prior of the Barnabites, and present chaplain
of the Sires of Trinquelague, and his little clerk, or rather what
he believed to be his little clerk Garrigou,--for let me tell you
that the Devil on that particular night had assumed the round face
and uncertain features of the young sacristan, the better to lead the
reverend father into temptation and make him commit a great sin of
greediness. So while the would-be Garrigou (hem! hem!) rang out the
chimes with all his might from the seigniorial chapel, the reverend
father was slipping on his chasuble in the little vestry; and as his
imagination was somewhat excited by Garrigou's gastronomic accounts,
he repeated mechanically as he got into his vestments,--

"Two roast turkeys, gold-fish, trouts about so big!"

Without, the night wind blew, and scattered the music of the bells.
Gradually lights began to pierce the gloom along the roads of Mount
Ventoux, on whose summit the old towers of Trinquelague reared their
mighty heads. The neighboring farmers and their families were on
their way to the castle to hear midnight Mass. They climbed the
mountain singing gayly, in little groups of five or six,--the father
ahead carrying the lantern, the women following, wrapped in great
dark cloaks under which the children snuggled to keep warm. In spite
of the cold and the advanced hour of the night, all these good people
walked along merrily, cheered by the thought that a great supper was
awaiting them as usual, below, in the castle kitchens, after Mass.
Every now and then, on the rough declivity some fine lord's coach,
preceded by torch-bearers, showed its glimmering window-panes in
the moonlight; or then a mule trotted along shaking its bells; or
again, by the light of their lanterns wrapped in mist, the farmers
recognized their bailiff and hailed him as they passed.

"Good-night, good-night, Master Arnoton!"

"Good-night; good-night, my children!"

It was a clear night; the stars seemed brightened by the cold; the
wind was nipping; and a fine sleet powdered all these cloaks without
wetting them, just in order to preserve the tradition that requires
Christmas to be white with snow.

On the very crest of the mountain the castle appeared like a goal,
with its huge mass of towers and gables, the chapel steeple rising
straight into the blue-black sky, while a thousand little lights
moved rapidly hither and thither, blinking at all the windows, and
looking, against the intense black of the building, like the tiny
sparks that glimmer in a pile of burnt paper.

After passing the drawbridge and the postern, in order to reach
the chapel, one had to cross the first court, crowded with coaches,
footmen, sedan-chairs, and bright with the flame of torches and the
glare from the kitchens. One could hear the clicking of the spits,
the rattling of pots, the tinkling of crystal and silver, as they
were laid out for the banquet; and above it all floated a warm vapor
smelling of roasted meats and the pungent herbs of complicated
sauces, which made the farmers, as well as the chaplain, the bailiff,
and everybody say,--

"What a good supper we shall have after Mass!"


II.

Ding, ling, ling! Ding, ling, ling!

Midnight Mass has begun. In the chapel of the castle, which is a
miniature cathedral, with intercrossed arches and oaken wainscoting
up to the ceiling, all the tapestries are hung, all the tapers
lighted. What a crowd of people, and what sumptuous costumes! Here,
in one of the carven stalls that surround the choir, sits the Sire
of Trinquelague, clad in salmon-colored silk, and around him all the
noble lords, his guests. Opposite them, on velvet fall-stools, kneel
the old dowager Marchioness, in a gown of flame-colored brocade, and
the young lady of Trinquelague, wearing on her pretty head a great
tower of lace puffed and quilled according to the latest fashion at
the court of France. Farther down the aisle, all dressed in black,
with vast pointed wigs and cleanly shaven chins, sit Thomas Arnoton
the bailiff, and the notary, Master Ambroy, two sombre spots amid
the high colors of silks and brocaded damasks. Then come the fat
major-domos, the pages, outriders, the stewards, Dame Barbe with her
great bunch of keys dangling from her side on a ring of fine silver.
On the benches in the rear is the lower service,--butlers, maids, the
farmers and their families. And last of all, far back against the
doors, which they discreetly open and close, come the cooks, between
two sauces, to catch a little whiff of the Mass, bringing with them
into the bedecked church, warm with the light of so many tapers,
odoriferous suggestions of the Christmas supper.

Can it be the sight of these crisp white caps that diverts the
reverend father's attention? Or is it not rather Garrigou's
bell?--that fiendish little bell that tinkles away at the foot of the
altar with such infernal haste, and seems to be saying,--

"Come, come, let us hurry! The sooner we despatch the service, the
sooner we go to supper."

The fact of the matter is that at every peal from this little devil
of a bell, the chaplain forgets his Mass and allows his mind to
wander to the Christmas supper. He evokes visions of busy kitchens,
with ovens glowing like furnaces, warm vapors rising from under tin
lids, and through these vapors, two superb turkeys, stuffed, crammed,
mottled with truffles. Or then again, he sees long files of little
pages carrying great dishes wrapped in their tempting fumes, and
with them he is about to enter the dining-hall. What ecstasy! Here
stands the immense table, laden and dazzling with peacocks dressed in
their feathers, pheasants spreading their bronzed wings, ruby-colored
decanters, pyramids of luscious fruit amid the foliage, and those
wonderful fish that Garrigou spoke of (Garrigou, forsooth!) reclining
on a bed of fennel, their pearly scales looking as if they were just
from the pond, and a bunch of pungent herbs in their monster-like
nostrils. This beatific vision is so vivid that Dom Balaguère
actually fancies that the glorious dishes are being served before
him, on the very embroideries of the altar-cloth, and instead of
saying _Dominus vobiscum_, he catches himself saying the _Benedicite_.

With the exception of these slight mistakes the worthy man rattled
off the service conscientiously, without skipping a line, or omitting
a genuflection, and all went well to the end of the first Mass. For
you must know that on Christmas the same officiating priest is
obliged to say three Masses consecutively.

"So much for one!" thought the chaplain, with a sigh of relief;
and without losing a second, he motioned his clerk, or him whom he
believed to be his clerk, and--

Ding, ling, ling! Ding, ling, ling!

The second Mass has begun--and with it Dom Balaguère's sin. "Come,
let us hurry!" says Garrigou's bell, in a shrill, devilish little
voice, at the mere sound of which the unfortunate priest pounces
upon the missal and devours its pages with all the avidity of his
over-excited brain. He kneels and rises frantically, barely sketches
the sign of the cross and the genuflections, and shortens all of his
gestures in order to get through sooner. He scarcely extends his arms
at the Gospel, or strikes his breast at the _Confiteor_. Between him
and his little clerk it is hard to tell who mumbles the faster. The
words, half uttered between their teeth,--for it would take them too
long to open their lips every time,--die out into unintelligible
murmurs,--

Oremus--ps--ps--ps--

Meâ culpa--pâ--pâ--

Like hurried vintagers crushing the grapes in the mash-tuns, they
both splashed about in the Latin of the service, spattering it in
every direction.

"Dom--scum!" says Balaguère.

"Stutuo!" responds Garrigou, while the infernal little bell jingles
in their ears like the sleigh-bells that are put on stage-horses to
hasten their speed. You may well imagine that at such a rate a Low
Mass is soon rattled off.

"So much for the second," says the panting chaplain, with scarlet
face, in a full perspiration; and without taking time to breathe, he
goes tumbling down the altar steps, and--

Ding, ling, ling! Ding, ling, ling!

The third Mass is under way. Only a few minutes stand between them
and the supper. But alas! as the time approaches, Dom Balaguère's
fever of impatience and greediness increases. His vision grows more
and more vivid; the fish, the roasted turkeys, are there before him;
he touches them; he--great Heavens!--he breathes the perfume of the
wines and the savory fumes of the dishes, and the frantic little bell
calls out to him,--

"Hurry, hurry! Faster, faster!"

But how on earth can he go faster? His lips barely move; he has given
up enunciating altogether,--unless, forsooth, he chooses to cheat
the Lord, and swindle him out of his Mass. And that is just what he
is doing, the wretched man! Yielding first to one temptation, then
another, he skips one verse, then two; then the Epistle being very
long, he omits part of it, skims over the Gospel, passes the Creed
unnoticed, skips the _Pater_, hails the preface from afar, and thus
with a skip and a jump plunges into eternal damnation, followed by
that infamous Garrigou (_Vade retro, Satanas!_), who seconds him with
marvellous sympathy, upholds his chasuble, turns the pages two at a
time, jostles the lectern, and upsets the vases, while the little
bell rings constantly, ever faster and louder.

It would be impossible to describe the bewildered expression of the
congregation. Compelled to follow, mimicking the priest, through
this Mass, of which they can make neither head nor tail, some stand
while others kneel, some sit while others stand; and all the phases
of this singular service are jumbled together along the benches in
the greatest confusion of varied postures. The Christmas star on the
celestial road, journeying toward the little manger yonder, grows
pale at the very thought.

"The abbé reads too fast; it is impossible to follow him," whispers
the old dowager Marchioness, whose voluminous head-dress shakes
wildly. Master Arnoton, with his great steel spectacles on his nose,
loses his place every minute and fingers his Prayer-Book nervously.
Still, at heart all these good people, whose minds are equally bent
upon the Christmas supper, are not at all disturbed at the idea
of following Mass at such breakneck speed; and when Dom Balaguère,
facing them radiantly, exclaims in a thundering voice, "Ite missa
est," the response, "Deo gracias," is so unanimous, joyous, and
spirited, that any one might take it for the first toast of the
supper.


III.

Five minutes later the assembled lords, and the chaplain among them,
had taken their seats in the great hall. The castle, brilliantly
illumined, echoed with songs and laughter; and the venerable Dom
Balaguère drove his fork resolutely into a capon's wing, drowning the
remorse for his sin in the savory juice of meats and the soothing
draughts of old wine. He ate and drank so heartily, the dear good
man, that he died of a spasm that very night, without even having had
time to repent. By morning he reached heaven, where the thrills of
the past night's ecstasies lingered still in the air, and I leave you
to imagine how he was received.

"Get thee gone, thou wretched Christian!" said Saint Peter; "thy sin
is great enough to wipe out the virtues of a lifetime! Ah, so thou
wouldst swindle us out of a Mass! Very well, then, three hundred
Masses shalt thou say, nor shalt thou enter into Paradise until
three hundred Christmas Masses have been celebrated in thine own
chapel, and in the presence of all those who sinned with thee and
through thee."

And this is the true legend of Dom Balaguère, as it is told in the
land of the olive-tree. The castle of Trinquelague has long ceased
to exist; but the chapel stands erect on the crest of Mount Ventoux,
in a clump of evergreen oaks. The wind sways its unhinged door; the
grass grows over the threshold; there are nests in the angles of the
altar, and on the sills of the high ogive windows, whose jewelled
panes have long since disappeared. Still, it seems that every year
at Christmas supernatural, mysterious lights hover among the ruins;
and on their way to midnight Mass and the Christmas supper, the
peasants see this spectre of a chapel lighted by invisible tapers,
which burn in the open air, even in the wind and under the snow. You
may laugh if you will, but a wine-dresser of the district, named
Garrigue, a descendant of Garrigou, no doubt, has often told me that
on one particular Christmas night, being somewhat in liquor, he
had lost his way on the mountain somewhere near Trinquelague, and
this is what he saw: until eleven o'clock nothing. Everything was
silent and dark. Suddenly at midnight the chimes rang out from the
old steeple,--strange, uncanny chimes, that seemed to be ringing a
thousand miles away. Soon lights began to tremble along the road, and
vague shadows moved about. Under the portal of the chapel there were
sounds of footsteps and muffled voices:--

"Good-night, Master Arnoton!"

"Good-night, good-night, my children!"

When they had all gone in, my wine-dresser, who was a courageous
fellow, crawled up to the door and there beheld a most marvellous
spectacle. All these good shadows sat around the choir in the ruined
nave just as though the benches were still there. There were fine
ladies in brocades and lace head-dresses, lords gayly bedizened,
peasants in flowered coats like those our grandfathers wore, all of
them dusty, faded, weary. Every now and then, some night-bird, an
habitual lodger in the chapel, awakened by all these lights, began to
flutter about the tapers, whose flames rose erect and vague as though
they were burning behind a strip of gauze. Garrigue was particularly
amused at a gentleman with great steel spectacles, who constantly
shook his huge black wig, upon which perched one of these birds with
entangled claws and beating wings.

A little old man with a childlike figure knelt in the centre of the
choir and frantically shook a tiny bell which had lost its voice,
while a priest clad in old-gold vestments moved hither and thither
before the altar repeating orisons of which not a syllable could be
heard.

Who could this have been but Dom Balaguère, saying his third Low Mass?

[Illustration]



THE POET'S CHRISTMAS EVE.

From the Spanish of PEDRO A. DE ALARCÓN.

    In a beautiful corner of Andalusia
    Lies a smiling valley.
        God bless it!
    For in that valley
    Have I friends, loves,
    Brothers, parents.
                    (_El Látigo._)


I.

A good many years ago, for I was then only seven, my father came to
me in the twilight of a winter's day, when the three _Ave Marias_ had
been repeated to the sound of the church-bells, and said solemnly,
"You need not go to bed with the chickens to-night, Pedro; you are a
big boy now, and you ought to have supper with your parents and your
older brothers. This is Christmas Eve."

I shall never forget the delight with which I heard these words. I
was not going to bed until late! I cast a glance of commiseration
and contempt upon my younger brothers, and instantly fell to
composing a description, to be delivered at school on my return after
Twelfth Night, of this my first adventure, my first lark, the first
dissipation of my life.


II.

It was already _las Ánimas_,[1] as they say in our village.

[1] A certain hour of the evening, when the ringing of bells
admonishes the faithful to pray for the souls in purgatory.

Our village! Ninety leagues from Madrid, a thousand leagues from the
world, nestling in a fold of the Sierra Nevada! I can almost fancy I
see you, brothers, father, and mother!

A huge oak log whistled and crackled in the fireplace. We all sat
together under the vault of the chimney. My two grandmothers, who
spent that night with us, presiding over the household ceremonies,
occupied the corner seats; my father and mother sat next to them,
the rest of the place being occupied by the children and servants;
for on such an occasion we all represented the home, and it seemed
fitting that one fire should warm us all. I remember, however, that
our men remained standing, and that our maids squatted or knelt.
Their respectful humility forbade their occupying a chair. The cats
slept in the centre of the circle, their tails turned to the fire.
An occasional snowflake came fluttering down the chimney,--that
elfin road,--and the wind moaned in the distance and spoke to us of
the absent, the poor, the wayfarers. My father and my eldest sister
played on the harp, and I accompanied them, to their distress, on
a drum which I had contrived that very evening out of a broken
water-jug.

Do you know the song of the Aguinaldos, which is sung in the villages
that lie east of the Mulhacem? Well, that was the music that
constituted the concert. The maid-servants took it upon themselves to
render the vocal parts, and they sang couplets to this effect:--

    "To-night is Christmas eve;
      To-morrow is Christmas day.
    Maria, fetch the jug of wine;
      Let's be merry while we may."

And all was happiness and merry-making. Rusks, butter-cakes, pastes
of nuts and honey, sweetmeats made by the nuns, rosoli, and cherry
brandy were freely passed around. There was much talk of going to
midnight Mass, to the Nativity play at dawn, to see the Bethlehem
manger which we boys had constructed in the tower, and also of
making sherbet out of the snow that carpeted the court.

Suddenly in the midst of all this merriment I was struck by the deep
meaning of these words, sung by my paternal grandmother:--

      "Christmas comes,
      Christmas goes;
    But soon we all shall be of those
      Who come back--never!"

In spite of my tender age this couplet chilled my heart. All the
melancholy horizons of life seemed to have been unfolded before me in
a flash. It was a burst of intuition, unnatural at my age; it was a
miraculous prescience, the herald of the ineffable tedium of poetry;
it was my first inspiration. I saw and understood at a glance, with
marvellous lucidity, the inevitable fate of the three generations
present. It occurred to me that my grandparents, my parents, and my
brothers were like a marching army whose vanguard was stepping into
the grave, while the rearguard had not yet left the cradle; and these
three generations represented a century; and all past centuries had
been alike, and ours would disappear as they had done, and so would
the centuries unborn.

    "Christmas comes,
    Christmas goes."

Such is the implacable monotony of time, the pendulum oscillating in
space, the indifferent repetition of events, in contrast with the
brevity of our pilgrimage in this world.

    "But soon we all shall be of those
      Who come back--never!"

Horrible thought! Cruel sentence, the definite meaning of which was
like a summons to me,--death beckoning me from the shadows of the
future. Before my imagination a thousand Christmas Eves filed by,
a thousand hearths were extinguished, a thousand families that had
supped together ceased to exist,--other children, other joys, other
songs, lost forever; the loves of my grandparents, their antiquated
mode of dress, their remote youth, the memories thereof that crowded
upon them; my parents' childhood, the first Christmas celebration
in our home, all the happiness that had preceded me! Then I could
imagine, I could foresee, a thousand more Christmas Eves recurring
periodically and robbing us of our life and hope,--future joys in
which we should not all take part together, my brothers scattered
over the earth, my parents naturally dying before us, the twentieth
century following upon the nineteenth! The live coals turned to
ashes,--my vanished youth, my old age, my grave, my posthumous
memory, then the complete oblivion of me, the indifference, the
ingratitude of my grandchildren, living of my blood, and who would
laugh and enjoy while the worms profaned the skull in which these
very thoughts were now conceived.

The tears gushed from my eyes. I was asked why I was crying, and as
I did not know or at least could not have defined the reason even to
myself, my father concluded that I was sleepy, and I was accordingly
sent to bed. Here was another motive for weeping, and so it happened
that my first philosophical tears and my last childish ones were
mingled. That night of insomnia which I spent listening to the joyous
sounds of a celebration from which I had been excluded for being too
much of a child, as my parents believed then,--or too much of a man,
as I realize now,--was perhaps the bitterest of my life.

I must have fallen asleep at last, however, for I cannot remember
whether the projects of going to midnight Mass, the Nativity play,
and making sherbet out of the snow in the court fell through or not.


III.

Where is my childhood?

I feel as though I had just been relating a dream.

The world is wide, after all! My paternal grandmother, the one
who sang the couplet, died a long time ago. On the other hand, my
brothers have married and have children. My father's harp, unstrung
and broken, has been thrown among the cast-off furniture. It has
been many a Christmas Eve since I had supper at home. My village
has disappeared from the ocean of my life like the islet which the
mariner leaves behind him.

I am no longer the same Pedro, the child, that focus of ignorance,
curiosity, and anguish trembling on the threshold of life. I am
nothing short of a man, an inhabitant of Madrid, comfortably settled
in life, proud of my independence as a bachelor, a novelist, and
a volunteer in the great orphanage of the capital, with whiskers,
debts, and loves.

When I compare myself now, my perfect freedom, my broad life, the
immense scene of my operations, my early experience, standing as I do
revealed, tuned like a grand piano on the night of a concert; when I
compare myself with all my boldness, my ambitions, my contempts, with
the little chap that played the drum fifteen years ago on Christmas
Eve in a remote corner of Andalusia,--I smile, I even laugh aloud,
with the feeling that it befits me, while my lonely heart sheds pure
tears of infinite melancholy, which it carefully hides from view.
Holy tears! May Providence frank you to the home where my father is
growing old!


IV.

