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Title: A Romance of Youth — Complete
Author: Coppée, François
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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A ROMANCE OF YOUTH

By Francois Coppee


With a Preface by JOSE DE HEREDIA, of the French Academy



FRANCOIS COPPEE

FRANCOIS EDOUARD JOACHIM COPPEE was born in Paris, January 12, 1842.
His father was a minor ‘employe’ in the French War Office; and, as the
family consisted of six the parents, three daughters, and a son (the
subject of this essay)--the early years of the poet were not spent in
great luxury. After the father’s death, the young man himself entered
the governmental office with its monotonous work. In the evening he
studied hard at St. Genevieve Library. He made rhymes, had them even
printed (Le Reliquaire, 1866); but the public remained indifferent until
1869, when his comedy in verse, ‘Le Passant’, appeared. From this period
dates the reputation of Coppee--he woke up one morning a “celebrated
man.”

Like many of his countrymen, he is a poet, a dramatist, a novelist,
and a writer of fiction. He was elected to the French Academy in 1884.
Smooth shaven, of placid figure, with pensive eyes, the hair brushed
back regularly, the head of an artist, Coppee can be seen any day
looking over the display of the Parisian secondhand booksellers on
the Quai Malaquais; at home on the writing-desk, a page of carefully
prepared manuscript, yet sometimes covered by cigarette-ashes; upon
the wall, sketches by Jules Lefebvre and Jules Breton; a little in the
distance, the gaunt form of his attentive sister and companion, Annette,
occupied with household cares, ever fearful of disturbing him. Within
this tranquil domicile can be heard the noise of the Parisian faubourg
with its thousand different dins; the bustle of the street; the clatter
of a factory; the voice of the workshop; the cries of the pedlers
intermingled with the chimes of the bells of a near-by convent-a
confusing buzzing noise, which the author, however, seems to enjoy; for
Coppee is Parisian by birth, Parisian by education, a Parisian of the
Parisians.

If as a poet we contemplate him, Coppee belongs to the group commonly
called “Parnassiens”--not the Romantic School, the sentimental lyric
effusion of Lamartine, Hugo, or De Musset! When the poetical lute
was laid aside by the triad of 1830, it was taken up by men of quite
different stamp, of even opposed tendencies. Observation of exterior
matters was now greatly adhered to in poetry; it became especially
descriptive and scientific; the aim of every poet was now to render
most exactly, even minutely, the impressions received, or faithfully to
translate into artistic language a thesis of philosophy, a discovery of
science. With such a poetical doctrine, you will easily understand the
importance which the “naturalistic form” henceforth assumed.

Coppee, however, is not only a maker of verses, he is an artist and a
poet. Every poem seems to have sprung from a genuine inspiration. When
he sings, it is because he has something to sing about, and the result
is that his poetry is nearly always interesting. Moreover, he respects
the limits of his art; for while his friend and contemporary, M.
Sully-Prudhomme, goes astray habitually into philosophical speculation,
and his immortal senior, Victor Hugo, often declaims, if one may venture
to say so, in a manner which is tedious, Coppee sticks rigorously to
what may be called the proper regions of poetry.

Francois Coppee is not one of those superb high priests disdainful
of the throng: he is the poet of the “humble,” and in his work, ‘Les
Humbles’, he paints with a sincere emotion his profound sympathy for
the sorrows, the miseries, and the sacrifices of the meek. Again, in
his ‘Grave des Forgerons, Le Naufrage, and L’Epave’, all poems of great
extension and universal reputation, he treats of simple existences, of
unknown unfortunates, and of sacrifices which the daily papers do not
record. The coloring and designing are precise, even if the tone be
somewhat sombre, and nobody will deny that Coppee most fully possesses
the technique of French poetry.

But Francois Coppee is known to fame as a prosewriter, too. His
‘Contes en prose’ and his ‘Vingt Contes Nouveaux’ are gracefully and
artistically told; scarcely one of the ‘contes’ fails to have a moral
motive. The stories are short and naturally slight; some, indeed,
incline rather to the essay than to the story, but each has that
enthralling interest which justifies its existence. Coppee possesses
preeminently the gift of presenting concrete fact rather than
abstraction. A sketch, for instance, is the first tale written by him,
‘Une Idylle pendant le Seige’ (1875). In a novel we require strong
characterization, great grasp of character, and the novelist should
show us the human heart and intellect in full play and activity. In 1875
appeared also ‘Olivier’, followed by ‘L’Exilee (1876); Recits et Elegies
(1878); Vingt Contes Nouveaux (1883); and Toute une Jeunesse’, mainly
an autobiography, crowned by acclaim by the Academy. ‘Le Coupable’ was
published in 1897. Finally, in 1898, appeared ‘La Bonne Souffrance’.
In the last-mentioned work it would seem that the poet, just recovering
from a severe malady, has returned to the dogmas of the Catholic Church,
wherefrom he, like so many of his contemporaries, had become estranged
when a youth. The poems of 1902, ‘Dans la Priere et dans la Lutte’, tend
to confirm the correctness of this view.

Thanks to the juvenile Sarah Bernhardt, Coppee became, as before
mentioned, like Byron, celebrated in one night. This happened through
the performance of ‘Le Passant’.

As interludes to the plays there are “occasional” theatrical pieces,
written for the fiftieth anniversary of the performance of ‘Hernani’
or the two-hundredth anniversary of the foundation of the “Comedie
Francaise.” This is a wide field, indeed, which M. Coppee has cultivated
to various purposes.

Take Coppee’s works in their sum and totality, and the world-decree is
that he is an artist, and an admirable one. He plays upon his instrument
with all power and grace. But he is no mere virtuoso. There is something
in him beyond the executant. Of Malibran, Alfred de Musset says, most
beautifully, that she had that “voice of the heart which alone has power
to reach the heart.” Here, also, behind the skilful player on language,
the deft manipulator of rhyme and rhythm, the graceful and earnest
writer, one feels the beating of a human heart. One feels that he is
giving us personal impressions of life and its joys and sorrows; that
his imagination is powerful because it is genuinely his own; that the
flowers of his fancy spring spontaneously from the soil. Nor can I
regard it as aught but an added grace that the strings of his instrument
should vibrate so readily to what is beautiful and unselfish and
delicate in human feeling.

               JOSE DE HEREDIA
             de l’Academie Francaise.



A ROMANCE OF YOUTH



BOOK 1.



CHAPTER I. ON THE BALCONY

As far back as Amedee Violette can remember, he sees himself in an
infant’s cap upon a fifth-floor balcony covered with convolvulus; the
child was very small, and the balcony seemed very large to him. Amedee
had received for a birthday present a box of water-colors, with which
he was sprawled out upon an old rug, earnestly intent upon his work of
coloring the woodcuts in an odd volume of the ‘Magasin Pittoresque’, and
wetting his brush from time to time in his mouth. The neighbors in the
next apartment had a right to one-half of the balcony. Some one in there
was playing upon the piano Marcailhou’s Indiana Waltz, which was all the
rage at that time. Any man, born about the year 1845, who does not feel
the tears of homesickness rise to his eyes as he turns over the pages of
an old number of the ‘Magasin Pittoresque’, or who hears some one play
upon an old piano Marcailhou’s Indiana Waltz, is not endowed with much
sensibility.

When the child was tired of putting the “flesh color” upon the faces of
all the persons in the engravings, he got up and went to peep through
the railings of the balustrade. He saw extending before him, from right
to left, with a graceful curve, the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, one of
the quietest streets in the Luxembourg quarter, then only half built up.
The branches of the trees spread over the wooden fences, which enclosed
gardens so silent and tranquil that passers by could hear the birds
singing in their cages.

It was a September afternoon, with a broad expanse of pure sky across
which large clouds, like mountains of silver, moved in majestic
slowness.

Suddenly a soft voice called him:

“Amedee, your father will return from the office soon. We must wash your
hands before we sit down to the table, my darling.”

His mother came out upon the balcony for him. His mother; his dear
mother, whom he knew for so short a time! It needs an effort for him to
call her to mind now, his memories are so indistinct. She was so modest
and pretty, so pale, and with such charming blue eyes, always carrying
her head on one side, as if the weight of her lovely chestnut hair was
too heavy for her to bear, and smiling the sweet, tired smile of those
who have not long to live! She made his toilette, kissed him upon his
forehead, after brushing his hair. Then she laid their modest table,
which was always decorated with a pretty vase of flowers. Soon the
father entered. He was one of those mild, unpretentious men who let
everybody run over them.

He tried to be gay when he entered his own house. He raised his little
boy aloft with one arm, before kissing him, exclaiming, “Houp la!”
 A moment later he kissed his young wife and held her close to him,
tenderly, as he asked, with an anxious look:

“Have you coughed much to-day?”

She always replied, hanging her head like a child who tells an untruth,
“No, not very much.”

The father would then put on an old coat--the one he took off was not
very new. Amedee was then seated in a high chair before his mug, and the
young mother, going into the kitchen, would bring in the supper. After
opening his napkin, the father would brush back behind his ear with his
hand a long lock on the right side, that always fell into his eyes.

“Is there too much of a breeze this evening? you afraid to go out upon
the balcony, Lucie? Put a shawl on, then,” said M. Violette, while his
wife was pouring the water remaining in the carafe upon a box where some
nasturtiums were growing.

“No, Paul, I am sure--take Amedee down from his chair, and let us go out
upon the balcony.”

It was cool upon this high balcony. The sun had set, and now the great
clouds resembled mountains of gold, and a fresh odor came up from the
surrounding gardens.

“Good-evening, Monsieur Violette,” suddenly said a cordial voice. “What
a fine evening!”

It was their neighbor, M. Gerard, an engraver, who had also come to take
breath upon his end of the balcony, having spent the entire day bent
over his work. He was large and bald-headed, with a good-natured face,
a red beard sprinkled with white hairs, and he wore a short, loose coat.
As he spoke he lighted his clay pipe, the bowl of which represented
Abd-el-Kader’s face, very much colored, save the eyes and turban, which
were of white enamel.

The engraver’s wife, a dumpy little woman with merry eyes, soon joined
her husband, pushing before her two little girls; one, the smaller of
the two, was two years younger than Amedee; the other was ten years old,
and already had a wise little air. She was the pianist who practised one
hour a day Marcailhou’s Indiana Waltz.

The children chattered through the trellis that divided the balcony in
two parts. Louise, the elder of the girls, knew how to read, and told
the two little ones very beautiful stories: Joseph sold by his brethren;
Robinson Crusoe discovering the footprints of human beings.

Amedee, who now has gray hair upon his temples, can still remember the
chills that ran down his back at the moment when the wolf, hidden under
coverings and the grandmother’s cap, said, with a gnashing of teeth, to
little Red Riding Hood: “All the better to eat you with, my child.”

It was almost dark then upon the terrace. It was all delightfully
terrible!

During this time the two families, in their respective parts of the
balcony, were talking familiarly together. The Violettes were quiet
people, and preferred rather to listen to their neighbors than to talk
themselves, making brief replies for politeness’ sake--“Ah!” “Is it
possible?” “You are right.”

The Gerards liked to talk. Madame Gerard, who was a good housekeeper,
discussed questions of domestic economy; telling, for example, how she
had been out that day, and had seen, upon the Rue du Bac, some merino:
“A very good bargain, I assure you, Madame, and very wide!” Or perhaps
the engraver, who was a simple politician, after the fashion of 1848,
would declare that we must accept the Republic, “Oh, not the red-hot,
you know, but the true, the real one!” Or he would wish that Cavaignac
had been elected President at the September balloting; although he
himself was then engraving--one must live, after all--a portrait of
Prince Louis Napoleon, destined for the electoral platform. M. and
Madame Violette let them talk; perhaps even they did not always pay
attention to the conversation. When it was dark they held each other’s
hands and gazed at the stars.

These lovely, cool, autumnal evenings, upon the balcony, under the
starry heavens, are the most distant of all Amedee’s memories. Then
there was a break in his memory, like a book with several leaves torn
out, after which he recalls many sad days.

Winter had come, and they no longer spent their evenings upon the
balcony. One could see nothing now through the windows but a dull, gray
sky. Amedee’s mother was ill and always remained in her bed. When he was
installed near the bed, before a little table, cutting out with scissors
the hussars from a sheet of Epinal, his poor mamma almost frightened
him, as she leaned her elbow upon the pillow and gazed at him so long
and so sadly, while her thin white hands restlessly pushed back her
beautiful, disordered hair, and two red hectic spots burned under her
cheekbones.

It was not she who now came to take him from his bed in the morning, but
an old woman in a short jacket, who did not kiss him, and who smelled
horribly of snuff.

His father, too, did not pay much attention to him now. When he returned
in the evening from the office he always brought bottles and little
packages from the apothecary. Sometimes he was accompanied by the
physician, a large man, very much dressed and perfumed, who panted for
breath after climbing the five flights of stairs. Once Amedee saw this
stranger put his arms around his mother as she sat in her bed, and lay
his head for a long time against her back. The child asked, “What for,
mamma?”

M. Violette, more nervous than ever, and continually throwing back the
rebellious lock behind his ear, would accompany the doctor to the door
and stop there to talk with him. Then Amedee’s mother would call to him,
and he would climb upon the bed, where she would gaze at him with her
bright eyes and press him to her breast, saying, in a sad tone, as if
she pitied him: “My poor little Medee! My poor little Medee!” Why was
it? What did it all mean?

His father would return with a forced smile which was pitiful to see.

“Well, what did the doctor say?”

“Oh, nothing, nothing! You are much better. Only, my poor Lucie, we must
put on another blister to-night.”

Oh, how monotonous and slow these days were to the little Amedee, near
the drowsy invalid, in the close room smelling of drugs, where only
the old snuff-taker entered once an hour to bring a cup of tea or put
charcoal upon the fire!

Sometimes their neighbor, Madame Gerard, would come to inquire after the
sick lady.

“Still very feeble, my good Madame Gerard,” his mother would respond.
“Ah, I am beginning to get discouraged.”

But Madame Gerard would not let her be despondent.

“You see, Madame Violette, it is this horrible, endless winter. It is
almost March now; they are already selling boxes of primroses in little
carts on the sidewalks. You will surely be better as soon as the sun
shines. If you like, I will take little Amedee back with me to play with
my little girls. It will amuse the child.”

So it happened that the good neighbor kept the child every afternoon,
and he became very fond of the little Gerard children.

Four little rooms, that is all; but with a quantity of old, picturesque
furniture; engravings, casts, and pictures painted by comrades were on
the walls; the doors were always open, and the children could always
play where they liked, chase each other through the apartments or
pillage them. In the drawing-room, which had been transformed into a
work-room, the artist sat upon a high stool, point in hand; the light
from a curtainless window, sifting through the transparent paper, made
the worthy man’s skull shine as he leaned over his copper plate. He
worked hard all day; with an expensive house and two girls to bring up,
it was necessary. In spite of his advanced opinions, he continued to
engrave his Prince Louis--“A rogue who is trying to juggle us out of a
Republic.” At the very most, he stopped only two or three times a day to
smoke his Abu-el-Kader. Nothing distracted him from his work; not even
the little ones, who, tired of playing their piece for four hands upon
the piano, would organize, with Amedee, a game of hide-and-seek close by
their father, behind the old Empire sofa ornamented with bronze lions’
heads. But Madame Gerard, in her kitchen, where she was always cooking
something good for dinner, sometimes thought they made too great an
uproar. Then Maria, a real hoyden, in trying to catch her sister, would
push an old armchair against a Renaissance chest and make all the Rouen
crockery tremble.

“Now then, now then, children!” exclaimed Madame Gerard, from the depths
of her lair, from which escaped a delicious odor of bacon. “Let your
father have a little quiet, and go and play in the dining-room.”

They obeyed; for there they could move chairs as they liked, build
houses of them, and play at making calls. Did ever anybody have such
wild ideas at five years of age as this Maria? She took the arm of
Amedee, whom she called her little husband, and went to call upon her
sister and show her her little child, a pasteboard doll with a large
head, wrapped up in a napkin.

“As you see, Madame, it is a boy.”

“What do you intend to make of him when he grows up?” asked Louise, who
lent herself complacently to the play, for she was ten years old and
quite a young lady, if you please.

“Why, Madame,” replied Maria, gravely, “he will be a soldier.”

At that moment the engraver, who had left his bench to stretch his legs
a little and to light his Abd-el-Kader for the third time, came and
stood at the threshold of his room. Madame Gerard, reassured as to the
state of her stew, which was slowly cooking--and oh, how good it smelled
in the kitchen!--entered the dining-room. Both looked at the children,
so comical and so graceful, as they made their little grimaces! Then the
husband glanced at his wife, and the wife at the husband, and both burst
out into hearty laughter.

There never was any laughter in the apartment of the Violettes. It was
cough! cough! cough! almost to suffocation, almost to death! This gentle
young woman with the heavy hair was about to die! When the beautiful
starry evenings should come again, she would no longer linger on the
balcony, or press her husband’s hand as they gazed at the stars. Little
Amedee did not understand it; but he felt a vague terror of something
dreadful happening in the house. Everything alarmed him now. He was
afraid of the old woman who smelled of snuff, and who, when she dressed
him in the morning, looked at him with a pitying air; he was afraid of
the doctor, who climbed the five flights of stairs twice a day now, and
left a whiff of perfume behind him; afraid of his father, who did not
go to his office any more, whose beard was often three days old, and
who feverishly paced the little parlor, tossing back with a distracted
gesture the lock of hair behind his ear. He was afraid of his mother,
alas! of his mother, whom he had seen that evening, by the light from
the night-lamp, buried in the pillows, her delicate nose and chin thrown
up, and who did not seem to recognize him, in spite of her wide-open
eyes, when his father took her child in his arms and leaned over her
with him that he might kiss her cold forehead covered with sweat!

At last the terrible day arrived, a day that Amedee never will forget,
although he was then a very small child.

What awakened him that morning was his father’s embrace as he came and
took him from his bed. His father’s eyes were wild and bloodshot from
so much crying. Why was their neighbor, M. Gerard, there so early in
the morning, and with great tears rolling down his cheeks too? He kept
beside M. Violette, as if watching him, and patted him upon the back
affectionately, saying:

“Now then, my poor friend! Have courage, courage!”

But the poor friend had no more. He let M. Gerard take the child
from him, and then his head fell like a dead person’s upon the good
engraver’s shoulder, and he began to weep with heavy sobs that shook his
whole body.

“Mamma! See mamma!” cried the little Amedee, full of terror.

Alas! he never will see her again! At the Gerards, where they carried
him and the kind neighbor dressed him, they told him that his mother had
gone for a long time, a very long time; that he must love his papa
very much and think only of him; and other things that he could not
understand and dared not ask the meaning of, but which filled him with
consternation.

It was strange! The engraver and his wife busied themselves entirely
with him, watching him every moment. The little ones, too, treated him
in a singular, almost respectful manner. What had caused such a change?
Louise did not open her piano, and when little Maria wished to take
her “menagerie” from the lower part of the buffet, Madame Gerard said
sharply, as she wiped the tears from her eyes: “You must not play
to-day.”

After breakfast Madame Gerard put on her hat and shawl and went out,
taking Amedee with her. They got into a carriage that took them through
streets that the child did not know, across a bridge in the middle of
which stood a large brass horseman, with his head crowned with laurel,
and stopped before a large house and entered with the crowd, where a
very agile and rapid young man put some black clothes on Amedee.

On their return the child found his father seated at the dining-room
table with M. Gerard, and both of them were writing addresses upon large
sheets of paper bordered with black. M. Violette was not crying, but his
face showed deep lines of grief, and he let his lock of hair fall over
his right eye.

At the sight of little Amedee, in his black clothes, he uttered a groan,
and arose, staggering like a drunken man, bursting into tears again.

Oh, no! he never will forget that day, nor the horrible next day, when
Madame Gerard came and dressed him in the morning in his black clothes,
while he listened to the noise of heavy feet and blows from a hammer in
the next room. He suddenly remembered that he had not seen his mother
since two days before.

“Mamma! I want to see mamma!”

It was necessary then to try to make him understand the truth. Madame
Gerard repeated to him that he ought to be very wise and good, and try
to console his father, who had much to grieve him; for his mother had
gone away forever; that she was in heaven.

In heaven! heaven is very high up and far off. If his mother was in
heaven, what was it that those porters dressed in black carried away in
the heavy box that they knocked at every turn of the staircase? What did
that solemn carriage, which he followed through all the rain, quickening
his childish steps, with his little hand tightly clasped in his
father’s, carry away? What did they bury in that hole, from which an
odor of freshly dug earth was emitted--in that hole surrounded by men
in black, and from which his father turned away his head in horror? What
was it that they hid in this ditch, in this garden full of crosses and
stone urns, where the newly budded trees shone in the March sun after
the shower, large drops of water still falling from their branches like
tears?

His mother was in heaven! On the evening of that dreadful day Amedee
dared not ask to “see mamma” when he was seated before his father at
the table, where, for a long time, the old woman in a short jacket had
placed only two plates. The poor widower, who had just wiped his eyes
with his napkin, had put upon one of the plates a little meat cut up in
bits for Amedee. He was very pale, and as Amedee sat in his high
chair, he asked himself whether he should recognize his mother’s sweet,
caressing look, some day, in one of those stars that she loved to watch,
seated upon the balcony on cool September nights, pressing her husband’s
hand in the darkness.



CHAPTER II. SAD CHANGES

Trees are like men; there are some that have no luck. A genuinely
unfortunate tree was the poor sycamore which grew in the playground of
an institution for boys on the Rue de la Grande-Chaumiere, directed by
M. Batifol.

Chance might just as well have made it grow upon the banks of a river,
upon some pretty bluff, where it might have seen the boats pass; or,
better still, upon the mall in some garrison village, where it could
have had the pleasure of listening twice a week to military music. But,
no! it was written in the book of fate that this unlucky sycamore should
lose its bark every summer, as a serpent changes its skin, and should
scatter the ground with its dead leaves at the first frost, in the
playground of the Batifol institution, which was a place without any
distractions.

This solitary tree, which was like any other sycamore, middle-aged and
without any singularities, ought to have had the painful feeling that
it served in a measure to deceive the public. In fact, upon the
advertisement of the Batifol institution (Cours du lycee Henri IV.
Preparation au baccalaureat et aux ecoles de l’Etat), one read these
fallacious words, “There is a garden;” when in reality it was only a
vulgar court graveled with stones from the river, with a paved gutter in
which one could gather half a dozen of lost marbles, a broken top, and
a certain number of shoe-nails, and after recreation hours still more.
This solitary sycamore was supposed to justify the illusion and fiction
of the garden promised in the advertisement; but as trees certainly
have common sense, this one should have been conscious that it was not a
garden of itself.

It was a very unjust fate for an inoffensive tree which never had harmed
anybody; only expanding, at one side of the gymnasium portico, in a
perfect rectangle formed by a prison wall, bristling with the glass
of broken bottles, and by three buildings of distressing similarity,
showing, above the numerous doors on the ground floor, inscriptions
which merely to read induced a yawn: Hall 1, Hall 2, Hall 3, Hall
4, Stairway A, Stairway B, Entrance to the Dormitories, Dining-room,
Laboratory.

The poor sycamore was dying of ennui in this dismal place. Its only
happy seasons--the recreation hours, when the court echoed with the
shouts and the laughter of the boys--were spoiled for it by the sight of
two or three pupils who were punished by being made to stand at the foot
of its trunk. Parisian birds, who are not fastidious, rarely lighted
upon the tree, and never built their nests there. It might even be
imagined that this disenchanted tree, when the wind agitated its
foliage, would charitably say, “Believe me! the place is good for
nothing. Go and make love elsewhere!”

In the shade of this sycamore, planted under an unlucky star, the
greater part of Amedee’s infancy was passed.

M. Violette was an employe of the Ministry, and was obliged to work
seven hours a day, one or two hours of which were devoted to going
wearily through a bundle of probably superfluous papers and documents.
The rest of the time was given to other occupations as varied as they
were intellectual; such as yawning, filing his nails, talking about his
chiefs, groaning over the slowness of promotion, cooking a potato or a
sausage in the stove for his luncheon, reading the newspaper down to
the editor’s signature, and advertisements in which some country cure
expresses his artless gratitude at being cured at last of an obstinate
disease. In recompense for this daily captivity, M. Violette received,
at the end of the month, a sum exactly sufficient to secure his
household soup and beef, with a few vegetables.

In order that his son might attain such a distinguished position, M.
Violette’s father, a watch-maker in Chartres, had sacrificed everything,
and died penniless. The Silvio Pellico official, during these
exasperating and tiresome hours, sometimes regretted not having simply
succeeded his father. He could see himself, in imagination, in the light
little shop near the cathedral, with a magnifying-glass fixed in his
eye, ready to inspect some farmer’s old “turnip,” and suspended over his
bench thirty silver and gold watches left by farmers the week before,
who would profit by the next market-day to come and get them, all going
together with a merry tick. It may be questioned whether a trade as low
as this would have been fitting for a young man of education, a Bachelor
of Arts, crammed with Greek roots and quotations, able to prove the
existence of God, and to recite without hesitation the dates of the
reigns of Nabonassar and of Nabopolassar. This watch-maker, this simple
artisan, understood modern genius better. This modest shopkeeper acted
according to the democratic law and followed the instinct of a noble
and wise ambition. He made of his son--a sensible and intelligent boy--a
machine to copy documents, and spend his days guessing the conundrums in
the illustrated newspapers, which he read as easily as M. Ledrain would
decipher the cuneiform inscriptions on an Assyrian brick. Also--an
admirable result, which should rejoice the old watch-maker’s shade--his
son had become a gentleman, a functionary, so splendidly remunerated by
the State that he was obliged to wear patches of cloth, as near like the
trousers as possible, on their seat; and his poor young wife, during
her life, had always been obliged, as rent-day drew near, to carry the
soup-ladle and six silver covers to the pawn-shop.

At all events, M. Violette was a widower now, and being busy all day was
very much embarrassed with the care of his little son. His neighbors,
the Gerards, were very kind to Amedee, and continued to keep him with
them all the afternoon. This state of affairs could not always continue,
and M. Violette hesitated to abuse his worthy friends’ kindness in that
way.

However, Amedee gave them little trouble, and Mamma Gerard loved him as
if he were her own. The orphan was now inseparable from little Maria,
a perfect little witch, who became prettier every day. The engraver,
having found in a cupboard the old bearskin cap which he had worn as a
grenadier in the National Guard, a headdress that had been suppressed
since ‘98, gave it to the children. What a magnificent plaything it was,
and how well calculated to excite their imagination! It was immediately
transformed in their minds into a frightfully large and ferocious bear,
which they chased through the apartment, lying in wait for it behind
armchairs, striking at it with sticks, and puffing out their little
cheeks with all their might to say “Boum!” imitating the report of
a gun. This hunting diversion completed the destruction of the old
furniture. Tranquil in the midst of the joyous uproar and disorder, the
engraver was busily at work finishing off the broad ribbon of the Legion
of Honor, and the large bullion epaulettes of the Prince President,
whom, as a suspicious republican and foreseeing the ‘coup d’etat’, he
detested with all his heart.

“Truly, Monsieur Violette,” said Mother Gerard to the employe, when he
came for his little son upon his return from the office, and excused
himself for the trouble that the child must give his neighbors, “truly,
I assure you, he does not disturb us in the least. Wait a little before
you send him to school. He is very quiet, and if Maria did not excite
him so--upon my word, she is more of a boy than he--your Amedee would
always be looking at the pictures. My Louise hears him read every day
two pages in the Moral Tales, and yesterday he amused Gerard by telling
him the story of the grateful elephant. He can go to school later--wait
a little.”

But M. Violette had decided to send Amedee to M. Batifol’s. “Oh, yes, as
a day scholar, of course! It is so convenient; not two steps’ distance.
This will not prevent little Amedee from seeing his friends often. He is
nearly seven years old, and very backward; he hardly knows how to make
his letters. One can not begin with children too soon,” and much more to
the same effect.

This was the reason why, one fine spring day, M. Violette was ushered
into M. Batifol’s office, who, the servant said, would be there
directly.