Well, what shall it be?--for, as the boys sing in the streets,--

    "Christmas Eve! Christmas Eve!
    This is surely no night for sleep!"

Where shall I spend the evening? Fortunately I can choose; let me see.

This is the 24th of December, 1855. We are in Madrid. We know the
waiters of all the cafés by name. We are hand in glove with the most
applauded poets of the day, the demi-gods of provincial amateurs.
We frequent theatres and see plays from the inside, as it were.
The great actors and singers shake our hand behind the scenes. We
penetrate into the editor's rooms and are initiated in the alchemy
which produces newspapers. We have seen the type-setter's fingers
stained with the lead of words, and the fingers of the author stained
with the ink of thoughts. We have free access to one of the tribunes
of Congress, credit at the hotels; there are social gatherings that
appreciate us, and tailors that endure us.

We are happy! Our youthful ambition is satisfied. We can enjoy
this night. We have conquered the world. Madrid is ours. Madrid is
our home. A cheer for Madrid! And you, provincial youths, who at
nightfall on an autumn day, sad and lonely, unearth and air your
impotent longing for the capital,--you who feel yourselves to be
poets, musicians, painters, orators, who despise your village, who
will not speak to your parents, who weep with ambition and dream of
suicide,--burst with envy, all of you, as we are now bursting with
pleasure.


V.

Two hours have passed. It is nine o'clock. I have money; where shall
I take supper? My friends, more fortunate than I, will smother their
loneliness in the clamor of an orgy. "Night is of wine," they said to
me only a few moments ago; but I would not be of them. It has been
some time now since I crossed this red sea of youth dry-footed.

"Night is of tears," I said to them.

Those who compose our social gatherings are at the theatre. The
people of Madrid celebrate the Nativity of our Lord by listening to
the ranting of actors.

A few homes in which I am almost a stranger have offered me alms
out of their domestic warmth in the form of an invitation to
dinner,--for the old-fashioned supper has gone out of style. But I
would not accept. That is not what I want. What I long for is the
Paschal feast, the Christmas Eve supper, my home, my relatives, my
traditions, my memories, the former joys of my soul, the religion
that was taught me when I was a child.


VI.

Ah, Madrid is an inn. On a night like this we come to know what
Madrid is. Our capital is a floating population, heterogeneous,
exotic, which can only be compared to the population of a free port,
of a jail, of an insane asylum. Travellers journeying toward a
future, to the fantastic kingdom of ambition, halt here as well as
those who are journeying back from misery, from crime.

Beauty comes here to marry, or to sell herself, the landed proprietor
to squander his wealth, the literati for glory, the deputy to become
a minister, the worthless man for a government office. The savant,
the inventor, the comedian, the giant, the dwarf, the man with an
anomaly in his soul or in his body, the monster with seven arms
and three noses as well as the philosopher with double sight, the
charlatan, the reformer, the man who creates melodies, and the man
who counterfeits bank-notes,--all spend some period of their life
in the great inn. Those who attain notoriety, those who find a
purchaser, those who have grown rich at the expense of themselves,
become in time the innkeepers, the landlords, the masters of Madrid,
and forget the land of their birth. But we, the wayfarers, the
lodgers,--we realize to-night that Madrid means exile, that Madrid is
a bivouac, a prison, a purgatory. For the first time in the year we
feel that neither the café, the theatre, the casino, nor the hotel is
our house. More than that, we realize that our house is not our home.


VII.

The home--that sacred abode of the patriarch, of the Roman citizen,
of the feudal lord, of the very Arab; the holy arch of the Penates,
temple of hospitality, and altar of the family--has completely
disappeared in our great modern centres. The home survives in
the provinces alone. There our house is our own. In Madrid it is
generally the landlord's. In the provinces our house shelters us
for twenty, thirty, forty years at least. In Madrid one moves every
month, or at least every year. Our home has a physiognomy of its
own, which never varies, ever kindly and sympathetic. It grows
old with us; it bears the impress of our lives; it preserves our
footprints. In Madrid the exterior changes every leap year; the
apartments are arrayed in new garments; that furniture is sold which
our contact had consecrated. At home the whole edifice is ours: the
grassy court, the poultry-yard filled with chickens, the high, cheery
terraces, the deep well,--the children's terror,--the monumental
tower, the broad cool, vine-covered summer-house. Here we occupy
a half-flat, paper-lined, and divided into mean apartments, with
no view of the sky, no sun, no air. There we have that neighborly
affection, something between friendship and relationship, which binds
together all the families of one street. Here the man who moves about
noisily above our heads is unknown to us, neither do we know the man
who dies beyond the partition of our alcove, and whose death-rattle
disturbs our sleep. Our provincial home is a cluster of memories, of
local attachments: here the room in which we were born, there the
room where our brother died; here the empty hall in which we played
as children, there the study in which we wrote our first verses. On
the chapter of a column, in the trough of an old ceiling, swallows
have built their nests, and every year the faithful couple fly over
from Africa to hatch a new brood. In Madrid all this is unknown.
And the hearth, that consecrated stone, cold in summer, cold in our
absence, but warm and friendly during the happy winter evenings when
all the children are brought together and grouped about the old
people,--for the colleges have their vacations, the married daughters
bring their little ones home on a visit, and the absent ones, the
prodigal sons, come back to the heart of the family,--where, tell
me, where is this hearth in the houses of the capital? Can we call
a French mantel-piece, made of marble, bronze, and iron, a hearth,
that which one can buy at a store, at wholesale or retail, and can
even hire, if need be? The French mantel-piece is the symbol of home
in a great city. People of Madrid, that is your hearth,--a hearth
subject to the changes of fashion, a hearth which is sold when it is
old, which can be moved from room to room, from street to street, and
which can even be pawned in an emergency.


VIII.

I wandered through a street. Far above my head, from a high story, my
grandmother's prophetic couplet floated down to me amid the shock of
glasses, the rattle of dishes, and the merry laughter of girls.

      "Christmas comes,
      Christmas goes;
    But soon we all shall be of those
      Who come back--never!"

"Here," thought I, "is a home, a hearth, with almond soup and a
gilt-head, which I could buy for four dollars!" Just then a woman
came up to me, begging. She had two children, one in her arms wrapped
in her ravelled shawl, the other clinging to her hand. Both were
crying; I thought the mother was crying too.


IX.

I do not know how I happen to be in this café. The clock strikes
midnight, the hour when the Christ was born. I am here, alone, in a
boisterous crowd. I have fallen to analyzing my life since I left my
father's roof, and for the first time I am horror-stricken at the
painful struggle of the poet in Madrid,--a struggle in which so much
affection, so much peace, is sacrificed to a vain ambition.

I have watched the bards of the nineteenth century writing the local;
I have watched the Muse, scissors in hand, making clippings; I have
seen men who in other ages would have written a national epic busily
patching up editorials to rehabilitate a party and earn fifty dollars
a month.

Poor children of God! Poor poets! Antonio Trueba, to whom I dedicate
this article, says,--

"I have found so many thorns on my journey that my heart aches, my
soul aches!"

And so much for my present Christmas Eve!

Then I travel back, in thought, through the bygone years. I am surely
missed at home to-night; and my mother shivers when the wind moans
in the chimney, as though those moans were my dying sighs. And she
says to the neighbors, "In such a year, when he was with us," or, "I
wonder where he is now!"

Ah, I cannot bear this! I wave you a farewell from my soul, dear
ones! I am ambitious; I am an ingrate, a bad brother, a bad son! How
can I explain it? A supernatural force leads me on, whispering, "Thou
shalt be!" The voice of damnation that spoke to me in my very cradle.
And what, pray, am I to be, poor wretch that I am?

    "Soon we all shall be of those
      Who come back--never!"

Ah, I do not want to go! I shall not go! I have struggled too hard to
fail. I shall return. I will triumph in life and in death. Is there
to be no compensation for the infinite anguish of my soul?


X.

It is very late, and that couplet of the dead still rings in my
brain,--

      "Christmas comes,
      Christmas goes;
    But soon we all shall be of those
      Who come back--never!"

"Yes, yes; other Christmas Eves will come," thought I, as a child;
and I dreamed of the future and built castles in the air. I saw
myself the centre of a family, as yet unborn, in the second twilight
of life when the flowers of love come to fruit. That storm of love
and tears which wrecks me now was passed; my head was at rest in the
lap of patience, crowned with the melancholy flowers of the last,
true affections. I was a husband, a father, the support of a home, of
a family.

The flame of an unknown hearth sparkled in the distance, and in its
vacillating light I saw strange beings that made me throb with pride;
they were my sons. Then I wept, and I closed my eyes to prolong the
vision of that reddish light and the prophetic apparition of the
unborn. The grave was near; my locks were gray. But what of that?
Would not half of my life remain in these children of love? Would
not half of my soul remain with their mother? In vain did I try to
recognize this wife, who was to share the twilight of my life. This
future companion whom God holds for me sat with her back to me. I
could not see her face. I looked for the reflection of her features
in the faces of my sons, but the light from the hearth began to fail.

When it was out I still saw her, because I felt the warmth of her in
my soul. I murmured:

    "Christmas comes,
    Christmas--"

And I was asleep, perhaps dead.

[Illustration]



I TAKE SUPPER WITH MY WIFE.

From the French of GUSTAVE DROZ.


It was Christmas Eve, and a devilishly cold night. The snow fell
in great flakes, which the wind beat against the window-panes. The
distant chimes reached us, confused and faint through the heavy,
cottony atmosphere. The passers-by, muffled in their cloaks, glided
along hurriedly, brushing by the walls of the houses, bending their
heads before the wind. Wrapped in my dressing-gown, I smiled as I
drummed on the window-pane, smiled at the passers-by, at the north
wind and the snow, with the smile of a happy man who is in a warm
room with his feet in a pair of flannel-lined slippers which sink
into a thick, soft carpet.

My wife sat in a corner of the hearth with a great piece of cloth
before her which she cut and trimmed off; and every now and then she
raised her eyes, which met mine. A new book lay on the mantel-piece
awaiting me, and a log in the fireplace whistled as it spit out those
little blue flames which tempt one to poke it.

"There is nothing so stupid as a man trudging along in the snow. Is
there?" said I.

"Sh-h-h!" said my wife, laying down her scissors. Then she stroked
her chin thoughtfully with her tapering pink fingers, slightly plump
at the extremities, and looked over very carefully the pieces she had
just cut out.

"I say that it is absurd to go out into the cold when it is so easy
to stay at home by the fire."

"Sh-h-h!"

"What the deuce are you doing that is so important?"

"I--I am cutting out a pair of suspenders for you;" and she resumed
her task. Her hair was coiled a little higher than usual; and where I
stood, behind her, I could just see, as she leaned over her work, the
nape of her neck, white and velvety. Innumerable soft little locks
curled there gracefully, and this pretty down reminded me of those
ripe peaches into which we drive our teeth greedily. I leaned nearer
to see and--kissed my wife on the neck.

"Monsieur!" exclaimed Louise, turning suddenly around.

"Madame!" and we both burst into a laugh.

"Come, come; on Christmas Eve!"

"Monsieur apologizes?"

"Madame complains?"

"Yes; Madame complains. Madame complains of your not being more
moved, more thrilled by the spirit of Christmas. The ding-ding-dong
from the bells of Notre Dame awakens no emotion in you; and when the
magic-lantern went by under your very window, you were perfectly
unmoved, utterly indifferent. I watched you attentively, though I
pretended to work."

"Unmoved? Indifferent? I? When the magic lantern went by! Ah, my
dear! you judge me very severely, and really--"

"Yes, yes; laugh if you will. It is nevertheless true that the pretty
memories of your childhood are lost."

"Come, my pet, would you like me to stand my boots in the fireplace
to-night before I go to bed? Would you like me to stop the
magic-lantern man and go and get him a sheet and a candle-end, as
my mother used to do? I can almost see her as she handed him the
sheet. 'Be careful you don't tear it, now,' she would say; and we all
clapped our hands in the mysterious obscurity. I remember all those
joys, dear; but, you see, so many things have happened since. Other
pleasures have obliterated those."

"Yes, I understand,--the pleasures of your bachelorhood! Come, now,
I am sure this is the first Christmas Eve that has ever found you
by your own fireside, in your dressing-gown and without a supper,
because you always had supper; that goes without saying--"

"Why, I don't know--"

"Yes, yes; I wager you always had a supper."

"Well, perhaps I did, once or twice, although I scarcely remember;
I may have had supper with a few old friends. And what did it all
amount to? Two pennies' worth of chestnuts and--"

"And a glass of sugar and water."

"Well, just about. Oh, it was nothing much, I can assure you! It
sounds great at a distance. We talked awhile, and then we went to
bed."

"And he says all that with the straightest face! You have never
breathed a word of these simple pleasures to me."

"But, my dear, what I tell you is the absolute truth. I remember
once, however, at Ernest's, when I was in rather high spirits, we had
a little music afterwards--Will you push me that log? Well, never
mind; it is almost midnight, and time for all reasonable people to--"

(Louise, rising and throwing her arms around me.) "Well, I don't
choose to be reasonable, and I mean to eclipse the memory of those
penny chestnuts and all that sugar and water!" (Pushing me hastily
into my study, and locking the door.)

"What the deuce is the matter with you, my dear?" I cried from the
other side of the partition.

"Give me ten minutes, no more. Your paper is on the mantel-piece; you
have not seen it to-night. You will find the matches in the corner."

Then I heard the rattle of china, the rustle of silky stuffs. Could
my wife have gone crazy? At the end of about ten minutes she unlocked
the door.

"Don't scold me for shutting you out," said she, embracing me.
"Look at me. Have I not made myself beautiful? See! My hair just as
you like it, high, and my neck uncovered. But my poor neck is so
extremely shy that it never could have displayed itself in the broad
light, if I had not encouraged it a little by wearing a low-necked
gown. After all, it is only right to be in full-dress uniform at a
supper with the authority."

"What supper?"

"Why, our supper. My supper with you, of course. Don't you see my
illumination and the table covered with flowers and good things to
eat? I had it all ready in the alcove; but, you see, to push the
table before the fire and make something of a toilet, I had to be
alone. I have a big drop of old Chambertin for you. Come, Monsieur,
come to supper; I am as hungry as a bear! May I offer you this
chicken-wing?"

"This is a charming idea of yours, my love, but I really feel ashamed
of myself,--in my dressing-gown."

"Take it off, sir, if you are uncomfortable, but do not leave me with
this chicken-wing on my hands. Wait a minute; I want to wait upon you
myself." And rising, she swung her napkin over her arm and pulled up
her sleeve to her elbow. "Isn't that the way the waiters do at the
restaurants, tell me?"

"Exactly. But stop a moment, waiter; will you permit me to kiss your
hand?"

"I haven't time," she said, smiling, and she drove the corkscrew
bravely into the neck of a bottle. "Chambertin!--a pretty name. And,
besides, do you remember, before we were married--_sapristi_, what a
hard cork!--you told me you liked it on account of a play by Alfred
de Musset?--which you never gave me to read, by the way. Do you see
those little Bohemian glass tumblers that I bought especially for
to-night? We will drink each other's health in them."

"And his too, eh?"

"The heir's, you mean? Poor little love of an heir, I should think
so! Then I shall hide the two glasses and bring them out again this
day next year, eh, dear? They will be the Christmas-supper glasses,
and we will have supper every year before the hearth, you and I
alone, until our very old, old age."

"Yes; but when we shall have lost all our teeth--"

"Never mind; we shall have nice little soups, and it will none the
less be very sweet. Another piece for me, please, with a little
jelly, thank you."

As she held out her plate to me, I caught a glimpse of her arm, the
pretty contours of which disappeared in the lace.

"What are you looking up my sleeve for instead of eating?"

"I am looking at your arm, dear. You are exquisitely pretty to-night;
do you know it? Your hair is wonderfully becoming, and that gown--I
had never seen that gown before."

"_Dame!_ When a person starts out to make a conquest!"

"You are adorable!"

"Are you quite sure that I am adorable to-night, charming,
ravishing?" Then, looking at her bracelet attentively, "In that case
I don't see why--I don't see--"

"What is it that you don't see, dear?"

"I don't see why you don't come and kiss me."

And as the kiss was prolonged, she threw her head back, showing the
double row of her pretty white teeth, exclaiming between her peals of
laughter,--

"Give me some more _pâté_! I want some more _pâté_! Take care! You
are going to break my Bohemian glass, the fruit of my economy! There
is always some disaster when you try to kiss me. You remember at
Madame de Brill's ball, two nights before we were married, how you
tore my gown while we were waltzing in the little parlor?"

"Well, but it is very difficult to do two things at once,--keep time
with the music and kiss your partner."

"I remember when mamma asked me how I tore my gown, I felt that I was
blushing up to the roots of my hair. And Madame D., that old yellow
witch, said to me with her lenten smile, 'What a brilliant color
you have to-night, my child!' I could have choked her! I said I had
caught my gown on a nail in the door. I was watching you out of the
corner of my eye. You were twirling your mustache, and you seemed
quite vexed. You keep all the truffles for yourself,--how nice of
you! Not that one; I want that big black one there,--in the corner.
Well, after all, it was none the less very wrong, because--no, no,
don't fill my glass; I don't want to get tipsy--because if we had not
married (that might have happened, you know; they say that marriages
hang by a thread), well, if the thread had not been strong enough,
here I was left with that kiss on my shoulder,--a pretty plight!"

"Nonsense! It does not stain."

"Yes, sir, it does; I beg your pardon, but it does stain, and so much
so that there are husbands, I am told, who spill their blood to wash
out those little stains."

"I was only jesting, dear. Heavens! I should think it did! Fancy!
Why--"

"Ah, I am glad to hear you say so. I like to see you get angry. You
are just a wee bit jealous, tell me, are you not? Well, upon my word!
I asked you for the big black one, and you are quietly eating it!"

"I am very sorry, my love; I beg your pardon. I forgot all about it."

"Yes, just as you did when we were being married. I was obliged to
touch your elbow to make you answer yes to Monsieur the Mayor's kind
words!"

"Kind words?"

"Yes, kind words. I thought the mayor was charming. No one could have
been more happy than he was in addressing me. 'Mademoiselle, do you
consent to take this great big ugly little man who stands beside you
for your lawful--' [Laughing with her mouth full.] I was about to say
to him, 'Let us understand each other, Monsieur; there is much to
be said for and against.' Heavens! I am choking! [Bursts into great
peals of laughter.] I was wrong in not making some restrictions.
There! I am teasing you, and that is stupid. I said yes with my whole
heart, I assure you, my darling, and the word was only too weak. When
I think that all women, even the bad ones, use that same word, I feel
ashamed of not having invented a better one. [Holding up her glass.]
Here is to our golden wedding!"

"And here is to his christening, little mother!"

In an undertone: "Tell me, dear, are you sorry you married me?"

(Laughing.) "Yes. [Kissing her on the shoulder.] I think I have found
the stain. Here it is."

"Do you realize that it is two o'clock. The fire is out. I am--you
won't laugh? Well, I am just a little dizzy!"

"That was a famous _pâté_!"

"A famous _pâté_! We will have a cup of tea in the morning, eh, dear?"

[Illustration]



THE YULE LOG.

From the French of JULES SIMON.


Yesterday was my birthday. A number of friends who have never seen me
wrote to congratulate me upon having reached the age of eighty. They
are mistaken; I am not as old as all that. I can readily understand
that a few years more or less make very little difference to them,
but they certainly make all the difference in the world to me. I am
still far from the dignity of an octogenarian; yet I confess that I
am very old, and at my age one likes to recall one's early childhood.
It is a very well-known fact that old people,--it seems that I am
old, which makes me furious, and I really believe that I should
scarcely realize it, if people did not take particular pains, out of
pure kindness, of course, to remind me of it every moment,--it is a
well-known fact, I say, that old people recall the first scenes of
their life with marvellous accuracy. I have often heard Chevreul
speak of having been present on the Place de la Révolution at the
very moment when Louis XVI. was executed. His nurse had carried him
there, the wretch! He neither saw nor understood anything; but he
remembered the words of a _garde nationale_ who scolded the woman for
having brought a child to such a place. "He delivered there and then
a perfect sermon on the subject," he used to say, "and I remember
every word of it." But let us not speak of tragedies.

I want to take you with me to Brittany, not without having
first warned you against myself, however. You must not take me
too literally when I describe the customs of that country. My
descriptions are absolutely faithful, but they represent Brittany
as it was from 1815 to 1830. I went back there this summer after an
absence of half a century, and I recognized nothing but the scenery.
The men are all civilized, and far more Parisian than I. In order to
re-classify them I should have been compelled to drive them back to
their national dress, that they so foolishly gave up.

I will take you back, therefore, to the year 1822; and you would
not doubt it for an instant if you could follow me into my father's
study. The walls were papered with Republican money. He had obtained
it in exchange for cash; and when it turned out to be as worthless
as waste paper, he determined that it should be of some use to him
anyway. I fancy that its usefulness consisted in reminding him of
the fragility of human things. The walls were also decorated with
portraits of the royal family, from the King down to M. de Villèle,
all tacked on with pins. But these portraits were not to be relied
upon, for when they were turned upside down, they represented, by
some ingenious combination, the Ogre of Corsica, the King of Rome,
and the Empress Marie Louise. They were suited to all tastes and all
opinions.

This extraordinary study was situated on the first floor,--for our
house had a first floor, differing thus from the other houses of the
borough, which had nothing but a ground floor. It also had a slate
roof, which filled me with legitimate pride. It looked out upon the
street which circled the graveyard; and I will say at once, to be
sincere, that there was no other street in St. Jean Brévelay. This
view and this neighborhood will not strike you, with your modern
ideas, as very attractive; but in Brittany we like graveyards,--I
might even say that we like sadness. And then in this graveyard stood
the church,--an imposing church, I can assure you, with a vault upon
which hell was faithfully represented on one side and heaven on
the other. Near our window there was also a great fir, which was
worth a whole forest in itself, and which sheltered a formidable
number of crows. If, however, in spite of this double attraction one
found no pleasure in contemplating the view from that side, we had
another façade to resort to,--a façade opening upon an immense and
magnificent garden. There you might have looked down upon a patch
of cabbage, a patch of French beans, of peas, of carrots, and of
potatoes. We had flowers too,--so many flowers, so many vegetables,
and so much fruit, that we made gratuitous distributions of them
every Sunday. Besides our apple-trees, the branches of which bent
under the weight of the fruit, we had pear-trees, cherry-trees, and
plum-trees. My father, who had travelled considerably, particularly
through the South, prided himself upon his enterprising spirit. Every
year when the plums had been picked, he collected them in great
piles; from these piles the best were chosen, put upon a species of
riddles, and the riddles were laid in the sun. This was with a view
to making prunes. The plums rotted in a few days; the birds and other
animals ate them; and soon there was nothing left but the stones.
These were then thrown into the street, where we used to pick them
up, in order to make piles and stick a little flag in the top. The
next year my father proceeded to make prunes in precisely the same
manner.

We were very proud of our rose-bushes, which furnished roses for
the altars, and of our apple-trees, from which we obtained a most
excellent cider. We had our wine-press, our kneading-trough, our
oven, and our laundrying basins. We had pastures for our cows,
wheat-fields, fields of buckwheat and of rye. We sowed just enough
to supply our wants. There was no mill in our village, so we were
compelled to send our grain to Pontécouvrant. When it was ground, it
was brought back and made into very good rye bread for our daily use.
We also made a great loaf of wheat bread once a week, which we used
for the soup.

Every morning my father started out, gun on shoulder,--for in those
days there were no rural constables nor gendarmes (the gendarmes were
at Plumelec), and one could hunt all the year round. He came in at
noon for dinner, and at six o'clock for supper. My greatest delight
consisted in running to meet him and looking into his game-bag. I
never found any game in it, but it often contained a big trout or
some fine eels. We eventually discovered that the hunt was a mere
pretext, and that his real passion was fishing. He was extremely
taciturn, as all of his children have been after him, and I believe
that to be one of the essential qualities of an angler.

During dinner he never breathed a word. In the evening at supper he
described the events of the day, when he had been lucky. We took
our meals in the kitchen, which was vast and cleanly. There were
twenty of us at table, and sometimes more, owing to the legendary
Breton hospitality. The table formed a long rectangle. My mother
occupied one end of it with my sisters and myself; my father sat at
the other end alone; while the two long sides were reserved for the
servants. These were no less than twelve in number: the gardener,
the ploughman, the shepherd, the stable-boy, and the maid-servants.
This will no doubt give you the impression of the household of a
wealthy farmer or a country gentleman. Not at all. In the beautiful
borough of St. Jean Brévelay there was neither butcher, baker, nor
grocer. The only merchants that I ever saw there were a mercer and
a tavern-keeper. One was compelled to send to Vannes, seven leagues
away, for everything, or else live like Robinson Crusoe on his island.

I have learned since that the ploughman, who was our first man,
earned only thirty francs a year. I leave you to judge of the rest.
It was a poor country, and one could enjoy all the comforts which it
afforded with an income of twelve hundred francs a year. One of our
chief pleasures consisted in the care of our garden. My mother had
a little bed in which roses, tulips, pansies, and daisies grew in
abundance. She was particularly fond of mignonette and honey-suckle.
The hedge around our kitchen-garden was covered with honey-suckle,
elder, and a whole family of sweet-smelling creepers, over which
our bees hovered and buzzed. There was seldom a day when we did not
walk around the garden once, and that was quite a journey. We had
another habit which I do not understand as well, and which consisted
in walking around Colas' field every day after dinner; that is, at
one o'clock. We first went down a hollow road where the mud was not
wanting when it had rained. The flowers were not wanting there either
in summer; we walked under a real vault of them. This road led to the
blacksmith's shop, where I always found something to admire,--the
great bellows, the incandescent iron, the sparks flying from the
furnace like joyous fireworks. Next to the blacksmith's shop stood
Marion's house,--the last house at the end of the village. Marion
was a girl of twenty who had lost her mother when she was eighteen.
Everybody had advised her to go into service; but she had preferred
to engage herself to my mother as a seamstress, by the year. Her
house--"Marion's house," as it was always spoken of--belonged to
her. It was not a great dowry. It consisted of two rooms under a
thatched roof, and a little yard where she raised her chickens. She
had been warned against the dangers of living alone at her age, and
in a comparatively isolated place; but she was a fearless girl and
somewhat unsociable. She had discovered, I do not know where,--in one
of the neighboring farms, perhaps,--a widow who was only too happy to
occupy one of her rooms gratuitously, and who was a companion and a
protection to her when she came home after her day's work.

Colas' field began at Marion's door. It was surely not what one would
call beautiful. We walked straight before us, and got back to our
starting-point at the end of an hour without having seen anything
but apple-trees and furrows. On Sunday when this task had been
accomplished, we found Marion in her yard among her chickens, waiting
to go to vespers with us. I always took her hand, and she told me
stories of Poulpiquets.

I led a joyful life. My mother, too, seemed happy. Her chief
occupation lay in nursing the sick, and her heaviest expense in
providing them with broth and drugs; the latter were sent for to
the druggist's at Bignan. I had never seen a doctor until I went
to Lorient to enter school. Whenever she had a perplexing case,
she called my father into consultation. As he had been a soldier,
nothing surprised him. His method was to bleed. He one day undertook
to vaccinate the entire population, and succeeded in doing so by
offering five cents to all those who consented to honor him with
their trust. This philanthropic operation must have made a great hole
in the household budget.

We had a library which contained fully twenty volumes. My sisters
spent their time in taking them from my mother's room, and my mother
in taking them from their hands. There were,--"Celina, or, The
Child of Mystery and of Love;" "Alexis, or, The Wooden Cottage;"
"The Helmet and the Square Cap, or, Both suited him." We also had,
"The Evenings at the Château," by Madame de Genlis, "The Yellow
Tales," and "Robinson Crusoe." I was of course not permitted to
touch the novels. I was allowed "Robinson Crusoe," "The Yellow
Tales," and "The Evenings at the Château," of which permission I
availed myself eagerly, for I was ever a great reader. "Robinson
Crusoe" particularly delighted me, and I read it three or four times
a year. I had also a tender feeling for "Celina," which I only
half understood. In the first place, it represented the forbidden
fruit; and in the next place, it had pictures. I never got to the
_dénouement_, because my mother, seeing that I was incorrigible,
resolved to burn the _cuerpo del delito_.

If I add that in rummaging through the closets and wardrobes I had
found "L'Esprit des Lois" and an odd volume of the "Political and
Philosophical History of the Two Indies," and that I read them, you
will no doubt believe that I am trying to make myself out an infant
prodigy. It was quite the reverse, for I preferred the Abbé Raynal to
Montesquieu, and what I was most charmed with in the Abbé Raynal was
some absurd rant about a mistress called Catchinka, whom he had lost,
and who in some remarkable way formed a part of the Philosophical
History of the Two Indies. This strange library produced a veritable
chaos in my poor little brain, over which floated "Robinson." It was
the genuine "Robinson" too,--a translation of the work of Daniel
Defoe, which, as every one knows, contains as many sermons as it does
events.

But what I liked better than "Robinson," better than "Celina," better
than my garden, better than the eternal walks around Colas' field,
was the church service on religious holidays, the "pompous grandeur
of its ceremonies." Yes, the "pompous grandeur,"--I will not retract.
Since then I have seen St. Peter's, the cathedrals of Cologne and
Toledo, and, I believe, all the finest churches in the world; yet I
never attended service anywhere without recalling the poor little
church of St. Jean Brévelay. The difference between the palace of a
king and the thatched cottage of a peasant is far greater than that
between the august basilica and the poor little tottering chapel of
a Breton village. May the artists forgive me, but a church, however
poor and small, is none the less a church. Four bare walls, a wooden
cross upon a table, windows so covered with dust that they scarcely
let the light in,--all these things speak to the soul of meditation
and of prayer.

I do not know what the population of St. Jean Brévelay was. It could
not have been over two hundred; but on Sunday the people came to
High Mass from the four corners of the parish, which was vast and
populous. The farmhouses and thatched cottages all emptied themselves
at the first glow of dawn. You could see the families making their
way to the borough along every known road--the men leading the way
in silence, the women following in noisy talk among themselves. They
at first scattered through the graveyard, every family stopping to
say a prayer at the family tomb. Then the friends and relatives
came together in groups, and the men made more than one escape to
the tavern. At the last call for High Mass they all rushed to the
church doors, pushing, jostling, crowding one another, until the
building was filled from end to end. The graveyard--I might say the
borough--was now a perfect desert. The men, standing, and pressed
close together, occupied all the front part of the nave; the women,
kneeling, filled the rear. All, without exception, took part in the
singing. The common serpent was unknown to us; but with our voices
alone we managed to make a formidable noise. The people were happy to
be there, not because, as Voltaire says, "High Mass is the opera of
the poor," but because, as the Christian Church says, religion is the
consolation of the afflicted. The rector delivered his sermons in Low
Breton, and they were never anything but a paraphrase of this word
of the Gospel, Love one another. And surely they loved one another,
those uncultured folk. They did not know how to read, but they knew
how to love. They understood gratitude too. My mother was almost an
object of worship.

The great festival of the year, after that of Saint Louis, was
Christmas. The King first and God next, such is the order of
precedence under all governments. It is possible that our poor
peasants would have reversed that order had they been able to do so.

I must say, in order not to give them more praise than they deserve,
that what they liked best about Christmas was the midnight Mass,--a
sorry enjoyment for you city-bred people, who are fond of your
comforts. But what is a sleepless night to a peasant? Even when they
had to plod along through the mud or the snow, not an old man, not a
woman hesitated. Umbrellas were then unknown at St. Jean Brévelay, or
at least ours was the only one that had ever been seen there, and it
was naturally the object of much surprise and admiration.

The women caught up their skirts with pins, threw a plaid kerchief
over their head-dresses, and started out bravely for the parish
church in their wooden shoes. Sleep, forsooth! Who could have slept
even had he wanted to? The chimes began the night before immediately
after the evening Angelus, and were repeated every half-hour until
midnight. The hunters, in order to contribute to the general
beatitude, kept up a steady firing. My father furnished the powder.
It was a universal and deafening clamor. The small boys took part in
it too, at the risk of maiming themselves, whenever they could lay
their hands on a gun or a pistol.

The vicarage was a short half-league from the borough. The rector
came over on his nag, which the _quinquiss_ (the beadle) led by
the bridle. A dozen peasants escorted him, firing their pistols
in his ears all the while. But this did not disturb him in the
least, for he was an old Chouan with the death of many a Blue on his
conscience,--withal, the kindest and most compassionate of men since
the king had returned and he had become a priest.

On that night great preparations were made at home. Telin-Charles
and Le Halloco measured the fireplace and the kitchen door with as
much earnestness and importance as though they had not known their
dimensions by heart for many years. The question was to bring in the
Yule log and to have it as large as possible.

A great tree was felled for the purpose; four oxen were harnessed;
and the log was dragged to the house. It took eight or ten men to
lift it, and to carry it in. It would scarcely fit in the fireplace.
Then it was adorned with garlands; it was propped and stayed by
the trunks of young trees; and an enormous bunch of wild-flowers,
or rather of live plants, was placed on top of it. The long table
was removed from the kitchen. We took our light meal standing. The
walls were hung with white table-cloths and sheets, just as they
are at Corpus Christi; and upon them were pinned numerous drawings
done by my sister Louise and my sister Hermine,--the Virgin, the
Christ-Child, etc. There were inscriptions too, "Et homo factus
est!" All the chairs were removed to make as much room as possible
for our visitors, who were not accustomed to sitting on anything
better than their heels. One chair was left for my mother and one for
my Aunt Gabrielle, who was treated with much deference on account of
her eighty-six years.

She was the one, my children, for stories of the Terror! Everybody
around me knew many such stories, for that matter,--my father
particularly, if he had only chosen to speak. He had been a Blue; and
his obstinate silence was no doubt due to prudence in a part of the
country that was so full of Chouans.

The confusion was such in the kitchen, with everybody wanting to be
useful, to carry in branches of fir, of broom, and of holly; the
noise was so deafening on account of the hammering of nails and the
rattling of pots and kettles; and then there came such a clamor from
without,--ringing of bells, firing of guns, songs, conversations,
and clatter of wooden shoes,--that it seemed like the din of a fair
at the very climax of its animation. At half-past eleven the cry,
"Eutru Person! Eutru Person!" ("The rector! The rector!") resounded
all along the street. It was taken up in the kitchen, and all the men
started out immediately. The women alone remained with the family.
When the rector reached our door, there was a moment of profound
silence. He dismounted. It was I who had the honor of holding his nag
by the bridle; that is, I was supposed to do so, but somebody else
always did it for me. Heaven knows there was no need of holding the
poor beast anyway.

M. Moizan walked up three steps to the landing, turned toward the
crowd that stood below him, hat in hand, removed his own hat, and
said, after making the sign of the cross, "_Angelus Domini_ nuntiavit
Mariæ." A thousand voices responded.

When the prayer was over, he entered the house, spoke cordially to
my father and mother, to M. Ozon, the mayor, who had just arrived
from Pénic-Pichon, and to M. Oillo, the blacksmith, who was also the
justice's clerk. Then he proceeded to the benediction of the Yule log.

My father and mother stood on the left-hand side of the hearth. Those
women whom their importance or their intimate terms with the family
permitted to remain in the sanctuary, which in this case means the
kitchen, knelt in a semi-circle around the hearth. The men were
crowded together in the hall, the door of which was left open, and
they overflowed into the street as far as the graveyard. Every now
and then a woman who had been detained by some domestic care cleft
the crowd and came forward to where the others were kneeling.

Aunt Gabrielle, arrayed in her mantle, which always bespoke a solemn
occasion, knelt in the middle of the semi-circle, directly in front
of the Yule log, with a holy-water basin and a branch of box beside
her. She started a hymn which all the assistants repeated in chorus.

I have forgotten the words of that hymn, and I really regret it. The
air was monotonous and plaintive, like all those that were sung at
our firesides. However, it contained a crescendo at the moment of the
benediction which generally sent a shiver through me, producing what
is commonly known as goose-flesh.

Aunt Gabrielle had just reached that part of the hymn on the 25th
of December, 1822, when I became aware of a strange confusion
among the male voices outside. The women either stopped singing
entirely, or sang out of time and tune; the voices chased after
one another, scarcely sustained themselves, and seemed stifled by
a sudden emotion. My mother's hand, which held mine, trembled for
a moment, then grew firm by a great effort of her will. Her voice
rose, soared above the voices of the others, who, realizing at once
that they had wandered inopportunely, hurried back to the fold, and
so the hymn ended in good order after this surprising interruption.
What had happened? Something very simple indeed. A young woman
had made her way through the crowd, had entered the kitchen, and
apparently anxious to remain unnoticed, had fallen on her knees at a
little distance from the others, and buried her face in her hands.
I recognized her at once. It was Marion, my favorite, the best
seamstress on the place, and the prettiest girl in the borough. I
would surely have run forward to kiss her but for the solemnity of
the occasion, which forbade my leaving my place or making a noise.
She was weeping bitterly. Why are you weeping, my sweet Marion? I was
wild to have the ceremony end, that I might find out from her. All
the other girls seemed embarrassed. My mother alone, whom I looked
full in the face, appeared calm; but her face lied,--I knew it by the
trembling of her hand.

After the benediction of the Yule log it was the custom for all the
women present to kiss my mother before proceeding to the church.
They came up in good order, one after another; and in spite of their
number, which amounted to some thirty or forty, this formality only
required a few minutes. I think that my mother yielded to it rather
in spite of herself, for she was an extremely reserved woman; but all
these kind souls would have believed that the laws of the universe
had been reversed if this part of the ceremony had been left out.

As mistress of ceremonies, and on account of her great age, Aunt
Gabrielle opened the march.

Now, Aunt Gabrielle was a character. She was the living repertory
of folk-songs, legends, and customs. People came from everywhere to
consult her when they wanted to know how such and such a thing should
be done. Perhaps you believe that etiquette is peculiar to palaces.
Most assuredly not. In my day a wedding had more than a thousand
equally important formalities. My good aunt, who was the oracle of
these forms, had never made use of them for herself.