M. Batifol’s office was hideous. In the three bookcases which the master
of the house--a snob and a greedy schoolmaster--never opened, were some
of those books that one can buy upon the quays by the running yard;
for example, Laharpe’s Cours de Litterature, and an endless edition of
Rollin, whose tediousness seems to ooze out through their bindings. The
cylindrical office-table, one of those masterpieces of veneered mahogany
which the Faubourg St. Antoine still keeps the secret of making, was
surmounted by a globe of the world.

Suddenly, through the open window, little Amedee saw the sycamore in the
yard. A young blackbird, who did not know the place, came and perched
for an instant only upon one of its branches.

We may fancy the tree saying to it:

“What are you doing here? The Luxembourg is only a short distance from
here, and is charming. Children are there, making mud-pies, nurses upon
the seats chattering with the military, lovers promenading, holding
hands. Go there, you simpleton!”

The blackbird flew away, and the university tree, once more solitary and
alone, drooped its dispirited leaves. Amedee, in his confused childish
desire for information, was just ready to ask why this sycamore looked
so morose, when the door opened and M. Batifol appeared. The master of
the school had a severe aspect, in spite of his almost indecorous name.
He resembled a hippopotamus clothed in an ample black coat. He entered
slowly and bowed in a dignified way to M. Violette, then seated himself
in a leather armchair before his papers, and, taking off his velvet
skull-cap, revealed such a voluminous round, yellow baldness that little
Amedee compared it with terror to the globe on the top of his desk.

It was just the same thing! These two round balls were twins! There
was even upon M. Batifol’s cranium an eruption of little red pimples,
grouped almost exactly like an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean.

“Whom have I the honor--?” asked the schoolmaster, in an unctuous voice,
an excellent voice for proclaiming names at the distribution of prizes.

M. Violette was not a brave man. It was very foolish, but when the
senior clerk called him into his office to do some work, he was always
seized with a sort of stammering and shaking of the limbs. A person so
imposing as M. Batifol was not calculated to give him assurance. Amedee
was timid, too, like his father, and while the child, frightened by
the resemblance of the sphere to M. Batifol’s bald head, was already
trembling, M. Violette, much agitated, was trying to think of something
to say, consequently, he said nothing of any account. However, he ended
by repeating almost the same things he had said to Mamma Gerard: “My son
is nearly seven years old, and very backward, etc.”

The teacher appeared to listen to M. Violette with benevolent interest,
inclining his geographical cranium every few seconds. In reality, he was
observing and judging his visitors. The father’s scanty overcoat, the
rather pale face of the little boy, all betokened poverty. It simply
meant a day scholar at thirty francs a month, nothing more. So M.
Batifol shortened the “speech” that under like circumstances he
addressed to his new pupils.

He would take charge of his “young friend” (thirty francs a month, that
is understood, and the child will bring his own luncheon in a little
basket) who would first be placed in an elementary class. Certain
fathers prefer, and they have reason to do so, that their sons should
be half-boarders, with a healthful and abundant repast at noon. But M.
Batifol did not insist upon it. His young friend would then be placed in
the infant class, at first; but he would be prepared there at once, ‘ab
ovo’, one day to receive lessons in this University of France, ‘alma
parens’ (instruction in foreign languages not included in the ordinary
price, naturally), which by daily study, competition between scholars
(accomplishments, such as dancing, music, and fencing, to be paid for
separately; that goes without saying) prepare children for social life,
and make men and citizens of them.

M. Violette contented himself with the day school at thirty francs, and
for a good reason. The affair was settled. Early the next morning Amedee
would enter the “ninth preparatory.”

“Give me your hand, my young friend,” said the master, as father and son
arose to take their leave.

Amedee reached out his hand, and M. Batifol took it in his, which was
so heavy, large, and cold that the child shivered at the contact, and
fancied he was touching a leg of mutton of six or seven pounds’ weight,
freshly killed, and sent from the butcher’s.

Finally they left. Early the next morning, Amedee, provided with a
little basket, in which the old snuff-taker had put a little bottle of
red wine, and some sliced veal, and jam tarts, presented himself at the
boarding-school, to be prepared without delay for the teaching of the
‘alma parens’.

The hippopotamus clothed in black did not take off his skullcap this
time, to the child’s great regret, for he wished to assure himself if
the degrees of latitude and longitude were checked off in squares on M.
Batifol’s cranium as they were on the terrestrial globe. He conducted
his pupil to his class at once and presented him to the master.

“Here is a new day scholar, Monsieur Tavernier. You will find out how
far advanced he is in reading and writing, if you please.” M. Tavernier
was a tall young man with a sallow complexion, a bachelor who, had he
been living like his late father, a sergeant of the gendarmes, in a
pretty house surrounded by apple trees and green grass, would not,
perhaps, have had that ‘papier-mache’ appearance, and would not have
been dressed at eight o’clock in the morning in a black coat of the kind
we see hanging in the Morgue. M. Tavernier received the newcomer with a
sickly smile, which disappeared as soon as M. Batifol left the room.

“Go and take your place in that empty seat there, in the third row,”
 said M. Tavernier, in an indifferent tone.

He deigned, however, to conduct Amedee to the seat which he was to
occupy. Amedee’s neighbor, one of the future citizens preparing for
social life--several with patches upon their trousers--had been naughty
enough to bring into class a handful of cockchafers. He was punished by
a quarter of an hour’s standing up, which he did soon after, sulking at
the foot of the sycamore-tree in the large court.

“You will soon see what a cur he is,” whispered the pupil in disgrace;
as soon as the teacher had returned to his seat.

M. Tavernier struck his ruler on the edge of his chair, and, having
reestablished silence, invited pupil Godard to recite his lesson.

Pupil Godard, who was a chubby-faced fellow with sleepy eyes, rose
automatically and in one single stream, like a running tap, recited,
without stopping to take breath, “The Wolf and the Lamb,” rolling off La
Fontaine’s fable like the thread from a bobbin run by steam.


“The-strongest-reason-is-always-the-best-and-we-will-prove-it-at-once,
a-lamb-was-quenching-his-thirst-in-a-stream-of-pure-running-water--”

Suddenly Godard was confused, he hesitated. The machine had been badly
oiled. Something obstructed the bobbin.

“In-a-stream-of-pure-running-water-in-a stream--”

Then he stopped short, the tap was closed. Godard did not know his
lesson, and he, too, was condemned to remain on guard under the sycamore
during recess.

After pupil Godard came pupil Grosdidier; then Blanc, then Moreau
(Gaston), then Moreau (Ernest), then Malepert; then another, and
another, who babbled with the same intelligence and volubility, with the
same piping voice, this cruel and wonderful fable. It was as irritating
and monotonous as a fine rain. All the pupils in the “ninth preparatory”
 were disgusted for fifteen years, at least, with this most exquisite of
French poems.

Little Amedee wanted to cry; he listened with stupefaction blended with
fright as the scholars by turns unwound their bobbins. To think that
to-morrow he must do the same! He never would be able. M. Tavernier
frightened him very much, too. The yellow-complexioned usher, seated
nonchalantly in his armchair, was not without pretension; in spite of
his black coat with the “take-me-out-of-pawn” air, polished his nails,
and only opened his mouth at times to utter a reprimand or pronounce
sentence of punishment.

This was school, then! Amedee recalled the pleasant reading-lessons that
the eldest of the Gerards had given him--that good Louise, so wise and
serious and only ten years old, pointing out his letters to him in a
picture alphabet with a knitting-needle, always so patient and kind.
The child was overcome at the very first with a disgust for school,
and gazed through the window which lighted the room at the noiselessly
moving, large, indented leaves of the melancholy sycamore.



CHAPTER III. PAPA AND MAMMA GERARD

One, two, three years rolled by without anything very remarkable
happening to the inhabitants of the fifth story.

The quarter had not changed, and it still had the appearance of a
suburban faubourg. They had just erected, within gunshot of the house
where the Violettes and Gerards lived, a large five-story building, upon
whose roof still trembled in the wind the masons’ withered bouquets.
But that was all. In front of them, on the lot “For Sale,” enclosed by
rotten boards, where one could always see tufts of nettles and a goat
tied to a stake, and upon the high wall above which by the end of April
the lilacs hung in their perfumed clusters, the rains had not effaced
this brutal declaration of love, scraped with a knife in the plaster:
“When Melie wishes she can have me,” and signed “Eugene.”

Three years had passed, and little Amedee had grown a trifle. At that
time a child born in the centre of Paris--for example, in the labyrinth
of infected streets about the Halles--would have grown up without
having any idea of the change of seasons other than by the state of the
temperature and the narrow strip of sky which he could see by raising
his head. Even today certain poor children--the poor never budge from
their hiding-places--learn of the arrival of winter only by the odor
of roasted chestnuts; of spring, by the boxes of gilly-flowers in the
fruiterer’s stall; of summer, by the water-carts passing, and of autumn,
by the heaps of oyster-shells at the doors of wine-shops. The broad sky,
with its confused shapes of cloud architecture, the burning gold of
the setting sun behind the masses of trees, the enchanting stillness of
moonlight upon the river, all these grand and magnificent spectacles are
for the delight of those who live in suburban quarters, or play there
sometimes. The sons of people who work in buttons and jet spend their
infancy playing on staircases that smell of lead, or in courts that
resemble wells, and do not suspect that nature exists. At the outside
they suspect that nature may exist when they see the horses on Palm
Sunday decorated with bits of boxwood behind each ear. What matters it,
after all, if the child has imagination? A star reflected in a gutter
will reveal to him an immense nocturnal poem; and he will breathe all
the intoxication of summer in the full-blown rose which the grisette
from the next house lets fall from her hair.

Amedee had had the good fortune of being born in that delicious and
melancholy suburb of Paris which had not yet become “Haussmannized,” and
was full of wild and charming nooks.

His father, the widower, could not be consoled, and tried to wear out
his grief in long promenades, going out on clear evenings, holding his
little boy by the hand, toward the more solitary places. They followed
those fine boulevards, formerly in the suburbs, where there were giant
elms, planted in the time of Louis XIV, ditches full of grass, ruined
palisades, showing through their opening market-gardens where melons
glistened in the rays of the setting sun. Both were silent; the father
lost in reveries, Amedee absorbed in the confused dreams of a child.
They went long distances, passing the Barriere d’Enfer, reaching
unknown parts, which produced the same effect upon an inhabitant of Rue
Montmartre as the places upon an old map of the world, marked with the
mysterious words ‘Mare ignotum’, would upon a savant of the Middle Ages.
There were many houses in this ancient suburb; curious old buildings,
nearly all of one story.

Sometimes they would pass a public-house painted in a sinister
wine-color; or else a garden hedged in by acacias, at the fork of two
roads, with arbors and a sign consisting of a very small windmill at
the end of a pole, turning in the fresh evening breeze. It was almost
country; the grass grew upon the sidewalks, springing up in the road
between the broken pavements. A poppy flashed here and there upon the
tops of the low walls. They met very few people; now and then some
poor person, a woman in a cap dragging along a crying child, a workman
burdened with his tools, a belated invalid, and sometimes in the
middle of the sidewalk, in a cloud of dust, a flock of exhausted sheep,
bleating desperately, and nipped in the legs by dogs hurrying them
toward the abattoir. The father and son would walk straight ahead until
it was dark under the trees; then they would retrace their steps, the
sharp air stinging their faces. Those ancient hanging street-lamps,
the tragic lanterns of the time of the Terror, were suspended at long
intervals in the avenue, mingling their dismal twinkle with the pale
gleams of the green twilight sky.

These sorrowful promenades with his melancholy companion would commonly
end a tiresome day at Batifol’s school. Amedee was now in the “seventh,”
 and knew already that the phrase, “the will of God,” could not be
turned into Latin by ‘bonitas divina’, and that the word ‘cornu’ was not
declinable. These long, silent hours spent at his school-desk, or beside
a person absorbed in grief, might have become fatal to the child’s
disposition, had it not been for his good friends, the Gerards. He went
to see them as often as he was able, a spare hour now and then, and
most of the day on Thursdays. The engraver’s house was always full of
good-nature and gayety, and Amedee felt comfortable and really happy
there.

The good Gerards, besides their Louise and Maria, to say nothing of
Amedee, whom they looked upon as one of the family, had now taken charge
of a fourth child, a little girl, named Rosine, who was precisely the
same age as their youngest.

This was the way it happened. Above the Gerards, in one of the mansards
upon the sixth floor, lived a printer named Combarieu, with his wife or
mistress--the concierge did not know which, nor did it matter much. The
woman had just deserted him, leaving a child of eight years. One could
expect nothing better of a creature who, according to the concierge, fed
her husband upon pork-butcher’s meat, to spare herself the trouble
of getting dinner, and passed the entire day with uncombed hair, in a
dressing-sacque, reading novels, and telling her fortune with cards.
The grocer’s daughter declared she had met her one evening, at a
dancing-hall, seated with a fireman before a salad-bowl full of wine,
prepared in the French fashion.

During the day Combarieu, although a red-hot Republican, sent his little
girl to the Sisters; but he went out every evening with a mysterious
air and left the child alone. The concierge even uttered in a low
voice, with the romantic admiration which that class of people have for
conspirators, the terrible word “secret society,” and asserted that the
printer had a musket concealed under his straw bed.

These revelations were of a nature to excite M. Gerard’s sympathy in
favor of his neighbor, for the coup d’etat and the proclamation of the
Empire had irritated him very much. Had it not been his melancholy
duty to engrave, the day after the second of December--he must feed his
family first of all--a Bonapartist allegory entitled, “The Uncle and
the Nephew,” where one saw France extending its hand to Napoleon I and
Prince Louis, while soaring above the group was an eagle with spreading
wings, holding in one of his claws the cross of the Legion of Honor?

One day the engraver asked his wife, as he lighted his pipe--he had
given up Abd-el-Kader and smoked now a Barbes--if they ought not to
interest themselves a little in the abandoned child. It needed nothing
more to arouse the good woman, who had already said more than once:
“What a pity!” as she saw little Rosine waiting for her father in the
lodge of the concierge, asleep in a chair before the stove. She coaxed
the child to play with her children. Rosine was very pretty, with bright
eyes, a droll little Parisian nose, and a mass of straw-colored curly
hair escaping from her cap. The little rogue let fly quite often some
gutter expression, such as “Hang it!” or “Tol-derol-dol!” at which
Madame Gerard would exclaim, “What do I hear, Mademoiselle?” but she was
intelligent and soon corrected herself.

One Sunday morning, Combarieu, having learned of their kindness to his
child, made a visit to thank them.

Very dark, with a livid complexion, all hair and beard, and trying to
look like the head of Jesus Christ, in his long black blouse he embodied
the type of a club conspirator, a representative of the workingmen. A
Freemason, probably; a solemn drunkard, who became intoxicated oftener
on big words than on native wine, and spoke in a loud, pretentious
voice, gazing before him with large, stupid eyes swimming in a sort
of ecstasy; his whole person made one think of a boozy preacher. He
immediately inspired the engraver with respect, and dazzled him by the
fascination which the audacious exert over the timid. M. Gerard thought
he discerned in Combarieu one of those superior men whom a cruel fate
had caused to be born among the lower class and in whom poverty had
stifled genius.

Enlightened as to the artist’s political preferences by the bowl of his
pipe, Combarieu complacently eulogized himself. Upon his own admission
he had at first been foolish enough to dream of a universal brotherhood,
a holy alliance of the people. He had even written poems which he
had published himself, notably an “Ode to Poland,” and an “Epistle
to Beranger,” which latter had evoked an autograph letter from the
illustrious song-writer. But he was no longer such a simpleton.

“When one has seen what we have seen during June, and on the second
of December, there is no longer any question of sentiment.” Here
the engraver, as a hospitable host, brought a bottle of wine and two
glasses. “No, Monsieur Gerard, I thank you, I take nothing between my
meals. The workingmen have been deceived too often, and at the next
election we shall not let the bourgeoisie strangle the Republic.” (M.
Gerard had now uncorked the bottle.) “Only a finger! Enough! Enough!
simply so as not to refuse you. While waiting, let us prepare ourselves.
Just now the Eastern question muddles us, and behold ‘Badinguet,’--[A
nickname given to Napoleon III.]--with a big affair upon his hands. You
have some wine here that is worth drinking. If he loses one battle he
is done for. One glass more? Ah! you make me depart from my usual
custom--absolutely done for. But this time we shall keep our eyes
open. No half measures! We will return to the great methods of
‘ninety-three--the Committee of Public Safety, the Law of Suspects,
the Revolutionary Tribunal, every damned one of them! and, if it is
necessary, a permanent guillotine! To your good health!”

So much energy frightened Father Gerard a little; for in spite of his
Barbes pipe-bowl he was not a genuine red-hot Republican. He dared not
protest, however, and blushed a little as he thought that the night
before an editor had proposed to him to engrave a portrait of the new
Empress, very decollete, and showing her famous shoulders, and that he
had not said No; for his daughters needed new shoes, and his wife had
declared the day before that she had not a gown to put on.

So for several months he had four children--Amedee, Louise, Maria, and
little Rose Combarieu--to make a racket in his apartment. Certainly they
were no longer babies; they did not play at making calls nor chase
the old fur hat around the room; they were more sensible, and the old
furniture had a little rest. And it was time, for all the chairs were
lame, two of the larger ones had lost an arm each, and the Empire
sofa had lost the greater part of its hair through the rents in its
dark-green velvet covering. The unfortunate square piano had had no pity
shown it; more out of tune and asthmatic than ever, it was now always
open, and one could read above the yellow and worn-out keyboard a once
famous name-“Sebastian Erard, Manufacturer of Pianos and Harps for
S.A.R. Madame la Duchesse de Berri.” Not only Louise, the eldest of the
Gerards--a large girl now, having been to her first communion, dressing
her hair in bands, and wearing white waists--not only Louise, who had
become a good musician, had made the piano submit to long tortures, but
her sister Maria, and Amedee also, already played the ‘Bouquet de Bal’
or ‘Papa, les p’tits bateaux’. Rosine, too, in her character of street
urchin, knew all the popular songs, and spent entire hours in picking
out the airs with one finger upon the old instrument.

Ah! the songs of those days, the last of romanticism, the make-believe
‘Orientales’; ‘Odes’ and ‘Ballads’, by the dozen; ‘Comes d’Espagne
et d’Italie’, with their pages, turrets, chatelaines; bull-fighters,
Spanish ladies; vivandieres, beguiled away from their homes under
the pale of the church, “near a stream of running water, by a gay and
handsome chevalier,” and many other such silly things--Amedee will
remember them always! They bring back to him, clearly and strongly,
certain happy hours in his childhood! They make him smell again at times
even the odor that pervaded the Gerards’ house. A mule-driver’s song
will bring up before his vision the engraver working at his plate before
the curtainless window on a winter’s day. It snows in the streets, and
large white flakes are slowly falling behind the glass; but the room,
ornamented with pictures and busts, is lighted and heated by a bright
coke fire. Amedee can see himself seated in a corner by the fire,
learning by heart a page of the “Epitome” which he must recite the next
morning at M. Batifol’s. Maria and Rosine are crouched at his feet, with
a box of glass beads, which they are stringing into a necklace. It was
comfortable; the whole apartment smelled of the engraver’s pipe, and
in the dining-room, whose door is half opened, Louise is at the piano,
singing, in a fresh voice, some lines where “Castilla” rhymes with
“mantilla,” and “Andalousie” with “jealousy,” while her agile fingers
played on the old instrument an accompaniment supposed to imitate bells
and castanets.

Or perhaps it is a radiant morning in June, and they are in the
dining-room; the balcony door is open wide, and a large hornet buzzes
loudly in the vine. Louise is still at the piano; she is singing this
time, and trying to reach the low tones of a dramatic romance where a
Corsican child is urged on to vengeance by his father:

          Tiens, prends ma carabiue!
          Sur toi veillera Dieu--

This is a great day, the day when Mamma Gerard makes her gooseberry
preserves. There is a large basin already full of it on the table. What
a delicious odor! A perfume of roses mingled with that of warm sugar.
Maria and Rosine have just slipped into the kitchen, the gourmands! But
Louise is a serious person, and will not interrupt her singing for such
a trifle. She continues to sing in a low voice: and at the moment when
Amedee stands speechless with admiration before her, as she is scolding
in a terrible tone and playing dreadful chords, to and behold! here
come the children, both with pink moustaches, and licking their lips
voluptuously.

Ah! these were happy hours to Amedee. They consoled him for the
interminable days at M. Batifol’s.

Having passed the ninth preparatory grade, under the direction of the
indolent M. Tavernier, always busy polishing his nails, like a Chinese
mandarin, the child had for a professor in the eighth grade Pere
Montandeuil, a poor fellow stupefied by thirty years of teaching, who
secretly employed all his spare hours in composing five-act tragedies,
and who, by dint of carrying to and going for his manuscripts at the
Odeon, ended by marrying the stagedoor-keeper’s daughter. In the seventh
grade Amedee groaned under the tyranny of M. Prudhommod, a man from
the country, with a smattering of Latin and a terribly violent temper,
throwing at the pupils the insults of a plowboy. Now he had entered the
sixth grade, under M. Bance, an unfortunate fellow about twenty years
old, ugly, lame, and foolishly timid, whom M. Batifol reproached
severely with not having made himself respected, and whose eyes filled
with tears every morning when, upon entering the schoolroom, he was
obliged to efface with a cloth a caricature of himself made by some of
his pupils.

Everything in M. Batifol’s school--the grotesque and miserable teachers,
the ferocious and cynical pupils, the dingy, dusty, and ink-stained
rooms--saddened and displeased Amedee. Although very intelligent, he was
disgusted with the sort of instruction there, which was served out in
portions, like soldier’s rations, and would have lost courage but for
his little friend, Louise Gerard, who out of sheer kindness constituted
herself his school-mistress, guiding and inspiriting him, and working
hard at the rudiments of L’homond’s Grammar and Alexandre’s Dictionary,
to help the child struggle with his ‘De Viris’. Unfortunate indeed is
he who has not had, during his infancy, a petticoat near him--the sweet
influence of a woman. He will always have something coarse in his mind
and hard in his heart. Without this excellent and kind Louise, Amedee
would have been exposed to this danger. His mother was dead, and M.
Violette, alas! was always overwhelmed with his grief, and, it must be
admitted, somewhat neglected his little son.

The widower could not be consoled. Since his wife’s death he had grown
ten years older, and his refractory lock of hair had become perfectly
white. His Lucie had been the sole joy in his commonplace and obscure
life. She was so pretty, so sweet! such a good manager, dressing upon
nothing, and making things seem luxurious with only one flower! M.
Violette existed only on this dear and cruel souvenir, living his humble
idyll over again in his mind.

He had had six years of this happiness. One of his comrades took him to
pass an evening with an old friend who was captain in the Invalides. The
worthy man had lost an arm at Waterloo; he was a relative of Lucie, a
good-natured old fellow, amiable and lively, delighting in arranging
his apartments into a sort of Bonapartist chapel and giving little
entertainments with cake and punch, while Lucie’s mother, a cousin of
the captain, did the honors. M. Violette immediately observed the young
girl, seated under a “Bataille des Pyramides” with two swords crossed
above it, a carnation in her hair. It was in midsummer, and through the
open window one could see the magnificent moonlight, which shone
upon the esplanade and made the huge cannon shine. They were playing
charades, and when it came Lucie’s turn to be questioned among all the
guests, M. Violette, to relieve her of her embarrassment, replied so
awkwardly that they all exclaimed, “Now, then, that is cheating!” With
what naive grace and bashful coquetry she served the tea, going from one
table to another, cup in hand, followed by the one-armed captain with
silver epaulets, carrying the plum-cake! In order to see her again, M.
Violette paid the captain visit after visit. But the greater part of
the time he saw only the old soldier, who told him of his victories and
conquests, of the attack of the redoubt at Borodino, and the frightful
swearing of the dashing Murat, King of Naples, as he urged the squadrons
on to the rescue. At last, one beautiful Sunday in autumn, he found
himself alone with the young girl in the private garden of the veteran
of the Old Guard. He seated himself beside Lucie on a stone bench: he
told her his love, with the profound gaze of the Little Corporal, in
bronzed plaster, resting upon them; and, full of delicious confusion,
she replied, “Speak to mamma,” dropping her bewildered eyes and gazing
at the bed of china-asters, whose boxwood border traced the form of a
cross of the Legion of Honor.

And all this was effaced, lost forever! The captain was dead; Lucie’s
mother was dead, and Lucie herself, his beloved Lucie, was dead, after
giving him six years of cloudless happiness.

Certainly, he would never marry again. Oh, never!

No woman had ever existed or ever would exist for him but his poor
darling, sleeping in the Montparnasse Cemetery, whose grave he visited
every Sunday with a little watering-pot concealed under his coat.

He recalled, with a shiver of disgust, how, a few months after Lucie’s
death, one stifling evening in July, he was seated upon a bench in the
Luxembourg, listening to the drums beating a retreat under the trees,
when a woman came and took a seat beside him and looked at him steadily.
Surprised by her significant look, he replied, to the question that she
addressed to him, timidly and at the same time boldly: “So this is the
way that you take the air?” And when she ended by asking him, “Come to
my house,” he had followed her. But he had hardly entered when the past
all came back to him, and he felt a stifled feeling of distress. Falling
into a chair, he sobbed, burying his face in his hands. His grief was so
violent that, by a feminine instinct of pity, the wretched creature took
his head in her arms, saying, in a consoling tone, “There, cry, cry, it
will do you good!” and rocked him like an infant. At last he disengaged
himself from this caress, which made him ashamed of himself, and
throwing what little money he had about him upon the top of the bureau,
he went away and returned to his home, where he went hastily to bed
and wept to his heart’s content, as he gnawed his pillow. Oh, horrible
memories!

No! never a wife, no mistress, nothing! Now his grief was his wife, and
lived with him.

The widower’s morning awakening was frightful above all things else-his
awakening in the large bed that now had but one pillow. It was there
that he had once had the exquisite pleasure of watching his dear Lucie
every morning when asleep; for she did not like to get up early, and
sometimes he had jokingly scolded her for it. What serenity upon
this delicate, sweet face, with its closed eyes, nestling among her
beautiful, disordered hair! How chaste this lovely young wife was in her
unconstraint! She had thrown one of her arms outside of the covering,
and the neck of her nightrobe, having slipped down, showed such a pure
white shoulder and delicate neck. He leaned over the half-opened mouth,
which exhaled a warm and living odor, something like the perfume of a
flower, to inhale it, and a tender pride swept over him when he thought
that she was his, his wife, this delicious creature who was almost a
child yet, and that her heart was given to him forever. He could not
resist it; he touched his young wife’s lips with his own. She trembled
under the kiss and opened her eyes, when the astonishment of the
awakening was at once transformed into a happy smile as she met her
husband’s glance. Oh, blissful moment! But in spite of all, one must be
sensible. He recalled that the milk-maid had left at daybreak her pot of
milk at the door of their apartment; that the fire was not lighted,
and that he must be at the office early, as the time for promotions was
drawing near. Giving another kiss to the half-asleep Lucie, he said
to her, in a coaxing tone, “Now then, Lucie, my child, it is half-past
eight. Up, up with you, lazy little one!”

How could he console himself for such lost happiness? He had his son,
yes--and he loved him very much--but the sight of Amedee increased M.
Violette’s grief; for the child grew to look more like his mother every
day.



CHAPTER IV. THE DEMON ABSINTHE

Three or four times a year M. Violette, accompanied by his son, paid a
visit to an uncle of his deceased wife, whose heir Amedee might some day
become.

M. Isidore Gaufre had founded and made successful a large house for
Catholic books and pictures, to which he had added an important agency
for the sale of all kinds of religious objects. This vast establishment
was called, by a stroke of genius of its proprietor, “Bon Marche des
Paroisses,” and was famous among all the French clergy. At last it
occupied the principal part of the house and all the out-buildings of
an old hotel on the Rue Servandoni, constructed in the pompous and
magnificent style of the latter part of the seventeenth century. He did
a great business there.

All day long, priests and clerical-looking gentlemen mounted the long
flight of steps that led to a spacious first floor, lighted by large,
high windows surmounted by grotesque heads. There the long-bearded
missionaries came to purchase their cargoes of glass beads or imitation
coral rosaries, before embarking for the East, or the Gaboon, to convert
the negroes and the Chinese.