She was an old maid, born at Belle-Isle-en-Mer under Louis XV., and
was a distant cousin of ours. We have relationships in Brittany which
can be expressed in no language, they are so remote. My father, who
never thought of himself until everybody else had been provided for,
had brought out a whole tribe of poor relatives with him to St. Jean
Brévelay. I think, however, that Aunt Gabrielle was an exception.
She gave more than she received. She was our cook, I beg you to
believe, and a most excellent one too. She was active, laborious,
always equal to the expedients of her profession, always bright and
contented, full of delicate attentions for everybody, particularly
for Marguerite (my mother), her best beloved; but my good mother was
everybody's best beloved. I have never in my life known a woman to be
so universally cherished.

Aunt Gabrielle had only two faults: she spoiled children horribly,
and she gave the poor whatever she could lay her hands on. It often
happened that after a too liberal distribution of supplies among her
beggars, she would set before us at dinner a dish so ridiculously out
of proportion to the requirements of our appetites that she would
herself burst into a laugh as she looked at it. We all joined in the
laugh, which seemed to make us forget how hungry we were. She was the
factotum of the house, and was just as exacting and despotic as she
was kind.

On that night she was greatly excited; and when she came up to kiss
my mother, instead of folding her in her arms as she was in the
habit of doing, she whispered something to her with an expression of
importance and anger.

"Calm yourself, Gabrielle; calm yourself," my mother said to her
several times, and I felt her hand tremble.

"No, my dear, I cannot help it! And if you do not choose to do it, I
will do it myself."

"You will do nothing of the sort," said my mother. "And you will
remember that I am the mistress in my own house."

She pushed her gently, that the others might move along; but Aunt
Gabrielle joined the women who were going out, several of whom
stopped to speak to her. They were all making gestures of indignation
as they looked at poor Marion, who had withdrawn into the darkest
corner of the hall, and there stood with her head down and her face
turned away from them.

Finally they seemed to have taken a resolution, and they moved toward
her as though to drive her away; but they were stopped by these few
words, uttered in a low tone, and at which all the conversations
ceased at once.

"Come to me, Marion."

Marion started as though she meant to spring forward; but she checked
herself and crossed the room slowly with hesitating steps. My mother
kissed her on both cheeks just as she had kissed the others. I
realized that she was performing what she considered a duty, and that
she too greatly disapproved of my poor friend.

Gabrielle held up her arms in horror.

"Do not dare to come to work to-morrow!" she cried aloud; "for you
will never work for us again. I discharge you; do you understand?"

She understood but too well. It was as though she had just heard her
death-sentence. There was no house but ours where she could find
work as a seamstress, and to discharge her was like condemning her to
starvation.

My mother's voice was heard again, low, but full of gentle firmness.

"To-morrow Marion's work will be taken to her at her own house."

"I will not be the one to take it," cried Aunt Gabrielle, whose words
produced a murmur of approbation.

"Then I will take it myself," said my mother, "if I can find no one
to obey me."

Marion had disappeared.

There were only a few women left; their cheeks were aglow with anger.
The resin candles had been put out. The room was lighted by the Yule
log only, which blazed in the fireplace.

"Let us go and pray God," said my mother, slipping her arm through
that of Gabrielle, who protested and submitted at the same time, and
kissed my mother fully ten times before we reached the church.

The church was dazzling, for the simple reason that as there was no
way of lighting it, no lamps of any description, every faithful was
requested to bring a light with him. There were surely a thousand
persons in the building, which represented a thousand lights. I will
confess that these were neither lamps nor tapers nor even vulgar
tallow candles. They were mere wax lighters, which singly you may
despise as you please, but which, multiplied thus, formed a luminous
floor under the dark vault: when you looked down, it was joyous,
dazzling; and when you looked up, it was appalling. The altar fairly
glittered. All of our candles figured there in addition to those
which belonged to the church. There was just room enough between the
lights for the chalice and the missal. The rector was arrayed in a
fine scarlet chasuble, a bit worn and faded, which had survived the
Revolution. The mayor occupied the seat of honor, wearing the dress
of the Breton peasant,--blue vest embroidered in red and yellow
silk, with a splendid sun in the middle of the back. Beside him sat
the deputy mayor, M. Adelys, the miller of Kerdroguen; and both
wore white silk sashes which covered their breasts and stomachs.
The blacksmith was there too in his quality of justice's clerk,
wearing the black gown and cap of the magistracy. M. de la Goublaye,
the justice and chevalier of Saint Louis, had been detained in his
château of Keriennec by the gout. But we had a corporal of gendarmery
opposite the altar and two gendarmes on either side with yellow
shoulder-belts. Plumelec, where they lived, would have gladly enough
kept them at home on such an occasion, but St. Jean Brévelay was the
chief town of the canton.

At the appearance of the celebrant the corporal cried out,--

"Gendarmes, hands to your sabres!" Whereupon the music, consisting
of a fife and a drum, filled the church. That was the supreme moment
of my life. I conquered sleep so as not to miss it. I thought of it
through the whole year. You will not wonder, therefore, when I tell
you that I forgot all about Marion from midnight until about two
o'clock.

Everything was over by two o'clock. The fife and drum had escorted
the priest to the rectory; the _quinquiss_ had put out the lights
on the altar; and as all the faithful had blown upon their meagre
luminaries the church was completely dark. In a few moments it was
deserted, and not a sound was to be heard save that of the swaying
pendulum. On the other hand, the graveyard was crowded. If it
happened to be raining or snowing too hard, the people took refuge in
the houses; but they gave this proof of weakness only when they could
no longer hold out. The taverns were overflowing with customers.
Some people stood a little table out at their door, and upon it they
placed a loaf, a _cervelas_, and numerous bottles of cider, thus
defrauding, in connivance with the authority, the tax on consumable
commodities. At three o'clock the bells rang for the Mass of the
Aurora.

After the ceremony our people came for us and awaited us at the
church door with a huge red cotton umbrella, which did us as much
honor as the same utensil does a Roman cardinal. We were also
provided with an extra pair of wooden shoes half filled with warm
ashes. We hastened home, exchanging courtesies with all, but stopping
with no one; for there was a Christmas supper in our kitchen,--a
supper to which all our friends were invited, and besides them all
the servants who had been present at the blessing of the Yule log.

During midnight Mass the great kitchen table had been replaced by
boards laid as evenly as possible upon props. These were covered
by a cloth of dazzling whiteness,--the pride of my poor mother,
who used to bleach it on the grass of our meadow. On this occasion
we had candles on the table,--real candles, of seven to the pound,
which were sent for a week beforehand to Vannes. We considered our
menu decidedly sumptuous. We had buckwheat pancakes, accompanied by
numerous pots of cider and the most delicious butter. After that, we
were helped to a porringer of the very worst chocolate that was ever
manufactured by a country grocer. We tried to convince ourselves
that this course was excellent. It had to be served on that day,
and to be drunk, and to be praised, but then we had the pleasure of
feeling that we should not be called upon to repeat the sacrifice for
a year. We also had a home-cured ham and rye bread. Everybody stood
up during the _Benedicite_, then those who found room on the benches
sat down; the others helped themselves over the heads of these
privileged ones, and took their share out into the street with them.

The assailants succeeded one another until the table was cleared.
Everybody was cheerful and contented; there was never a man who
forgot himself. These peasants, who had had no breeding, were by
nature well-bred. Then they all loved one another in that country of
poor people; and, above all,--may I be allowed to say it? the thought
is so pleasing to me in my old age,--they all loved us.

I never remained until the end. I merely stepped in to get a peep
at the beautiful celebration and to fill my eyes and my imagination
with it. On the night to which I refer I managed to stay down longer
than usual. I looked for Marion everywhere. There were others, too,
who were looking for her. My mother's conduct had been criticised
and rather disapproved of; for those were simple folk, virtuous
themselves and pitiless to others. If Marion had been brutally
discharged, they would have applauded. Now they believed her to
be forgiven; and they felt her forgiveness to be in a measure an
encouragement to vice. Aunt Gabrielle had found time to speak to
the rector, to excuse Marguerite, she said; but without realizing
it she had merely expressed her disapprobation. I not only remember
all these details after sixty-five years, but I remember the room
in which the scene took place. I can even evoke the faces and the
attitudes,--the saintly protectress, somewhat moved, but very
resolute; the rector, restless and anxious; Gabrielle and her
confederates, pitiless in their censure. Although not a word had been
uttered in my presence concerning the nature of Marion's fault, I had
understood it all, thanks to "Celina," no doubt. It is useless to
state which side my heart was on. The priest was anxious above all
things to preserve in our parish those rigid customs for which we
were famed.

"A moral plague must be treated just like a physical plague, with
heroic remedies," said he.

"We must be charitable," said my mother. "Our God is a God of
charity."

The priest was of the opinion that the sinner should not under any
consideration be allowed to come back to the house and work among
the maid-servants.

"Why, of course not; I never thought of such a thing," said my
mother, in that sweet voice of hers that reached one's soul. "We must
make this an example, a warning for our girls. I will see to that,
never fear. I am just as anxious about it as you are. She will live
alone with her child. I did not care to crush her under the weight of
a public anathema, nor would I be so inexorable as to condemn her to
mendicity or debauch, that is all. I said to my poor Gabrielle, who
is so ungovernable to-night," she added, smiling, "that I would take
her work myself if I found nobody to obey me; but that is not exactly
what I meant. What I meant was this: I will go to her myself; I will
go every day. I will assume, or rather encroach upon your rights.
I will exhort, I will preach to her; I will make her see that she
is among sisters whom her conduct has grieved, but among sisters,
nevertheless."

She said all this with kindness, simplicity, and firmness.

The priest lifted his broad-brimmed hat from his head. "I uncover
my white hair before you, Madame," said he, in a loud voice, "and I
pray God to bless the task that you have undertaken for his sake.
My children, Marion will come back and work among you when she has
made atonement for her fault. Until then I leave her entirely in
your mistress's hands. If she does not lead her back to the path of
virtue, we priests will have to give it up. Our Latin will not help
us out of it."

This very mild pleasantry excited much admiration, as everything did
that fell from those venerable lips.

For my part I was delighted, having a confused impression that we had
gained a great victory; and I ran off to bed after having kissed my
mother with unusual tenderness.

[Illustration]



THE MULE AND THE OX.

From the Spanish of BENITO PÉREZ GALDÓS.


I.

The poor little one had ceased to moan; she turned her head slightly
and stared with wide eyes at those who stood around her bed; her
breath came fainter, fainter, until it stopped altogether. She was
dead. The guardian angel uttered a deep sigh, unfolded his wings, and
flew away.

The poor mother could not believe in the reality of so much sorrow;
still Celinina's exquisite face was growing diaphanous and yellow,
like wax; her limbs were cold; and her body finally became rigid
and hard like that of a doll. Then the mother was led away from
the alcove, while the father, the nearest relatives, two or three
friends, and the servants performed the last duties toward the dead
child.

They dressed her in a beautiful gown of lawn that was as white and
as sheer as a cloud, and covered with frills and laces that looked
like foam. They put on her shoes, which were white too, and whose
soles showed that they had taken but few steps. They braided her
lovely dark chestnut hair, and arranged it gracefully about her
head, intertwining it with blue ribbons. They tried to find fresh
flowers, but the season was too far advanced, and there were none
to be had; so they made her a wreath of artificial ones, selecting
only those which were beautiful and which might have been mistaken
for real blossoms just from the garden. Then a very repulsive man
brought a box, just a trifle larger than the case of a violin, lined
with blue silk and elaborately adorned with white satin and silver
braid. Celinina was laid in it: an exquisite soft pillow was placed
under her head, so that her position might not seem strained; and
when she had been carefully and tenderly fixed in her funereal couch,
they crossed her little hands, tied them together with a ribbon, and
slipped a bunch of white roses between them,--roses so artistically
fashioned that they seemed to be the very children of Spring.

The women threw gorgeous draperies over a table, adorned it like
an altar, and laid the coffin upon it. They arranged other altars,
too, after the manner of church canopies, with fine white curtains,
gracefully caught back on either side. They brought a great quantity
of saints and images from other rooms, which they disposed with
great art in symmetrical groups, forming a sort of funereal court
around the departed angel. They also brought in, without losing a
moment, the great candelabrum from the parlor, and lighted several
dozen tapers, which shed their mournful glow upon Celinina. Then they
kissed the child's frozen cheek again and again, and their pious task
was done.


II.

From the other end of the house, from the depths of the bedrooms,
came the moans of a man and a woman, the heart-rending lamentations
of the parents who could not be convinced of the truth of those
aphorisms about angels in heaven, administered by friends as a sort
of moral sedative on these occasions. They believed, on the contrary,
that this world is the proper and natural habitation for angels; nor
could they admit the theory that the death of a grown person is far
more lamentable and disastrous than that of a child. Mingled with
their grief was that profound pity which the death-agony of an infant
always inspires, and to them there was no sorrow in life like that
which was tearing their very vitals. A thousand memories and painful
visions struck at their hearts like so many daggers. The mother's
ears rang with Celinina's lispings,--that enchanting baby-talk that
gets everything wrong, and converts the words of our language into
delicious philological caricatures, which caricatures, flowing from
rosy mouths, are the tenderest and most affecting music to a mother's
heart.

Nothing so characterizes a child as his style,--his spontaneous
mode of expression, the art of saying everything with four letters,
his prehistoric grammar, which is like the first sobbing of the
words at the dawn of humanity, his simple rules of declension and
conjugation, innocent corrections of the languages which usage has
legitimatized. The vocabulary of a child of three, like Celinina, is
the real literary treasure of a family. How could her mother ever
forget the little pink tongue that said "wat" for hat, and called a
bean a "ween"! No matter where she turned, the good woman's eyes were
sure to fall upon some of the toys with which Celinina had cheered
the last days of her life; and as these were the days that preceded
Christmas, the floor was strewn with little clay turkeys on wire
legs, a Saint Joseph that had lost both hands, a manger in which lay
the Christ-Child, like a little pink ball, a wise man from the Orient
mounted upon a proud, headless camel. What these poor little figures
had endured during the past few days, dragged here and there, made to
assume this or that posture, was known only to God, the mother, and
the pure little spirit that had taken its flight.

All this broken statuary was imbued with Celinina's very
soul,--clothed with a peculiar sad light, which was the light from
her, as it were. The mother trembled from head to foot as she gazed
at them, and she felt that the wound had been dealt to her innermost
being. Strange association of things! How all these broken pieces
of clay seemed to weep! They seemed so grieved, so full of intense
sorrow, that the sight of them was scarcely less bitter than the
spectacle of the dying child herself, who with appealing eyes begged
her parents to take the pain away from her burning head. To the
mother nothing could have been more pathetic than that turkey with
its wire legs, which in its frequent changes of posture had lost its
crest and its bill.


III.

The mother's grief was surely intense, but the father's affliction
was still more profound. She was transpierced with sorrow,--his pain
was aggravated by the stings of remorse. This is how it came about.
It will no doubt seem very childish to some people; however, let
them bear in mind that nothing is more open to childishness than a
deep, pure sorrow, free from any touch of worldly interests or the
secondary sufferings of unsatisfied egoism.

From the very first and all through her illness Celinina's mind was
filled with dreams of Christmas,--of the poetic celebration supremely
delightful to children. We all know how they long for the joyful
day, how crazed they are by the feverish yearning for presents and
Bethlehem mangers, by the thought of how much they will eat, by the
prospect of satiating themselves with turkey, sponge-cake, candied
almonds, and nut-pastes. Some little ones ingenuously believe that
were they only allowed to do so, they might easily stow away in their
stomachs all the displays of the Plaza Mayor and the adjacent streets.

Celinina in her intervals of relief gave her whole soul to the
engrossing theme. Her little cousins, who came to sit with her,
were older than she, and had exhausted the entire fund of human
knowledge with regard to celebrations, presents, and Bethlehem
mangers. The poor child's fancy and her longing for toys and sweets
accordingly grew more and more excited as she listened to them. In
her delirium, when the fever dragged her into its oven of torture,
her prattle was of the things that preyed upon her mind; and it
was all about beating drums and tam-tams, and singing Christmas
carols. The darkness of her brain was peopled with turkeys, crying,
gobble! gobble! and chickens that said, peep! peep! mountains of
nut-pastes that reached up to the skies, forming a _guadarrama_ of
almonds, Bethlehem mangers full of lights, and in which there were
fifty thousand million figures at the very least, great bouquets of
sweetmeats, trees laden with as many toys as can be conceived by the
most fecund Tyrolese imagination, the pond of the Retiro filled with
almond soup, red gilt-heads looking up at the cooks with coagulated
eyes, oranges falling from the skies in far greater quantities than
the drops of water during a rainstorm, and thousands and thousands of
other inexpressible prodigies.


IV.

Celinina was an only child; and when she was taken ill, her father's
uneasiness and anxiety knew no limit. His business called him away
during the day, but he managed to run in every now and then to see
how the little invalid was. The disease pursued its course with
treacherous alternatives, giving and withdrawing hope.

The good man had his misgivings. The picture of Celinina, lying in
her little bed crushed with pain and fever, never left his mind
for a moment. He was heedful of everything that might cheer her
and brighten the gloom of her suffering, so every night he brought
home with him some Christmas present, something different every
time, scrupulously avoiding sweets, however. One day he brought a
flock of turkeys, so cleverly made, so lifelike, that one fairly
expected to hear them gobble. The next night he drew one half of
the Holy Family from his pockets, then again a little Saint Joseph,
the manger and the portico of the Bethlehem stable. Once it was a
superb drove of sheep driven by proud shepherds, and later on he
brought some washerwomen washing their clothes, and a sausage-maker
selling sausages, and two Magi, one black and the other with a
white beard and a golden crown. What did he not bring? He even
brought an old woman very indecorously spanking a small boy for not
knowing his lesson. From what she had heard her cousins say about
the requirements of a Bethlehem manger, Celinina knew that hers was
incomplete, and this for want of two very important figures,--the
Mule and the Ox. Of course she had no idea of the significance of
the Mule or the Ox; but in her thirst for absolute perfection of
composition, she asked her solicitous father again and again for
the two animals, which seemed to be about the only things that
the good man had left in the toy shops. He accordingly promised to
bring them, and took a firm resolution not to come home without both
beasts; but it happened that on that day, which was the 23d, he had
an accumulation of things to do. Besides, as luck would have it,
the drawing of the lottery took place just then, he was notified of
having won a lawsuit, not to speak of the arrival of two affectionate
friends who managed to keep in his way all the morning; so he came
home without the Mule or the Ox.

Celinina was greatly disappointed when she found that he had not
brought her the two jewels that were to complete her treasure. The
good man was about to repair his fault immediately, but just then the
doctor came in. Celinina had grown considerably worse during the day;
and as his words were far from comforting, nobody thought of mules or
oxen.

On the 24th the poor father resolved not to leave the house. For
a brief moment, however, Celinina seemed so much better that her
parents were wild with hope, and the father said joyously,--

"I am going right out to get those things."

But it was not a moment before Celinina fell into an intense fever,
just as a bird, wounded in its upward flight through the pure regions
of the air, drops swiftly to the ground. She tossed about, trembling
and suffocating in the hot arms of her disease, that tightened around
her and shook her violently as if to eject her life. In the confusion
of her delirium, on the broken waves of her thoughts, like the one
thing saved from a cataclysm, floated the persistent yearning, the
idea of that longed-for mule and that sighed-for ox.