The member of the third estate, draped in a long chocolate-colored,
straight frock-coat, holding a gigantic umbrella under his arm,
procured, dirt cheap and by the thousand, pamphlets of religious tenets.
The country curate, visiting Paris, arranged for the immediate delivery
of a remonstrance, in electrotype, Byzantine style, signing a series of
long-dated bills, contracting, by zeal supplemented by some ready cash,
to fulfil his liabilities, through the generosity of the faithful ones.

There, likewise, a young director of consciences came to look for some
devotional work--for example, the 12mo entitled “Widows’ Tears Wiped
Away,” by St. Francois de Sales--for some penitent. The representative
from some deputation from a devoutly Catholic district would solicit
a reduction upon a purchase of the “Twelve Stations of the Cross,”
 hideously daubed, which he proposed to present to the parishes which his
adversaries had accused of being Voltairians. A brother of the Christian
Doctrine, or a sister of St. Vincent de Paul, would bargain for
catechisms for their schools. From time to time, even a prince of the
church, a bishop with aristocratic mien, enveloped in an ample gown,
with his hat surrounded with a green cord and golden tassels, would
mysteriously shut himself up in M. Isidore Gaufre’s office for an hour;
and then would be reconducted to the top of the steps by the cringing
proprietor, profuse with his “Monseigneur,” and obsequiously bowing
under the haughty benediction of two fingers in a violet glove.

It was certainly not from sympathy that M. Violette had kept up his
relations with his wife’s uncle; for M. Gaufre, who was servilely
polite to all those in whom he had an interest, was usually disdainful,
sometimes even insolent, to those who were of no use to him. During
his niece’s life he had troubled himself very little about her, and had
given her for a wedding present only an ivory crucifix with a shell
for holy water, such as he sold by the gross to be used in convents.
A self-made man, having already amassed--so they said--a considerable
fortune, M. Gaufre held in very low estimation this poor devil of a
commonplace employe whose slow advancement was doubtless due to the fact
that he was lazy and incapable. From the greeting that he received, M.
Violette suspected the poor opinion that M. Gaufre had of him. If
he went there in spite of his natural pride it was only on his son’s
account. For M. Gaufre was rich, and he was not young. Perhaps--who
could tell?--he might not forget Amedee, his nephew, in his will? It
was necessary for him to see the child occasionally, and M. Violette, in
pursuance of his paternal duty, condemned himself, three or four times a
year, to the infliction of a visit at the “Bon Marche des Paroisses.”

The hopes that M. Violette had formed as to his son’s inheriting from M.
Gaufre were very problematical; for the father, whom M. Gaufre had not
been able to avoid receiving at his table occasionally, had been struck,
even shocked, by the familiar and despotic tone of the old merchant’s
servant, a superb Normandy woman of about twenty-five years, answering
to the royal name of Berenice. The impertinent ways of this robust woman
betrayed her position in her master’s house, as much as the diamonds
that glittered in her ears. This creature would surely watch the will
of her patron, a sexagenarian with an apoplectic neck, which became the
color of dregs of wine after a glass of brandy.

M. Gaufre, although very practical and a churchwarden at St. Sulpice,
had always had a taste for liaisons. His wife, during her life--he had
been a widower for a dozen years--had been one of those unfortunate
beings of whom people said, “That poor lady is to be pitied; she never
can keep a servant.” She had in vain taken girls from the provinces,
without beauty and certified to be virtuous. One by one--a Flemish girl,
an Alsatian, three Nivernaise, two from Picardy; even a young girl from
Beauce, hired on account of her certificate as “the best-behaved girl in
the village”--they were unsparingly devoured by the minotaur of the Rue
Servandoni. All were turned out of doors, with a conscientious blow in
the face, by the justly irritated spouse. When he became a widower
he gave himself up to his liaisons in perfect security, but without
scandal, of course, as to his passion for servants. New country-girls,
wearing strange headdresses, responded favorably, in various patois, to
his propositions. An Alsatian bow reigned six months; a Breton cap more
than a year; but at last what must inevitably take place happened.
The beautiful Berenice definitely bound with fetters of iron the old
libertine. She was now all-powerful in the house, where she reigned
supreme through her beauty and her talent for cooking; and as she saw
her master’s face grow more congested at each repast, she made her
preparations for the future. Who could say but that M. Gaufre, a real
devotee after all, would develop conscientious scruples some day, and
end in a marriage, in extremis?

M. Violette knew all this; nevertheless it was important that Amedee
should not be forgotten by his old relative, and sometimes, though
rarely, he would leave his office a little earlier than usual, call for
his son as he left the Batifol boarding-school, and take him to the Rue
Servandoni.

The large drawing-rooms, transformed into a shop, where one could still
see, upon forgotten panels, rococo shepherds offering doves to their
shepherdesses, were always a new subject of surprise to little Amedee.
After passing through the book-shop, where thousands of little volumes
with figured gray and yellow covers crowded the shelves, and boys
in ecru linen blouses were rapidly tying up bundles, one entered the
jewellery department. There, under beautiful glass cases, sparkled
all the glittering display and showy luxury of the Church, golden
tabernacles where the Paschal Lamb reposed in a flaming triangle,
censers with quadruple chains, stoles and chasubles, heavy with
embroidery, enormous candelabra, ostensories and drinking-cups incrusted
with enamel and false precious stones-before all these splendors the
child, who had read the Arabian Nights, believed that he had entered
Aladdin’s cave, or Aboul-Cassem’s pit. From this glittering array one
passed, without transition, into the sombre depot of ecclesiastical
vestments. Here all was black. One saw only piles of cassocks and
pyramids of black hats. Two manikins, one clothed in a cardinal’s purple
robe, the other in episcopalian violet, threw a little color over the
gloomy show.

But the large hall with painted statues amazed Amedee. They were all
there, statues of all the saints in little chapels placed promiscuously
upon the shelves in rows.

No more hierarchy. The Evangelist had, for a neighbor a little Jesuit
saint--an upstart of yesterday. The unfortunate Fourier had at his side
the Virgin Mary. The Saviour of men elbowed St. Labre. They were of
plaster run into moulds, or roughly carved in wood, and were colored
with paint as glaring as the red and blue of a barber’s pole, and
covered with vulgar gildings. Chins in the air, ecstatic eyes shining
with varnish, horribly ugly and all new, they were drawn up in line like
recruits at the roll-call, the mitred bishop, the martyr carrying his
palm, St. Agnes embracing her lamb, St. Roch with his dog and shells,
St. John the Baptist in his sheepskin, and, most ridiculous of all,
poor Vincent de Paul carrying three naked children in his arms, like a
midwife’s advertisement.

This frightful exhibition, which was of the nature of the Tussaud Museum
or a masquerade, positively frightened Amedee. He had recently been to
his first communion, and was still burning with the mystical fever, but
so much ugliness offended his already fastidious taste and threw him
into his first doubt.

One day, about five o’clock, M. Violette and his son arrived at the “Bon
Marche des Paroisses,” and found Uncle Isidore in the room where the
painted statues were kept, superintending--the packing of a St. Michel.
The last customer of the day was just leaving, the Bishop ‘in partibus’
of Trebizonde, blessing M. Gaufre. The little apoplectic man, the giver
of holy water, left alone with his clerks, felt under restraint no
longer.

“Pay attention, you confounded idiot!” he cried to the young man just
ready to lay the archangel in the shavings. “You almost broke the
dragon’s tail.”

Then, noticing Amedee and M. Violette who had just entered:

“Ah! It is you, Violate! Good-day! Good-day, Amedee! You come at an
unlucky time. It is shipping-day with us. I am in a great hurry--Eh!
Monsieur Combier, by your leave, Monsieur Combier! Do not forget the
three dozen of the Apparition de la Salette in stucco for Grenoble, with
twenty-five per cent. reduction upon the bill. Are you working hard,
Amedee? What do you say? He was first and assisted at the feast of
St. Charlemagne! So much the better!--Jules, did you send the six
chandeliers and the plated pyx and the Stations of the Cross, Number
Two, to the Dames du Sacre-Coeur d’Alencons? What, not yet? But the
order came three days ago! You must hurry, I tell you!--You can see,
Violette, I am overflowing with work--but come in here a moment.”

And once more ordering his bookkeeper, a captive in his glass case, to
send the officers the notes that the cure of Sourdeval had allowed to
go to protest, Uncle Isidore ushered M. Violette and his son into his
office.

It was an ancient room, and M. Gaufre, who aimed at the austere, had
made it gloomier still by a safe, and black haircloth furniture,
which looked as if taken from a vestryroom. The pretty, high, and oval
apartment, with its large window, opening upon a garden, its ceiling
painted in light rosy clouds, its woodwork ornamented with wreaths and
quivers, still preserved some of the charm and elegance of former days.
Amedee would have been amused there, had not Uncle Isidore, who had
seated himself before his desk, launched at once an unkind question at
M. Violette.

“By the way, have you obtained the promotion that you counted so much
upon last year?”

“Unfortunately, no, Monsieur Gaufre. You know what the Administration
is.”

“Yes, it is slow; but you are not overwhelmed with work, however. While
in a business like this--what cares, what annoyances! I sometimes envy
you. You can take an hour to cut your pens. Well, what is wanted of me
now?”

The head of a clerk with a pencil behind his ear, appeared through the
half-open door.

“Monsieur le Superieur of Foreign Missions wishes to speak with
Monsieur.”

“You can see! Not one minute to myself. Another time, my dear Violette.
Adieu, my little man--it is astonishing how much he grows to look like
Lucie! You must come and dine with me some Sunday, without ceremony.
Berenice’s ‘souffle au fromage’ is something delicious! Let Monsieur le
Superieur come in.”

M. Violette took his departure, displeased at his useless visit and
irritated against Uncle Isidore, who had been hardly civil.

“That man is a perfect egotist,” thought he, sadly; “and that girl has
him in her clutches. My poor Amedee will have nothing from him.”

Amedee himself was not interested in his uncle’s fortune. He was just
then a pupil in the fourth grade, which follows the same studies as
at the Lycee Henri IV. Having suddenly grown tall, he was annoyed at
wearing short trousers, and had already renounced all infantile games.
The dangling crows which illustrated the pages of his Burnouf grammar
were all dated the previous year, and he had entirely renounced feeding
silkworms in his desk. Everything pointed to his not being a very
practical man. Geometry disgusted him, and as for dates, he could not
remember one. On holidays he liked to walk by himself through quiet
streets; he read poems at the bookstalls, and lingered in the
Luxembourg Gardens to see the sun set. Destined to be a dreamer and a
sentimentalist--so much the worse for you, poor Amedee!

He went very often to the Gerards, but he no longer called his little
friends “thou.” Louise was now seventeen years old, thin, without color,
and with a lank figure; decidedly far from pretty. People, in speaking
of her, began to say, “She has beautiful eyes and is an excellent
musician.” Her sister Maria was twelve years old and a perfect little
rosebud.

As to the neighbor’s little girl, Rosine Combarieu, she had disappeared.
One day the printer suddenly departed without saying a word to anybody,
and took his child with him. The concierge said that he was concerned
in some political plot, and was obliged to leave the house in the night.
They believed him to be concealed in some small town.

Accordingly, Father Gerard was not angry with him for fleeing without
taking leave of him. The conspirator had kept all his prestige in the
eyes of the engraver, who, by a special run of ill-luck, was always
engaged by a publisher of Bonapartist works, and was busy at that moment
upon a portrait of the Prince Imperial, in the uniform of a corporal of
the Guards, with an immense bearskin cap upon his childish head.

Father Gerard was growing old. His beard, formerly of a reddish shade,
and what little hair there was remaining upon his head, had become
silvery white; that wonderful white which, like a tardy recompense to
red-faced persons, becomes their full-blooded faces so well. The good
man felt the weight of years, as did his wife, whose flesh increased
in such a troublesome way that she was forced to pant heavily when she
seated herself after climbing the five flights. Father Gerard grew old,
like everything that surrounded him; like the house opposite, that he
had seen built, and that no longer had the air of a new building; like
his curious old furniture, his mended crockery, and his engravings,
yellow with age, the frames of which had turned red; like the old Erard
piano, upon which Louise, an accomplished performer, now was playing a
set of Beethoven’s waltzes and Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words.”
 This poor old servant now had only the shrill, trembling tones of a
harmonica.

The poor artist grew old, and he was uneasy as to the future; for he
had not known how to manage like his school-friend, the intriguing
Damourette, who had formerly cheated him out of the ‘prix de Rome’ by
a favor, and who now played the gentleman at the Institute, in his
embroidered coat, and received all the good orders. He, the simpleton,
had saddled himself with a family, and although he had drudged like
a slave he had laid nothing aside. One day he might be stricken with
apoplexy and leave his widow without resources, and his two daughters
without a dowry. He sometimes thought of all this as he filled his pipe,
and it was not pleasant.

If M. Gerard grew gloomy as he grew older, M. Violette became mournful.
He was more than forty years old now. What a decline! Does grief make
the years count double? The widower was a mere wreck. His rebellious
lock of hair had become a dirty gray, and always hung over his right
eye, and he no longer took the trouble to toss it behind his ear. His
hands trembled and he felt his memory leaving him. He grew more taciturn
and silent than ever, and seemed interested in nothing, not even in his
son’s studies. He returned home late, ate little at dinner, and then
went out again with a tottering step to pace the dark, gloomy streets.
At the office, where he still did his work mechanically, he was a doomed
man; he never would be elected chief assistant. “What depravity!” said
one of his fellow clerks, a young man with a bright future, protected by
the head of the department, who went to the races and had not his equal
in imitating the “Gnouf! gnouf!” of Grassot, the actor. “A man of his
age does not decline so rapidly without good cause. It is not natural!”
 What is it, then, that has reduced M. Violette to such a degree of
dejection and wretchedness?

Alas! we must admit it. The unhappy man lacked courage, and he sought
consolation in his despair, and found it in a vice.

Every evening when he left his office he went into a filthy little cafe
on the Rue du Four. He would seat himself upon a bench in the back of
the room, in the darkest corner, as if ashamed; and would ask in a low
tone for his first glass of absinthe. His first! Yes, for he drank two,
three even. He drank them in little sips, feeling slowly rise within
him the cerebral rapture of the powerful liquor. Let those who are happy
blame him if they will! It was there, leaning upon the marble table,
looking at, without seeing her, through the pyramids of lump sugar and
bowls of punch, the lady cashier with her well oiled hair reflected in
the glass behind her--it was there that the inconsolable widower found
forgetfulness of his trouble. It was there that for one hour he lived
over again his former happiness.

For, by a phenomenon well known to drinkers of absinthe, he regulated
and governed his intoxication, and it gave him the dream that he
desired.

“Boy, one glass of absinthe!”

And once more he became the young husband, who adores his dear Lucie and
is adored by her.

It is winter, he is seated in the corner by the fire, and before him,
sitting in the light reflected by a green lampshade upon which dark
silhouettes of jockey-riders are running at full speed, his wife is
busying herself with some embroidery. Every few moments they look at
each other and smile, he over his book and she over her work; the lover
never tired of admiring Lucie’s delicate fingers. She is too pretty!
Suddenly he falls at her feet, slips his arm about her waist, and gives
her a long kiss; then, overcome with languor, he puts his head upon
his beloved’s knees and hears her say to him, in a low voice: “That is
right! Go to sleep!” and her soft hands lightly stroke his hair.

“Boy, one glass of absinthe!”

They are in that beautiful field filled with flowers, near the woods in
Verrieres, upon a fine June afternoon when the sun is low. She has made
a magnificent bouquet of field flowers. She stops at intervals to add
a cornflower, and he follows, carrying her mantle and umbrella. How
beautiful is summer and how sweet it is to love! They are a little
tired; for during the whole of this bright Sunday they have wandered
through the meadows. It is the hour for dinner, and here is a little
tavern under some lindens, where the whiteness of the napkins rivals
the blossoming thickets. They choose a table and order their repast of
a moustached youth. While waiting for their soup, Lucie, rosy from being
out all day in the open air and silent from hunger, amuses herself in
looking at the blue designs on the plates, which represented battles
in Africa. What a joyous dinner! There were mushrooms in the omelet,
mushrooms in the stewed kidneys, mushrooms in the filet. But so much the
better! They are very fond of them. And the good wine! The dear child is
almost intoxicated at dessert! She takes it into her head to squeeze a
cherry-stone between her thumb and first finger and makes it pop-slap!
into her husband’s face! And the naughty creature laughs! But he will
have his revenge--wait a little! He rises, and leaning over the table
buries two fingers between her collar and her neck, and the mischievous
creature draws her head down into her shoulders as far as she can,
begging him, with a nervous laugh, “No, no, I beseech you!” for she is
afraid of being tickled. But the best time of all is the return through
the country at night, the exquisite odor of new-mown hay, the road
lighted by a summer sky where the whole zodiac twinkles, and through
which, like a silent stream, the Chemin de St. Jacques rolls its diamond
smoke.

Tired and happy she hangs upon her husband’s arm. How he loves her!
It seems to him that his love for Lucie is as deep and profound as the
night. “Nobody is coming let me kiss your dear mouth!” and their kisses
are so pure, so sincere, and so sweet, that they ought to rejoice the
stars!

“Another glass of absinthe, boy--one more!”

And the unhappy man would forget for a few moments longer that he ought
to go back to his lonely lodging, where the servant had laid the table
some time before, and his little son awaited him, yawning with hunger
and reading a book placed beside his plate. He forgot the horrible
moment of returning, when he would try to hide his intoxicated condition
under a feint of bad humor, and when he would seat himself at table
without even kissing Amedee, in order that the child should not smell
his breath.



BOOK 2.



CHAPTER V. AMEDEE MAKES FRIENDS

Meanwhile the allegorical old fellow with the large wings and white
beard, Time, had emptied his hour-glass many times; or, to speak
plainer, the postman, with a few flakes of snow upon his blue cloth
coat, presents himself three or four times a day at his customers’
dwelling to offer in return for a trifling sum of money a calendar
containing necessary information, such as the ecclesiastical
computation, or the difference between the Gregorian and the Arabic
Hegira; and Amedee Violette had gradually become a young man.

A young man! that is to say, a being who possesses a treasure without
knowing its value, like a Central African negro who picks up one of M.
Rothschild’s cheque-books; a young man ignorant of his beauty or charms,
who frets because the light down upon his chin has not turned into
hideous bristles, a young man who awakes every morning full of hope, and
artlessly asks himself what fortunate thing will happen to him to-day;
who dreams, instead of living, because he is timid and poor.

It was then that Amedee made the acquaintance of one of his comrades--he
no longer went to M. Batifol’s boarding-school, but was completing his
studies at the Lycee Henri IV--named Maurice Roger. They soon formed an
affectionate intimacy, one of those eighteen-year-old friendships which
are perhaps the sweetest and most substantial in the world.

Amedee was attracted, at first sight, by Maurice’s handsome, blond,
curly head, his air of frankness and superiority, and the elegant
jackets that he wore with the easy, graceful manners of a gentleman.
Twice a day, when they left the college, they walked together through
the Luxembourg Gardens, confiding to each other their dreams and hopes,
lingering in the walks, where Maurice already gazed at the grisettes in
an impudent fashion, talking with the charming abandon of their age, the
sincere age when one thinks aloud.

Maurice told his new friend that he was the son of an officer killed
before Sebastopol, that his mother had never married again, but adored
him and indulged him in all his whims. He was patiently waiting for his
school-days to end, to live independently in the Latin Quarter, to study
law, without being hurried, since his mother wished him to do so, and he
did not wish to displease her. But he wished also to amuse himself with
painting, at least as an amateur; for he was passionately fond of it.
All this was said by the handsome, aristocratic young man with a happy
smile, which expanded his sensual lips and nostrils; and Amedee admired
him without one envious thought; feeling, with the generous warmth of
youth, an entire confidence in the future and the mere joy of living. In
his turn he made a confidant of Maurice, but not of everything. The
poor boy could not tell anybody that he suspected his father of a secret
vice, that he blushed over it, was ashamed of it, and suffered from it
as much as youth can suffer. At least, honest-hearted fellow that he
was, he avowed his humble origin without shame, boasted of his
humble friends the Gerards, praised Louise’s goodness, and spoke
enthusiastically of little Maria, who was just sixteen and so pretty.

“You will take me to see them some time, will you not?” said Maurice,
who listened to his friend with his natural good grace. “But first of
all, you must come to dinner some day with me, and I will present you to
my mother. Next Sunday, for instance. Is it agreeable?”

Amedee would have liked to refuse, for he suddenly recalled--oh! the
torture and suffering of poor young men! that his Sunday coat was almost
as seedy as his everyday one, that his best pair of shoes were run-over
at the heels, and that the collars and cuffs on his six white shirts
were ragged on the edges from too frequent washings. Then, to go to
dinner in the city, what an ordeal! What must he do to be presented in
a drawing-room? The very thought of it made him shiver. But Maurice
invited him so cordially that he was irresistible, and Amedee accepted.

The following Sunday, then, spruced up in his best-what could have
possessed the haberdasher to induce him to buy a pair of red dog-skin
gloves? He soon saw that they were too new and too startling for the
rest of his costume--Amedee went up to the first floor of a fine house
on the Faubourg St. Honore and rang gently at the door on the left. A
young and pretty maid--one of those brunettes who have a waist that one
can clasp in both hands, and a suspicion of a moustache--opened the door
and ushered the young man into a drawing-room furnished in a simple but
luxurious manner. Maurice was alone, standing with his back to the fire,
in the attitude of master of the house. He received his friend with warm
demonstrations of pleasure. Amedee’s eyes were at once attracted by
the portrait of a handsome lieutenant of artillery, dressed in the
regimental coat, with long skirts, of 1845, and wearing a sword-belt
fastened by two lion’s heads. This officer, in parade costume, was
painted in the midst of a desert, seated under a palm-tree.

“That is my father,” said Maurice. “Do I not resemble him?”

The resemblance was really striking. The same warm, pleasant smile, and
even the same blond curls. Amedee was admiring it when a voice repeated
behind him, like an echo:

“Maurice resembles him, does he not?”

It was Madame Roger who had quietly entered. When Amedee saw this
stately lady in mourning, with a Roman profile, and clear, white
complexion, who threw such an earnest glance at her son, then at her
husband’s portrait, Amedee comprehended that Maurice was his mother’s
idol, and, moved by the sight of the widow, who would have been
beautiful but for her gray hair and eyelids, red from so much weeping,
he stammered a few words of thanks for the invitation to dinner.

“My son has told me,” said she, “that you are the one among all his
comrades that he cares for most. I know what affection you have shown
him. I am the one who should thank you, Monsieur Amedee.”

They seated themselves and talked; every few moments these words were
spoken by Madame Roger with an accent of pride and tenderness, “My son
.... my son Maurice.” Amedee realized how pleasant his friend’s life
must be with such a good mother, and he could not help comparing his
own sad childhood, recalling above all things the lugubrious evening
repasts, when, for several years now, he had buried his nose in his
plate so as not to see his father’s drunken eyes always fastened upon
him as if to ask for his pardon.

Maurice let his mother praise him for a few moments, looking at her with
a pleasant smile which became a trifle saddened. Finally he interrupted
her:

“It is granted, mamma, that I am a perfect phoenix,” and he gayly
embraced her.

At this moment the pretty maid announced, “Monsieur and Mesdemoiselles
Lantz,” and Madame Roger arose hastily to receive the newcomers.
Lieutenant-Colonel Lantz, of the Engineer Corps, was with Captain Roger
when he died in the trench before Mamelon Vert; and might have been at
that time pleasant to look upon, in his uniform with its black velvet
breastplate; but, having been promoted some time ago to the office,
he had grown aged, leaning over the plans and draughts on long tables
covered with rules and compasses. With a cranium that looked like a
picked bird, his gray, melancholy imperial, his stooping shoulders,
which shortened still more his tightly buttoned military coat, there
was nothing martial in his appearance. With his head full of whims, no
fortune, and three daughters to marry, the poor Colonel, who put on only
two or three times a year, for official solemnities, his uniform, which
he kept in camphor, dined every Sunday night with Madame Roger, who
liked this estimable man because he was her husband’s best friend, and
had invited him with his three little girls, who looked exactly alike,
with their turned-up noses, florid complexions, and little, black,
bead-like eyes, always so carefully dressed that one involuntarily
compared them to three pretty cakes prepared for some wedding or festive
occasion. They sat down at the table.

Madame Roger employed an excellent cook, and for the first time in his
life Amedee ate a quantity of good things, even more exquisite
than Mamma Gerard’s little fried dishes. It was really only a very
comfortable and nice dinner, but to the young man it was a revelation of
unsuspected pleasures. This decorated table, this cloth that was so soft
when he put his hand upon it; these dishes that excited and satisfied
the appetite; these various flavored wines which, like the flowers,
were fragrant--what new and agreeable sensations! They were quickly and
silently waited upon by the pretty maid. Maurice, seated opposite his
mother, presided over the repast with his elegant gayety. Madame Roger’s
pale face would light up with a smile at each of his good-natured jokes,
and the three young ladies would burst into discreet little laughs, all
in unison, and even the sorrowful Colonel would arouse from his torpor.

He became animated after his second glass of burgundy, and was very
entertaining. He spoke of the Crimean campaign; of that chivalrous
war when the officers of both armies, enemies to each other, exchanged
politenesses and cigars during the suspension of arms. He told fine
military anecdotes, and Madame Roger, seeing her son’s face excited with
enthusiasm at these heroic deeds, became gloomy at once. Maurice noticed
it first.

“Take care, Colonel,” said he. “You will frighten mamma, and she will
imagine at once that I still wish to enter Saint-Cyr. But I assure you,
little mother, you may be tranquil. Since you wish it, your respectful
and obedient son will become a lawyer without clients, who will paint
daubs during his spare moments. In reality, I should much prefer a horse
and a sword and a squadron of hussars. But no matter! The essential
thing is not to give mamma any trouble.”

This was said with so much warmth and gentleness, that Madame Roger and
the Colonel exchanged softened looks; the young ladies were also moved,
as much as pastry can be, and they all fixed upon Maurice their little
black eyes, which had suddenly become so soft and tender that Amedee did
not doubt but that they all had a sentimental feeling for Maurice, and
thought him very fortunate to have the choice between three such pretty
pieces for dessert.

How all loved this charming and graceful Maurice, and how well he knew
how to make himself beloved!

Later, when they served the champagne, he arose, glass in hand, and
delivered a burlesque toast, finding some pleasant word for all his
guests. What frank gayety! what a hearty laugh went around the table!
The three young ladies giggled themselves as red as peonies. A sort of
joyous chuckle escaped from the Colonel’s drooping moustache. Madame
Roger’s smile seemed to make her grow young; and Amedee noticed, in a
corner of the dining-room, the pretty maid, who restrained herself no
more than the others; and when she showed her teeth, that were like a
young puppy’s, she was charming indeed.

After the tea the Colonel, who lived at some distance, near the Military
School, and who, as the weather was fine, wished to walk home and avoid
the expense of a cab, left with his three marriageable daughters, and
Amedee in his turn took his departure.

In the ante-chamber, the maid said to Maurice, as she helped him on with
his topcoat.

“I hope that you will not come in very late this evening, Monsieur
Maurice.”

“What is that, Suzanne?” replied the young man, without anger, but a
trifle impatiently. “I shall return at the hour that pleases me.”

As he descended the stairs ahead of Amedee, he said, with a laugh

“Upon my word! she will soon make her jealousy public.”

“What!” exclaimed Amedee, glad that his companion could not see his
blushes.

“Well, yes! Is she not pretty? I admit it, Violette; I have not, like
you, the artlessness of the flower whose name you bear. You will have
to resign yourself to it; you have a very bad fellow for a friend. As to
the rest, be content. I have resolved to scandalize the family roof no
longer. I have finished with this bold-faced creature. You must know
that she began it, and was the first to kiss me on the sly. Now, I am
engaged elsewhere. Here we are outside, and here is a carriage. Here,
driver! You will allow me to bid you adieu. It is only a quarter past
ten. I still have time to appear at Bullier’s and meet Zoe Mirilton.
Until tomorrow, Violette.”

Amedee returned home very much troubled. So, then, his friend was a
libertine. But he made excuses for him. Had he not just seen him so
charming to his mother and so respectful to the three young ladies?
Maurice had allowed himself to be carried away by his youthful
impetuosity, that was all! Was it for him, still pure, but tormented by
the temptations and curiosity of youth, to be severe? Would he not have
done as much had he dared, or if he had had the money in his pocket? To
tell the truth, Amedee dreamed that very night of the pretty maid with
the suspicion of a moustache.

The next day, when Amedee paid his visit to the Gerards, all they could
talk of was the evening before. Amedee spoke with the eloquence of a
young man who had seen for the first time a finger-bowl at dessert.

Louise, while putting on her hat and getting her roll of music--she gave
lessons now upon the piano in boarding-schools--was much interested in
Madame Roger’s imposing beauty. Mamma Gerard would have liked to know
how the chicken-jelly was made; the old engraver listened with pleasure
to the Colonel’s military anecdotes; while little Maria exacted a
precise description of the toilettes of the three demoiselles Lantz, and
turned up her nose disdainfully at them.

“Now, then, Amedee,” said the young girl, suddenly, as she looked at
herself in a mirror that was covered with flyspecks, “tell me honestly,
were these young ladies any prettier than I?”

“Do you see the coquette?” exclaimed Father Gerard, bursting into
laughter without raising his eyes from his work. “Do people ask such
questions as that, Mademoiselle?”

There was a general gayety, but Amedee blushed without knowing why. Oh!
no, certainly those three young ladies in their Savoy-cake skirts and
nougat waists were not as pretty as little Maria in her simple brown
frock. How she improved from day to day! It seemed to Amedee as if he
never had seen her before until this minute. Where had she found that
supple, round waist, that mass of reddish hair which she twisted upon
the top of her head, that lovely complexion, that mouth, and those eyes
that smiled with the artless tenderness of young flowers?

Mamma Gerard, while laughing like the others, scolded her daughter a
little for her attack of feminine vanity, and then began to talk of
Madame Roger in order to change the conversation.

Amedee did not cease to praise his friend. He told how affectionate he
was to his mother, how he resisted the military blood that burned in
him, how graceful he was, and how, at eighteen years, he did the honor
of the drawing-room and table with all the manner of a grand seigneur.

Maria listened attentively.

“You have promised to bring him here, Amedee,” said the spoiled child,
with a serious air. “I should like very much to see him once.”

Amedee repeated his promise; but on his way to the Lycee, for his
afternoon class, he recalled the incident of the pretty maid and the
name of Zoe Mirilton, and, seized with some scruples, he asked himself
whether he ought to introduce his friend to the young Gerard girls. At
first this idea made him uneasy, then he thought that it was ridiculous.
Was not Maurice a good-hearted young man and well brought up? Had he not
seen him conduct himself with tact and reserve before Colonel Lantz’s
daughters?

Some days later Maurice reminded him of the promised visit to the
Gerards, and Amedee presented him to his old friends.

Louise was not at home; she had been going about teaching for some time
to increase the family’s resources, for the engraver was more red-faced
than ever, and obliged to change the number of his spectacles every
year, and could not do as much work as formerly.

But the agreeable young man made a conquest of the rest of the family
by his exquisite good-nature and cordial, easy manner. Respectful and
simple with Madame Gerard, whom he intimidated a little, he paid very
little attention to Maria and did not appear to notice that he was
exciting her curiosity to the highest pitch. He modestly asked Father
Gerard’s advice upon his project of painting, amusing himself with
the knickknacks about the apartments, picking out by instinct the
best engravings and canvases of value. The good man was enchanted with
Maurice and hastened to show him his private museum, forgetting all
about his pipe--he was smoking at present a Garibaldi--and presented
him his last engraving, where one saw--it certainly was a fatality
that pursued the old republican!--the Emperor Napoleon III, at Magenta,
motionless upon his horse in the centre of a square of grenadiers, cut
down by grape and canister.

Maurice’s visit was short, and as Amedee had thought a great deal about
little Maria for several days, he asked his friend, as he conducted him
a part of the way:

“What did you think of her?”

Maurice simply replied, “Delicious!” and changed the conversation.



CHAPTER VI. DREAMS OF LOVE

Solemn moment approached for the two friends. They were to take their
examinations for graduation. Upon the days when M. Violette--they now
called him at the office “Father Violette,” he had grown so aged and
decrepit--was not too much “consoled” in the cafe in the Rue du Four,
and when he was less silent and gloomy than usual, he would say to his
son, after the soup:

“Do you know, Amedee, I shall not be easy in my mind until you have
received your degree. Say what they may, it leads to everything.”

To everything indeed! M. Violette had a college friend upon whom all
the good marks had been showered, who, having been successively
schoolmaster, journalist, theatrical critic, a boarder in Mazas prison,
insurance agent, director of an athletic ring--he quoted Homer in his
harangue--at present pushed back the curtains at the entrance to the
Ambigu, and waited for his soup at the barracks gate, holding out an old
tomato-can to be filled.

But M. Violette had no cause to fear! Amedee received his degree on the
same day with his friend Maurice, and both passed honorably. A little
old man with a head like a baboon--the scientific examiner--tried to
make Amedee flounder on the subject of nitrogen, but he passed all the
same. One can hope for everything nowadays.

But what could Amedee hope for first? M. Violette thought of it when
he was not at his station at the Rue du Four. What could he hope for?
Nothing very great.

Probably he could enter the ministry as an auxiliary. One hundred
francs a month, and the gratuities, would not be bad for a beginner! M.
Violette recalled his endless years in the office, and all the trouble
he had taken to guess a famous rebus that was celebrated for never
having been solved. Was Amedee to spend his youth deciphering enigmas?
M. Violette hoped for a more independent career for his son, if it were
possible. Commerce, for example! Yes! there was a future in commerce.
As a proof of it there was the grocer opposite him, a simpleton who
probably did not put the screws on enough and had just hanged himself
rather than go into bankruptcy. M. Violette would gladly see his son in
business. If he could begin with M. Gaufre? Why not? The young man might
become in the end his uncle’s partner and make his fortune. M. Violette
spoke of it to Amedee.

“Shall we go to see your uncle Sunday morning?”

The idea of selling chasubles and Stations of the Cross did not greatly
please Amedee, who had concealed in his drawer a little book full of
sonnets, and had in his mind the plan of a romantic drama wherein one
would say “Good heavens!” and “My lord!” But first of all, he must
please his father. He was glad to observe that for some time M. Violette
had interested himself more in him, and had resisted his baneful habit
somewhat. The young man offered no resistance. The next day at noon he
presented himself at the Rue Servandoni, accompanied by his father.

The “dealer in pious goods” received them with great good-humor. He had
just come from high mass and was about to sit down at the table. He even
invited them to follow his example and taste of his stewed kidneys, one
of Berenice’s triumphs, who served the dinner with her hands loaded with
rings. The Violettes had dined, and the father made known his desire.

“Yes,” said Uncle Isidore, “Amedee might enter the house. Only you know,
Violette, it will be another education to be learned over again. He must
begin at the very beginning and follow the regular course. Oh! the boy
will not be badly treated! He may take his meals with us, is not that
so, Berenice? At first he would be obliged to run about a little, as
I did when I came from the province to work in the shop and tie up
parcels.”

M. Violette looked at his son and saw that he was blushing with shame.
The poor man understood his mistake. What good to have dazzled M. Patin
before the whole University by reciting, without hesitation, three
verses of Aristophanes, only to become a drudge and a packer? Well!
so Amedee would yawn over green boxes and guess at enigmas in the
Illustration. It had to be so.

They took leave of Uncle Isidore.

“We will reflect over it, Monsieur Gaufre, and will come to see you
again.”

But Berenice had hardly shut the door upon them when M. Violette said to
his son:

“Nothing is to be expected of that old egotist. Tomorrow we will go
to see the chief of my department, I have spoken of you to him, at all
events.”

He was a good sort of fellow, this M. Courtet, who was head clerk,
though too conceited and starched up, certainly. His red rosette, as
large as a fifty-cent piece, made one’s eyes blink, and he certainly was
very imprudent to stand so long backed up to the fireplace with limbs
spread apart, for it seemed that he must surely burn the seat of his
trousers. But no matter, he has stomach enough. He has noticed M.
Violette’s pitiful decline--“a poor devil who never will live to be
promoted.” Having it in his power to distribute positions, M. Courtet
had reserved a position for Amedee. In eight days the young man would be
nominated an auxiliary employe at fifteen hundred francs a year. It is
promised and done.

Ugh! the sickening heat from the stove! the disgusting odor of musty
papers! However, Amedee had nothing to complain of; they might have
given him figures to balance for five hours at a time. He owed it to
M. Courtet’s kindness, that he was put at once into the correspondence
room. He studied the formulas, and soon became skilful in official
politeness. He now knew the delicate shades which exist between “yours
respectfully” and “most respectfully yours;” and he measured the abyss
which separates an “agreeable” and “homage.”

To sum it all up, Amedee was bored, but he was not unhappy; for he had
time to dream.

He went the longest way to the office in the morning, while seeking to
make “amour” rhyme with “jour” without producing an insipid thing; or
else he thought of the third act of his drama after the style of 1830,
and the grand love scene which should take place at the foot of the
Montfaucon gallows. In the evening he went to the Gerards, and they
seated themselves around--the lamp which stood on the dining-room table,
the father reading his journal, the women sewing. He chatted with Maria,
who answered him the greater part of the time without raising her eyes,
because she suspected, the coquette! that he admired her beautiful,
drooping lids.

Amedee composed his first sonnets in her honor, and he adored her, of
course, but he was also in love with the Lantz young ladies, whom he saw
sometimes at Madame Roger’s, and who each wore Sunday evenings roses in
her hair, which made them resemble those pantheons in sponge-cake that
pastry-cooks put in their windows on fete days.

If Amedee had been presented to twelve thousand maidens successively,
they would have inspired twelve thousand wishes. There was the servant
of the family on the first floor, whose side-glance troubled him as he
met her on the staircase; and his heart sank every time he turned the
handle of the door of a shop in the Rue Bonaparte, where an insidious
clerk always forced him to choose ox-colored kid gloves, which he
detested. It must not be forgotten that Amedee was very young, and was
in love with love.

He was so extremely timid that he never had had the audacity to tell the
girl at the glove counter that he preferred bronze-green gloves, nor the
boldness to show Maria Gerard his poems composed in her honor, in which
he now always put the plural “amours,” so as to make it rhyme with
“toujours,” which was an improvement. He never had dared to reply to the
glance of the little maid on the second floor; and he was very wrong to
be embarrassed, for one morning, as he passed the butcher’s shop, he saw
the butcher’s foreman put his arm about the girl’s waist and whisper a
love speech over a fine sirloin roast.

Sometimes, in going or coming from the office, Amedee would go to see
his friend Maurice, who had obtained from Madame Roger permission to
install himself in the Latin Quarter so as to be near the law school.

In a very low-studded first-floor room in the Rue Monsieur-le-Prince,
Amedee perceived through a cloud of tobacco-smoke the elegant Maurice
in a scarlet jacket lying upon a large divan. Everything was rich and
voluptuous, heavy carpets, handsomely bound volumes of poems, an open
piano, and an odor of perfumery mingled with that of cigarettes. Upon
the velvet-covered mantel Mademoiselle Irma, the favorite of the master
of the apartment, had left the last fashionable novel, marking, with
one of her hairpins, where she had left off reading. Amedee spent a
delightful hour there. Maurice always greeted him with his joyful, kind
manner, in which one hardly minded the slight shade of patronage.
He walked up and down his room, expanding his finely moulded chest,
lighting and throwing away his cigarettes, seating himself for two
minutes at the piano and playing one of Chopin’s sad strains, opening
a book and reading a page, showing his albums to his friend, making
him repeat some of his poems, applauding him and touching lightly upon
different subjects, and charming Amedee more and more by his grace and
manners.

However, Amedee could not enjoy his friend much, as he rarely found him
alone. Every few moments--the key was in the door--Maurice’s comrades,
young pleasure-seekers like himself, but more vulgar, not having his
gentlemanly bearing and manners, would come to talk with him of some
projected scheme or to remind him of some appointment for the evening.

Often, some one of them, with his hat upon his head, would dash off a
polka, after placing his lighted cigar upon the edge of the piano. These
fast fellows frightened Amedee a little, as he had the misfortune to be
fastidious.

After these visitors had left, Maurice would ask his friend to dinner,
but the door would open again, and Mademoiselle Irma, in her furs and
small veil--a comical little face--would enter quickly and throw her
arms about Amedee’s neck, kissing him, while rumpling his hair with her
gloved hands.

“Bravo! we will all three dine together.”

No! Amedee is afraid of Mademoiselle Irma, who has already thrown her
mantle upon the sofa and crowned the bronze Venus de Milo with her otter
toque. The young man excuses himself, he is expected at home.

“Timid fellow, go!” said Maurice to him, as he conducted him to the
door, laughing.

What longings! What dreams! They made up all of poor Amedee’s life.
Sometimes they were sad, for he suffered in seeing his father indulge
himself more and more in his vice. No woman loved him, and he never
had one louis in his pocket for pleasure or liberty. But he did not
complain. His life was noble and happy! He smiled with pleasure as
he thought of his good friends; his heart beat in great throbs as
he thought of love; he wept with rapture over beautiful verses.
The spectacle of life, through hope and the ideal, seemed to him
transfigured. Happy Amedee! He was not yet twenty years old!



CHAPTER VII. A GENTLE COUNSELLOR

One sombre, misty, winter morning, as Amedee lingered in his bed, his
father entered, bringing him a letter that the wife of the concierge
had just brought up. The letter was from Maurice, inviting his friend
to dinner that evening at seven o’clock at Foyots, to meet some of his
former companions at the Lycee Henri IV.

“Will you excuse me for not dining with you this evening, papa?” said
Amedee, joyfully. “Maurice Roger entertains us at a restaurant.”

The young man’s gayety left him suddenly when he looked at his father,
who had seated himself on the side of the bed. He had become almost
frightful to look at; old before his time, livid of complexion, his eyes
bloodshot, the rebellious lock of hair straggling over his right temple.
Nothing was more heartbreaking than his senile smile when he placed his
bony trembling hands upon his thighs. Amedee, who knew, alas, why his
father had reached such a pass, felt his heart moved with pity and
shame.

“Are you suffering to-day?” asked the young man. “Would you prefer that
we should dine together as usual? I will send word to Maurice. Nothing
is easier.”

“No, my child, no!” replied M. Violette, in a hollow tone. “Go and amuse
yourself with your friends. I know perfectly well that the life you
lead with me is too monotonous. Go and amuse yourself, it will please
me--only there is an idea that troubles me more than usual--and I want
to confide it to you.”

“What is it then, dear papa?”

“Amedee, last March your mother had been dead fifteen years. You hardly
knew her. She was the sweetest and best of creatures, and all that I can
wish you is, that you may meet such a woman, make her your companion for
life, and be more fortunate than I, my poor Amedee, and keep her always.
During these frightful years since your mother’s death I have suffered,
do you see? suffered horribly, and I have never, never been consoled.
If I have lived--if I have had the strength to live, in spite of all,
it was only for you and in remembrance of her. I think I have nearly
finished my task. You are a young man, intelligent and honest, and you
have now an employment which will give you your bread. However, I often
ask myself--oh, very often--whether I have fulfilled my duty toward you.
Ah! do not protest,” added the unhappy man, whom Amedee had clasped in
his arms. “No, my poor child, I have not loved you sufficiently; grief
has filled too large a place in my heart; above all, during these last
few years I have not been with you enough. I have sought solitude. You
understand me, Amedee, I can not tell you more,” he said, with a sob.
“There are some parts of my life that you must ignore, and if it grieves
you to know what I have become during that time, you must never think of
it; forget it. I beg of you, my child, do not judge me severely. And one
of these days, if I die-ah! we must expect it--the burden of my grief
is too heavy for me to bear, it crushes me! Well, my child, if I die,
promise me to be indulgent to my memory, and when you think of your
father only say: ‘He was very unhappy!’”

Amedee shed tears upon his father’s shoulder, who softly stroked his
son’s beautiful hair with his trembling hands.

“My father, my good father!” sobbed Amedee, “I love and respect you with
all my heart. I will dress myself quickly and we will go to the office
together; we will return the same way and dine like a pair of good
friends. I beg of you, do not ask me to leave you to-day!”

But M. Violette suddenly arose as if he had formed some resolution.

“No, Amedee,” said he, firmly. “I have said what I had to say to you,
and you will remember it. That is sufficient. Go and amuse yourself
this evening with your friends. Sadness is dangerous at your age. As for
myself, I shall go to dine with Pere Bastide, who has just received his
pension, and has invited me more than twenty times to come and see his
little house at Grand Montrouge. It is understood; I wish it. Now then,
wipe your eyes and kiss me.”

Having tenderly embraced his son, M. Violette left the room. Amedee
could hear him in the vestibule take down his hat and cane, open and
close the door, and go down the stairs with a heavy step. A quarter of
an hour after, as the young man was crossing the Luxembourg to go to the
office, he met Louise Gerard with her roll of music in her hand, going
to give some lessons in the city. He walked a few steps beside her, and
the worthy girl noticed his red eyes and disturbed countenance.

“What is the matter with you, Amedee?” she inquired, anxiously.

“Louise,” he replied, “do you not think that my father has changed very
much in the last few months?”

She stopped and looked at him with eyes shining with compassion.

“Very much changed, my poor Amedee. You would not believe me if I told
you that I had not remarked it. But whatever may be the cause--how shall
I say it?--that has affected your father’s health, you should think of
only one thing, my friend; that is, that he has been tender and devoted
to you; that he became a widower very young and he did not remarry; that
he has endured, in order to devote himself to his only child, long years
of solitude and unhappy memories. You must think of that, Amedee, and
that only.”

“I never shall forget it, Louise, never fear; my heart is full of
gratitude. This morning, even, he was so affectionate and kind to
me--but his health is ruined; he is now a weak old man. Soon--I not only
fear it, but I am certain of it--soon he will be incapable of work. I
can see his poor hands tremble now. He will not even have a right to a
pension. If he could not continue to work in the office he could hardly
obtain a meagre relief, and that by favor only. And for long years I can
only hope for an insufficient salary. Oh! to think that the catastrophe
draws near, that one of these days he may fall ill and become infirm,
perhaps, and that we shall be almost needy and I shall be unable to
surround him with care in his old age. That is what makes me tremble!”

They walked along side by side upon the moist, soft ground of the large
garden, under the leafless trees, where hung a slight penetrating mist
which made them shiver under their wraps.

“Amedee,” said she, looking at the young man with a serious gentleness,
“I have known you from a child, and I am the elder. I am twenty-two;
that makes me almost an old maid, Amedee, and gives me the right to
scold you a little. You lack confidence in life, my friend, and it is
wrong at your age. Do you think I do not see that my father has aged
very much, that his eyesight fails, that we are much more cramped in
circumstances in the house than formerly? Are we any the more sad? Mamma
makes fewer little dishes and I teach in Paris, that is all. We live
nearly the same as before, and our dear Maria--she is the pet of us all,
the joy and pride of the house-well, our Maria, all the same, has from
time to time a new frock or a pretty hat. I have no experience, but it
seems to me that in order to feel really unhappy I must have nobody to
love--that is the only privation worth the trouble of noticing. Do you
know that I have just had one of the greatest pleasures of my life?
I noticed that papa did not smoke as much as usual, in order to be
economical, poor man! Fortunately I found a new pupil at Batignolles,
and as soon as I had the first month’s pay in my pocket I bought a large
package of tobacco and put it beside his work. One must never complain
so long as one is fortunate enough to keep those one loves. I know the
secret grief that troubles you regarding your father; but think what he
has suffered, that he loves you, that you are his only consolation. And
when you have gloomy thoughts, come and see your old friends, Amedee.
They will try to warm your heart at the fireside of their friendship,
and to give you some of their courage, the courage of poor people which
is composed of a little indifference and a little resignation.”

They had reached the Florentine Terrace, where stand the marble
statues of queens and ladies, and on the other side of the balustrade,
ornamented with large vases, they could see through the mist the
reservoir with its two swans, the solitary gravel walks, the empty
grass-plots of a pale green, surrounded by the skeletons of lilac-trees,
and the facade of the old palace, whose clock-hands pointed to ten.

“Let us hasten,” said Louise, after a glance at the dial. “Escort me as
far at the Odeon omnibus. I am a little late.”

As he walked by her side he looked at her. Alas! Poor Louise was not
pretty, in spite of her large eyes, so loving but not coquettish. She
wore a close, ugly hat, a mantle drawn tightly about her shoulders,
colored gloves, and heavy walking-shoes. Yes, she was a perfect picture
of a “two francs an hour” music-teacher. What a good, brave girl! With
what an overflowing heart she had spoken of her family! It was to earn
tobacco for her father and a new frock for her pretty sister that
she left thus, so early in the misty morning, and rode in public
conveyances, or tramped through the streets of Paris in the mud. The
sight of her, more than what she said, gave the weak and melancholy
Amedee courage and desire for manly resolutions.

“My dear Louise,” said he, with emotion, “I am very fortunate to have
such a friend as you, and for so many years! Do you remember when we
used to have our hunts after the bearskin cap when we were children?”

They had just left the garden and found themselves behind the Odeon. Two
tired-out omnibus horses, of a yellowish-white, and showing their ribs,
were rubbing their noses against each other like a caress; then the
horse on the left raised his head and placed it in a friendly way upon
the other’s mane. Louise pointed to the two animals and said to Amedee,
smilingly:

“Their fate is hard, is it not? No matter! they are good friends, and
that is enough to help them endure it.”

Then, shaking hands with Amedee, she climbed lightly up into the
carriage.

All that day at the office Amedee was uneasy about his father, and about
four o’clock, a little before the time for his departure, he went to M.
Violette’s office. There they told him that his father had just left,
saying that he would dine at Grand Montrouge with an old friend; and
Amedee, a trifle reassured, decided to rejoin his friend Maurice at the
Foyot restaurant.



CHAPTER VIII. BUTTERFLIES AND GRASSHOPPERS

Amedee was the first to arrive at the rendezvous. He had hardly
pronounced Maurice Roger’s name when a voice like a cannon bellowed out,
“Now then! the yellow parlor!” and he was conducted into a room where
a dazzling table was laid by a young man, with a Yankee goatee and
whiskers, and the agility of a prestidigitateur. This frisky person
relieved Amedee at once of his hat and coat, and left him alone in the
room, radiant with lighted candles.

Evidently it was to be a banquet. Piled up in the centre of the table
was a large dish of crayfish, and at each plate--there were five--were
groups of large and small glasses.

Maurice came in almost immediately, accompanied by his other guests,
three young men dressed in the latest fashion, whom Amedee did not at
first recognize as his former comrades, who once wore wrinkled stockings
and seedy coats, and wore out with him the seats of their trousers on
the benches of the Lycee Henri IV.

After the greetings, “What! is it you?” “Do you remember me?” and a
shaking of hands, they all seated themselves around the table.

What! is that little dumpy fellow with the turned-up nose, straight
as an arrow and with such a satisfied air, Gorju, who wanted to be an
actor? He is one now, or nearly so, since he studies with Regnier at the
Conservatoire. A make-believe actor, he puts on airs, and in the three
minutes that he has been in the room he has looked at his retrousse nose
and his coarse face, made to be seen from a distance, ten times in the
mirror. His first care is to inform Amedee that he has renounced his
name Gorju, which was an impossible one for the theatre, and has taken
that of Jocquelet. Then, without losing a moment, he refers to his
“talents,” “charms,” and “physique.”

Who is this handsome fellow with such neat side-whiskers, whose finely
cut features suggest an intaglio head, and who has just placed a
lawyer’s heavy portfolio upon the sofa? It is Arthur Papillon, the
distinguished Latin scholar who wished to organize a debating society at
the Lycee, and to divide the rhetoric class into groups and sub-groups
like a parliament. “What have you been doing, Papillon?” Papillon had
studied law, and was secretary of the Patru Conference, of course.

Amedee immediately recognized the third guest.

“What! Gustave!” exclaimed he, joyously.

Yes! Gustave, the former “dunce,” the one they had called “Good-luck”
 because his father had made an immense fortune in guano. Not one bit
changed was Gustave! The same deep-set eyes and greenish complexion. But
what style! English from the tips of his pointed shoes to the horseshoe
scarfpin in his necktie. One would say that he was a horse-jockey
dressed in his Sunday best. What was this comical Gustave doing now?
Nothing. His father has made two hundred thousand pounds’ income
dabbling in certain things, and Gustave is getting acquainted with that
is all--which means to wake up every morning toward noon, with a bitter
mouth caused from the last night’s supper, and to be surprised every
morning at dawn at the baccarat table, after spending five hours saying
“Bac!” in a stifled, hollow voice. Gustave understands life, and, taking
into consideration his countenance like a death’s-head, it may lead him
to make the acquaintance of something entirely different. But who thinks
of death at his age? Gustave wishes to know life, and when a fit of
coughing interrupts him in one of his idiotic bursts of laughter, his
comrades at the Gateux Club tell him that he has swallowed the wrong
way. Wretched Gustave, so be it!

Meanwhile the boy with the juggler’s motions appeared with the soup, and
made exactly the same gestures when he uncovered the tureen as Robert
Houdin would have made, and one was surprised not to see a bunch of
flowers or a live rabbit fly out. But no! it was simply soup, and the
guests attacked it vigorously and in silence. After the Rhine wine all
tongues were unloosened, and as soon as they had eaten the Normandy
sole-oh! what glorious appetites at twenty years of age!--the five young
men all talked at once. What a racket! Exclamations crossed one
another like rockets. Gustave, forcing his weak voice, boasted of the
performances of a “stepper” that he had tried that morning in the Allee
des Cavaliers. He would have been much better off had he stayed in his
bed and taken cod-liver oil. Maurice called out to the boy to uncork
the Chateau-Leoville. Amedee, having spoken of his drama to the comedian
Gorju, called Jocquelet, that person, speaking in his bugle-like voice
that came through his bugle-shaped nose, set himself up at once as a man
of experience, giving his advice, and quoting, with admiration, Talma’s
famous speech to a dramatic poet: “Above all, no fine verses!” Arthur
Papillon, who was destined for the courts, thought it an excellent time
to lord it over the tumult of the assembly himself, and bleated out
a speech of Jules Favre that he had heard the night before in the
legislative assembly.

The timid Amedee was defeated at the start in this melee of
conversation. Maurice also kept silent, with a slightly disdainful smile
under his golden moustache, and an attack of coughing soon disabled
Gustave. Alone, like two ships in line who let out, turn by turn, their
volleys, the lawyer and the actor continued their cannonading. Arthur
Papillon, who belonged to the Liberal opposition and wished that
the Imperial government should come around to “a pacific and regular
movement of parliamentary institutions,” was listened to for a time, and
explained, in a clear, full voice the last article in the ‘Courrier du
Dimanche’. But, bursting out in his terrible voice, which seemed like
all of Gideon’s trumpets blowing at once, the comedian took up the
offensive, and victoriously declared a hundred foolish things--saying,
for example, that the part of Alceste should be made a comic one;
making fun of Shakespeare and Hugo, exalting Scribe, and in spite of
his profile and hooked nose, which should have opened the doors of the
Theatre-Francais and given him an equal share for life in its benefits,
he affirmed that he intended to play lovers’ parts, and that he meant to
assume the responsibility of making “sympathetic” the role of Nero, in
Britannicus.

This would have become terribly tiresome, but for the entrance upon
the scene of some truffled partridges, which the juggler carved and
distributed in less time than it would take to shuffle a pack of cards.
He even served the very worst part of the bird to the simple Amedee, as
he would force him to choose the nine of spades. Then he poured out the
chambertin, and once more all heads became excited, and the conversation
fell, as was inevitable, upon the subject of women.

Jocquelet began it, by speaking the name of one of the prettiest
actresses in Paris. He knew them all and described them exactly,
detailing their beauties like a slave-dealer.

“So little Lucille Prunelle is a friend of the great Moncontour--”

“Pardon me,” interrupted Gustave, who was looking badly, “she has
already left him for Cerfbeer the banker.”

“I say she has not.”

“I say that she has.”

They would have quarrelled if Maurice, with his affable, bantering air,
had not attacked Arthur Papillon on the subject of his love-affairs; for
the young advocate drank many cups of Orleanist tea, going even into
the same drawing-rooms as Beule and Prevost-Paradol, and accompanying
political ladies to the receptions at the Academie Francaise.

“That is where you must make havoc, you rascal!”