The father rushed out of the house like a madman, then suddenly,
"This is no time to think of figures for a Bethlehem manger,"
thought he; and running here and there, climbing stairs and ringing
door-bells, he succeeded in getting seven or eight doctors, whom he
took home with him. Celinina should be saved at any cost.


V.

But apparently it was not the will of God that the seven or
eight disciples of Æsculapius should interfere with the orders
he had given, so Celinina grew worse and worse, struggling with
indescribable anguish, like a bruised butterfly quivering with broken
wings on the ground. Her parents bent over her with wild anxiety,
as though they expected to detain her in this world by the power of
their will, as though they expected to arrest the rapid course of
human disorganization, and breathe their own life into the little
martyr, who was exhaling hers in a sigh.

From the street came the thumping of drums and the jingling of
tambourines. Celinina opened her eyes; and with an appealing look
and a few solemn words, which seemed already the language of another
world, she asked her father for that which he had failed to bring
her. The father and mother, in their distress, thought of deceiving
her; and with the hope of casting a ray of happiness through the
misery of this supreme moment they handed her the turkeys, saying,
"Look, my darling, here are the little mule and the little ox."

But Celinina, even at the point of death, was conscious enough to
know that turkeys can never be anything but turkeys; and she pushed
them away gently. From that time on she lay still with her great eyes
fixed on her parents, and her little hand on her head to show them
where the terrible pain was. That rhythmical sound which is like the
last vibration of life gradually grew fainter and fainter, until it
was hushed entirely, like the machinery of a clock that has stopped,
and the dainty little girl was only an exquisite scrap of matter,
inert, cold, and as white and transparent as the sublimated wax that
burns on the altars.

Now you understand the father's remorse. To bring his little Celinina
back to life he would have scoured the face of the earth and
collected all the oxen and all the mules upon it. The thought of not
having satisfied this innocent desire was the sharpest and coldest
blade that pierced his heart. Vainly did he appeal to his reason; of
what account was his reason? He was quite as much of a child as the
little one asleep in the coffin, for he gave greater importance to a
toy just then than to anything else on earth or in heaven.


VI.

The moans of despair at last died away in the house, as if grief,
piercing its way into the very depths of the soul, which is its
natural dwelling-place, had closed after it the windows of the
senses, so as to be alone and luxuriate in itself.

This was Christmas Eve; and while stillness reigned in the home so
recently visited by death, from all the other houses and from the
streets of the city came the joyous roar of rude musical instruments
and the clamorous voices of children and adults singing the advent
of the Messiah. The shouts from the flat above could be heard in the
very parlor where the dead child lay; and the pious women who sat
with her were perturbed in their sorrow and their devout meditation.
On the upper floor many small children, with a still greater number
of large ones, happy papas and mammas, excited aunts and uncles, were
celebrating Christmas and were going mad with delight before the most
admirable Bethlehem manger that was ever dreamed of and the most
luxuriant tree that ever grew toys and sweetmeats, and which bore on
its limbs a thousand lighted tapers. The parlor ceiling seemed to
shake under the great commotion; the poor little corpse quivered in
its blue coffin; and all the lights in the room oscillated as though
they wished to proclaim that they too were somewhat tipsy. Two of the
good women retired; one alone remained, but her head felt very heavy,
no doubt because she had lost so much sleep on the preceding nights;
so after a little her chin sank on her breast and everything melted
from her consciousness.

The lights continued to waver, although there was no draught in the
room. One might have believed that invisible wings were fluttering
about the altar. The lace on Celinina's gown rose and fell; and the
petals of her artificial flowers betrayed the passage of a playful
breeze, or the soft touch of tender hands. Just then Celinina opened
her eyes. They filled the room with bright inquiring glances cast
down and up and around her. She instantly unclasped her hands, the
ribbon that bound them together offering no resistance; and closing
her little fists, she rubbed both eyes as children do when they
awake. Then with a quick movement, and without the slightest effort,
she sat up, and looking upward at the ceiling, she began to laugh,--a
peculiar inaudible laugh apparent to the eyes alone. The one sound
that reached the ear was the rapid beating of wings, as if all the
doves of the earth were flying in and out of the death-chamber,
brushing their feathers against the walls and ceiling. Then Celinina
rose to her feet, stretched out her arms, and two short white wings
sprouted from her shoulders. They flapped and beat for a few seconds;
then she rose in the air and disappeared.

In the parlor everything remained as it was; the lights glowed on
the altar, pouring copious streams of melted wax on the _bobeches_.
The images all stood in their places without moving an arm or a
leg or unsealing their austere lips. The good woman was plunged in
a profound sleep which must have been a special blessing to her.
Nothing had changed, except that the little blue coffin had been left
empty.


VII.

What a royal celebration at the home of the Señores of ---- to-night!
The house is filled with the thunder of drums. Children cannot be
made to understand that they might enjoy things a great deal more
if they only omitted the infernal noise of the warlike instrument.
But this is not all. In order that no human tympanum may be left in
condition to perform its natural functions the next day, they have
added to the drum the thumping of the _zambomba_,--that hellish
contrivance whose sounds were intended to reproduce the growls of
Satan. The symphony is completed by the tambourine, which, like the
rattling of old tin pans, would irritate the most placid nerves;
and still this discordant hubbub without rhythm or melody, more
primitive than the music of savages, is inspiriting and cheerful on
this particular night, and bears something of a distant likeness to a
celestial choir.

The Bethlehem manger is not a work of art to the adults; but to
the children the figures are so beautiful, there is such a mystic
expression on their countenances and so much propriety in their
costumes, that they scarcely believe them to be the work of human
hands, and are inclined to lay it all to the industry of a certain
class of angels who make a living by working in clay. The entrance
of the stable, carved out of cork, and imitating a partly ruined
Roman arch, is a dream of beauty; and the little river made of
looking-glass, with its green spots representing aquatic growths
and the moss of its banks, seems really to be rippling along the
table with a soft murmur. The bridge over which the shepherds are
coming is a masterpiece. Never before was pasteboard known to look
so exactly like stone,--a striking contrast this to the works of our
modern engineers, who build bridges of stone, that look exactly like
pasteboard. The mountain that rises in the centre of the landscape
might be taken for a scrap of the Pyrenees; and its exquisite
cottages, a trifle smaller than the figures, and its mimic trees with
little limbs of real foliage are far more real than Nature.

But the most attractive, the most characteristic figures are those
on the plain,--the washerwomen washing clothes at the stream; the
chicken and turkey tenders driving their flocks before them; then an
officer of the civil guards taking two scamps off to jail; gentlemen
riding in luxurious carriages, brushing past the camel of the Magi;
and Perico, the blind man, playing on the guitar to a little group of
people through which the shepherds have elbowed their way on their
return from their worship at the manger. A tram-car runs along from
one extremity of the landscape to the other, just exactly as it does
in the Salamanca quarter; and as it has wheels and real tracks, it is
kept going from east to west, much to the surprise of the black Magi,
who cannot make out what sort of a machine it can possibly be.

The arch opens upon a beautiful square, in the centre of which stands
a little glass aquarium. A short distance away a newsboy is selling
papers, and two Majos are dancing prettily. The capital pieces
of this marvellous people of clay, those upon which all eyes are
centred, are the fritter-vender and the old woman selling chestnuts
on the street corner; and the children fairly split their sides at
the sight of the small ragamuffin, who holds out a lottery ticket to
the old chestnut woman, while with the other hand he quietly pilfers
her nuts.

In a word, there is no Bethlehem manger in all Madrid that can be
compared to this one; for this is one of the great homes of the
capital, and the parlors are crowded with the best-bred and most
beautiful children to be found within a radius of twenty streets.


VIII.

And how about the tree? The tree is composed of oak and cedar limbs.
The solicitous friend of the family who expended no small amount
of patience and ingenuity in its construction declares that a more
finished and perfect piece of work never left his hands. It would
be impossible to count the presents that dangle from its branches.
According to the computation of a small boy present, they are
more numerous than the grains of sand on the seashore. There are
sweetmeats nestling in shells of frilled paper, mandarins which are
the wee babes of the oranges, chestnuts draped in mantillas of silver
paper, tiny boxes containing bonbons of homoeopathic proportions,
figures of every variety, on foot and on horseback,--in a word,
everything that God ever created with a view to its being perfected
later on by the confectioner or sold by Scropp, has been put here by
hands which are as liberal as they are skilful. This tree of life is
illumined by such an abundance of little wax tapers that according
to the testimony of a four-year-old guest there were more lights
there than the stars in heaven. The delight of this youthful swarm
is not comparable to any human sentiment. It is the ineffable joy
of the celestial choirs in presence of the Supreme Good and Supreme
Beauty. They are almost reasonable in their overflowing satisfaction;
and they stand half perplexed in a seraphic ecstasy, with their
whole soul in their eyes, anticipating all that they are going to
eat, floating like angels of heaven in the pure ether of sweet and
delicious things, in the perfume of flowers and cinnamon, in the
increate essence of youthful greediness and play.


IX.

But they are suddenly startled by a sound which does not proceed
from them. They all look up at the ceiling; and as they see nothing
there, they all look at one another again and begin to laugh. A
great rushing sound is heard,--the rustle of wings as they brush
against the walls and strike the ceiling. Had they been blind,
they might have believed that all the doves from all the dovecots
in the universe had gotten into the parlor. But they saw nothing;
that is, no wings, absolutely none. What they did see, however,
was phenomenal and inexplicable enough in itself. All the figures
of the Bethlehem manger began to move; they were all very quietly
being changed around. The tram-car made an ascension to the very
pinnacle of the mountain; and the Magi walked straight into the
river on all fours. The turkeys passed under the arch and entered
the stable without saying by your leave; and Saint Joseph stepped
out in a state of perplexity, trying to make out what could be the
cause of such extraordinary confusion. Then a number of figures were
very coolly tumbled off on the floor. At first they had been moved
about very carefully, but suddenly there was a great stir, then a
perfect hurly-burly, in which a hundred thousand busy hands seemed
eager to turn every thing topsy-turvy. It was a miniature of the
universal cataclysm. Its secular cement giving way, the mountain was
levelled; the river changed its course; and scattering the broken
bits of mirror from its bed, it overflowed the plain disastrously.
The very roofs of the cottages were sunken in the sand. The Roman
arch trembled as though it were beaten by fierce winds; and as a
number of little lights went out, the sun was obscured, and so were
the luminaries of the night. In the midst of the general stupor that
such a phenomenon naturally produced, some of the little ones laughed
wildly, while others cried. A superstitious old lady said, "Don't you
know who is doing all this? Why, the dead children who are in heaven
and whom Father God permits to come down on Christmas Eve and play
with the Bethlehem mangers."

After a little it was all over; the rushing sound of beating wings
grew fainter and fainter. Many of those who were present proceeded to
investigate the damages. One gentleman said,--

"Why, the table has been broken down and all the figures have been
upset?" Then everybody began to pick up the figures and put them in
their places. After counting them over and identifying them, it was
found that some were missing. They looked everywhere, and looked
again, but to no effect. There were two figures wanting,--the Mule
and the Ox.


X.

Just a little before dawn the disturbers were on the road to heaven,
as merry as crickets, frisking and skipping about among the clouds.
There were millions and millions of them, all beautiful, pure,
divine, with short white wings beating faster than those of the
swiftest birds on earth.

This white swarm was greater than anything that the eye can focus in
visible space, and it spread over the moon and the stars, and the
firmament seemed filled with little fleecy clouds.

"Hurry, hurry, my dears!" said a voice among them; "the first thing
you know it will be day, and Grandpapa God will scold us for being
late. If the truth must be told, the Bethlehem mangers this year are
not worth a penny. When I recall those of former times--" Celinina
was one of this merry throng, but as this was her first experience in
those altitudes, she felt somewhat giddy.

"Come over here," one of them cried to her; "give me your hand, and
you will fly straighter--but what is that? What have you there?"

"'Em's my sings," said Celinina, pressing two rude little clay
figures to her bosom.

"Listen, my dear, throw those away. It is very evident that you
are just from the earth. Let me tell you how it is. Although we
have all the toys we want in heaven,--eternal and ever-beautiful
toys,--Grandpapa God lets us go down on Christmas Eve just to stir up
the Bethlehem mangers a little. You needn't think they are not having
a glorious time in heaven too to-night; and for my part, I believe
they send us off on account of our being so noisy. But Grandpapa God
lets us go down into the houses only on condition that we take away
nothing, and here you have pilfered this!"

These weighty reasons did not seem to impress Celinina as they should
have done, for pressing the animals more closely to her bosom, she
merely repeated,--

"My sings,--'em's my sings."

"Listen, goosy," continued the other; "if you don't do what I tell
you, you'll get us all into trouble. Fly back and leave them, for
they are of the earth, and on the earth they should remain. Don't be
foolish; you can go and be back in less than a minute. I'll wait for
you on this cloud."

Celinina was at last convinced and started off to restore her theft
to the earth.


XI.

This is how it came to pass that Celinina's corpse, that which had
been her visible self, was found the next morning holding two little
clay animals instead of the bunch of artificial flowers. No one could
solve the mystery, not even the women who kept watch, nor the father,
nor the mother; and the beautiful little girl, for whom so many tears
were shed, went down into the earth clasping the Mule and the Ox in
her cold little hands.

[Illustration]



SOLANGE, THE WOLF-GIRL.

From the French of MARCEL PRÉVOST.


All that afternoon we had walked through the forest, stick in hand,
our bags slung over our shoulders, through that magnificent forest
of Tronsays, which covers one half the St. Amand country, and one
half of Nevers. The little village of Ursay, squatting on the bank of
the Cher, in the rent of the valley which cuts through the centre of
the forest, was our last halting-place for the day. We dined with an
old friend, the modest doctor of five or six neighboring communes;
and after dinner we sat musing on the stoop, with our cherry pipes
between our lips.

The shadows fell around us, over the dense blue mass of forest that
encircled the horizon with all the solemn slowness of night in June.
The sky was streaked with flights of swallows. The nine o'clock
Angelus scattered its notes with intervals of silence from the
height of a snuffer-like steeple which emerged from among the roofs.
From distant farms came the barking of dogs calling and answering one
another.

A woman, still young, in a red woollen skirt and a white linen shirt,
came out of a house near by, and walked down toward the river. With
her left arm she pressed a baby against her bosom. A little boy held
her other hand, and gave his in turn to a still smaller brother. When
they reached the bank of the Cher, the young woman sat upon a great
stone; and while the two boys, hastily undressed, were paddling and
splashing about like ducks in the stream, she nursed her last-born.

One of our party, who was a painter, said, "There is a picture that
would be popular at the Salon. How splendidly built and well-lighted
that woman is! And what a pretty bright spot that red skirt forms in
the blue landscape!"

A voice behind us called out,--

"The girl you see there, young men, is Solange, the wolf-girl." And
our host, who had been detained by a consultation, came out to join
us. As we asked him who was this wolf-girl, and how she had come by
so strange a nickname, he told us this story,--

"This Solange, the wolf-girl, whose real name is Solange Tournier,
wife of Grillet, was the prettiest girl in the whole Tronsays
country about ten years ago. Now, of course, working in the fields
as she does, and having had five children, she looks hardened and
worn. Still, considering her thirty years, she is handsome enough, as
you see. At the time of the adventure whence she derived her strange
nickname she was living with her parents, who were farmers of the
Rein-du-Bois, some fifteen kilometres from here. Although very poor,
she was much sought by all the boys, even by the well-to-do; but she
accepted the addresses of only one,--a certain Laurent Grillet, on
whom she had set her heart when she was a wee bit of a girl, when the
two kept the sheep together in the neighborhood of Rein-du-Bois.

"Laurent Grillet was a foundling, who had nothing in the world but
his two arms for a fortune. Solange's parents felt no inclination to
add poverty to poverty, especially as the girl had so many wealthy
suitors.

"So Solange was forbidden to see her friend. Naturally, the girl
never failed at a tryst. Living in the same commune, with the forest
at hand, they never lost an opportunity of meeting there. When
the father and mother Tournier realized that scoldings and blows
were of no avail, they determined upon a radical step. Solange was
accordingly sent out to work at Ursay, on the model farm of M. Roger
Duflos, our deputy.

"Perhaps you think our two lovers ceased to see each other. Not in
the least. They now met at night; they slept no more. After nightfall
they both left the farms where they were employed and started toward
each other; and then they remained together until nearly dawn in the
maternal forest, the accomplice of their young love.

"This was in 1879. In this manner the summer and autumn went by.
Then came the winter, and a fierce winter it was. The Cher carried
ice-drifts, and finally froze from bank to bank. The Tronsays
forests, covered with snow, were bent like the weak supports of
an overladen roof. The roads were almost impassable. The forest,
deserted by man, was gradually being reconquered by beasts. It was
soon invaded by wolves, which had neither been seen nor heard of
since the Terrible year.

"Yes, sir, wolves! They haunted the isolated farms around Lurcy-Lévy
and Ursay. They even ventured into the streets of St. Bonnet le
Désert,--a little village in the heart of the forest on the banks of
a pond. It reached such a point that men were organized into bands to
beat the woods. A reward of fifty francs was offered for the head of
a wolf.

"Neither winter nor wolves, however, daunted Solange and Laurent,
or interfered with their nocturnal meetings. They continued their
expeditions in the face of a thousand dangers. This was the dead
season in the fields, the time when the land lies fallow. Every night
Laurent left Lurcy-Lévy, a gun over his shoulder, and penetrated with
a lively step into the black and white forest. Solange, on the other
hand, started from Ursay at about nine o'clock, and they met near a
glade some three kilometres from here, traversed by a road, and known
as the Découverte.

"It so happened that one night, which, by the way, was Christmas
Eve, Laurent Grillet, as he reached the rendezvous, slipped on the
hardened snow and fell, breaking his right leg and spraining his
right wrist. Solange tried to raise him, but could only drag him to a
great elm, against which she propped him, after wrapping him in her
own cloak.

"'Wait for me here, my poor Laurent,' said she; 'I will run to Ursay
for the doctor, and get him to come for you in his carryall.'

"She started off, but had not reached the first turn in the road when
she heard a report and the cry, 'Help!'

"She ran back and found her friend in an agony of pain and fear, his
trembling hand on the gun which lay beside him. She said, 'What is
it, Laurent? Was it you who fired?'

"He answered, 'It was I. I saw a beast about the size of a large dog,
and with great red eyes. I believe, on my word, it was a wolf.'

"'Was it at him you fired?'

"'No. I cannot lift my gun on account of my arm. I fired on the
ground to scare him. He has gone now.'

"Solange reflected for a moment. 'Will he come back?'

"'I am afraid he will,' answered the lad. 'Solange, you will have to
stay, or that beast will eat me.'

"'Well,' she said, 'I will stay. Let me have the gun.'

"She took it, put in a fresh cartridge, and they both waited.