But Papillon defends himself with conceited smiles and meaning looks.
According to him--and he puts his two thumbs into the armholes of his
vest--the ambitious must be chaste.

“Abstineo venere,” said he, lowering his eyes in a comical manner, for
he did not fear Latin quotations. However, he declared himself very hard
to please in that matter; he dreamed of an Egeria, a superior mind. What
he did not tell them was, that a dressmaker’s little errand-girl, with
whom he had tried to converse as he left the law-school, had surveyed
him from head to foot and threatened him with the police.

Upon some new joke of Maurice’s, the lawyer gave his amorous programme
in the following terms:

“Understand me, a woman must be as intelligent as Hypatia, and have
the sensibility of Heloise; the smile of a Joconde, and the limbs of
an Antiope; and, even then, if she had not the throat of a Venus de
Medicis, I should not love her.”

Without going quite so far, the actor showed himself none the less
exacting. According to his ideas, Deborah, the tragedienne at the
Odeon--a Greek statue!--had too large hands, and the fascinating Blanche
Pompon at the Varietes was a mere wax doll.

Gustave, after all, was the one who is most intractable; excited by
the Bordeaux wine--a glass of mineral water would be best for him--he
proclaimed that the most beautiful creature was agreeable to him only
for one day; that it was a matter of principle, and that he had never
made but one exception, in favor of the illustrious dancer at the Casino
Cadet, Nina l’Auvergnate, because she was so comical! “Oh! my friends,
she is so droll, she is enough to kill one!”

“To kill one!” Yes! my dear Monsieur Gustave, that is what will happen
to you one of these fine mornings, if you do not decide to lead a more
reasonable life--and on the condition that you pass your winters in the
South, also!

Poor Amedee was in torture; all his illusions--desires and sentiments
blended--were cruelly wounded. Then, he had just discovered a deplorable
faculty; a new cause for being unhappy. The sight of this foolishness
made him suffer. How these coarse young men lied! Gustave seemed to him
a genuine idiot, Arthur Papillon a pedant, and as to Jocquelet, he was
as unbearable as a large fly buzzing between the glass and the curtain
of a nervous man’s room. Fortunately, Maurice made a little diversion by
bursting into a laugh.

“Well, my friends, you are all simpletons,” he exclaimed. “I am not like
you, thank fortune! I do not sputter over my soup. Long life to women!
Yes, all of them, pretty and otherwise! For, upon my word, there are no
ugly ones. I do not notice that Miss Keepsake has feet like the English,
and I forget the barmaid’s ruddy complexion, if she is attractive
otherwise. Now do not talk in this stupid fashion, but do as I do;
nibble all the apples while you have teeth. Do you know the reason why,
at the moment that I am talking to the lady of the house, I notice the
nose of the pretty waitress who brings in a letter on a salver? Do you
know the reason why, just as I am leaving Cydalize’s house, who has put
a rose in my buttonhole, that I turn my head at the passing of Margoton,
who is returning from the market with a basket upon her arm? It is
because it is one other of my children. One other! that is a great
word! Yes, one thousand and three. Don Juan was right. I feel his blood
coursing in my veins. And now the boy shall uncork some champagne, shall
he not? to drink to the health of love!”

Maurice was cynical, but this exposition of his philosophy served a good
purpose all the same. Everybody applauded him. The prestidigitateur, who
moved about the table like a schoolboy in a monkey-house, drew the cork
from a bottle of Roederer--it was astonishing that fireworks did not
dart out of it--and good-humor was restored. It reigned noisily until
the end of the repast, when the effect was spoiled by that fool of a
Gustave. He insisted upon drinking three glasses of kummel--why had they
not poured in maple sirup?--and, imagining that Jocquelet looked at him
askance, he suddenly manifested the intention of cutting his head open
with the carafe. The comedian, who was very pale, recalled all the
scenes of provocation that he had seen in the theatre; he stiffened
in his chair, swelled out his chest, and stammered, “At your orders!”
 trying to “play the situation.” But it was useless.

Gustave, restrained by Maurice and Amedee, and as drunk as a Pole,
responded to his friend’s objurgations by a torrent of tears, and fell
under the table, breaking some of the dishes.

“Now, then, we must take the baby home,” said Maurice, signing to the
boy. In the twinkling of an eye the human rag called Gustave was lifted
into a chair, clothed in his topcoat and hat, dressed and spruced
up, pushed down the spiral staircase, and landed in a cab. Then the
prestidigitateur returned and performed his last trick by making the
plate disappear upon which Maurice had thrown some money to pay the
bill.

It was not far from eleven o’clock when the comrades shook hands, in a
thick fog, in which the gaslights looked like the orange pedlers’ paper
lanterns. Ugh! how damp it was!

“Good-by.”

“I will see you again soon.”

“Good-night to the ladies.”

Arthur Papillon was in evening dress and white cravat, his customary
attire every evening, and still had time to show himself in a political
salon on the left side, where he met Moichod, the author of that famous
Histoire de Napoleon, in which he proves that Napoleon was only
a mediocre general, and that all his battles were gained by his
lieutenants. Jocquelet wished to go to the Odeon and hear, for the tenth
time, the fifth act of a piece of the common-sense school, in which
the hero, after haranguing against money for four acts in badly rhymed
verse, ends by marrying the young heiress, to the great satisfaction of
the bourgeois. As to Maurice, before he went to rejoin Mademoiselle Irma
at the Rue Monsieur-le-Prince, he walked part of the way with Amedee.

“These comrades of ours are a little stupid, aren’t they?” said he to
his friend.

“I must say that they almost disgust me,” replied the young man. “Their
brutal way of speaking of women and love wounded me, and you too,
Maurice. So much the worse! I will be honest; you, who are so refined
and proud, tell me that you did not mean what you said--that you made a
pretence of vice just to please the others. It is not possible that you
are content simply to gratify your appetite and make yourself a slave
to your passions. You ought to have a higher ideal. Your conscience must
reproach you.”

Maurice brusquely interrupted this tirade, laughing in advance at what
he was about to say.

“My conscience? Oh, tender and artless Violette; Oh, modest wood-flower!
Conscience, my poor friend, is like a Suede glove, you can wear it
soiled. Adieu! We will talk of this another day, when Mademoiselle Irma
is not waiting for me.”

Amedee walked on alone, shivering in the mist, weary and sad, to the Rue
Notre-Dame-des-Champs.

No! it could not be true. There must be another love than that known to
these brutes. There were other women besides the light creatures they
had spoken of. His thoughts reverted to the companion of his childhood,
to the pretty little Maria, and again he sees her sewing near the family
lamp, and talking with him without raising her eyes, while he admires
her beautiful, drooping lashes. He is amazed to think that this
delicious child’s presence has never given him the slightest uneasiness;
that he has never thought of any other happiness than that of being near
her. Why should not a love like that he has dreamed of some day spring
up in her own heart? Have they not grown up together? Is he not the
only young man that she knows intimately? What happiness to become her
fiancee! Yes, it was thus that one should love! Hereafter he would flee
from all temptations; he would pass all his evenings with the Gerards;
he would keep as near as possible to his dear Maria, content to hear
her speak, to see her smile; and he would wait with a heart full of
tenderness for the moment when she would consent to become his wife.
Oh! the exquisite union of two chaste beings! the adorable kiss of two
innocent mouths! Did such happiness really exist?

This beautiful dream warmed the young man’s heart, and he reached his
home joyous and happy. He gave a vigorous pull to the bell, climbed
quickly up the long flights of stairs and opened the door to their
apartment. But what was this? His father must have come home very late,
for a stream of light shines under the door of his sleeping-room.

“Poor man!” thought Amedee, recalling the scene of the morning. “He may
be ill. Let us see.”

He had hardly opened the door, when he drew back uttering a shriek
of horror and distress. By the light of a candle that burned upon the
mantel, Amedee had caught sight of his father extended upon the floor,
his shirt disordered and covered with blood, holding in his clenched
right hand the razor with which he had cut his throat.

Yes! the union of two loving hearts had at last taken place. Their love
was happiness on earth; but if one of the two dies the other can never
be consoled while life lasts.

M. Violette never was consoled.



CHAPTER IX. THORNS OF JEALOUSY

Now Amedee had no family. The day after his father’s death he had a
violent rupture with M. Isidore Gaufre. Under the pretext that a suicide
horrified him, he allowed his niece’s husband to be carried to the
cemetery in a sixth-class hearse, and did not honor with his presence
the funeral, which was even prohibited from using the parish road. But
the saintly man was not deterred from swallowing for his dinner that
same day, while thundering against the progress of materialism, tripe
cooked after the Caen fashion, one of Berenice’s weekly works of art.

Amedee had now no family, and his friends were dispersed. As a reward
for passing his examinations in law, Madame Roger took her son with her
on a trip to Italy, and they had just left France together.

As to the poor Gerards, just one month after M. Violette’s death, the
old engraver died suddenly, of apoplexy, at his work; and on that day
there were not fifty francs in the house. Around the open grave where
they lowered the obscure and honest artist, there was only a group of
three women, in black, who were weeping, and Amedee in mourning for his
father, with a dozen of Gerard’s old comrades, whose romantic heads had
become gray. The family was obliged to sell at once, in order to get
a little money, what remained of proof-sheets in the boxes, some small
paintings, old presents from artist friends who had become celebrated,
and the last of the ruined knickknacks--indeed, all that constituted the
charm of the house. Then, in order that her eldest daughter might not
be so far from the boarding-school where she was employed as teacher of
music, Madame Gerard went to live in the Rue St.-Pierre, in Montmartre,
where they found a little cheap, first-floor apartment, with a garden as
large as one’s hand.

Now that he was reduced to his one hundred and twenty-five francs,
Amedee was obliged to leave his too expensive apartment in the Rue
Notre-Dame-des-Champs, and to sell the greater part of his family
furniture. He kept only his books and enough to furnish his little room,
perched under the roof of an old house in the Faubourg St.-Jacques.

It was far from Montmartre, so he could not see his friends as often as
he would have liked, those friends whom grief in common had made dearer
than ever to him. One single consolation remained for him--literary
work. He threw himself into it blindly, deadening his sorrow with the
fruitful and wonderful opiate of poetry and dreams. However, he had now
begun to make headway, feeling that he had some thing new to say. He
had long ago thrown into the fire his first poems, awkward imitations of
favorite authors, also his drama after the style of 1830, where the two
lovers sang a duet at the foot of the scaffold. He returned to truth
and simplicity by the longest way, the schoolboy’s road. Taste and
inclination both induced him to express simply and honestly what he saw
before him; to express, so far as he could, the humble ideal of the poor
people with whom he had lived in the melancholy Parisian suburbs where
his infancy was passed; in a word, to paint from nature. He tried,
feeling that he could succeed; and in those days lived the most
beautiful and perfect hours of his life--those in which the artist,
already master of his instrument, having still the abundance and
vivacity of youthful sensations, writes the first words that he knows
to be good, and writes them with entire disinterestedness, not even
thinking that others will see them; working for himself alone and for
the sole joy of putting in visible form and spreading abroad his ideas,
his thoughts-all his heart. Those moments of pure enthusiasm and perfect
happiness he never could know again, even after he had nibbled at the
savory food of success and had experienced the feverish desire for
glory. Delicious hours they were, and sacred, too, such as can only be
compared to the divine intoxication of first love.

Amedee worked courageously during the winter months that followed his
father’s death. He arose at six o’clock in the morning, lighted his lamp
and the little stove which heated his room, and, walking up and down,
leaning over his page, the poet would vigorously begin his struggle with
fancies, ideas, and words. At nine o’clock he would go out and breakfast
at a neighboring creamery; after which he would go to his office. There,
his tiresome papers once written, he had two or three hours of leisure,
which he employed in reading and taking notes from the volumes borrowed
by him every morning at a reading-room on the Rue Rorer-Collard; for he
had already learned that one leaves college almost ignorant, having,
at best, only learned how to study. He left the office at nightfall and
reached his room through the Boulevard des Invalides, and Montparnasse,
which at this time was still planted with venerable elms; sometimes the
lamplighter would be ahead of him, making the large gas-jets shoot
out under the leafless old trees. This walk, that Amedee imposed
upon himself for health’s sake, would bring him, about six o’clock, a
workman’s appetite for his dinner,--in the little creamery situated in
front of Val-de-Grace, where he had formed the habit of going. Then he
would return to his garret, and relight his stove and lamp, and work
until midnight. This ardent, continuous effort, this will-tension kept
in his mind the warmth, animation, and excitement indispensable for
poetical production. His mind expanded rapidly, ready to receive the
germs that were blown to him by the mysterious winds of inspiration. At
times he was astonished to see his pen fill the sheet so rapidly that he
would stop, filled with pride at having thus reduced to obedience words
and rhythms, and would ask himself what supernatural power had permitted
him to arm these divine wild birds.

On Sundays, he had his meals brought him by the concierge, working all
day and not going out until nearly five o’clock in the afternoon, to
dine with Mamma Gerard. It was the only distraction that he allowed
himself, or rather the only recompense that he permitted himself. He
walked halfway across Paris to buy a cake in the Rue Fontaine for their
dessert; then he climbed without fatigue, thanks to his young legs, to
the top of Montmartre, lighted by swinging lamps, where one could almost
believe one’s self in the distant corner of some province. They would be
waiting for him to serve the soup, and the young man would seat himself
between the widow and the two orphans.

Alas, how hard these poor ladies’ lives had become! Damourette, a member
of the Institute, remembered that he had once joked in the studios with
Gerard, and obtained a small annual pension for the widow; but it was
charity--hardly enough to pay the rent. Fortunately Louise, who already
looked like an old maid at twenty-three, going about the city all day
with her roll of music under her black shawl, had many pupils, and
more than twenty houses had well-nigh become uninhabitable through her
exertions with little girls, whose red hands made an unendurable racket
with their chromatic scales. Louise’s earnings constituted the surest
part of their revenue. What a strange paradox is the social life
in large cities, where Weber’s Last Waltz will bring the price of a
four-pound loaf of bread, and one pays the grocer with the proceeds of
Boccherini’s Minuet!

In spite of all, they had hard work to make both ends meet at the
Gerards. The pretty Maria wished to make herself useful and aid her
mother and sister. She had always shown great taste for drawing, and her
father used to give her lessons in pastel. Now she went to the Louvre to
work, and tried to copy the Chardins and Latours. She went there alone.
It was a little imprudent, she was so pretty; but Louise had no time to
go with her, and her mother had to be at home to attend to the housework
and cooking. Maria’s appearance had already excited the hearts of
several young daubers. There were several cases of persistent sadness
and loss of appetite in Flandrin’s studio; and two of Signol’s pupils,
who were surprised hovering about the young artist, were hated secretly
as rivals; certain projects of duels, after the American fashion, were
profoundly considered. To say that Maria was not a little flattered
to see all these admirers turn timidly and respectfully toward her; to
pretend that she took off her hat and hung it on one corner of her easel
because the heat from the furnace gave her neuralgia and not to show
her beautiful hair, would be as much of a lie as a politician’s promise.
However, the little darling was very serious, or at least tried to be.
She worked conscientiously and made some progress. Her last copy of the
portrait of that Marquise who holds a pug dog in her lap, with a ribbon
about his neck, was not very bad. This copy procured a piece of good
luck for the young artist.

Pere Issacar, a bric-a-brac merchant on the Quay Voltairean--an
old-fashioned Jew with a filthy overcoat, the very sight of which made
one long to tear it off--approached Maria one day, just as she was about
to sketch a rose in the Marquise’s powdered wig, and after raising a hat
greasy enough to make the soup for a whole regiment, said to her:

“Matemoiselle, vould you make me von dozen vamily bordraits?”

The young girl did not at first understand his abominable language, but
at last he made her comprehend.

Every thing is bought nowadays, even rank, provided, of course, that one
has a purse sufficiently well filled. Nothing is simpler! In return for
a little money you can procure at the Vatican--second corridor on your
right, third door at the left--a brand-new title of Roman Count. A
heraldic agency--see advertisement--will plant and make grow at your
will a genealogical tree, under whose shade you can give a
country breakfast to twenty-five people. You buy a castle with
port-holes--port-holes are necessary--in a corner of some reactionary
province. You call upon the lords of the surrounding castles with a
gold fleur-de-lys in your cravat. You pose as an enraged Legitimist and
ferocious Clerical. You give dinners and hunting parties, and the
game is won. I will wager that your son will marry into a Faubourg
St.-Germain family, a family which descends authentically from the
Crusaders.

In order to execute this agreeable buffoonery, you must not forget
certain accessories--particularly portraits of your ancestors. They
should ornament the castle walls where you regale the country nobles.
One must use tact in the selection of this family gallery. There must be
no exaggeration. Do not look too high. Do not claim as a founder of your
race a knight in armor hideously painted, upon wood, with his coat of
arms in one corner of the panel. Bear in mind the date of chivalry.
Be satisfied with the head of a dynasty whose gray beard hangs over a
well-crimped ruff. I saw a very good example of that kind the other day
on the Place Royale. A dog was just showing his disrespect for it as
I passed. You can obtain an ancestor like this in the outskirts of the
city for fifteen francs, if you haggle a little. Or you need not give
yourself so much trouble. Apply to a specialist, Pere Issacar, for
instance. He will procure magnificent ancestors for you; not dear
either! If you will consent to descend to simple magistrates, the price
will be insignificant. Chief justices are dirt cheap. Naturally, if you
wish to be of the military profession, to have eminent clergy among your
antecedents, the price increases. Pere Issacar is the only one who can
give you, at a reasonable rate, ermine-draped bishops, or a colonel with
a Louis XIV wig, and, if you wish it, a blue ribbon and a breast-plate
under his red coat. What produces a good effect in a series of family
portraits is a series of pastels. What would you say to a goggle-eyed
abbe, or an old lady indecently decolletee, or a captain of dragoons
wearing a tigerskin cap (it is ten francs more if he has the cross of
St. Louis)? Pere Issacar knows his business, and always has in reserve
thirty of these portraits in charming frames of the period, made
expressly for him in the Faubourg St.-Antoine, and which have all been
buried fifteen days and riddled with shot, in order to have the musty
appearance and indispensable worm holes.

You can understand now why the estimable Jew, in passing through the
Louvre for his weekly promenade, took an interest in little Maria
copying the charming Marquise de Latour. He was just at this time short
of powdered marquises, and they are always very much in demand. He
begged the young woman to take her copy home and make twelve more of it,
varying, only the color of the dress and some particular detail in each
portrait. Thus, instead of the pug dog, marquise No. 2 would hold a King
Charles spaniel, No. 2 a monkey, No. 3 a bonbon box, No. 4 a fan. The
face could remain the same. All marquises looked alike to Pere Issacar;
he only exacted that they should all be provided with two black patches,
one under the right eye, the other on the left shoulder. This he
insisted upon, for the patch, in his eyes, was a symbol of the
eighteenth century.

Pere Issacar was a fair man and promised to furnish frames, paper, and
pastels, and to pay the young girl fifteen francs for each marquise.
What was better yet, he promised, if he was pleased with the first work,
to order of the young artist a dozen canonesses of Remiremont and a
half-dozen of royal gendarmes.

I wish you could have seen those ladies when Maria went home to tell the
good news. Louise had just returned from distributing semiquavers in the
city; her eyes and poor Mother Gerard’s were filled with tears of joy.

“What, my darling,” said the mother, embracing her child, “are you going
to trouble yourself about our necessaries of life, too?”

“Do you see this little sister?” said Louise, laughing cordially. “She
is going to earn a pile of money as large as she is herself. Do you
know that I am jealous--I, with my piano and my displeasing profession?
Good-luck to pastel! It is not noisy, it will not annoy the neighbors,
and when you are old you can say, ‘I never have played for anybody.’”

But Maria did not wish them to joke. They had always treated her like a
doll, a spoiled child, who only knew how to curl her hair and tumble her
frocks. Well, they should see!

When Amedee arrived on Sunday with his cake, they told him over several
times the whole story, with a hundred details, and showed him the two
marquises that Maria had already finished, who wore patches as large as
wafers.

She appeared that day more attractive and charming than ever to the
young man, and it was then that he conceived his first ambition. If
he only had enough talent to get out of his obscurity and poverty, and
could become a famous writer and easily earn his living! It was
not impossible, after all. Oh, with what pleasure he would ask this
exquisite child to be his wife! How sweet it would be to know that she
was happy with, and proud of, him! But he must not think of it now, they
were too poor; and then, would Maria love him?

He often asked himself that question, and with uneasiness. In his own
heart he felt that the childish intimacy had become a sincere affection,
a real love. He had no reason to hope that the same transformation
had taken place in the young girl’s heart. She always treated him very
affectionately, but rather like a good comrade, and she was no more
stirred by his presence now than she was when she had lain in wait with
him behind the old green sofa to hunt Father Gerard’s battered fur hat.

Amedee had most naturally taken the Gerard family into his confidence
regarding his work. After the Sunday dinner they would seat themselves
around the table where Mamma Gerard had just served the coffee, and the
young man would read to his friends, in a grave, slow voice, the poem he
had composed during the week. A painter having the taste and inclination
for interior scenes, like the old masters of the Dutch school, would
have been stirred by the contemplation of this group of four persons in
mourning. The poet, with his manuscript in his right hand and marking
the syllables with a rhythmical movement of his left, was seated between
the two sisters. But while Louise--a little too thin and faded for
her years--fixes her attentive eyes upon the reader and listens with
avidity, the pretty Maria is listless and sits with a bored little face,
gazing mechanically at the other side of the table. Mother Gerard knits
with a serious air and her spectacles perched upon the tip of her nose.

Alas! during these readings Louise was the only one who heaved sighs
of emotion; and sometimes even great tear-drops would tremble upon her
lashes. She was the only one who could find just the right delicate word
with which to congratulate the poet, and show that she had understood
and been touched by his verses. At the most Maria would sometimes
accord the young poet, still agitated by the declamation of his lines, a
careless “It is very pretty!” with a commonplace smile of thanks.

She did not care for poetry, then? Later, if he married her, would she
remain indifferent to her husband’s intellectual life, insensible even
to the glory that he might reap? How sad it was for Amedee to have to
ask himself that question!

Soon Maria inspired a new fear within him. Maurice and his mother had
been already three months in Italy, and excepting two letters that he
had received from Milan, at the beginning of his journey, in the first
flush of his enthusiasm, Amedee had had no news from his friend.
He excused this negligence on the part of the lazy Maurice, who had
smilingly told him, on the eve of departure, not to count upon hearing
from him regularly. At each visit that Amedee paid the Gerards, Maria
always asked him:

“Have you received any news from your friend Maurice?”

At first he had paid no attention to this, but her persistency at length
astonished him, planting a little germ of suspicion and alarm in his
heart. Maurice Roger had only paid the Gerards a few visits during the
father’s lifetime, and accompanied on each occasion by Amedee. He had
always observed the most respectful manner toward Maria, and they
had perhaps exchanged twenty words. Why should Maria preserve such a
particular remembrance of a person so nearly a stranger to her? Was it
possible that he had made a deep impression, perhaps even inspired a
sentiment of love? Did she conceal in the depths of her heart, when she
thought of him, a tender hope? Was she watching for him? Did she wish
him to return?

When these fears crossed Amedee’s mind, he felt a choking sensation,
and his heart was troubled. Happy Maurice, who had only to be seen to
please! But immediately, with a blush of shame, the generous poet chased
away this jealous fancy. But every Sunday, when Maria, lowering her
eyes, and with a slightly embarrassed voice, repeated her question,
“Have you received any news from Monsieur Maurice?” Amedee felt a
cruelly discouraged feeling, and thought, with deep sadness:

“She never will love me!”

To conquer this new grief, he plunged still more deeply into work; but
he did not find his former animation and energy. After the drizzling
rain of the last days of March, the spring arrived. Now, when Amedee
awoke, it was broad daylight at six o’clock in the morning. Opening
his mansard window, he admired, above the tops of the roofs, the large,
ruddy sun rising in the soft gray sky, and from the convent gardens
beneath came a fresh odor of grass and damp earth. Under the shade of
the arched lindens which led to the shrine of a plaster Virgin, a first
and almost imperceptible rustle, a presentiment of verdure, so to
speak, ran through the branches, and the three almond trees in the
kitchen-garden put forth their delicate flowers. The young poet was
invaded by a sweet and overwhelming languor, and Maria’s face, which
was commonly before his inner vision upon awakening, became confused and
passed from his mind. He seated himself for a moment before a table
and reread the last lines of a page that he had begun; but he was
immediately overcome by physical lassitude, and abandoned himself to
thought, saying to himself that he was twenty years old, and that it
would be very good, after all, to enjoy life.



CHAPTER X. A BUDDING POET

It is the first of May, and the lilacs in the Luxembourg Gardens are in
blossom. It has just struck four o’clock. The bright sun and the pure
sky have rendered more odious than ever the captivity of the office to
Amedee, and he departs before the end of the sitting for a stroll in the
Medicis garden around the pond, where, for the amusement of the children
in that quarter, a little breeze from the northeast is pushing on a
miniature flotilla. Suddenly he hears himself called by a voice which
bursts out like a brass band at a country fair.

“Good-day, Violette.”

It is Jocquelet, the future comedian, with his turned-up nose,
which cuts the air like the prow of a first-class ironclad, superb,
triumphant, dressed like a Brazilian, shaved to the quick, the dearest
hope of Regnier’s class at the Conservatoire-Jocquelet, who has made an
enormous success in an act from the “Precieuses,” at the last quarter’s
examination--he says so himself, without any useless modesty--Jocquelet,
who will certainly have the first comedy prize at the next examination,
and will make his debut with out delay at the Comedie Francaise! All
this he announces in one breath, like a speech learned by heart, with
his terrible voice, like a quack selling shaving-paste from a gilded
carriage. In two minutes that favorite word of theatrical people had
been repeated thirty times, punctuating the phrases: “I! I! I! I!”

Amedee is only half pleased at the meeting. Jocquelet was always a
little too noisy to please him. After all, he was an old comrade, and
out of politeness the poet congratulated him upon his success.

Jocquelet questioned him. What was Amedee doing? What had become of him?
Where was his literary work? All this was asked with such cordiality
and warmth of manner that one would have thought that Jocquelet was
interested in Amedee, and had a strong friendship for him. Nothing of
the sort. Jocquelet was interested in only one person in this world,
and that person was named Jocquelet. One is either an actor or he is
not. This personage was always one wherever he was--in an omnibus, while
putting on his suspenders, even with the one he loved. When he said to
a newcomer, “How do you do?” he put so much feeling into this very
original question, that the one questioned asked himself whether he
really had not just recovered from a long and dangerous illness. Now, at
this time Jocquelet found himself in the presence of an unknown and poor
young poet. What role ought such an eminent person as himself to play
in such circumstances? To show affection for the young man, calm his
timidity, and patronize him without too much haughtiness; that was the
position to take, and Jocquelet acted it.

Amedee was an artless dupe, and, touched by the interest shown him, he
frankly replied:

“Well, my dear friend, I have worked hard this winter. I am not
dissatisfied. I think that I have made some progress; but if you knew
how hard and difficult it is!”

He was about to confide to Jocquelet the doubts and sufferings of a
sincere artist, but Jocquelet, as we have said, thought only of himself,
and brusquely interrupted the young poet:

“You do not happen to have a poem with you--something short, a hundred
or a hundred and fifty lines--a poem intended for effect, that one could
recite?”

Amedee had copied out that very day, at the office, a war story, a
heroic episode of Sebastopol that he had heard Colonel Lantz relate not
long since at Madame Roger’s, and had put into verse with a good French
sentiment and quite the military spirit, verse which savored of powder,
and went off like reports of musketry. He took the sheets out of his
pocket, and, leading the comedian into a solitary by-path of sycamores
which skirted the Luxembourg orangery, he read his poem to him in a low
voice. Jocquelet, who did not lack a certain literary instinct, was
very enthusiastic, for he foresaw a success for himself, and said to the
poet:

“You read those verses just like a poet, that is, very badly. But no
matter, this battle is very effective, and I see what I could do with
it-with my voice. But what do you mean?” added he, planting himself in
front of his friend. “Do you write verses like these and nobody knows
anything about them? It is absurd. Do you wish, then, to imitate
Chatterton? That is an old game, entirely used up! You must push
yourself, show yourself. I will take charge of that myself! Your evening
is free, is it not? Very well, come with me; before six o’clock I
shall have told your name to twenty trumpeters, who will make all
Paris resound with the news that there is a poet in the Faubourg
Saint-Jacques. I will wager, you savage, that you never have put your
foot into the Cafe de Seville. Why, my dear fellow, it is our first
manufactory of fame! Here is the Odeon omnibus, get on! We shall be
at the Boulevard Montmartre in twenty minutes, and I shall baptize you
there, as a great man, with a glass of absinthe.”