"An hour passed. The moon, as yet invisible, had risen, however,
above the horizon, for the zenith reflected a confused light, which
was gradually growing more intense. Laurent felt the fever coming
upon him. He shivered and moaned. Solange, half frozen, as she stood
leaning against the tree, was beginning to feel drowsy. Suddenly
a bark--a sort of howl like that of a dog at night when it is
tied--made her start. In the faint light she saw two red eyes fixed
upon her. It was the wolf. Laurent tried to rise and take his gun,
but the pain flung him back with a cry.

"'Load, Solange,' said he. 'Do not fire too soon, and aim between the
eyes.'

"She shouldered, aimed, and fired, but the gun recoiled and missed
aim. The beast was untouched. It ran off a short way down the road.
Then it was heard howling at a distance, and other howls came in
answer.

"The moon was climbing the sky. It suddenly passed the dark mass of
the thickets and flooded the entire forest as the footlights illumine
the scenery on the stage. Then Solange and Laurent saw this horrible
sight: at a few feet from them five wolves were seated on their
haunches, drawn in line across the road, while another, bolder than
the rest, was walking slowly toward them.

"'Listen,' said Laurent. 'Aim at that one that is coming. If you
bring him down, the others will eat him, and they will leave us in
peace in the mean time.'

"The wolf continued to advance with short, cautious steps. They could
now see his bloodshot eyeballs distinctly, the protruding rings of
his spine, the sharp bones of his carcass, his dull hair and his open
jaw, with the long tongue hanging out. 'Hold the butt-end well in the
hollow of your shoulder. Now fire.'

"There was a report; the beast leaped to one side and fell dead
without a groan. The whole band galloped off and disappeared in the
copse.

"'Run, Solange!' cried Laurent; 'drag him as far as you can along the
road. There is no danger; the others will not come back for a while
yet.'

"She had started, when he called her back. 'It might be just as well
to cut off that beast's head on account of the reward.'

"'Have you a knife?' asked Solange.

"'Yes; in my belt.'

"It was a short-handled, broad-bladed hunter's knife. She took it and
ran to the dead wolf. She made a great effort and drove it in his
throat, the warm blood trickling down her hands and along her skirt;
she turned her knife around, cut deep, then hacked, and finally
severed the head from the trunk, which she dragged by one leg over
the slippery snow as far as she could. Then she returned to her lover
with the bloody, bristly head of the beast in her hand.

"What Laurent had foreseen occurred. The wolves, at first frightened
by the death of their leader, were soon brought back by the smell
of the blood. In the white light of the moon, reflected by the snow
like the fantastic light of a fairy scene, the two young people saw
the group of lean, ravenous beasts rubbing their backs against one
another, crowding around the fresh prey, tearing it limb from limb,
growling and snarling over it, wrenching off the flesh, until nothing
was left of it, not even a tuft of hair.

"Meanwhile the boy was suffering greatly from his injuries. Solange,
whose nerves were beginning to relax, struggled vainly against
exhaustion and sleep. Twice her gun fell from her hands. The wolves,
having finished their meal, began to draw nearer. The girl fired
twice in the lot, but her benumbed fingers trembled and she missed
her aim. At each report the band turned tail, trotted about a hundred
metres down the road, waited a moment and came back.

"Then the two poor children were convinced that it was all over with
them, and that they must die. Solange dropped her gun. It never
once occurred to her that she might save herself. She threw herself
down beside her lover, clasped her arms around him, laid her cheek
against his, and there under the same cloak they awaited death, half
frozen with the cold, half burning with fever. Their confused brains
conjured strange visions. Now they thought they had gone back to the
balmy nights of June when the forest, clad in deep green, sheltered
their peaceful meetings, then suddenly the wood was bare, lighted
with a weird snowy light, peopled with shifting forms, eyes like
burning embers, great open jaws that multiplied, and came nearer,
ever nearer.

"But neither Solange nor Laurent was destined to die so horrible a
death. Providence--yes, young men, I believe in a Providence--had
decreed that I, on that Christmas morning, should find myself on that
particular road on my way home in my carryall from St. Bonnet le
Désert. I managed the lines; my man held the gun and inspected the
road. No doubt our sleigh-bells frightened away the wolves, for we
saw none. As we drove near the elm at the foot of which the lovers
lay, my mare shied, and so drew our attention to them. I jumped down
from the seat. My man and I settled them in the carryall as best
as we could, covering them with what wraps we had along. They were
unconscious and almost frozen. We took the bloody head of the wolf
with us too.

"It was about seven o'clock in the morning when we reached Ursay. The
day was breaking over a landscape of spun glass and white velvet. M.
Roger Duflos' farmers and at least one half of the inhabitants of the
borough, having heard of Solange's disappearance, came out to meet
us; and in the very kitchen where we dined this evening, in front
of a great fire of crackling heather, Laurent and his friend warmed
themselves and told us the story of their terrible Christmas."

One of us said,--

"And what followed, Doctor? Did they marry?"

"Yes; they were married," answered our host. "The will of Providence
is sometimes so plainly indicated by events that the most obtuse
cannot fail to perceive it. After the adventure with the wolves,
Solange's parents consented to her marriage with Laurent Grillet. The
marriage took place in the spring. The reward of fifty francs for the
wolf's head paid for the wedding dress."

The doctor was silent. Night was full upon us. The sky, of a
turquoise blue, reflected its first stars in the river. The mass
of forest, dense and inky, shut off the horizon. We saw Solange,
the wolf-girl, dress her two boys and start homeward with them, the
youngest asleep on her shoulder. She passed very near us, and looking
up, smiled at the doctor. The doctor said,--

"Good-night, Solange!"

[Illustration]



SALVETTE AND BERNADOU.

From the French of ALPHONSE DAUDET.


I.

It was Christmas Eve in a great Bavarian town. A joyous crowd pushed
its way through the streets white with snow, in the confusion of
the fog, the rumble of carriages, and the clamor of bells, toward
the booths, stalls, and cook-shops in the open air. Great fir-trees
bedecked with dangling gewgaws were being carried about, grazing the
ribbons and flowers of the booths and towering above the crowd like
shadows of Thuringian forests,--a breath of Nature in the artificial
life of winter.

It is twilight. The lingering lights of sunset, sending a crimson
glow through the fog, can still be seen from the gardens beyond the
Residence; and in the town the very air is so full of animation
and festivity that every light which blinks through a window-pane
seems to be dangling from a Christmas-tree. For this is not an
ordinary Christmas. It is the year of our Lord 1870; and the birth of
Christ is but an additional pretext for drinking the health of the
illustrious Von der Than, and celebrating the triumph of Bavarian
warriors. Christmas! Christmas! The Jews of the lower town themselves
have joined in the general merriment. Here comes old Augustus Cahn,
hurrying around the corner of "The Bunch of Blue Grapes." There is
an unusual light in his ferret eyes. His little bushy pigtail was
never known to wriggle so merrily. Over his sleeve, worn shiny by the
rope handles of his wallet, he carries an honest basket, quite full,
covered with a brown linen napkin, from under which peep the neck of
a bottle and a twig of holly.

What the deuce is the old usurer up to? Can he too be celebrating
Christmas? Has he assembled his friends and family to drink to
the Vaterland? Impossible. Everybody knows that old Cahn has no
Fatherland but his money-safe. Neither has he relatives nor friends;
he has only creditors. His sons, or rather his partners, have been
away for three months with the army. They are trading yonder behind
the luggage-vans of the landwehr, selling brandy, buying clocks,
ripping the knapsacks fallen by the wayside, and searching the
pockets of the dead at night on the battle-field. Father Cahn,
too old to follow his children, has remained in Bavaria, where
he is doing a flourishing business with the French prisoners. He
hovers about the quarters, loans money on watches, buys epaulets,
medals, and money-orders. He ferrets his way through hospitals and
ambulances, and creeps noiselessly to the bedside of the wounded,
inquiring in his hideous jargon,--

"Aff you zumting to zell?"

And now he is trotting along hurriedly with his basket on his arm,
because the military hospital closes at five, and because two
Frenchmen are waiting for him there, in that great gloomy building
behind the iron grating of narrow windows, where Christmas finds
nothing to cheer its vigil but the pale lamps that burn at the
bedside of the dying.


II.

These two Frenchmen are Salvette and Bernadou, two light-infantry
men, two Provençals from the same village, enlisted in the same
battalion and wounded by the same shell. But Salvette has proved
the hardier of the two; he is able now to get up and to take a few
steps from his bed to the window. Bernadou, on the other hand, has no
desire to recover. Behind the faded curtains of his hospital bed,
he languishes and grows thinner day by day; and when he speaks of
his home, he smiles that sad smile of invalids which contains more
resignation than hope. He seems a little brighter to-day, however,
as he recalls the celebration of Christmas, which in our beautiful
land of Provence is like a bonfire lighted in the heart of winter.
He thinks of the walk home after midnight Mass, of the bedecked
and luminous churches, the dark and crowded village streets, then
the long evening around the table, the three traditional torches,
the _aïoli_, the dish of snails, the pretty ceremony of the _cacho
fio_,--the Yule log, which the grandfather parades through the house
and sprinkles with mulled wine.

"Ah, my poor Salvette, what a dreary Christmas this will be! If we
only had a few cents left, we could buy a little loaf of white bread
and a bottle of light wine. It would be nice to sprinkle the Yule
log with you once more before--" And his sunken eyes shine when he
thinks of the wine and the white bread. But what is to be done? They
have nothing left, the poor wretches,--no watches, no money. True,
Salvette has a money-order for forty francs stored away in the lining
of his vest. But that must be kept in reserve for the day of their
release, or rather for the first halt at a French inn. It is sacred
money, and cannot be touched. Still, poor Bernadou is so low, who can
tell whether he will ever live through the journey home? And while
it is still time, might it not be better to celebrate this Christmas
together? Without saying a word of it to his comrade, Salvette rips
his vest lining; and after a long struggle and a whispered discussion
with Augustus Cahn, he slips into his hand this little scrap of stiff
yellow paper smelling of powder and stained with blood, after which
he assumes a look of deep mystery. He rubs his hands and laughs
softly to himself as he glances over at Bernadou. As the darkness
falls, he stands with his forehead against the window-pane, and stirs
from his post only when he sees old Augustus Cahn turn the corner
breathlessly, with a little basket on his arm.


III.

The solemn midnight, ringing from all the steeples of the great city,
falls lugubriously on the insomnia of the wounded. The hospital is
silent, lighted only by the night lamps that swing from the ceiling.
Gaunt shadows float over the beds and the bare walls with a perpetual
swaying, which seems like the oppressed breathing of the people
lying there. Every now and then there are dreams which talk aloud,
or nightmares that moan; while vague murmurs of steps and voices,
blended in the sonorous chill of the night, rise from the street like
sounds issuing from the portals of a cathedral. They are fraught with
impressions of pious haste,--the mystery of a religious festival
invading the hours of sleep and filling the darkness of the city with
the soft glow of lanterns and the jewelled radiance of church windows.

"Are you asleep, Bernadou?"

On the little table by his friend's bed Salvette has laid a bottle
of Lunel wine and a pretty round Christmas loaf with a twig of
holly stuck in the top. The wounded man opens his eyes, dark and
sunken with fever. In the uncertain light of the night lamps and
the reflection of the long roofs, where the moon dazzles herself in
the snow, this improvised Christmas supper strikes him as something
fantastic.

"Come, wake up, countryman; let it not be said that two Provençals
let Christmas go by without sprinkling it with a draught of wine--"
And Salvette raises him on his pillows with a mother's tenderness. He
fills the glasses, cuts the bread. They drink and speak of Provence.
Bernadou seems to be cheered by the reminiscences and the white wine.
With that childishness which invalids seem to find again in the
depths of their weakness he begs for a Provençal carol. His comrade
is only too happy.

"What shall it be,--'The Host' or 'The Three Kings' or 'Saint Joseph
told me'?"

"No; I prefer 'The Shepherds.' That is the one we used to sing at
home."

"Very well, then. Here goes, 'The Shepherds.'"

And in a low voice, with his head under the bed-curtains, Salvette
begins to sing. At the last verse, when the shepherds have laid down
their offering of fresh eggs and cheeses, and Saint Joseph speeds
them with kind words,--

      "Shepherds,
    Take your leave,"--

poor Bernadou slips back and falls heavily on his pillow.

His comrade, who believes that he has gone to sleep again, shakes him
by the arm and calls him; but the wounded man remains motionless, and
the twig of holly lying beside him looks like the green palm that
is laid on the couch of the dead. Salvette has understood; he is
slightly tipsy with the celebration and the shock of his sorrow; and
with a voice full of tears he sings out, filling the silent dormitory
with the joyous refrain of Provence,--

      "Shepherds,
    Take your leave."



MAESE PÉREZ, THE ORGANIST.

From the Spanish of GUSTAVO ADOLFO BÉCQUER.


I.

Do you see the one with the scarlet cloak and the white plume in his
hat,--the one whose jerkin seems to glitter with all the gold of the
Indian galleys? He is stepping from his litter; he gives his hand
to that lady, see her! She is coming this way now, preceded by four
pages bearing torches. Well, that is the Marquis of Moscoso, the
lover of the widowed Countess of Villapiñeda. They say that before he
thought of paying his addresses to her he had sought the hand of an
opulent gentleman's daughter. But the lady's father, whom people say
is something of a miser--but hush! speaking of the Devil. Do you see
that man coming through the arch of San Felipe, on foot, muffled in a
dark cloak, and accompanied by a single servant carrying a lantern?
Now he is in front of the street shrine.

"As he unmuffled to bow before the image, did you notice the
decoration that shone on his breast? But for that noble insignia any
one would mistake him for a shopkeeper of the street of the Culebras.
Well, that is the father in question. See how the people make way for
him and greet him as he goes by!

"Everybody knows him in Seville on account of his great fortune. Why,
he has more ducats in his coffers than there are soldiers in King
Philip's armies; and his galleys would form a fleet mighty enough to
oppose the Sultan himself. Look, look at that stately group of men!
They are the Twenty-four, the gentlemen of the Aldermanry. Aha! and
we have the great Fleming among us too! They say that the gentlemen
of the green cross have not challenged him, thanks to his influence
among the magnates of Madrid. He only comes to church to hear the
music; and if Maese Pérez does not bring tears as big as one's fist
to his eyes, it will no doubt be because his soul, instead of being
where it belongs, is frying somewhere in the Devil's caldron.

"Ah, neighbor, but this looks bad. I greatly fear there is going to
be trouble. I shall take refuge in the church, for I judge there will
be more broadswords than _Pater-nosters_ in the air. Look, look!
the Duke of Alcalá's people have turned the corner of the Plaza San
Pedro, and I fancy I see the Duke of Medina-Sidonia's men emerging
from the Alley of the Dueñas. What did I tell you? They have caught
sight of one another; they stop; the groups are breaking up; and the
minstrels, who on these occasions are generally beaten by friends and
foes alike, are running; the officer of justice himself, with the
emblem of authority and all, has taken refuge under the portico,--and
then people speak of justice! Justice! yes,--for the poor.

"Come! the shields are beginning to glitter. Lord of the great power,
assist us! The blows are falling thick and fast. Neighbor, neighbor,
this way before they close the doors! But wait, what do I see? They
have left off before they had really begun. What is that light? A
litter, torches! It is the bishop, on my soul!

"Our Most Holy Lady of Protection, whom I was just invoking inwardly,
has sent him to our rescue. Ah, nobody will ever know what the great
lady has done for me! With what interest am I repaid for the tapers
that I burn before her every Saturday!

"See him; how handsome he is in his purple robes and his scarlet cap!
God keep him in his episcopal chair as many centuries as I would
like to live myself! Were it not for him, half Seville would be
ablaze with these dissensions of the dukes. Look at them, the great
hypocrites; see how they all press around the prelate's litter to
kiss his ring. They all accompany him, confounding themselves with
his servants. Who would believe that those two, who seem so friendly
in his presence, would if they came together in a half-hour from now
in some dark street,--that is--who knows? I would not accuse them
of cowardice; God forbid! They have given proof of their valor by
fighting the enemies of the Lord. Still, to speak the truth, it seems
to me that if they started out really determined to settle their
differences,--you understand me, really determined,--it would be no
difficult matter, and they would thus put an end to these continuous
quarrels where the only ones that give and take the blows are their
kinsmen, their allies, and their servants.

"But come, neighbor, come into the church before the crowd fills it
from end to end; for on nights like this it is sometimes packed so
full that you could not squeeze in a grain of wheat. The nuns have
a prize in their organist. When was the convent ever as favored
as it is now? Other sisterhoods have made Maese Pérez magnificent
offers,--which is not at all to be wondered at, for the archbishop
himself offered him mountains of gold if he would go to the
cathedral. But it was all of no use. He would sooner give up his life
than his beloved organ. Do you not know Maese Pérez? To be sure,
you have not been long in the neighborhood. Well, he is a saintly
man, poor, no doubt, but a man who never wearies of giving. With no
relative but his daughter, and no friend but his organ, he spends his
life caring for the one and repairing the other.

"And the organ is an old one, let me tell you; but that makes no
difference to him. He takes such pains with it and keeps it in such
good order that its tone is a perfect wonder. He knows it so well
that he can tell merely by the touch--I do not know whether I told
you that the poor man was born blind. And how patiently he bears his
misfortune! When anybody asks him how much he would give to be able
to see, he answers, 'A great deal, but not as much as you think, for
I have hope.' 'Hope of seeing?' 'Yes, and very soon too,' he adds,
smiling like an angel. 'I am seventy-six years old, and however long
the life allotted to me, I must soon see God.' Poor man! yes, he will
see God, for he is as humble as the stones of the street, that allow
everybody to tread upon them. He always says that he is nothing but a
poor convent organist, while he might teach solfeggio to the chapel
master of the cathedral himself. Of course he could; he cut his teeth
in the trade. His father before him had the same position. I did not
know him, but my mother--may she rest in glory!--used to say that
he always brought the child with him to pump the organ. Later on,
the boy showed great talent; and when his father died, he naturally
enough fell heir to his position. And what hands he has, God bless
them! They are worthy of being taken to Chicarreros Street to be set
in pure gold. He always plays well, always; but, my dear, on a night
like this he is a perfect wonder. He professes the greatest devotion
to this ceremony of midnight Mass, and at the elevation of the Sacred
Form, precisely at twelve o'clock, which is the time when our Lord
came into the world, the voices of his organ are the real voices of
angels.

"But what is the use of telling you about what you will hear for
yourself in a few moments? Just notice the people who are here
to-night, and you will form some idea of what he is. Here is all the
elegance of Seville, and the archbishop himself,--all come to this
humble convent to hear him play. It is not only the learned people,
those who know music, who understand his merit; not so,--the very
rabble appreciate him. This great crowd that you see coming this way
with torches, singing carols with all the might of their lungs to the
accompaniment of their tambourines and drums,--they are the kind of
people to create a disturbance in a church; but just wait, they will
be as still as the dead when Maese Pérez lays his hands on the organ.
At the elevation of the Host, not a fly makes itself heard. There
are great tears in every eye; and when the music stops, you hear
something like a deep sigh, which proves that the people have been
holding their breath in ecstasy all the while. But come, come! the
bells have stopped ringing; and Mass will soon begin. Let us go in.
This is the good night of the world, but for none will it be a better
night than for us."