Dazzled and carried away, Amedee humored him and climbed upon the
outside of the omnibus with his comrade. The vehicle hurried them
quickly along toward the quay, crossed the Seine, the Carrousel, and
passed before the Theatre-Francais, at which Jocquelet, thinking of his
approaching debut, shook his fist, exclaiming, “Now I am ready for you!”
 Here the young men were planted upon the asphalt boulevard, in front of
the Cafe de Seville.

Do not go to-day to see this old incubator, in which so many political
and literary celebrities have been hatched; for you will only find
a cafe, just like any other, with its groups of ugly little Jews who
discuss the coming races, and here and there a poor creature, painted
like a Jezebel, dying of chagrin over her pot of beer.

At the decline of the Second Empire--it was May 1, 1866, that Amedee
Violette entered there for the first time--the Cafe de, Seville passed
for, and with reason too, one of the most remarkable places in Paris.
For this glorious establishment had furnished by itself, or nearly so,
the eminent staff of our third Republic! Be honest, Monsieur le Prefet,
you who presided at the opening of the agricultural meeting in our
province, and who played the peacock in your dress-coat, embroidered
in silver, before an imposing line of horned creatures; be honest and
admit, that, at the time when you opposed the official candidates in
your democratic journal, you had your pipe in the rack of the Cafe
de Seville, with your name in white enamel upon the blackened bowl!
Remember, Monsieur le Depute, you who voted against all the exemption
cases of the military law, remember who, in this very place, at your
daily game of dominoes for sixty points, more than a hundred times
ranted against the permanent army--you, accustomed to the uproar of
assemblies and the noise of the tavern--contributed to the parliamentary
victories by crying, “Six all! count that!” And you too, Monsieur le
Ministre, to whom an office-boy, dating from the tyrants, still says,
“Your excellency,” without offending you; you also have been a constant
frequenter of the Cafe de Seville, and such a faithful customer that the
cashier calls you by your Christian name. And do you recall, Monsieur
the future president of the Council, that you did not acquit yourself
very well when the sedentary dame, who never has been seen to rise from
her stool, and who, as a joker pretended, was afflicted with two wooden
legs, called you by a little sign to the desk, and said to you, not
without a shade of severity in her tone: “Monsieur Eugene, we must be
thinking of this little bill.”

Notwithstanding his title of poet, Amedee had not the gift of prophecy.
While seeing all these negligently dressed men seated outside at
the Cafe de Seville’s tables, taking appetizers, the young man never
suspected that he had before him the greater part of the legislators
destined to assure, some years later, France’s happiness. Otherwise he
would have respectfully taken note of each drinker and the color of his
drink, since at a later period this would have been very useful to
him as a mnemonical method for the understanding of our parliamentary
combinations, which are a little complicated, we must admit. For
example, would it not have been handy and agreeable to note down
that the recent law on sugars had been voted by the solid majority of
absinthe and bitters, or to know that the Cabinet’s fall, day before
yesterday, might be attributed simply to the disloyal and perfidious
abandonment of the bitter mints or blackcurrant wine?

Jocquelet, who professed the most advanced opinions in politics,
distributed several riotous and patronizing handshakes among these
future statesmen as he entered the establishment, followed by Amedee.

Here, there were still more of politics, and also poets and literary
men. They lived a sort of hurly-burly life, on good terms, but one
could not get them confounded, for the politicians were all beard, the
litterateurs, all hair.

Jocquelet directed his steps without hesitation toward the magnificent
red head of the whimsical poet, Paul Sillery, a handsome young fellow
with a wide-awake face, who was nonchalantly stretched upon the red
velvet cushion of the window-seat, before a table, around which were
three other heads of thick hair worthy of our early kings.

“My dear Paul,” said Jocquelet, in his most thrilling voice, handing
Sillery Amedee’s manuscript, “here are some verses that I think
are superb, and I am going to recite them as soon as I can, at some
entertainment or benefit. Read them and give us your opinion of them. I
present their author to you, Monsieur Amedee Violette. Amedee, I present
you to Monsieur Paul Sillery.”

All the heads of hair, framing young and amiable faces, turned curiously
toward the newcomer, whom Paul Sillery courteously invited to be seated,
with the established formula, “What will you take?” Then he began to
read the lines that the comedian had given him.

Amedee, seated on the edge of his chair, was distracted with timidity,
for Paul Sillery already enjoyed a certain reputation as a rising
poet, and had established a small literary sheet called La Guepe, which
published upon its first page caricatures of celebrated men with large
heads and little bodies, and Amedee had read in it some of Paul’s poems,
full of impertinence and charm. An author whose work had been published!
The editor of a journal! The idea was stunning to poor innocent
Violette, who was not aware then that La Guepe could not claim forty
subscribers. He considered Sillery something wonderful, and waited with
a beating heart for the verdict of so formidable a judge. At the end
of a few moments Sillery said, without raising his eyes from the
manuscript:

“Here are some fine verses!”

A flood of delight filled the heart of the poet from the Faubourg
St.-Jacques.

As soon as he had finished his reading, Paul arose from his seat, and,
extending both hands over the carafes and glasses to Amedee, said,
enthusiastically:

“Let me shake hands with you! Your description of the battle-scene is
astonishing! It is admirable! It is as clear and precise as Merimee, and
it has all the color and imagination that he lacks to make him a
poet. It is something absolutely new. My dear Monsieur Violette, I
congratulate you with all my heart! I can not ask you for this beautiful
poem for La Guepe that Jocquelet is so fortunate as to have to recite,
and of which I hope he will make a success. But I beg of you, as a great
favor, to let me have some verses for my paper; they will be, I am sure,
as good as these, if not better. To be sure, I forgot to tell you that
we shall not be able to pay you for the copy, as La Guepe does not
prosper; I will even admit that it only stands on one leg. In order to
make it appear for a few months longer, I have recently been obliged to
go to a money-lender, who has left me, instead of the classical stuffed
crocodile, a trained horse which he had just taken from an insolvent
circus. I mounted the noble animal to go to the Bois, but at the Place
de la Concorde he began to waltz around it, and I was obliged to get rid
of this dancing quadruped at a considerable loss. So your contribution
to La Guepe would have to be gratuitous, like those of all the rest.
You will give me the credit of having saluted you first of all, my dear
Violette, by the rare and glorious title of true poet. You will let me
reserve the pleasure of intoxicating you with the odor that a printer’s
first proofs give, will you not? Is it agreed?”

Yes, it was agreed! That is to say, Amedee, touched to the depths of his
heart by so much good grace and fraternal cordiality, was so troubled in
trying to find words to express his gratitude, that he made a terrible
botch of it.

“Do not thank me,” said Paul Sillery, with his pleasant but rather
sceptical smile, “and do not think me better than I am. If all your
verses are as strong as these that I have just read, you will soon
publish a volume that will make a sensation, and--who knows?--perhaps
will inspire me first of all with an ugly attack of jealousy. Poets are
no better than other people; they are like the majority of Adam’s sons,
vain and envious, only they still keep the ability to admire, and the
gift of enthusiasm, and that proves their superiority and is to their
credit. I am delighted to have found a mare’s nest to-day, an original
and sincere poet, and with your permission we will celebrate this happy
meeting. The price of the waltzing horse having hardly sufficed to
pay off the debt to the publisher of La Guepe, I am not in funds this
evening; but I have credit at Pere Lebuffle’s, and I invite you all to
dinner at his pot-house; after which we will go to my rooms, where I
expect a few friends, and there you will read us your verses, Violette;
we will all read some of them, and have a fine orgy of rich rhymes.”

This proposition was received with favor by the three young men with the
long hair, a la Clodion and Chilperic. As for Violette, he would have
followed Paul Sillery at that moment, had it been into the infernal
regions.

Jocquelet could not go with them, he had promised his evening to a lady,
he said, and he gave this excuse with such a conceited smile that all
were convinced he was going to crown himself with the most flattering of
laurels at the mansion of some princess of the royal blood. In reality,
he was going to see one of his Conservatoire friends, a large, lanky
dowdy, as swarthy as a mole and full of pretensions, who was destined
for the tragic line of character, and inflicted upon her lover Athalie’s
dream, Camille’s imprecations, and Phedre’s monologue.

After paying for the refreshments, Sillery gave his arm to Amedee, and,
followed by the three Merovingians, they left the cafe. Forcing a
way through the crowd which obstructed the sidewalk of the Faubourg
Montmartre he conducted his guests to Pere Lebuffle’s table d’hote,
which was situated on the third floor of a dingy old house in the Rue
Lamartine, where a sickening odor of burnt meat greeted them as soon as
they reached the top of the stairs. They found there, seated before a
tablecloth remarkable for the number of its wine-stains, two or three
wild-looking heads of hair, and four or five shaggy beards, to whom Pere
Lebuffle was serving soup, aided by a tired-looking servant. The name
under which Sillery had designated the proprietor of the table d’hote
might have been a nickname, for this stout person in his shirt-sleeves
recommended himself to one’s attentions by his bovine face and his
gloomy, wandering eyes. To Amedee’s amazement, Pere Lebuffle called the
greater part of his clients “thou,” and as soon as the newcomers were
seated at table, Amedee asked Sillery, in a low voice, the cause of this
familiarity.

“It is caused by the hard times, my dear Violette,” responded the
editor of ‘La Guepe’ as he unfolded his napkin. “There is no longer a
‘Maecenas’ or ‘Lawrence the Magnificent.’ The last patron of literature
and art is Pere Lebufle. This wretched cook, who has perhaps never read
a book or seen a picture, has a fancy for painters and poets, and allows
them to cultivate that plant, Debt, which, contrary to other vegetables,
grows all the more, the less it is watered with instalments. We must
pardon the good man,” said he, lowering his voice, “his little sin--a
sort of vanity. He wishes to be treated like a comrade and friend by
the artists. Those who have several accounts brought forward upon his
ledger, arrive at the point of calling him ‘thou,’ and I, alas! am of
that number. Thanks to that, I am going to make you drink something a
little less purgative than the so-called wine which is turning blue
in that carafe, and of which I advise you to be suspicious. I say,
Lebuffle, my friend here, Monsieur Amedee Violette, will be, sooner or
later, a celebrated poet. Treat him accordingly, my good fellow, and go
and get us a bottle of Moulins-Vent.”

The conversation meanwhile became general between the bearded and
long-haired men. Is it necessary to say that they were all animated,
both politicians and ‘litterateurs’, with the most revolutionary
sentiments? At the very beginning, with the sardines, which evidently
had been pickled in lamp-oil, a terribly hairy man, the darkest of them
all, with a beard that grew up into its owner’s eyes and then sprung out
again in tufts from his nose and ears, presented some elegiac regrets to
the memory of Jean-Paul Marat, and declared that at the next revolution
it would be necessary to realize the programme of that delightful friend
of the people, and make one hundred thousand heads fall.

“By thunder, Flambard, you have a heavy hand!” exclaimed one of
the least important of beards, one of those that degenerate into
side-whiskers as they become conservative. “One hundred thousand heads!”

“It is the minimum,” replied the sanguinary beard.

Now, it had just been revealed to Amedee that under this ferocious beard
was concealed a photographer, well known for his failures, and the young
man could not help thinking that if the one hundred thousand heads in
question had posed before the said Flambard’s camera, he would not show
such impatience to see them fall under the guillotine.

The conversation of the men with the luxuriant hair was none the less
anarchical when the roast appeared, which sprung from the legendary
animal called ‘vache enragee’. The possessor of the longest and thickest
of all the shock heads, which spread over the shoulders of a young story
writer--between us, be it said, he made a mistake in not combing it
oftener--imparted to his brothers the subject for his new novel, which
should have made the hair of the others bristle with terror; for the
principal episode in this agreeable fiction was the desecration of a
dead body in a cemetery by moonlight. There was a sort of hesitation in
the audience, a slight movement of recoil, and Sillery, with a dash of
raillery in his glance, asked the novelist:

“Why the devil do you write such a story?”

The novelist replied, in a thundering tone:

“To astonish the bourgeoisie!”

And nobody made the slightest objection.

To “astonish the bourgeoisie” was the dearest hope and most ardent wish
of these young men, and this desire betrayed itself in their slightest
word; and doubtless Amedee thought it legitimate and even worthy
of praise. However, he did not believe--must we admit his lack of
confidence?--that so many glorious efforts were ever crowned with
success. He went so far as to ask himself whether the character and
cleverness of these bourgeoisie would not lead them to ignore not
only the works, but even the existence, of the authors who sought to
“astonish” them; and he thought, not without sadness, that when La Guepe
should have published this young novelist’s ghostly composition,
the unconquerable bourgeoisie would know nothing about it, and would
continue to devote itself to its favorite customs, such as tapping the
barometer to know whether there was a change, or to heave a deep sigh
after guzzling its soup, saying, “I feel better!” without being the
least astonished in the world.

In spite of these mental reservations, which Amedee reproached himself
with, being himself an impure and contemptible Philistine, the poet was
delighted with his new friends and the unknown world opening before him.
In this Bohemian corner, where one got intoxicated with wild excesses
and paradoxes, recklessness and gayety reigned. The sovereign charm
of youth was there, and Amedee, who had until now lived in a dark
hiding-place, blossomed out in this warm atmosphere.

After a horrible dessert of cheese and prunes, Pere Lebuffle’s guests
dispersed. Sillery escorted Amedee and the three Merovingians to the
little, sparsely furnished first floor in the Rue Pigalle, where he
lived; and half a dozen other lyric poets, who might have furnished some
magnificent trophies for an Apache warrior’s scalping-knife, soon came
to reenforce the club which met there every Wednesday evening.

Seats were wanting at the beginning, but Sillery drew from a closet an
old black trunk which would hold two, and contented himself, as master
of the house, with sitting from time to time, with legs dangling, upon
the marble mantel. The company thus found themselves very comfortable;
still more so when an old woman with a dirty cap had placed upon the
table, in the middle of the room, six bottles of beer, some odd glasses,
and a large flowered plate upon which was a package of cut tobacco with
cigarette paper. They began to recite their verses in a cloud of smoke.
Each recited his own, called upon by Sillery; each would rise without
being urged, place his chair in front of him, and leaning one hand upon
its back, would recite his poem or elegy. Certainly some of them were
wanting in genius, some were even ludicrous. Among the number was a
little fellow with a cadaverous face, about as large as two farthings’
worth of butter, who declared, in a long speech with flat rhymes,
that an Asiatic harem was not capable of quenching his ardent love of
pleasure. A fat-faced fellow with a good, healthy, country complexion,
announced, in a long story, his formal intention of dying of a decline,
on account of the treason of a courtesan with a face as cold as marble;
while, if the facts were known, this peaceable boy lived with an artless
child of the people, brightening her lot by reducing her to a state of
slavery; she blacked his boots for him every morning before he left the
house.

In spite of these ridiculous things, there were present some genuine
poets who knew their business and had real talent. These filled Amedee
with respect and fear, and when Sillery called his name, he arose with a
dry mouth and heavy heart.

“It is your turn now, you newcomer! Recite us your ‘Before Sebastopol.’”

And so, thoroughbred that he was, Amedee overcame his emotion and
recited, in a thrilling voice, his military rhymes, that rang out like
the report of a veteran’s gun.

The last stanza, was greeted with loud applause, and all the auditors
arose and surrounded Amedee to offer him their congratulations.

“Why, it is superb!”

“Entirely new!”

“It will make an enormous success!”

“It is just what is needed to arouse the public!”

“Recite us something else!--something else!”

Reassured and encouraged, master of himself, he recited a popular scene
in which he had freely poured out his love for the poor people. He
next recited some of his Parisian suburban scenes, and then a series
of sonnets, entitled “Love’s Hopes,” inspired by his dear Maria; and
he astonished all these poets by the versatility and variety of his
inspirations.

At each new poem bravos were thundered out, and the young man’s heart
expanded with joy under this warm sunshine of success. His audience vied
with each other to approach Amedee first, and to shake his hand. Alas!
some of those who were there would, later, annoy him by their low envy
and treason; but now, in the generous frankness of their youth, they
welcomed him as a master.

What an intoxicating evening! Amedee reached his home about two o’clock
in the morning, his hands burning with the last grasps, his brain and
heart intoxicated with the strong wine of praise. He walked with long
and joyful strides through the fairy scene of a beautiful moonlight, in
the fresh morning wind which made his clothes flutter and caressed his
face. He thought he even felt the breath of fame.



BOOK 3.



CHAPTER XI. SUCCESS

Success, which usually is as fickle as justice, took long strides and
doubled its stations in order to reach Amedee. The Cafe de Seville, and
the coterie of long-haired writers, were busying themselves with the
rising poet already. His suite of sonnets, published in La Guepe,
pleased some of the journalists, who reproduced them in portions
in well-distributed journals. Ten days after Amedee’s meeting with
Jocquelet, the latter recited his poem “Before Sebastopol” at a
magnificent entertainment given at the Gaite for the benefit of an
illustrious actor who had become blind and reduced to poverty.

This “dramatic solemnity,” to use the language of the advertisement,
began by being terribly tiresome. There was an audience present who were
accustomed to grand Parisian soirees, a blase and satiated public, who,
upon this warm evening in the suffocating theatre, were more fatigued
and satiated than ever. The sleepy journalists collapsed in their
chairs, and in the back part of the stage-boxes, ladies’ faces, almost
green under paint, showed the excessive lassitude of a long winter of
pleasure. The Parisians had all come there from custom, without
having the slightest desire to do so, just as they always came, like
galley-slaves condemned to “first nights.” They were so lifeless that
they did not even feel the slightest horror at seeing one another grow
old. This chloroformed audience was afflicted with a long and too heavy
programme, as is the custom in performances of this kind. They played
fragments of the best known pieces, and sang songs from operas long
since fallen into disuse even on street organs. This public saw the
same comedians march out; the most famous are the most monotonous;
the comical ones abused their privileges; the lover spoke distractedly
through his nose; the great coquette--the actress par excellence, the
last of the Celimenes--discharged her part in such a sluggish way that
when she began an adverb ending in “ment,” one would have almost had
time to go out and smoke a cigarette or drink a glass of beer before she
reached the end of the said adverb.

But at the most lethargic moment of this drowsy soirees, after the
comedians from the Francais had played in a stately manner one act
from a tragedy, Jocquelet appeared. Jocquelet, still a pupil at the
Conservatoire, showed himself to the public for the first time and by
an exceptional grace--Jocquelet, absolutely unknown, too short in his
evening clothes, in spite of the two packs of cards that he had put in
his boots. He appeared, full of audacity, riding his high horse, raising
his flat-nosed, bull-dog face toward the “gallery gods,” and, in his
voice capable of making Jericho’s wall fall or raising Jehoshaphat’s
dead, he dashed off in one effort, but with intelligence and heroic
feeling, his comrade’s poem.

The effect was prodigious. This bold, common, but powerful actor, and
these picturesque and modern verses were something entirely new to this
public satiated with old trash. What a happy surprise! Two novelties
at once! To think of discovering an unheard-of poet and an unknown
comedian! To nibble at these two green fruits! Everybody shook off his
torpor; the anaesthetized journalists aroused themselves; the colorless
and sleepy ladies plucked up a little animation; and when Jocquelet
had made the last rhyme resound like a grand flourish of trumpets, all
applauded enough to split their gloves.

In one of the theatre lobbies, behind a bill-board pasted over with old
placards, Amedee Violette heard with delight the sound of the applause
which seemed like a shower of hailstones. He dared not think of it! Was
it really his poem that produced so much excitement, which had thawed
this cold public? Soon he did not doubt it, for Jocquelet, who had just
been recalled three times, threw himself into the poet’s arms and glued
his perspiring, painted face to his.

“Well, my little one, I have done it!” he exclaimed, bursting with
gratification and vanity. “You heard how I caught them!”

Immediately twenty, thirty, a hundred spectators appeared, most of
them very correct in white cravats, but all eager and with beaming
countenances, asking to see the author and the interpreter, and to
be presented to them, that they might congratulate them with an
enthusiastic word and a shake of the hand. Yes! it was a success, an
instantaneous one. It was certainly that rare tropical flower of the
Parisian greenhouse which blossoms out so seldom, but so magnificently.

One large, very common-looking man, wearing superb diamond
shirt-buttons, came in his turn to shake Amedee’s hand, and in a hoarse,
husky voice which would have been excellent to propose tickets “cheaper
than at the office!” he asked for the manuscript of the poem that had
just been recited.

“It is so that I may put you upon the first page of my tomorrow’s
edition, young man, and I publish eighty thousand. Victor Gaillard,
editor of ‘Le Tapage’. Does that please you?”

He took the manuscript without listening to the thanks of the poet, who
trembled with joy at the thought that his work had caught the fancy of
this Barnum of the press, the foremost advertiser in France and Europe,
and that his verses would meet the eyes of two hundred thousand readers.

Yes, it was certainly a success, and he experienced the first bitterness
of it as soon as he arrived the next morning at the Cafe de Seville,
where he now went every two or three days at the hour for absinthe. His
verses had appeared in that morning’s Tapage, printed in large type and
headed by a few lines of praise written by Victor Gaillard, a la Barnum.
As soon as Amedee entered the cafe he saw that he was the object of
general attention, and the lyric gentlemen greeted him with acclamations
and bravos; but at certain expressions of countenance, constrained
looks, and bitter smiles, the impressionable young man felt with a
sudden sadness that they already envied him.

“I warned you of it,” said Paul Sillery to him, as he led him into a
corner of the cafe. “Our good friends are not pleased, and that is very
natural. The greater part of these rhymers are ‘cheap jewellers,’ and
they are jealous of a master workman. Above all things, pretend not
to notice it; they will never forgive you for guessing their bad
sentiments. And then you must be indulgent to them. You have your
beautiful lieutenant’s epaulettes, Violette, do not be too hard upon
these poor privates. They also are fighting under the poetic flag, and
ours is a poverty-stricken regiment. Now you must profit by your good
luck. Here you are, celebrated in forty-eight hours. Do you see, even
the political people look at you with curiosity, although a poet in the
estimation of these austere persons is an inferior and useless being.
It is all they will do to accept Victor Hugo, and only on account of his
‘Chatiments.’ You are the lion of the day. Lose no time. I met just now
upon the boulevard Massif, the publisher. He had read ‘Le Tapage’ and
expects you. Carry him all your poems to-morrow; there will be enough to
make a volume. Massif will publish it at his own expense, and you will
appear before the public in one month. You never will inveigle a second
time that big booby of a Gaillard, who took a mere passing fancy for
you. But no matter! I know your book, and it will be a success. You are
launched. Forward, march! Truly, I am better than I thought, for your
success gives me pleasure.”

This amiable comrade’s words easily dissipated the painful feelings
that Amedee had just experienced. However, it was one of those exalted
moments when one will not admit that evil exists. He spent some time
with the poets, forcing himself to be more gracious and friendly than
ever, and left them persuaded--the unsuspecting child!--that he had
disarmed them by his modesty; and very impatient to share his joy with
his friends, the Gerards, he quickly walked the length of Montmartre and
reached them just at their dinner hour.

They did not expect him, and only had for their dinner the remains of
the boiled beef of the night before, with some cucumbers. Amedee carried
his cake, as usual, and, what was better still, two sauces that always
make the poorest meal palatable--hope and happiness.

They had already read the journals and knew that the poem had been
applauded at the Gaite, and that it had at once been printed on the
first page of the journal; and they were all so pleased, so glad, that
they kissed Amedee on both cheeks. Mamma Gerard remembered that she had
a few bottles--five or six--of old chambertin in the cellar, and you
could not have prevented the excellent woman from taking her key and
taper at once, and going for those old bottles covered with cobwebs and
dust, that they might drink to the health of the triumphant one. As to
Louise, she was radiant, for in several houses where she gave lessons
she had heard them talk of the fine and admirable verses published in Le
Tapage, and she was very proud to think that the author was a friend of
hers. What completed Amedee’s pleasure was that for the first time Maria
seemed to be interested in his poem, and said several times to him, with
such a pretty, vain little air:

“Do you know, your battle is very nice. Amedee, you are going to become
a great poet, a celebrated man! What a superb future you have before
you!”

Ah! what exquisitely sweet hopes he carried away that evening to his
room in the Faubourg St.-Jacques! They gave him beautiful dreams, and
pervaded his thoughts the next morning when the concierge brought him
two letters.

Still more happiness! The first letter contained two notes of a hundred
francs each, with Victor Gaillard’s card, who congratulated Amedee anew
and asked him to write something for his journal in the way of prose;
a story, or anything he liked. The young poet gave a cry of joyful
surprise when he recognized the handwriting of Maurice Roger upon the
other envelope.

“I have just returned to Paris, my dear Amedee,” wrote the traveller,
“and your success was my first greeting. I must embrace you quickly and
tell you how happy I am. Come to see me at four o’clock in my den in the
Rue Monsieur-le-Prince. We will dine and pass the evening together.”

Ah! how the poet loved life that morning, how good and sweet it seemed
to him! Clothed in his best, he gayly descended the Rue St.-Jacques,
where boxes of asparagus and strawberries perfumed the fruit-stalls,
and went to the Boulevard St. Michel, where he purchased an elegant gray
felt hat and a new cravat. Then he went to the Cafe Voltaire, where
he lunched. He changed his second hundred-franc bill, so that he might
feel, with the pleasure of a child, the beautiful louis d’or which he
owed to his work and its success. At the office the head clerk--a good
fellow, who sang well at dinners--complimented Amedee upon his poem. The
young man had only made his appearance to ask for leave that afternoon,
so as to take his manuscript to the publisher.

Once more in the street in the bright May sun, after the fashion of
nabobs, he took an open carriage and was carried to Massif, in the
Passage des Princes. The editor of the Jeunes was seated in his office,
which was decorated with etchings and beautiful bindings. He is well
known by his magnificent black beard and his large bald head, upon
which a wicked jester once advised him to paste his advertisements; he
publishes the works of audacious authors and sensational books, and had
the honor of sharing with Charles Bazile, the poet, an imprisonment
at St.-Pelagie. He received this thin-faced rhymer coldly. Amedee
introduced himself, and at once there was a broad smile, a handshake,
and a connoisseur’s greedy sniffling. Then Massif opened the manuscript.

“Let us see! Ah, yes, with margins and false titles we can make out two
hundred and fifty pages.”

The business was settled quickly. A sheet of stamped paper--an
agreement! Massif will pay all the expenses of the first edition of
one thousand, and if there is another edition--and of course there will
be!--he will give him ten cents a copy. Amedee signs without reading.
All that he asks is that the volume should be published without delay.

“Rest easy, my dear poet! You will receive the first proofs in three
days, and in one month it will appear.”

Was it possible? Was Amedee not dreaming? He, poor Violette’s son,
the little office clerk--his book would be published, and in a month!
Readers and unknown friends will be moved by his agitation, will suffer
in his suspense; young people will love him and find an echo of their
sentiments in his verses; women will dreamily repeat--with one finger
in his book--some favorite verse that touches their hearts! Ah! he must
have a confidant in his joy, he must tell some true friend.

“Driver, take me to the Rue Monsieur-le-Prince.”

He mounted, four steps at a time, the stairs leading to Maurice’s
room. The key is in the door. He enters and finds the traveller there,
standing in the midst of the disorder of open trunks.

“Maurice!”

“Amedee!”

What an embrace! How long they stood hand in hand, looking at each other
with happy smiles!

Maurice is more attractive and gracious than ever. His beauty is more
manly, and his golden moustache glistens against his sun-browned skin.
What a fine fellow! How he rejoiced at his friend’s first success!

“I am certain that your book will turn everybody’s head. I always told
you that you were a genuine poet. We shall see!”