And saying this, the good woman, who had acted as her neighbor's
cicerone, pressed through the portico of the convent of Santa Inés,
and elbowing here, pushing there, made her way into the interior of
the temple, there losing herself in the surging crowd.


II.

The church was profusely illumined. The torrent of light which fell
from the altars and filled the edifice sparkled on the rich jewels of
the great ladies, who, kneeling on the velvet cushions which their
pages laid at their feet, and taking their missals from the hands of
their duennas, formed a brilliant circle around the chancel grating.
Behind them, in bright gold-embroidered cloaks thrown back with
studied carelessness in order to display glittering orders of green
and red, their broad-brimmed felts in one hand, the plumes sweeping
the floor, the left hand resting on the polished hilts of their
rapiers or caressing the pommel of their chiselled daggers, stood the
Twenty-four, who with a great part of the best nobility of Seville
seemed to form a wall around their wives and daughters to protect
them from the contact of the populace. The latter, moving about in
the rear of the nave with a murmur like that of a stormy sea, burst
into a jubilant acclamation, accompanied by the discord of timbrels
and tambourines, at the appearance of the bishop. The prelate,
surrounded by his attendants, took his seat under a crimson canopy,
beside the high altar, and blessed the people three times.

It was time for Mass to begin. Several minutes elapsed, however, and
the celebrant did not appear. The crowd began to show evidences of
impatience; the knights exchanged whispers among themselves; and the
bishop sent one of his attendants to the sacristy to inquire into the
cause of the delay.

"Maese Pérez has been taken ill, very ill; and it will be impossible
for him to attend Mass to-night."

This was the word that the attendant brought back.

The news spread through the church in an instant. It produced a most
unpleasant effect. The noise was such in the temple that the chief
officer of justice rose to his feet, and the constables entered the
church to enforce silence.

At that moment an ill-looking man, ungainly, bony, and cross-eyed to
boot, stepped up to the place where the prelate sat.

"Maese Pérez is ill," said he; "the ceremony cannot begin. If you see
fit, I will play the organ in his absence, for Maese Pérez is not the
greatest organist in the world, nor will the instrument fall into
disuse after his death for the lack of a musician to take his place."

The archbishop made a movement of assent; and already some of the
faithful, who knew this individual to be an envious rival of the
organist of Santa Inés, were breaking into exclamations of disgust
when suddenly a great noise was heard in the portico.

"Maese Pérez is here! Maese Pérez is here!"

All heads were turned toward the crowded doorways from which these
shouts came.

In truth, Maese Pérez, pale and disfigured, was entering the church,
carried in an armchair, which everybody claimed the honor of bearing
upon his shoulders. Neither the doctor's commands nor his daughter's
tears had been able to keep him in bed.

"No," he had said; "this is the last--the last--I know it. I will
not die without hearing the voice of my organ again, on this solemn
night, this good-night. Come, I implore, I command you, let us go to
the church!"

His desire was gratified. The people carried him in their arms to the
organ-loft. Mass began.

The cathedral clock struck twelve. After the introit came the Gospel,
the offertory, then the solemn moment when the priest, after having
consecrated the bread, takes the Sacred Form between his fingers and
begins to elevate it. A cloud of incense in bluish waves floated
through the church. The little altar-bells began to ring in vibrating
peals, and Maese Pérez laid his aged fingers upon the keys of the
organ.

The multitudinous voices of its metal pipes resounded in a prolonged
and majestic chord, which grew gradually fainter, as though the
breath of the wind had borne away its last echoes.

The first chord, which seemed like a voice from the earth calling
out to heaven, was answered by another, that seemed to come from
a great distance, soft at first, then swelling until it became a
torrent of thundering harmony.

It was the voice of the angels, which had traversed space and reached
the earth.

Then followed what seemed like canticles sung far away by the
hierarchies of seraphim, a thousand hymns at once blending into one,
which itself was no more than an accompaniment for a strange melody
that floated upon that ocean of mysterious echoes as a mist floats
over the waves of the sea.

Then various chants dropped out of the harmony, leaving two voices
which finally melted into each other; and this last isolated voice
lingered long, sustaining a note as brilliant as a thread of light.
The priest bent his brow, and above his white head, through the
blue gauzes of the incense, he held up the Host to the eyes of the
faithful. At that moment the tremulous note that Maese Pérez held
swelled and swelled until an immense explosion of joyous harmony
filled the church. In the far-off corners of the temple the air
seemed to buzz, and the jewel-windows quivered in their tight frames.
Each one of the notes which formed the mighty chord developed a
theme of its own, some near, some far, some brilliant, some muffled.
It seemed as though the waters and the birds, the breezes and the
forests, heaven and earth, were each in its own tongue singing the
birth of the Saviour.

The crowd held its breath and listened, amazed. There were tears
in every eye, and every heart was swelled with emotion. The priest
at the altar felt his hands tremble, for that which he held in
them--that before which men and archangels bowed--was his God; and he
thought he saw the heavens opened and the Host transfigured. After
that the voices of the organ gradually grew fainter like a sound that
dies as it is blown from echo to echo.

Suddenly, the cry of a woman, a piercing, heart-rending cry, was
heard in the organ-loft. The organ exhaled a strange discord,
something like a sob, and was silent. The people rushed to the
stairs, toward which the faithful, drawn from their religious
ecstasy, had all turned their gaze.

"What has happened? What is it?" whispered they; but nobody knew what
to answer, and the confusion increased, threatening the good order
and pious stillness proper to a church.

"What has happened?" inquired the great ladies of the officer of
justice, who, preceded by the beadles, had first penetrated into the
organ-loft, and who now, pale and deeply distressed, was making his
way to where the bishop awaited him, anxious like the rest of the
congregation to learn the cause of the disturbance.

"What has happened?"

"Maese Pérez is dead!"

And so it was. Those who first reached the organ-loft, jostling
one another up the stairs, had found the poor organist, fallen
face downwards on the keys of the old instrument, which was still
vibrating; while his daughter, kneeling at his feet, was calling to
him in vain with sobs and cries.


III.

"Good-evening, my Señora Doña Baltasara; are you here, too, for
midnight Mass? For my part I had intended going to the parish, but
you see how it is,--one goes where everybody goes. And yet, to tell
you the truth, since Maese Pérez's death I feel as though there were
a tombstone on my heart every time I enter Santa Inés. Poor dear man!
Truly he was a saint. I have a little scrap of his doublet which I
preserve like a relic, and which surely deserves it; for I believe,
by my soul, that if the archbishop would only take a hand in the
matter, our grandchildren would see him canonized. But why expect
it? The dead and the absent have no friends. Novelty is what is in
favor now,--you understand me, of course. What! You do not know what
is going on? True, we are alike in that respect,--from our house to
church, and from church back again, without inquiring into what is
said or what is not said. However, on the wing, catching a word here,
a word there, without the least interest in the matter, I sometimes
happen to know the news.

"Well, yes, it seems to be a settled thing that the organist of San
Ramón, that squint-eye who is always abusing other organists, and
who looks more like a butcher from the Puerta de la Carne than like
a musician, is going to play this Christmas Eve on Maese Pérez's
organ. You know, of course,--for everybody knows it in Seville,--that
no musician would accept the undertaking. Not even his daughter,
who is a professor of music. After her father's death she entered
the convent as a novice. Her refusal was natural enough. Accustomed
as we were to hearing such marvels, anything else would seem poor,
no matter how desirous we might be to avoid comparisons; and so the
sisterhood had determined that in honor of the dead musician, and
in token of respect to his memory, the organ should remain dumb
to-night, when here comes our man, and declares that he is willing to
play it.

"There is nothing so bold as ignorance. To be sure, the fault is not
his, but theirs, who permit such a profanation. But that is the way
of the world--but, I say, it is no small crowd that has flocked here
to-night. One might think that nothing had changed from last year to
this,--the same fine people, the same splendor, the same crush at the
door, the same excitement under the portico, the same throng in the
temple. Ah, if the dead man were to rise, he would die a second death
rather than witness the profanation of his organ. But the best of it
is that if what the neighbors have told me is true, the intruder is
going to meet with a fine reception. When the time comes for him to
lay his hands on the keys, there are those who mean to make a hubbub
with tambourines, timbrels, and drums. But hold! there is the hero
of the occasion going into the church now. Holy saints! How gaudily
he has arrayed himself What a ruff, and what grand airs he assumes!
Come, come! the archbishop arrived some time ago, and Mass will soon
begin. Come! for I fancy this night will give us food for talk."

And saying this, the good woman penetrated into the church, opening a
way for herself through the crowd, according to her habit, by dint of
pushing and elbowing.

The ceremony had already begun.

The temple was as brilliant as it had been the year before. The new
organist pushed through the crowd that filled the naves, went up to
kiss the bishop's ring, then made his way to the organ-loft, where
he took his seat, and began to try the stops of the organ one after
another with much affectation of gravity. From the compact mass of
people in the rear of the church rose a muffled, confused sound,--a
sure augury that the storm was brewing and would not be long in
making itself felt.

"He is an impostor who cannot do anything straight, not even look
straight," said some.

"He is an ignorant lout, who has turned the organ of his own parish
into a rattle, and comes here now to profane Maese Pérez's," said
others. And while one relieved himself of his cloak the better to
thump his tambourine, and another took hold of his timbrels, and all
made ready to greet the first notes of music with a deafening clamor,
there were but very few who ventured mildly to defend the strange
man, whose proud and pedantic bearing was so strongly in contrast
with the modest appearance and affable kindness of the former
organist.

The longed-for moment came at last,--the solemn moment when the
priest, after bowing his brow and murmuring the sacred words, took
the wafer between his fingers. The little bells rang at the foot of
the altar, shaking out a shower of crystal notes. The diaphanous
waves of incense rose in the air and the organ burst into sound.

A terrible uproar filled the church and drowned its first chords.
Horns, bagpipes, timbrels, tambourines,--all the instruments of the
populace lifted their discordant voices at once. But the clamor
only lasted a minute. It all stopped simultaneously, just as it had
begun. The second chord, full, bold, magnificent, sustained itself. A
torrent of sonorous harmony gushed from the metal pipes of the organ.

There were celestial chants like those which caress the ear in
moments of ecstasy; chants which the soul perceives, but which the
lip cannot repeat; single notes of a distant melody sounding at
intervals, brought by a gust of wind; the sound of leaves that kiss
each other on the limbs of trees with a murmur like rain; trills of
the lark, that rises singing from the flower-covered land, like an
arrow shot into the clouds; terrible bursts of sound, imposing like
the roaring of a tempest; choruses of seraphim, without cadence or
rhythm, unknown music of another world, which only the imagination
can comprehend; winged canticles that seemed to rise to the throne of
the Almighty in a whirl of light and sound,--all these things were
expressed by the thousand voices of the organ, with a power and
poetry more intense, more mystic than had ever been heard before.

       *       *       *       *       *

When the organist came down, such was the crowd that pushed toward
the stairway, and such was the desire to see and admire him, that the
officer of justice, fearing and not without reason that he would be
smothered, sent his beadles, in order that, stick in hand, they might
open a way for him to the high altar, where the bishop awaited him.

"You see," said the prelate, when the musician was introduced into
his presence, "I came all the way from my palace to hear you. Will
you be as cruel as Maese Pérez, who would never once spare me the
journey by consenting to play on Christmas Eve for midnight Mass at
the Cathedral?"

"Next year," answered the organist, "I will give you that pleasure,
for I would not touch this organ again for all the gold in the world."

"Why not?" interrupted the prelate.

"Because," said the organist, trying to control the emotion which was
revealed by the pallor of his countenance,--"because it is old and
poor, and with such an instrument one cannot express all that one
would like."

The archbishop retired, followed by his attendants. One by one the
litters of the noblemen disappeared in the curves of the neighboring
streets. The crowd around the portico was dissolved; and the faithful
dispersed, taking their various directions. The church was about to
be locked when two women, who had lingered to murmur a prayer before
the altar of San Felipe, crossed themselves and went their way,
turning into the Alley of the Dueñas.

"You may say what you choose, my dear Doña Baltasara," said one of
them, "but that is my opinion. Every madman with his whim. I would
not believe it if I heard it from the lips of a barefooted Capuchin.
It is not possible for this man to have played what we have just
heard. I tell you, I heard him a thousand times at San Bartolomé,
which was his parish, and from which he was turned out by the priest
because his music was so poor; my dear, it made you feel like
stopping your ears up with cotton. And then you have only to look at
his face. The face, they say, is the mirror of the soul. Think of
Maese Pérez. Poor dear man! On a night like this, when he came down
from the organ-loft after having held the congregation spell-bound,
what a kind smile he wore! What a happy flush on his countenance! He
was old, and yet he looked like an angel! As for this fellow, he came
stumbling down the stairs as though a dog were barking at him from
the landing, and with a face as pale as that of a corpse. Believe
me, my dear, in all truth, there is some mystery here."


IV.

A year had elapsed. The abbess of the convent of Santa Inés and the
daughter of Maese Pérez were speaking in a whisper, only half visible
in the shadows of the choir. The bells with loud voices were calling
to the faithful from the height of the steeple. Every now and then
one or two persons crossed the now silent and deserted portico; and
after taking holy water, they chose their place in the corner of the
nave, where a few neighbors were quietly waiting for midnight Mass to
begin.

"Do you see," the abbess was saying, "your fears are supremely
childish. There is scarcely a soul in the church. You should have
more self-confidence. All Seville is at the cathedral to-night. Play
for us, my child,--it is just as though we were alone. Why do you
sigh? What is the matter with you? Speak."

"I am afraid!" exclaimed the girl, in a shaken voice.

"Afraid? Why, what do you mean? Afraid of what?"

"I do not know,--of something supernatural. Last night--listen. I had
heard you say that you were anxious to have me play for midnight
Mass this Christmas Eve; and, proud of the distinction, I thought I
would first try the registers and practise a little, that I might
surprise you and do you honor to-day. I came to the choir alone; I
opened the door which leads to the organ-loft. The cathedral clock
just then was striking the hour; I do not know what hour, but the
strokes were many, many, and so sad! The bells went on ringing during
all the time that I stood petrified on the threshold. It seemed an
age to me! The church was empty and dark. Far away, yonder, a little
light glimmered like a star, lost in the night of the sky. It was
the dying light of the lamp which burns before the high altar. By
its faint reflection, which only added to the profound horror of the
darkness, I saw,--yes, I saw it, Mother; do not doubt me,--I saw a
man, who, sitting with his back to where I stood, was running one
hand along the keys of the organ, while he touched the stops with the
other, and the organ sounded, but in a most indescribable manner.
Every note was like a sob stifled within the metal pipes, which
vibrated, reproducing the tone, muffled, almost imperceptible, but
with wonderful accuracy.

"The cathedral clock was still striking the hour, and the man was
still trying the keys. I could even hear his breathing.

"The blood in my veins was frozen with horror. I felt a chill run
through my body; my head was hot; I tried to scream, but I could not,
for the man sitting there had turned his face and was looking at me.
No; I do not mean that; he was not looking, for he was blind. It was
my father!"

"Come, come, sister, you must try and banish these foolish fancies
with which the arch-enemy tries to disturb our weak imaginations. Say
a _Pater-noster_ and an _Ave-Maria_ to the archangel Saint Michael,
captain of the celestial hosts, that he may succor you from evil
spirits. Wear on your neck a scapular touched by the relics of San
Pacomio, the counsellor against temptations; and go, my child, go
and take your place at the organ. Mass is about to begin, and the
faithful are waiting with impatience. Your father is in heaven; and
it is far more likely that from the home of the blessed he will
inspire you on this holy night rather than appear to you to give you
a fright."

The abbess went to take her seat in the choir in the midst of the
sisterhood. The daughter of Maese Pérez opened the door of the
organ-loft with trembling hand, and sat on the stool before the
organ. Mass began.

Mass began, and nothing unusual occurred until the time of the
consecration. At that moment the organ sounded, and with the first
sound came a shriek from the organ-loft.

The abbess, the nuns, and some of the faithful ran to the organ.

"Look at him! look at him!" cried the girl, whose eyes, starting
from their sockets, were fixed upon the stool from which she had
just risen in terror. She stood clinging with convulsed hands to the
railing of the loft.

All eyes were turned upon the point which she indicated. There was no
one at the organ, and still it went on sounding, like the voices of
archangels, in a burst of mystic joy.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Did I not tell you so, one and a thousand times, my good Doña
Baltasara,--did I not tell you so? There is some mystery in all this.
Listen. What! Did you not attend Mass last night? Anyway, I presume
you know what occurred. Why, it is the talk of Seville to-day. The
archbishop is furious, and with good reason. Think of his having
missed the Mass at Santa Inés,--of his not having witnessed the
miracle; and all for what, pray? That he might sit and listen to a
perfect charivari; for according to those who were present and who
told me of it, the new organist's playing was nothing else. But I
said so all the time. That squint-eye never could have played the
music we heard together last Christmas Eve at Santa Inés. It was a
lie! That music came from another soul. There is a mystery in all
this, my dear,--a mystery, believe me."

Yes, and so there was. A deep mystery, a beautiful mystery, which was
the soul of Maese Pérez.

[Illustration]



THE TORN CLOAK.

From the French of MAXIME DU CAMP.


I.

High in the steeple the bells were conversing. Two of the younger
ones were vexed and spoke angrily, "Is it not time we were asleep?
It is almost midnight, and twice have we been shaken, twice have we
been forced to cry out through the gloom just as though it were day,
and we were singing the call for Sunday Mass. There are people moving
about in the church; are we going to be tormented again, I wonder?
Might they not leave us in peace?"

At this the oldest bell in the steeple said indignantly, in a voice
which though cracked had lost none of its solemnity, "Hush, little
ones! Are you not ashamed to speak so foolishly? When you went to
Rome to be blessed, did you not take an oath, did you not swear to
fulfil your duty? Do you not know that in a few minutes it will be
Christmas, and that you will then celebrate the birth of Him whose
resurrection you have already celebrated?"

"But it is so cold!" whimpered a young bell.

"And do you not think that He was cold, when He came into the
world, naked and weak? Would He not have suffered on the heights of
Bethlehem had not the ass and the ox warmed Him with their breath?
Instead of grumbling and complaining, let your voices be sweet and
tender in memory of the canticles with which His mother lulled Him to
sleep. Come, hold yourselves in readiness. I can see them lighting
the tapers; they have constructed a little manger before the Virgin's
altar; the banner is unfurled; the beadle is bustling about. He has a
bad cold, the poor man; how he sneezes! Monsieur le Curé has put on
his embroidered alb. I hear the approaching sound of wooden shoes;
the peasants are coming to pray. The clock is about to strike the
hour--now--Christmas! Christmas! Ring out with all your heart and all
your might! Let no man say that he has not been summoned to midnight
Mass."


II.

It had been snowing for three days. The sky was black, the ground
white; the north wind howled through the trees; the ponds were
frozen; and the little birds were hungry. Women, wrapped in long
mantles of brown wool, and men in heavy cloaks slowly made their
way into the church. They knelt and with bent brows murmured the
answer as the priest said, "And the Lord said unto me, 'Thou art my
Son, whom this day I have begotten.'" The incense was smoking, and
blossoms of hellebore, which are the roses of Christmas, lay before
the tabernacle in the light of the tapers. Behind one of the pillars,
near the door of the church, knelt a child. His feet were bare. He
had slipped off his wooden shoes on account of the noise they made.
His cap lay on the floor before him and with clasped hands he prayed,
"For the soul of my father who is dead, for the life of my mother,
and for me, for your little Jacques, who loves you, O my God, I
implore you!" And he knelt all through Mass, lost in the fervor of
his devotion, and rose only when he heard the words,--

"Ite missa est."