As to himself, he was happy too. His mother had let him off from
studying law and allowed him to follow his vocation. He was going to
have a studio and paint. It had all been decided in Italy, where Madame
Roger had witnessed her son’s enthusiasm over the great masters. Ah,
Italy! Italy! and he began to tell of his trip, show knickknacks and
souvenirs of all kinds that littered the room. He turned in his hands,
that he might show all its outlines, a little terra-cotta reduction of
the Antinous in the Museum of Naples. He opened a box, full to bursting,
of large photographs, and passed them to his friend with exclamations of
retrospective admiration.

“Look! the Coliseum! the ruins of Paestum--and this antique from the
Vatican! Is it not beautiful?”

While looking at the pictures he recalled the things that he had seen
and the impressions he had experienced. There was a band of collegians
in little capes and short trousers taking their walk; they wore buckled
shoes, like the abbes of olden times, and nothing could be more droll
than to see these childish priests play leapfrog. There, upon the Riva
dei Schiavoni, he had followed a Venetian. “Shabbily dressed, and fancy,
my friend, bare-headed, in a yellow shawl with ragged green fringe! No,
I do not know whether she was pretty, but she possessed in her person
all the attractions of Giorgione’s goddesses and Titian’s courtesans
combined!”

Maurice is still the same wicked fellow. But, bah! it suits him; he even
boasts of it with such a joyous ardor and such a youthful dash, that it
is only one charm the more in him. The clock struck seven, and they went
to dine. They started off through the Latin Quarter. Maurice gave his
arm to Amedee and told him of his adventures on the other side of the
Alps. Maurice, once started on this subject, could not stop, and while
the dinner was being served the traveller continued to describe his
escapades. This kind of conversation was dangerous for Amedee; for it
must not be forgotten that for some time the young poet’s innocence had
weighed upon him, and this evening he had some pieces of gold in his
pocket that rang a chime of pleasure. While Maurice, with his elbow
upon the table, told him his tales of love, Amedee gazed out upon the
sidewalk at the women who passed by in fresh toilettes, in the gaslight
which illuminated the green foliage, giving a little nod of the head to
those whom they knew. There was voluptuousness in the very air, and it
was Amedee who arose from the table and recalled to Maurice that it was
Thursday, and that there was a fete that night at Bullier’s; and he also
was the one to add, with a deliberate air:

“Shall we take a turn there?”

“Willingly,” replied his gay friend. “Ah, ha! we are then beginning to
enjoy ourselves a little, Monsieur Violette! Go to Bullier’s? so be
it. I am not sorry to assure myself whether or not I still love the
Parisians.”

They started off, smoking their cigarettes. Upon the highway, going
in the same direction as themselves, were victorias carrying women in
spring costumes and wearing bonnets decked with flowers. From time to
time the friends were elbowed by students shouting popular refrains and
walking in Indian-file.

Here is Bullier’s! They step into the blazing entrance, and go thence
to the stairway which leads to the celebrated public ballroom. They are
stifled by the odor of dust, escaping gas, and human flesh. Alas! there
are in every village in France doctors in hansom cabs, country lawyers,
and any quantity of justices of the peace, who, I can assure you, regret
this stench as they take the fresh air in the open country under the
starry heavens, breathing the exquisite perfume of new-mown hay; for
it is mingled with the little poetry that they have had in their lives,
with their student’s love-affairs, and their youth.

All the same, this Bullier’s is a low place, a caricature of the
Alhambra in pasteboard. Three or four thousand moving heads in a cloud
of tobacco-smoke, and an exasperating orchestra playing a quadrille in
which dancers twist and turn, tossing their legs with calm faces and
audacious gestures.

“What a mob!” said Amedee, already a trifle disgusted. “Let us go into
the garden.”

They were blinded by the gas there; the thickets looked so much like
old scenery that one almost expected to see the yellow breastplates of
comic-opera dragoons; and the jet of water recalled one of those little
spurts of a shooting-gallery upon which an empty egg-shell dances. But
they could breathe there a little.

“Boy! two sodas,” said Maurice, striking the table with his cane; and
the two friends sat down near the edge of a walk where the crowd passed
and repassed. They had been there about ten minutes when two women
stopped before them.

“Good-day, Maurice,” said the taller, a brunette with rich coloring, the
genuine type of a tavern girl.

“What, Margot!” exclaimed the young man. “Will you take something?
Sit down a moment, and your friend too. Do you know, your friend is
charming? What is her name?”

“Rosine,” replied the stranger, modestly, for she was only about
eighteen, and, in spite of the blond frizzles over her eyes, she was not
yet bold, poor child! She was making her debut, it was easy to see.

“Well, Mademoiselle Rosine, come here, that I may see you,” continued
Maurice, seating the young girl beside him with a caressing gesture.
“You, Margot, I authorize to be unfaithful to me once more in favor of
my friend Amedee. He is suffering with lovesickness, and has a heart
to let. Although he is a poet, I think he happens to have in his pocket
enough to pay for a supper.”

Everywhere and always the same, the egotistical and amiable Maurice
takes the lion’s share, and Amedee, listening only with one ear to the
large Margot, who is already begging him to make an acrostic for her,
thinks Rosine is charming, while Maurice says a thousand foolish
things to her. In spite of himself, the poet looks upon Maurice as
his superior, and thinks it perfectly natural that he should claim the
prettier of the two women. No matter! Amedee wanted to enjoy himself
too. This Margot, who had just taken off her gloves to drink her wine,
had large, red hands, and seemed as silly as a goose, but all the same
she was a beautiful creature, and the poet began to talk to her, while
she laughed and looked at him with a wanton’s eyes. Meanwhile the
orchestra burst into a polka, and Maurice, in raising his voice to speak
to his friend, called him several times Amedee, and once only by his
family name, Violette. Suddenly little Rosine started up and looked at
the poet, saying with astonishment:

“What! Is your name Amedee Violette?”

“Certainly.”

“Then you are the boy with whom I played so much when I was a child.”

“With me?”

“Yes! Do you not remember Rosine, little Rosine Combarieu, at Madame
Gerard’s, the engraver’s wife, in the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs? We
played games with his little girls. How odd it is, the way one meets old
friends!”

What is it that Amedee feels? His entire childhood rises before him.
The bitterness of the thought that he had known this poor girl in her
innocence and youth, and the Gerards’ name spoken in such a place,
filled the young man’s heart with a singular sadness. He could only say
to Rosine, in a voice that trembled a little with pity:

“You! Is it you?”

Then she became red and very embarrassed, lowering her eyes.

Maurice had tact; he noticed that Rosine and Amedee were agitated, and,
feeling that he was de trop, he arose suddenly and said:

“Now then, Margot. Come on! these children want to talk over their
childhood, I think. Give up your acrostic, my child. Take my arm, and
come and have a turn.”

When they were alone Amedee gazed at Rosine sadly. She was pretty, in
spite of her colorless complexion, a child of the faubourg, born with
a genius for dress, who could clothe herself on nothing-a linen gown, a
flower in her hat. One who lived on salads and vegetables, so as to buy
well-made shoes and eighteen-button gloves.

The pretty blonde looked at Amedee, and a timid smile shone in her
nut-brown eyes.

“Now, Monsieur Amedee,” said she, at last, “it need not trouble you to
meet at Bullier’s the child whom you once played with. What would have
been astonishing would be to find that I had become a fine lady. I am
not wise, it is true, but I work, and you need not fear that I go with
the first comer. Your friend is a handsome fellow, and very amiable, and
I accepted his attentions because he knew Margot, while with you it is
very different. It gives me pleasure to talk with you. It recalls Mamma
Gerard, who was so kind to me. What has become of her, tell me? and her
husband and her daughters?”

“Monsieur Gerard is dead,” replied Amedee; “but the ladies are well, and
I see them often.”

“Do not tell them that you met me here, will you? It is better not. If
I had had a good ‘mother, like those girls, things would have turned out
differently for me. But, you remember, papa was always interested in his
politics. When I was fifteen years old he apprenticed me to a florist.
He was a fine master, a perfect monster of a man, who ruined me! I say,
Pere Combarieu has a droll trade now; he is manager of a Republican
journal--nothing to do--only a few months in prison now and then. I
am always working in flowers, and I have a little friend, a pupil at
Val-de-Grace, but he has just left as a medical officer for Algeria.
I was lonely all by myself, and this evening big Margot, whom I got
acquainted with in the shop, brought me here to amuse myself. But
you--what are you doing? Your friend said just now that you were a poet.
Do you write songs? I always liked them. Do you remember when I used to
play airs with one finger upon the Gerards’ old piano? You were such
a pretty little boy then, and as gentle as a girl. You still have your
nice blue eyes, but they are a little darker. I remember them. No, you
can not know how glad I am to see you again!”

They continued to chatter, bringing up old reminiscences, and when she
spoke of the Gerard ladies she put on a respectful little air which
pleased Amedee very much. She was a poor feather-headed little thing,
he did not doubt; but she had kept at least the poor man’s treasure, a
simple heart. The young man was pleased with her prattling, and as
he looked at the young girl he thought of the past and felt a sort of
compassion for her. As she was silent for a moment, the poet said to
her, “Do you know that you have become very pretty? What a charming
complexion you have! such a lovely pallor!”

The grisette, who had known what poverty was, gave a bitter little
laugh:

“Oh, my pallor! that is nothing! It is not the pallor of wealth.”

Then, recovering her good-humor at once, she continued:

“Tell me, Monsieur Amedee, does this big Margot, whom you began to pay
attentions to a little while ago, please you?”

Amedee quickly denied it. “That immense creature? Never! Now then,
Rosine, I came here to amuse myself a little, I will admit. That is
not forbidden at my age, is it? But this ball disgusts me. You have no
appointment here? No? Is it truly no? Very well, take my arm and let us
go. Do you live far from here?”

“In the Avenue d’Orleans, near the Montrouge church.”

“Will you allow me to escort you home, then?”

She would be happy to, and they arose and left the ball. It seemed to
the young poet as if the pretty girl’s arm trembled a little in his;
but once upon the boulevard, flooded by the light from the silvery moon,
Rosine slackened her steps and became pensive, and her eyes were lowered
when Amedee sought a glance from them in the obscurity. How sweet was
this new desire that troubled the young man’s heart! It was mixed with
a little sentiment; his heart beat with emotion, and Rosine was not less
moved. They could both find only insignificant things to say.

“What a beautiful night!”

“Yes! It does one good to breathe the fresh air.”

They continued their walk without speaking. Oh, how fresh and sweet it
was under these trees!

At last they reached the door of Rosine’s dwelling. With a slow movement
she pressed her hand upon the bell-button. Then Amedee, with a great
effort, and in a confused, husky voice, asked whether he might go up
with her and see her little room.

She looked at him steadily, with a tender sadness in her eyes, and then
said to him, softly:

“No, certainly not! One must be sensible. I please you this evening,
and you know very well that I think you are charming. It is true we knew
each other when we were young, and now that we have met again, it seems
as if it would be pleasant to love each other. But, believe me, we
should commit a great folly, perhaps a wrong. It is better, I assure
you, to forget that you ever met me at Bullier’s with big Margot, and
only remember your little playmate of the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs. It
will be better than a caprice, it will be something pure that you
can keep in your heart. Do not let us spoil the remembrance of our
childhood, Monsieur Amedee, and let us part good friends.”

Before the young man could find a reply, the bell pealed again, and
Rosine gave Amedee a parting smile, lightly kissing the tips of her
fingers, and disappeared behind the doer, which fell together, with
a loud bang. The poet’s first movements was one of rage. Giddy
weather-cock of a woman! But he had hardly taken twenty steps upon the
sidewalk before he said to himself, with a feeling of remorse, “She was
right!” He thought that this poor girl had kept in one corner of her
heart a shadow of reserve and modesty, and he was happy to feel rise
within him a sacred respect for woman!

Amedee, my good fellow, you are quite worthless as a man of pleasure.
You had better give it up!



CHAPTER XII. SOCIAL TRIUMPHS

For one month now Amedee Violette’s volume of verses, entitled Poems
from Nature, had embellished with its pale-blue covers the shelves of
the book-shops. The commotion raised by the book’s success, and the
favorable criticisms given by the journals, had not yet calmed down at
the Cafe de Seville.

This emotion, let it be understood, did not exist except among the
literary men. The politicians disdained poets and poetry, and did not
trouble them selves over such commonplace matters. They had affairs of a
great deal more importance to determine the overthrow of the government
first, then to remodel the map of Europe! What was necessary to over
throw the Empire? First, conspiracy; second, barricades. Nothing was
easier than to conspire. Every body conspired at the Seville. It is
the character of the French, who are born cunning, but are light
and talkative, to conspire in public places. As soon as one of our
compatriots joins a secret society his first care is to go to his
favorite restaurant and to confide, under a bond of the most absolute
secrecy, to his most intimate friend, what he has known for about five
minutes, the aim of the conspiracy, names of the actors, the day, hour,
and place of the rendezvous, the passwords and countersigns. A little
while after he has thus relieved himself, he is surprised that the
police interfere and spoil an enterprise that has been prepared with so
much mystery and discretion. It was in this way that the “beards” dealt
in dark deeds of conspiracy at the Cafe de Seville. At the hour for
absinthe and mazagran a certain number of Fiesques and Catilines were
grouped around each table. At one of the tables in the foreground five
old “beards,” whitened by political crime, were planning an infernal
machine; and in the back of the room ten robust hands had sworn upon
the billiard-table to arm themselves for regicide; only, as with all
“beards,” there were necessarily some false ones among them, that is
to say, spies. All the plots planned at the Seville had miserably
miscarried.

The art of building barricades was also--you never would suspect
it!--very ardently and conscientiously studied. This special branch
of the science of fortification reckoned more than one Vauban and
Gribeauval among its numbers. “Professor of barricading,” was a title
honored at the Cafe de Seville, and one that they would willingly have
had engraved upon their visiting-cards. Observe that the instruction was
only theoretical; doubtless out of respect for the policemen, they could
not give entirely practical lessons to the future rioters who formed the
ground-work of the business. The master or doctor of civil war could not
go out with them, for instance, and practise in the Rue Drouot. But he
had one resource, one way of getting out of it; namely, dominoes.
No! you never would believe what a revolutionary appearance these
inoffensive mutton-bones took on under the seditious hands of the
habitues of the Cafe de Seville. These miniature pavements simulated
upon the marble table the subjugation of the most complicated of
barricades, with all sorts of bastions, redans, and counterscarps. It
was something after the fashion of the small models of war-ships that
one sees in marine museums. Any one, not in the secret, would have
supposed that the “beards” simply played dominoes. Not at all! They were
pursuing a course of technical insurrection. When they roared at the top
of their lungs “Five on all sides!” certain players seemed to order
a general discharge, and they had a way of saying, “I can not!” which
evidently expressed the despair of a combatant who has burned his
last cartridge. A “beard” in glasses and a stovepipe hat, who had been
refused in his youth at the Ecole Polytechnique, was frightful in the
rapidity and mathematical precision with which he added up in three
minutes his barricade of dominoes. When this man “blocked the six,”
 you were transported in imagination to the Rue Transnonain, or to the
Cloitre St. Merry. It was terrible!

As to foreign politics, or the remodelling of the map of Europe, it was,
properly speaking, only sport and recreation to the “beards.” It added
interest to the game, that was all. Is it not agreeable, when you are
preparing a discard, at the decisive moment, with one hundred at piquet,
which gives you ‘quinte’ or ‘quatorze’, to deliver unhappy Poland; and
when one has the satisfaction to score a king and take every trick, what
does it cost to let the Russians enter Constantinople?

Nevertheless, some of the most solemn “beards” of the Cafe de Seville
attached themselves to international questions, to the great problem of
European equilibrium. One of the most profound of these diplomats--who
probably had nothing to buy suspenders with, for his shirt always hung
out between his waistcoat and trousers--was persuaded that an indemnity
of two million francs would suffice to obtain from the Pope the transfer
of Rome to the Italians; and another Metternich on a small scale assumed
for his specialty the business of offering a serious affront to England
and threatening her, if she did not listen to his advice, with a loss in
a short time of her Indian Empire and other colonial possessions.

Thus the “beards,” absorbed by such grave speculations, did not trouble
themselves about the vanity called literature, and did not care a pin
for Amedee Violette’s book. Among the long-haired ones, however, we
repeat, the emotion was great. They were furious, they were agitated,
and bristled up; the first enthusiasm over Amedee Violette’s verses
could not be lasting and had been only a mere flash. The young man saw
these Merovingians as they really were toward a man who succeeded, that
is, severe almost to cruelty. What! the first edition of Poems from
Nature was exhausted and Massif had another in press! What! the
bourgeoisie, far from being “astonished” at this book, declared
themselves delighted with it, bought it, read it, and perhaps had it
rebound! They spoke favorably of it in all the bourgeois journals,
that is to say, in those that had subscribers! Did they not say that
Violette, incited by Jocquelet, was working at a grand comedy in verse,
and that the Theatre-Francais had made very flattering offers to the
poet? But then, if he pleased the bourgeoisie so much he was--oh,
horror!--a bourgeois himself. That was obvious. How blind they had been
not to see it sooner! When Amedee had read his verses not long since at
Sillery’s, by what aberration had they confounded this platitude with
simplicity, this whining with sincere emotion, these stage tricks with
art? Ah! you may rest assured, they never will be caught again!

As the poets’ tables at the Cafe de Seville had been for some time
transformed into beds of torture upon which Amedee Violette’s poems were
stretched out and racked every day from five to seven, the amiable Paul
Sillery, with a jeering smile upon his lips, tried occasionally to cry
pity for his friend’s verses, given up to such ferocious executioners.
But these literary murderers, ready to destroy a comrade’s book, are
more pitiless than the Inquisition. There were two inquisitors more
relentless than the others; first, the little scrubby fellow who claimed
for his share all the houris of a Mussulman’s palace; another, the great
elegist from the provinces. Truly, his heartaches must have made him
gain flesh, for very soon he was obliged to let out the strap on his
waistcoat.

Of course, when Amedee appeared, the conversation was immediately
changed, and they began to talk of insignificant things that they had
read in the journals; for example, the fire-damp, which had killed
twenty-five working-men in a mine, in a department of the north; or of
the shipwreck of a transatlantic steamer in which everything was lost,
with one hundred and fifty passengers and forty sailors--events of no
importance, we must admit, if one compares them to the recent discovery
made by the poet inquisitors of two incorrect phrases and five weak
rhymes in their comrade’s work.

Amedee’s sensitive nature soon remarked the secret hostility of which
he was the object in this group of poets, and he now came to the Cafe
de Seville only on rare occasions, in order to take Paul Sillery by the
hand, who, in spite of his ironical air, had always shown himself a good
and faithful friend.

It was there that he recognized one evening his classmate of the
Lycee, Arthur Papillon, seated at one of the political tables. The poet
wondered to himself how this fine lawyer, with his temperate opinions,
happened to be among these hot-headed revolutionists, and what interest
in common could unite this correct pair of blond whiskers to the
uncultivated, bushy ones. Papillon, as soon as he saw Amedee, took leave
of the group with whom he was talking and came and offered his hearty
congratulations to the author of Poems from Nature, leading him out upon
the boulevard and giving him the key to the mystery.

All the old parties were united against the Empire, in view of the
coming elections; Orleanists and Republicans were, for the time being,
close friends. He, Papillon, had just taken his degree, and had attached
himself to the fortunes of an old wreck of the July government; who,
having rested in oblivion since 1852, had consented to run as candidate
for the Liberal opposition in Seine-et-Oise. Papillon was flying around
like a hen with her head cut off, to make his companion win the day.
He came to the Seville to assure himself of the neutral goodwill of the
unreconciled journalists, and he was full of hope.

“Oh! my dear friend, how difficult it is to struggle against an official
candidate! But our candidate is an astonishing man. He goes about all
day upon the railroads in our department, unfolding his programme before
the travelling countrymen and changing compartments at each station.
What a stroke of genius! a perambulating public assembling. This idea
came to him from seeing a harpist make the trip from Havre to Honfleur,
playing ‘Il Bacio’ all the time. Ah, one must look alive! The prefect
does not shrink from any way of fighting us. Did he not spread through
one of our most Catholic cantons the report that we were Voltairians,
enemies to religion and devourers of priests? Fortunately, we have yet
four Sundays before us, from now until the voting-day, and the patron
will go to high mass and communion in our four more important parishes.
That will be a response! If such a man is not elected, universal
suffrage is hopeless!”

Amedee was not at that time so disenchanted with political matters as he
became later, and he asked himself with an uneasy feeling whether this
model candidate, who was perhaps about to give himself sacrilgious
indigestion, and who showed his profession of faith as a cutler shows
his knives, was not simply a quack.

Arthur Papillon did not give him time to devote himself to such
unpleasant reflections, but said to him, in a frank, protecting tone:

“And you, my boy, let us see, where do you stand? You have been very
successful, have you not? The other evening at the house of Madame
la Comtesse Fontaine, you know--the widow of one of Louis Philippe’s
ministers and daughter of Marshal Lefievre--Jocquelet recited your
‘Sebastopol’ with enormous success. What a voice that Jocquelet has!
We have not his like at the Paris bar. Fortunate poet! I have seen your
book lying about in the boudoir of more than one beautiful woman. Well,
I hope that you will leave the Cafe de Seville and not linger with
all these badly combed fellows. You must go into society; it is
indispensable to a man of letters, and I will present you whenever you
wish.”

For the time being Amedee’s ardor was a little dampened concerning the
Bohemians with whom he enjoyed so short a favor, and who had also in
many ways shocked his delicacy. He was not desirous to be called “thou”
 by Pere Lebuffle.

But to go into society! His education had been so modest! Should he
know how to appear, how to conduct himself properly? He asked this of
Papillon. Our poet was proud, he feared ridicule, and would not consent
to play an inferior role anywhere; and then his success just then was
entirely platonic. He was still very poor and lived in the Faubourg
St.-Jacques. Massif ought to pay him in a few days five hundred francs
for the second edition of his book; but what is a handful of napoleons?

“It is enough,” said the advocate, who thought of his friend’s
dress. “It is all that is necessary to buy fine linen, and a well cut
dress-coat, that is the essential thing. Good form consists, above all
things, in keeping silent. With your fine and yielding nature you will
become at once a gentleman; better still, you are not a bad-looking
fellow; you have an interesting pallor. I am convinced that you will
please. It is now the beginning of July, and Paris is almost empty, but
Madame la Comtesse Fontaine does not go away until the vacations, as
she is looking after her little son, who is finishing his studies at
the Lycee Bonaparte. The Countess’s drawing-rooms are open every evening
until the end of the month, and one meets there all the chic people
who are delayed in Paris, or who stop here between two journeys. Madame
Fontaine is a very amiable and influential old lady; she has a fancy for
writers when they are good company. Do not be silly, but go and order
yourself some evening clothes. By presenting you there, my dear fellow,
I assure you, perhaps in fifteen years, a seat in the Academy. It is
agreed! Get ready for next week.”

Attention! Amedee Violette is about to make his first appearance in
society.

Although his concierge, who aided him to finish his toilette and saw him
put on his white cravat, had just said to him, “What a love of a husband
you would make!” the poet’s heart beat rapidly when the carriage in
which he was seated beside Arthur Papillon stopped before the steps
of an old house in the Rue de Bellechasse, where Madame la Comtesse
Fontaine lived.

In the vestibule he tried to imitate the advocate’s bearing, which was
full of authority; but quickly despaired of knowing how to swell out his
starched shirt-front under the severe looks of four tall lackeys in silk
stockings. Amedee was as much embarrassed as if he were presented
naked before an examining board. But they doubtless found him “good for
service,” for the door opened into a brightly lighted drawing-room into
which he followed Arthur Papillon, like a frail sloop towed in by an
imposing three-master, and behold the timid Amedee presented in due form
to the mistress of the house! She was a lady of elephantine proportions,
in her sixtieth year, and wore a white camellia stuck in her
rosewood-colored hair. Her face and arms were plastered with enough
flour to make a plate of fritters; but for all that, she had a grand
air and superb eyes, whose commanding glance was softened by so kindly a
smile that Amedee was a trifle reassured.

She had much applauded M. Violette’s beautiful verse, she said, that
Jocquelet had recited at her house on the last Thursday of her season;
and she had just read with the greatest pleasure his Poems from
Nature. She thanked M. Papillon--who bows his head and lets his monocle
fall--for having brought M. Violette. She was charmed to make his
acquaintance.

Amedee was very much embarrassed to know what to reply to this
commonplace compliment which was paid so gracefully. Fortunately he
was spared this duty by the arrival of a very much dressed, tall, bony
woman, toward whom the Countess darted off with astonishing vivacity,
exclaiming, joyfully: “Madame la Marechale!” and Amedee, still following
in the wake of his comrade, sailed along toward the corner of the
drawing-room, and then cast anchor before a whole flotilla of black
coats. Amedee’s spirits began to revive, and he examined the place, so
entirely new to him, where his growing reputation had admitted him.

It was a vast drawing-room after the First Empire style, hung and
furnished in yellow satin, whose high white panels were decorated with
trophies of antique weapons carved in wood and gilded. A dauber from
the Ecole des Beaux-Arts would have branded with the epithet “sham” the
armchairs and sofas ornamented with sphinx heads in bronze, as well as
the massive green marble clock upon which stood, all in gold, a favorite
court personage, clothed in a cap, sword, and fig-leaf, who seemed to be
making love to a young person in a floating tunic, with her hair dressed
exactly like that of the Empress Josephine. But the dauber would have
been wrong, for this massive splendor was wanting neither in grandeur
nor character. Two pictures only lighted up the cold walls; one, signed
by Gros, was an equestrian portrait of the Marshal, Madame Fontaine’s
father, the old drummer of Pont de Lodi, one of the bravest of
Napoleon’s lieutenants. He was represented in full-dress uniform,
with an enormous black-plumed hat, brandishing his blue velvet baton,
sprinkled with golden bees, and under the rearing horse’s legs one
could see in the dim distance a grand battle in the snow, and mouths of
burning cannons. The other picture, placed upon an easel and lighted by
a lamp with a reflector, was one of Ingre’s the ‘chef-d’oeuvres’. It
was the portrait of the mistress of the house at the age of eighteen,
a portrait of which the Countess was now but an old and horrible
caricature.

Arthur Papillon talked in a low voice with Amedee, explaining to him how
Madame Fontaine’s drawing-room was neutral ground, open to people of
all parties. As daughter of a Marshal of the First Empire, the Countess
preserved the highest regard for the people at the Tuileries, although
she was the widow of Count Fontaine, who was one of the brood
of Royer-Collard’s conservatives, a parliamentarian ennobled by
Louis-Philippe, twice a colleague of Guizot on the ministerial bench,
who died of spite and suppressed ambition after ‘48 and the coup d’etat.
Besides, the Countess’s brother, the Duc d’Eylau, married, in 1829, one
of the greatest heiresses in the Faubourg St. Germain; for his father,
the Marshal, whose character did not equal his bravery, attached himself
to every government, and carried his candle in the processions on Corpus
Christi Day under Charles X, and had ended by being manager of the
Invalides at the beginning of the July monarchy. Thanks to this
fortunate combination of circumstances, one met several great lords,
many Orleanists, a certain number of official persons, and even some
republicans of high rank, in this liberal drawing-room, where the
Countess, who was an admirable hostess, knew how to attract learned men,
writers, artists, and celebrities of all kinds, as well as young and
pretty women. As the season was late, the gathering this evening was not
large. However, neglecting the unimportant gentlemen whose ancestors
had perhaps been fabricated by Pere Issacar, Papillon pointed out to
his friend a few celebrities. One, with the badge of the Legion of
Honor upon his coat, which looked as if it had come from the stall of an
old-clothes man, was Forgerol, the great geologist, the most grasping of
scientific men; Forgerol, rich from his twenty fat sinecures, for
whom one of his confreres composed this epitaph in advance: “Here lies
Forgerol, in the only place he did not solicit.”

That grand old man, with the venerable, shaky head, whose white, silky
hair seemed to shed blessings and benedictions, was M. Dussant du Fosse,
a philanthropist by profession, honorary president of all charitable
works; senator, of course, since he was one of France’s peers, and who
in a few years after the Prussians had left, and the battles were over,
would sink into suspicious affairs and end in the police courts.

That old statesman, whose rough, gray hairs were like brushes for
removing cobwebs, a pedant from head to foot, leaning in his favorite
attitude against the mantel decorated only with flowers, by his mulish
obstinacy contributed much to the fall of the last monarchy. He was
respectfully listened to and called “dear master” by a republican
orator, whose red-hot convictions began to ooze away, and who, soon
after, as minister of the Liberal empire, did his best to hasten the
government’s downfall.