The people crowded together under the exterior porch. Every man
lighted his lantern, and pulled up the collar of his cloak; and the
women drew their mantles closely around them. Brrr! how cold it was!
A little boy called out to Jacques, "Are you coming with us?"

"No," said he, "I have not time;" and he started off on a run. He
could hear the village people far away singing the favorite carol of
olden France as they walked home,--

    "He is born, the Heavenly Child.
    Ring out, hautbois! ring out, bagpipes!
    He is born, the Heavenly Child;
    Let all voices sing his advent!"


III.

Jacques reached the thatched cottage at the far end of the hamlet,
nestling in a rocky hollow at the foot of the hill. He opened the
door carefully, and tiptoed into a room in which there was neither
light nor fire.

"Is that you, little one?"

"Yes, mother."

"I prayed while you were praying. You must be half asleep; go to bed,
child. I do not need anything. If I am thirsty, I have the water-jug
here where I can reach it."

In a corner of the room near Marguerite's bed, Jacques turned over
a litter of ferns and dry grasses, stretched himself upon it, drew
the ragged end of a blanket over him, and fell asleep. Marguerite,
however, did not sleep. She was thinking, and her thoughts wrung
tears from her eyes. She was evoking the happy days when her husband
was with her, and life seemed so full of hope. She lay still, so as
not to waken her boy, her head thrown back on the bolster, the tears
trickling off her bony cheeks, her hand pressed to her hot chest.

Marguerite's husband had been the pride of his village, a hard worker
and an upright man. At the call of the Conscription he went to the
wagon train, for he was a good driver, kind to his horses, a man who
made his own bed only after having prepared their litter. He spoke
with pleasure of the time when he had been "in the army of the war,"
and would say laughingly, "I carted heaps of glory in the Crimea
and in Italy." His return to the village was a source of rejoicing.
He had known Marguerite as a child; he now found her a woman, and
married her. They were poor, Marguerite's trousseau consisting of a
three-franc cap, which she bought in order to make a good appearance
at the church ceremony. They owned the cottage,--a miserable,
dilapidated hut; but they were happy in it because they worked
hard and loved each other. The village people said, "Marguerite
is no simpleton. She knew what she was about when she married
Grand-Pierre. The sun does not find him abed. He is strong, saving
too, and no drunkard."

Yes, Grand-Pierre was a good workman, spry, punctual,--a man of much
action and few words. He had resumed his old trade, and drove his
teams through the mountains for a man who was quarrying granite.
He drove four stout-haunched, wide-chested horses, and excelled in
manoeuvring the screw-jack, in balancing the heaviest blocks, and
driving down the steep declivities that opened into the plain. When
he came home after his day's work, he found the soup and a jug of
cider on the table, and Marguerite waiting for him. Everything smiled
upon them in the poor little home, where there was soon a willow
cradle.

But happiness is short-lived. There is an Arab proverb that says,
"As soon as a man paints his house in pink, fate hastens to daub it
black." For eleven years Pierre and Marguerite lived happily together
and laid their plans with no fear of the future. Then misfortune came
and made its home with them. One raw, foggy winter's day Grand-Pierre
went out to the mountain. He loaded his wagon; and after having left
the dangerous passes of the road behind, he sat on the shaft for a
rest, and leaned against a great block of granite. He was tired; and
lulled by the swaying of the vehicle and the monotonous jingle of
the bells, he involuntarily closed his eyes. After a little the left
wheel went over a great limb that lay across the road. The shock was
violent. Pierre was pitched from his seat; and before he could move,
the heavy wheels rolled slowly over him and crushed in his chest.

The horses went their way unconscious of the fact that their driver,
their oldest friend, lay dead behind them. They reached the quarriers
and stopped at the door.

"Where is Grand-Pierre?"

Inquiries were made at once. Men were sent to the cottage. Marguerite
grew anxious. As the light failed, they took torches and went up
the mountain, shouting, "Hello there, Grand-Pierre!" but no voice
answered. At last they came upon the poor man lying in the middle
of the road on his back with outstretched arms. The wheels had cut
through the cloak and the edge of the rent was crushed into his chest
and black with blood.

All the villagers followed the corpse to the church and the cemetery,
and held out their hands to Marguerite, who stood white and immobile,
like a statue of wax, muttering mechanically under her breath, "O
God, have pity! have pity!" Jacques was then in his tenth year. He
could not appreciate the greatness of his mother's sorrow, and only
cried because she did.

Then misfortune had followed misfortune,--poverty, illness, misery.
And so through this Christmas night Marguerite lay stifling her sobs
as she recalled the past.


IV.

Jacques rose at dawn, shook off the dry grasses that stuck to his
hair, and went over to his mother. Her eyes were half closed, her
lips very white, and there were warm red spots on her cheeks. When
she saw the boy, she made a faint movement with her head.

"Did you sleep, mother? Do you feel well?"

"Yes; but I am very cold. Make a little fire, will you?"

Jacques searched every corner of the hut, looked in the old cupboard,
went through the cellar which had formerly contained their supplies,
and said,--

"There is no wood left; and there are no roots either."

"Never mind, then. It is not so very cold, after all."

Jacques picked up a stone, hammered at the nail that secured the
strap of his wooden shoe, slipped his foot into it, pulled his cap
down over his ears, and said resolutely,--

"I am going out to the mountain to get some dead wood."

"Why, you forget that to-day is Christmas, my child!"

"I know; but Monsieur le Curé will forgive me."

"No, no, you must not go; it has been prohibited."

"I will see that the rural guard does not catch me. Please let me go;
I will be back soon."

"Well, go, then."

Jacques put his pruning-knife in his pocket, threw a rope over his
shoulder, and opened the door. A gust of wind thick with snow dashed
him back and whirled through the room.

"What a storm!"

"Holy angels!" cried Marguerite; "it is the white deluge! Listen,
little one: you are not warm enough. Open the old chest where your
father's things are, and get his cloak,--the cloak he had on when
they brought him home. Wrap it around you, and see that you do not
take cold. One sick person in the house is enough."

Jacques took the cloak, upon which a twig of blessed box had been
laid. It was one of those great black and white cloaks of thick wool
and goat-hair, with a small velvet collar and brass clasps. There
was a gaping black rent in it, and here and there an ugly dark spot.
It was very long for Jacques, so Marguerite pinned the edges up under
the collar. When he was halfway out of the door she called out to
him,--

"Jacques, if you pass the Trèves do not forget to say a prayer."


V.

Jacques started off at a brisk pace. There was not a human being
to be seen anywhere. The fields were gloomy and desolate. The snow
seemed to shoot along horizontally, so violently was it lashed by
the north wind. On the high, frosted limb of a poplar a raven was
croaking. Jacques stopped every now and again to knock off the snow
which gathered and hardened on the soles of his wooden shoes. He was
not cold, but he found his cloak very heavy. He had gone a long way
and had reached the first undulations of the mountain, the edge of
the forest, when he stopped petrified before the rural guard, who
appeared suddenly at a turn in the road, imposing with his cocked
hat, his sword, and the word "Law" glittering on his belt.

This Father Monhache, who had been a sapper before he became a
rural guard, was greatly dreaded in the land. He was the terror
of the village boys, for whenever he found any of them stealing
apples, shaking the plum-trees, or knocking down nuts, he swore at
them terribly, and then led them by the ear to Monsieur le Maire,
who sentenced the delinquents to a paternal spanking. Jacques was
therefore aghast when he found himself face to face with this
merciless representative of the authority.

"Where are you going, Jacques, in this devil of a storm?"

Jacques tried to concoct some story to explain his expedition; and
before he had decided which would be the most effective, he caught
himself saying simply,--

"I am going to the mountain, Father Monhache, to get some dead wood.
We have none at home, and my mother is ill."

The old guard dropped an oath and said in a voice which was by no
means harsh,--

"Ah, so you are going to the mountain for dead wood, are you? Well,
if I meet you in the village this evening with your fagot, I will
close one eye and wink the other, do you understand? And if you ever
tell anybody what I said, I will pull your ears." And he walked off
with a shrug. He had not gone ten feet when he turned and shouted,
"There is more dead wood in the copse of the Prévoté than anywhere
else."


VI.

"He is not such a bad man, after all," thought Jacques.

He was now climbing the mountain, and it was a hard struggle for
his little legs. Every now and then he heard what he thought was a
moan in the distance,--the breaking of a limb under the weight of
the snow. Look as he would through all those branches, he could not
see a single blackbird, nor even a jay. Not a little mouse ran along
the slope. A few intrepid sparrows alone, black spots on the white
ground, hopped about in search of food.

Measuring his steps to the time, Jacques began to sing in a low
tone,--

    "He is born, the Heavenly Child,--"

and walked along with a great effort, leaning forward. He sunk into
hollows where the snow was deep. He knew that he was not far from
the copse of the Prévoté, so he took courage, though he stubbed his
foot against the hard, concealed ruts, and tumbled into holes. Father
Monhache was right; there was surely no lack of dead wood at the
copse of the Prévoté.

Over the shivering heather and the crouching brier, lay the fallen
branches in their furrows. Jacques fell to work; and how he toiled!
He had taken off his cloak, that his movements might be freer. His
legs sunk deep in the snow. His hands and his arms were drenched and
chilled, while his face was hot and wet with perspiration. He would
stop every minute or two to look at his pile of wood, and think of
the bright flame it would make in the hut.

When he had all he could carry, he tied it in a fagot, threw his
cloak over his shoulders, and started along the shortest cut to the
village. His legs trembled. Now and then he was compelled to stop and
lean against a tree.


VII.

After a little he came to a cross-road. This was Trèves. In the days
of the Romans it had been called Trivium, because of the three roads
that met there. On that spot had formerly stood an altar to Mercury,
the protector of roads, the god of travellers, and the patron of
thieves. Christianity had torn down the Pagan altar and replaced it
by a crucifix of granite. On the pedestal, gnawed by lichens, one may
still find the date, A. D. 1314. During the Hundred Years' War the
statue was shattered, and the cross-road strewn with its fragments.
Then, when the foreign element which sullied our land had been cast
out, when "Joan, the good maid of Lorraine," had returned the kingdom
of France to the little king of Bourges, the statue was raised, and
from that time it has been the object of special veneration through
the country. Every peasant bows before it, and even the veterinary,
who delights in laughing at priests, would not dare pass the Trèves
without raising his hat.

With his hands nailed to the cross, his brow encircled with thorns,
the Christ hangs, as though he were calling the whole world to take
refuge in his outstretched arms. He seems enormous. In the folds of
the cloth which girds his loins wrens have built nests that have
never been disturbed. His face is turned toward the East; and his
hollow, suffering gaze is fixed upon the sky, as though he were
looking for the star that guided the Magi and led the shepherds to
the stable in Bethlehem.


VIII.

Jacques did not forget his mother's instruction. He laid down his
fagot, took off his cap, and there, on his knees, began a prayer,
to which the wind moaned a dreary accompaniment. He repeated some
prayers which he had learned at the Catechism class; he said others
too,--fervent words that rose of themselves from his heart. And
as he prayed, he looked up at the Christ, lashed by the storm. Its
parted lips and upturned eyes gave it an expression of infinite pain.
Two little icicles, like congealed tears, hung on its eyelids, and
the emaciated body stretched itself upon the cross in a last spasm of
agony. Jacques began to suffer with the suffering embodied there, and
he was moved to console the One whom he had come to invoke.

When his prayers were said, he took up his fagot and started on his
way; but before he had left the cross-road behind him, he turned and
looked back. The Christ's eyes seemed to follow him. The face was
less sombre; the features seemed to have relaxed into an expression
of infinite gentleness. A gust of wind shook the snow that had
accumulated on its outstretched arms. One might have believed that
the statue had shivered. Jacques stopped. "Oh, my poor God," said he,
"how cold you are!" and he went back and stood before the crucifix.
Then with a sudden impulse he took off his cloak. He climbed upon
the pedestal, then putting his foot upon the projection of the
loin-cloth, and reaching about the shoulders, he threw the cloak
around the statue.

When he had reached the ground again, "Now, at least, you will not be
so cold!" said he; and the two little icicles that had hung on the
eyelids of the divine image melted and ran slowly down the granite
cheeks like tears of gratitude.

Jacques started off at a rapid pace. The cruel north wind blew
through his cotton blouse. He began to run, and the fagot beat
against his shoulders and bruised them. At last he reached the foot
of a declivity and stopped panting by a ravine sheltered from the
snow and the wind by a wall of pines. How tired he was! He descended
into the ravine and sat down to rest, only for a minute, thought
he,--just a minute more, and he would be up again and on his way to
his mother. How tired he was! His head, too, was very hot, and felt
heavy. He lay down and leaned his head against the fagot. "I must not
go to sleep," he said. "Oh, no, I will not go to sleep;" and as he
said this, his eyelids drooped, and he became suddenly engulfed in a
great flood of unconsciousness.


IX.

When Jacques awoke he was greatly surprised. The ravine, the snow,
the forest, the mountain, the gray sky, the freezing wind,--all had
disappeared. He looked for his fagot, but could find it nowhere. He
had never seen or even heard of this new country; and he was unable
to define its substance, to circumscribe its immensity, or appreciate
its splendors. The air was balmy, saturated with exquisite perfumes,
and it exhaled soft harmonies that made his heart quiver with delight.

He rose. The ground beneath his feet was elastic, and seemed to rise
to meet his step, so that walking became restful. A luminous halo
hovered about him. Instead of the old torn cloak, he wore a mantle
strewn with stars, and it was seamless, like the one for which dice
were cast on the heights of Calvary. His hands--his poor little
hands, tumefied with chilblains, and which the cold had chapped and
creviced,--were now white and soft like the tips of a swan's wings.
Jacques was amazed, but no feeling of fear agitated him. He was calm
and felt strangely confident. A great burden seemed to have been
lifted from his shoulders; he was as light as the air, and aglow with
beatitude.

"Where am I?" he asked; and a voice more harmonious than the
whispering of the breeze answered,--

"In my Father's House, which is the home of the Just."

Then through a veil of azure and light a great granite crucifix arose
before him. It was the crucifix of the Trèves. Grand-Pierre's cloak,
with the rent across it, floated from the shoulders of the Christ.
The coarse wool had grown as diaphanous as a cloud, and through it
the light radiated as from a sun. The thorns on his brow glittered
like carbuncles, and a superhuman beauty lighted his countenance.
From fields of space which the sight could now explore came aerial
chants. Jacques fell upon his knees and prostrated himself.

The Christ said,--

"Rise, little one; you were moved to pity by the sufferings of your
God,--you stripped yourself of your cloak to shield him from the
cold, and this is why he has given you his cloak in exchange for
yours; for of all the virtues the highest and rarest is charity,
which surpasses wisdom and knowledge. Hereafter you will be the host
of your God."

Jacques took a few steps toward the dazzling vision and held out his
arms in supplication.

"What do you want?" said the Christ.

The child said, "I want my mother."

"The angels who carried Mary into Egypt will bring her to you."

There was a great rustle of wings, and a smile shone on the face of
the granite Christ.

Jacques was praying, but his prayer was unlike any that he had ever
said before. It was a chant of ecstasy, which rose to his lips
in words so beautiful that he experienced a sense of ineffable
happiness in listening to himself.

Far away, on the brink of the horizon, pure and clear as crystal,
he saw Marguerite borne toward him on billows of white. She was
no longer pale, worn, and sad. She was radiant, and glowed with
that internal light which is the beauty of the soul, and is alone
imperishable. The angels laid her at the foot of the crucifix, and
she prostrated herself and adored. When she raised her head there
were two souls beside her, and their essences blended in one kiss, in
one burst of gratitude. The granite Christ wept.


X.

High in the steeple the bells are conversing. The two younger
ones are sullen. "The people in this village are mad. Why can
they never be quiet? Were not yesterday's duties sufficiently
tiresome?--midnight Mass, Matins, the Mass of the Aurora, the
third Mass, High Mass, Vespers, the Angelus, to say nothing of
supplementary chimes. There was no end to it! And now to-day we must
begin all over again. They pull us, they shake us,--first the toll
for the dead, the funeral service next, then the burial. It is really
too much! Why will they never leave us in peace on our frames? Our
clappers are weary, and our sides are bruised with the repeated
strokes. What can be the matter with these peasants? Here they come
to church again in their holiday clothes. Father Monhache wears his
most forbidding scowl; his beard bristles fiercely; every now and
then he brushes something from his eyes with the back of his hand.
His cocked hat has a defiant tilt. The boys had better be on their
guard this day. Far down the road there, I see two coffins, one large
and one small. They are lifting them on the oxcart; see! But what is
that to us, and why are we expected to ring?"

The old bell, full of wisdom and experience, reproved them, saying,--

"Be still, and do not shame me with your ignorance. You have no
conception of the dignity of your functions. You have been blessed;
you are church-bells. To men you say, 'Keep vigil over your immortal
souls!' and to God, 'O Father, have pity on human weakness!' Instead
of being proud of your exalted mission, and meditating upon what
you see, you chatter like hand-bells and reason like sleigh-bells.
Your bright color and your clear voices need not make you vain, for
age will tarnish you and the fatigues of your duty will crack your
voices. When years have passed; when you shall have proclaimed church
festivals, weddings, births, christenings, and funerals; after
having raised the alarms for conflagrations, and rung the tocsin at
the invasion of the enemy,--you will no longer complain of your fate;
you will begin to comprehend the things of this world, and divine the
secrets of the other; you will come to understand how tears on earth
can become smiles in heaven.

"So ring gently, gently, without sadness or fear. Let your voices
sound like the cooing of doves. A torn cloak in this world may be a
mantle of eternal blessedness in the next."



THE END.



    TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE

    * Italics have been transcribed between underscores as in _italics_.
    * Small caps have been transcribed in upper case as in SMALL CAPS.
    * Obvious printer errors have been silently corrected.
    * Original spelling has been kept but variant spellings have been
      made consistent when a predominant usage was found.
    * The spelling of some Spanish words has been emended, namely:

      Page   x:          "Becquer" replaced by "Bécquer"
      Page  16:        "petenéras" replaced by "peteneras"
      Page  23:     "San Jeronimo" replaced by "San Jerónimo"
      Page  26:         "Martinez" replaced by "Martínez"
      Page  32:          "Jimenez" replaced by "Jiménez"
      Page  60:           "Alcala" replaced by "Alcalá"
      Page  61: "_casa panadería_" replaced by "_Casa Panadería_"
      Page 117:      "_El Latigo_" replaced by "_El Látigo_"
      Page 118:     "_Las Animas_" replaced by "_Las Ánimas_"
      Page 156:        "_delicto_" replaced by "_delito_"
      Page 183:          "Retriro" replaced by "Retiro"
      Page 221:          "BECQUER" replaced by "BÉCQUER"
      Page 234:        "San Ramon" replaced by "San Ramón"





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