Although Amedee was of an age to respect these notabilities, whom
Papillon pointed out to him with so much deference, they did not impress
him so much as certain visitors who belonged to the world of art and
letters. In considering them the young man was much surprised and a
little saddened at the want of harmony that he discovered between the
appearance of the men and the nature of their talents. The poet Leroy
des Saules had the haughty attitude and the Apollo face corresponding
to the noble and perfect beauty of his verses; but Edouard Durocher,
the fashionable painter of the nineteenth century, was a large,
common-looking man with a huge moustache, like that of a book agent; and
Theophile de Sonis, the elegant story-writer, the worldly romancer, had
a copper-colored nose, and his harsh beard was like that of a chief in a
custom-house.

What attracted Amedee’s attention, above all things, were the women--the
fashionable women that he saw close by for the first time. Some of them
were old, and horrified him. The jewels with which they were loaded made
their fatigued looks, dark-ringed eyes, heavy profiles, thick flabby
lips, like a dromedary’s, still more distressing; and with their bare
necks and arms--it was etiquette at Madame Fontaine’s receptions--which
allowed one to see through filmy lace their flabby flesh or bony
skeletons, they were as ridiculous as an elegant cloak would be upon an
old crone.

As he saw these decrepit, painted creatures, the young man felt the
respect that he should have for the old leave him. He would look only
at the young and beautiful women, those with graceful figures and
triumphant smiles upon their lips, flowers in their hair, and diamonds
upon their necks. All this bare flesh intimidated Amedee; for he had
been brought up so privately and strictly that he was distressed enough
to lower his eyes at the sight of so many arms, necks, and shoulders.
He thought of Maria Gerard as she looked the other day, when he met her
going to work in the Louvre, so pretty in her short high-necked dress,
her magnificent hair flying out from her close bonnet, and her box
of pastels in her hand. How much more he preferred this simple rose,
concealed among thorns, to all these too full-blown peonies!

Soon the enormous and amiable Countess came to the poet and begged him,
to his great confusion, to recite a few verses. He was forced to do it.
It was his turn to lean upon the mantel. Fortunately it was a success
for him; all the full-blown peonies, who did not understand much of
his poetry, thought him a handsome man, with his blue eyes, and their
ardent, melancholy glance; and they applauded him as much as they
could without bursting their very tight gloves. They surrounded him and
complimented him. Madame Fontaine presented him to the poet Leroy des
Saules, who congratulated him with the right word, and invited him with
a paternal air to come and see him. It would have been a very happy
moment for Amedee, if one of the old maids with camel-like lips, whose
stockings were probably as blue as her eyelids, had not monopolized him
for a quarter of an hour, putting him through a sort of an examination
on contemporary poets. At last the poet retired, after receiving a cup
of tea and an invitation to dinner for the next Tuesday. Then he was
once more seated in the carriage with Arthur Papillon, who gave him a
slap on the thigh, exclaiming, joyfully:

“Well, you are launched!”

It was true; he was launched, and he will wear out more than one suit
of evening clothes before he learns all that this action “going into
society,” which seems nothing at all at first, and which really is
nothing, implies, to an industrious man and artist, of useless activity
and lost time. He is launched! He has made a successful debut! A dinner
in the city! At Madame Fontaine’s dinner on the next Tuesday, some
abominable wine and aged salmon was served to Amedee by a butler named
Adolphe, who ought rather to have been called Exili or Castaing, and
who, after fifteen years’ service to the Countess, already owned two
good paying houses in Paris. At the time, however, all went well,
for Amedee had a good healthy stomach and could digest buttons from
a uniform; but when all the Borgias, in black-silk stockings and
white-silk gloves, who wish to become house-owners, have cooked their
favorite dishes for him, and have practised only half a dozen winters,
two or three times a week upon him, we shall know more as to his
digestion. Still that dinner was enjoyable. Beginning with the
suspicious salmon, the statesman with the brush-broom head, the one who
had overthrown Louis-Philippe without suspecting it, started to explain
how, if they had listened to his advice, this constitutional king’s
dynasty would yet be upon the throne; and at the moment when the
wretched butler poured out his most poisonous wine, the old lady
who looked like a dromedary with rings in its ears, made Amedee--her
unfortunate neighbor--undergo a new oral examination upon the poets of
the nineteenth century, and asked him what he thought of Lamartine’s
clamorous debts, and Victor Hugo’s foolish pride, and Alfred de Musset’s
intemperate habits.

The worthy Amedee is launched! He will go and pay visits of indigestion;
appear one day at Madame such a one’s, and at the houses of several
other “Madames.” At first he will stay there a half-hour, the simpleton!
until he sees that the cunning ones only come in and go out exactly as
one does in a booth at a fair. He will see pass before him--but this
time in corsages of velvet or satin-all the necks and shoulders of his
acquaintances, those that he turned away from with disgust and those
that made him blush. Each Madame this one, entering Madame that one’s
house, will seat herself upon the edge of a chair, and will always say
the same inevitable thing, the only thing that can be or should be said
that day; for example, “So the poor General is dead!” or “Have you heard
the new piece at the Francais? It is not very strong, but it is well
played!” “This will be delicious;” and Amedee will admire, above all
things, Madame this one’s play of countenance, when Madame G------ tells
her that Madame B------‘s daughter is to marry Madame C----‘s nephew.
While she hardly knows these people, she will manifest as lively a joy
as if they had announced the death of an old aunt, whose money she is
waiting for to renew the furniture in her house. And, on the contrary,
when Madame D---- announces that Madame E----‘s little son has the
whooping-cough, at once, without transition, by a change of expression
that would make the fortune of an actress, the lady of the house puts
on an air of consternation, as if the cholera had broken out the night
before in the Halles quarter.

Amedee is launched, I repeat it. He is still a little green and will
become the dupe, for a long time, of all the shams, grimaces, acting,
and false smiles, which cover so many artificial teeth. At first sight
all is elegance, harmony, and delicacy. Since Amedee does not know that
the Princess Krazinska’s celebrated head of hair was cut from the heads
of the Breton girls, how could he suspect that the austere defender of
the clergy, M. Lemarguillier, had been gravely compromised in a love
affair, and had thrown himself at the feet of the chief of police,
exclaiming, “Do not ruin me!” When the king of society is announced, the
young Duc de la Tour-Prends-Garde, whose one ancestor was at the battle
of the bridge, and who is just now introducing a new style in trousers,
Amedee could not suspect that the favorite amusement of this fashionable
rake consisted in drinking in the morning upon an empty stomach, with
his coachman, at a grog-shop on the corner. When the pretty Baroness
des Nenuphars blushed up to her ears because someone spoke the word
“tea-spoon” before her, and she considered it to be an unwarrantable
indelicacy--nobody knows why--it is assuredly not our young friend
who will suspect that, in order to pay the gambling debts of her third
lover, this modest person had just sold secretly her family jewels.

Rest assured Amedee will lose all these illusions in time. The day
will come when he will not take in earnest this grand comedy in white
cravats. He will not have the bad taste to show his indignation. No! he
will pity these unfortunate society people condemned to hypocrisy and
falsehood. He will even excuse their whims and vices as he thinks of the
frightful ennui that overwhelms them. Yes, he will understand how
the unhappy Duc de la Tour-Prends-Garde, who is condemned to hear La
Favorita seventeen times during the winter, may feel at times the need
of a violent distraction, and go to drink white wine with his servant.
Amedee will be full of indulgence, only one must pardon him for his
plebeian heart and native uncouthness; for at the moment when he shall
have fathomed the emptiness and vanity of this worldly farce, he will
keep all of his sympathy for those who retain something like nature. He
will esteem infinitely more the poorest of the workmen--a wood-sawyer or
a bell-hanger--than a politician haranguing from the mantel, or an old
literary dame who sparkles like a window in the Palais-Royal, and is
tattooed like a Caribbean; he will prefer an old; wrinkled, village
grand-dame in her white cap, who still hoes, although sixty years old,
her little field of potatoes.



CHAPTER XIII. A SERPENT AT THE FIRESIDE

A little more than a year has passed. It is now the first days of
October; and when the morning mist is dissipated, the sky is of so
limpid a blue and the air so pure and fresh, that Amedee Violette is
almost tempted to make a paper kite and fly it over the fortifications,
as he did in his youth. But the age for that has passed; Amedee’s real
kite is more fragile than if it had been made of sticks and pieces of
old paper pasted on one over another; it does not ascend very high yet,
and the thread that sails it is not very strong. Amedee’s kite is his
growing reputation. He must work to sustain it; and always with the
secret hope of making little Maria his wife. Amedee works. He is not so
poor now, since he earns at the ministry two hundred francs a month, and
from time to time publishes a prose story in journals where his copy is
paid for. He has also left his garret in the Faubourg St.-Jacques and
lives on the Ile St. Louis, in one room only, but large and bright, from
whose window he can see, as he leans out, the coming and going of boats
on the river and the sun as it sets behind Notre-Dame.

Amedee has been working mostly upon his drama, for the Comedie-Francaise
this summer, and it is nearly done; it is a modern drama in verse,
entitled L’Atelier. The action is very simple, like that of a tragedy,
but he believes it is sympathetic and touching, and it ends in a
popular way. Amedee thinks he has used for his dialogue familiar but
nevertheless poetic lines, in which he has not feared to put in certain
graphic words and energetic speeches from the mouths of working-people.

The grateful poet has destined the principal role for Jocquelet, who has
made a successful debut in the ‘Fourberies de Scapin’, and who, since
then, has won success after success. Jocquelet, like all comic actors,
aspires to play also in drama. He can do so in reality, but under
particular conditions; for in spite of his grotesque nose, he has strong
and spirited qualities, and recites verses very well. He is to represent
an old mechanic, in his friend’s work, a sort of faubourg Nestor, and
this type will accommodate itself very well to the not very aristocratic
face of Jocquelet, who more and more proves his cleverness at
“making-up.” However, at first the actor was not satisfied with his
part. He fondles the not well defined dream of all actors, he wishes,
like all the others, the “leading part.” They do not exactly know what
they mean by it, but in their dreams is vaguely visible a wonderful
Almanzor, who makes his first entrance in an open barouche drawn by
four horses harnessed a la Daumont, and descends from it dressed in
tight-fitting gray clothes, tasselled boots, and decorations. This
personage is as attractive as Don Juan, brave as Murat, a poet like
Shakespeare, and as charitable as St. Vincent de Paul. He should have,
before the end of the first act, crushed with love by one single glance,
the young leading actress; dispersed a dozen assassins with his sword;
addressed to the stars--that is to say, the spectators in the upper
gallery--a long speech of eighty or a hundred lines, and gathered up two
lost children under the folds of his cloak.

A “fine leading part” should also, during the rest of the piece,
accomplish a certain number of sublime acts, address the multitude from
the top of a staircase, insult a powerful monarch to his face, dash into
the midst of a conflagration--always in the long-topped boots. The ideal
part would be for him to discover America, like Christopher Columbus;
win pitched battles, like Bonaparte, or some other equally senseless
thing; but the essential point is, never to leave the stage and to talk
all the time--the work, in reality, should be a monologue in five acts.

This role of an old workman, offered to Jocquelet by Amedee, obtained
only a grimace of displeasure from the actor. However, it ended by
his being reconciled to the part, studying it, and, to use his own
expression, “racking his brains over it,” until one day he ran to
Violette’s, all excited, exclaiming:

“I have the right idea of my old man now! I will dress him in a
tricot waistcoat with ragged sleeves and dirty blue overalls. He is an
apprentice, is he not? A fellow with a beard! Very well! in the great
scene where they tell him that his son is a thief and he defies the
whole of the workmen, he struggles and his clothes are torn open,
showing a hairy chest. I am not hairy, but I will make myself so--does
that fill the bill? You will see the effect.”

While reserving the right to dissuade Jocquelet from making himself
up in this way, Amedee carried his manuscript to the director of the
Theatre Francais, who asked a little time to look it over, and also
promised the young poet that he would read it aloud to the committee.

Amedee is very anxious, although Maurice Roger, to whom he has read the
piece, act by act, predicts an enthusiastic acceptance.

The handsome Maurice has been installed for more than a year in a studio
on the Rue d’Assas and leads a jolly, free life there. Does he work?
Sometimes; by fits and starts. And although he abandons his sketches
at the first attack of idleness, there is a charm about these sketches,
suspended upon the wall; and he will some day show his talent. One
of his greatest pleasures is to see pass before him all his beautiful
models, at ten francs an hour. With palette in hand, he talks with the
young women, tells them amusing stories, and makes them relate all their
love-affairs. When friends come to see him, they can always see a model
just disappearing behind a curtain. Amedee prefers to visit his friend
on Sunday afternoons, and thus avoid meeting these models; and then,
too, he meets there on that day Arthur Papillon, who paves the way for
his political career by pleading lawsuits for the press. Although he is,
at heart, only a very moderate Liberalist, this young man, with the very
chic side whiskers, defends the most republican of “beards,” if it can
be called defending; for in spite of his fine oratorical efforts, his
clients are regularly favored with the maximum of punishment. But they
are all delighted with it, for the title of “political convict” is one
very much in demand among the irreconcilables. They are all convinced
that the time is near when they will overthrow the Empire, without
suspecting, alas! that in order to do that twelve hundred thousand
German bayonets will be necessary. The day after the triumph, the month
of imprisonment will be taken into account, and St. Pelagie is not the
‘carcere duro’. Papillon is cunning and wishes to have a finger in every
pie, so he goes to dine once a week with those who owe their sojourn in
this easy-going jail to him, and regularly carries them a lobster.

Paul Sillery, who has also made Maurice’s acquaintance, loiters in this
studio. The amiable Bohemian has not yet paid his bill to Pere Lebuffle,
but he has cut his red fleece close to his head, and publishes every
Sunday, in the journals, news full of grace and humor. Of course they
will never pardon him at the Cafe de Seville; the “long-haired” ones
have disowned this traitor who has gone over to the enemy, and is now
only a sickening and fetid bourgeois; and if the poetical club were able
to enforce its decrees, Paul Sillery, like an apostate Jew in the times
of the Inquisition, would have been scourged and burned alive. Paul
Sillery does not trouble himself about it, however; and from time to
time returns to the “Seville” and treats its members to a bumper all
around, which he pays for with the gold of his dishonor. Sometimes
Jocquelet appears, with his smooth-shaved face; but only rarely, for he
is at present a very busy man and already celebrated. His audacious nose
is reproduced in all positions and displayed in photographers’ windows,
where he has for neighbors the negatives most in demand; for instance,
the fatherly and benevolent face of the pope; Pius IX, or the
international limbs of Mademoiselle Ketty, the majestic fairy,
in tights. The journals, which print Jocquelet’s name, treat him
sympathetically and conspicuously, and are full of his praises. “He is
good to his old aunt,” “gives alms,” “picked up a lost dog in the street
the other evening.” An artist such as he, who stamps immortality on all
the comic repertory, and takes Moliere under his wing, has no time to go
to visit friends, that is understood. However, he still honors Maurice
Roger with short visits. He only has time to make all the knickknacks
and china on the sideboard tremble with the noise of his terrible voice;
only time to tell how, on the night before, in the greenroom, when
still clothed in Scapin’s striped cloak, he deigned to receive, with
the coldest dignity, the compliments of a Royal Highness, or some other
person of high rank. A prominent society lady has been dying of love for
him the past six months; she occupies stage box Number Six--and then off
he goes. Good riddance!

Amedee enjoys himself in his friend’s studio, where gay and witty
artists come to talk. They laugh and amuse themselves, and this
Sunday resting-place is the most agreeable of the hard-working poet’s
recreations. Amedee prolongs them as long as possible, until at last he
is alone with his friend; then the young men stretch themselves out upon
the Turkish cushions, and they talk freely of their hopes, ambitions,
and dreams for the future.

Amedee, however, keeps one secret to himself; he never has told of his
love for Maria Gerard. Upon his return from Italy the traveller
inquired several times for the Gerards, sympathized politely with their
misfortune, and wished to be remembered to them through Amedee. The
latter had been very reserved in his replies, and Maurice no longer
broaches the subject in their conversation. Is it through neglect? After
all, he hardly knew the ladies; still, Amedee is not sorry to talk
of them no longer with his friend, and it is never without a little
embarrassment and unacknowledged jealousy that he replies to Maria when
she asks for news of Maurice.

She no longer inquires. The pretty Maria is cross and melancholy, for
now they talk only of one thing at the Gerards; it is always the same,
the vulgar and cruel thought, obtaining the means to live; and within a
short time they have descended a few steps lower on the slippery ladder
of poverty. It is not possible to earn enough to feed three mouths with
a piano method and a box of pastels--or, at least, it does not hold out.
Louise has fewer pupils, and Pere Issacar has lessened his orders. Mamma
Gerard, who has become almost an old woman, redoubles her efforts; but
they can no longer make both ends meet. Amedee sees it, and how it makes
him suffer!

The poor women are proud, and complain as little as possible; but the
decay inside this house, already so modest, is manifested in many ways.
Two beautiful engravings, the last of their father’s souvenirs, had been
sold in an hour of extreme want; and one could see, by the clean spots
upon the wall, where the frames once hung. Madame Gerard’s and her
daughters’ mourning seemed to grow rusty, and at the Sunday dinner
Amedee now brings, instead of a cake, a pastry pie, which sometimes
constitutes the entire meal. There is only one bottle of old wine in
the cellar, and they drink wine by the pot from the grocer’s. Each new
detail that proves his friends’ distress troubles the sensitive Amedee.
Once, having earned ten Louis from some literary work, he took the
poor mother aside and forced her to accept one hundred francs. The
unfortunate woman, trembling with emotion, while two large tears rolled
down her cheeks, admitted that the night before, in order to pay the
washerwoman, they had pawned the only clock in the house.

What can he do to assist them, to help them to lead a less terrible
life? Ah! if Maria would have it so, they could be married at once,
without any other expense than the white dress, as other poor people
do; and they would all live together. He has his salary of twenty-four
hundred francs, besides a thousand francs that he has earned in
other ways. With Louise’s lessons this little income would be almost
sufficient. Then he would exert himself to sell his writings; he
would work hard, and they could manage. Of course it would be quite
an undertaking on his part to take all this family under his charge.
Children might be born to them. Had he not begun to gain a reputation;
had he not a future before him? His piece might be played and meet with
success. This would be their salvation. Oh! the happy life that the
four would lead together! Yes, if Maria could love him a little, if he
persisted in hoping, if she had the courage, it was the only step to
take.

Becoming enthusiastic upon this subject, Amedee decided to submit the
question to the excellent Louise, in whom he had perfect confidence, and
considered to be goodness and truth personified. Every Thursday, at six
o’clock, she left a boarding-school in the Rue de la Rochechouart, where
she gave lessons to young ladies in singing. He would go and wait
for her as she came out that very evening. And there he met her. Poor
Louise! her dress was lamentable; and what a sad countenance! What a
tired, distressed look!

“What, you, Amedee!” said she, with a happy smile, as he met her.

“Yes, my dear Louise. Take my arm and let me accompany you part of the
way. We will talk as we walk; I have something very serious to say to
you, confidentially--important advice to ask of you.”

The poet then began to make his confession. He recalled their childhood
days in the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, when they played together; it
was as long ago as that that he had first begun to be charmed by little
Maria. As soon as he became a young man he felt that he loved the dear
child, and had always cherished the hope that he might inspire her with
a tender sentiment and marry her some day. If he had not spoken sooner
it was because he was too poor, but he had always loved her, he loved
her now, and never should love any other woman. He then explained
his plan of life in simple and touching terms; he would become Madame
Gerard’s son and his dear Louise’s brother; the union of their two
poverties would become almost comfort. Was it not very simple and
reasonable? He was very sure that she would approve of it, and she was
wisdom itself and the head of the family.

While he was talking Louise lowered her eyes and looked at her feet. He
did not feel that she was trembling violently. Blind, blind Amedee!
You do not see, you will never see, that she is the one who loves you!
Without hope! she knows that very well; she is older than you, she is
not pretty, and she will always be in your eyes an adopted elder
sister, who once showed you your alphabet letters with the point of her
knitting-needle. She has suspected for a long time your love for Maria;
she suffers, but she is resigned to it, and she will help you, the brave
girl! But this confession that you make, Maria’s name that you murmur
into her ear in such loving accents, this dream of happiness in which,
in your artless egotism, you reserve for her the role of an old maid who
will bring up your children, is cruel, oh! how cruel! They have reached
the Boulevard Pigalle; the sun has set; the sky is clear and bright as
a turquoise, and the sharp autumn wind detaches the last of the dried
leaves from the trees. Amedee is silent, but his anxious glance solicits
and waits for Louise’s reply.

“Dear Amedee,” said she, raising her frank, pure eyes to his face, “you
have the most generous and best of hearts. I suspected that you loved
Maria, and I would be glad to tell you at once that she loves you,
so that we might hereafter be but one family--but frankly I can not.
Although the dear child is a little frivolous, her woman’s instinct must
suspect your feeling for her, but she has never spoken of it to mamma or
to me. Have confidence; I do not see anything that augurs ill for you
in that. She is so young and so innocent that she might love you without
suspecting it herself. It is very possible, probable even, that your
avowal will enlighten her as to the state of her own heart. She will
be touched by your love, I am sure, as well as by your devotion to the
whole family. I hope, with all my heart, Amedee, that you will succeed;
for, I can say it to you, some pleasure must happen in poor Maria’s life
soon. She has moments of the deepest sadness and attacks of weeping that
have made me uneasy for some time. You must have noticed, too, that she
is overwhelmed with ennui. I can see that she suffers more than mamma
or I, at the hard life that we lead. It is not strange that she feels as
she does, for she is pretty and attractive, and made for happiness;
and to see the present and the future so sad! How hard it is! You can
understand, my friend, how much I desire this marriage to take place.
You are so good and noble, you will make Maria happy; but you have said
it, I am the one who represents wisdom in our house. Let me have then
a few days in which to observe Maria, to obtain her confidence, to
discover perhaps a sentiment in her heart of which she is ignorant; and
remember that you have a sure and faithful ally in me.”

“Take your own time, dear Louise,” replied the poet. “I leave everything
to you. Whatever you do will be for the best.”

He thanked her and they parted at the foot of the Rue Lepic. It was a
bitter pleasure for the slighted one to give the young man her poor,
deformed, pianist’s hand, and to feel that he pressed it with hope and
gratitude.

She desired and must urge this marriage. She said this over and over
again to herself, as she walked up the steep street, where crowds of
people were swarming at the end of their day’s work. No! no! Maria did
not care for Amedee. Louise was very sure of it; but at all events it
was necessary that she should try to snatch her young sister from the
discouragements and bad counsel of poverty. Amedee loved her and would
know how to make her love him. In order to assure their happiness these
two young people must be united. As to herself, what matter! If they had
children she would accept in advance her duties as coddling aunt and
old godmother. Provided, of course, that Maria would be guided, or, at
least, that she would consent. She was so pretty that she was a trifle
vain. She was nourishing, perhaps, nobody knew what fancy or vain hope,
based upon her beauty and youth. Louise had grave fears. The poor girl,
with her thin, bent shoulders wrapped up in an old black shawl, had
already forgotten her own grief and only thought of the happiness of
others, as she slowly dragged herself up Montmartre Hill. When
she reached the butcher’s shop in front of the mayor’s office, she
remembered a request of her mother’s; and as is always the case with the
poor, a trivial detail is mixed with the drama of life. Louise, without
forgetting her thoughts, while sacrificing her own heart, went into the
shop and picked out two breaded cutlets and had them done up in brown
paper, for their evening’s repast.

The day after his conversation with Louise, Amedee felt that distressing
impatience that waiting causes nervous people. The day at the office
seemed unending, and in order to escape solitude, at five o’clock he
went to Maurice’s studio, where he had not been for fifteen days. He
found him alone, and the young artist also seemed preoccupied. While
Amedee congratulated him upon a study placed upon an easel, Maurice
walked up and down the room with his hands in his pocket, and eyes upon
the floor, making no reply to his friend’s compliments. Suddenly he
stopped and looking at Amedee said:

“Have you seen the Gerard ladies during the past few days?”

Maurice had not spoken of these ladies for several months, and the poet
was a trifle surprised.

“Yes,” he replied. “Not later than yesterday I met Mademoiselle Louise.”

“And,” replied Maurice, in a hesitating manner, “were all the family
well?”

“Yes.”

“Ah!” said the artist, in a strange voice, and he resumed his silent
promenade.

Amedee always had a slightly unpleasant sensation when Maurice spoke the
name of the Gerards, but this time the suspicious look and singular
tone of the young painter, as he inquired about them, made the poet
feel genuinely uneasy. He was impressed, above all, by Maurice’s simple
exclamation, “Ah!” which seemed to him to be enigmatical and mysterious.
But nonsense! all this was foolish; his friend’s questions were
perfectly natural.

“Shall we pass the evening together, my dear Maurice?”

“It is impossible this evening,” replied Maurice, still continuing his
walk. “A duty--I have an engagement.”

Amedee had the feeling that he had come at an unfortunate time, and
discreetly took his departure. Maurice had seemed indifferent and less
cordial than usual.

“What is the matter with him?” said the poet to himself several times,
while dining in the little restaurant in the Latin Quarter. He afterward
went to the Comedie Francaise, to kill time, as well as to inquire
after his drama of Jocquelet, who played that evening in ‘Le Legataire
Universel’.

The comedian received him in his dressing-room, being already arrayed
in Crispin’s long boots and black trousers. He was seated in his
shirt-sleeves be fore his toilet-table, and had just pasted over his
smooth lips the bristling moustache of this traditional personage.
Without rising, or even saying “Good-day,” he cried out to the poet as
he recognized him in the mirror.

“No news as to your piece! The manager has not one moment to himself;
we are getting ready for the revival of Camaraderie. But we shall be
through with it in two days, and then--”

And immediately, talking to hear himself talk, and to exercise his
terrible organ, he belched out, like the noise from an opened dam, a
torrent of commonplace things. He praised Scribe’s works, which they
had put on the stage again; he announced that the famous Guillery, his
senior in the comedy line, would be execrable in this performance, and
would make a bungle of it. He complained of being worried to death
by the pursuit of a great lady--“You know, stage box Number Six,” and
showed, with a conceited gesture, a letter, tossed in among the jars of
paint and pomade, which smelled of musk. Then, ascending to subjects
of a more elevated order, he scored the politics of the Tuileries, and
scornfully exposed the imperial corruption while recognizing that this
“poor Badingue,” who, three days before, had paid a little compliment to
the actor, was of more account than his surroundings.

The poet went home and retired, bewildered by such gossip. When he
awoke, the agony of his thoughts about Maria had become still more
painful. When should he see Louise again? Would her reply be favorable?
In spite of the fine autumn morning his heart was troubled, and he felt
that he had no courage. His administrative work had never seemed more
loathsome than on that day. His fellow-clerk, an amateur in hunting,
had just had two days’ absence, and inflicted upon him, in an unmerciful
manner, his stories of slaughtered partridges, and dogs who pointed,
so wonderfully well, and of course punctuated all this with numerous
Pan-Pans! to imitate the report of a double-barrelled gun.

When he left the office Amedee regained his serenity a little; he
returned home by the quays, hunting after old books and enjoying the
pleasures of a beautiful evening, watching, in the golden sky, around
the spires of Ste.-Chapelle, a large flock of swallows assembling for
their approaching departure.

At nightfall, after dining, he resolved to baffle his impatience by
working all the evening and retouching one act of his drama with which
he was not perfectly content. He went to his room, lighted his lamp, and
seated himself before his open manuscript. Now, then! to work! He had
been silly ever since the night before. Why should he imagine that
misfortune was in the air? Do such things as presentiments exist?

Suddenly, three light, but hasty and sharp knocks were struck upon his
door. Amedee arose, took his lamp, and opened it. He jumped back--there
stood Louise Gerard in her deep mourning!

“You?--At my rooms?--At this hour?--What has happened?”

She entered and dropped into the poet’s armchair. While he put the lamp
upon the table he noticed that the young girl was as white as wax. Then
she seized his hands and pressing them with all her strength, she said,
in a voice unlike her own--a voice hoarse with despair:

“Amedee, I come to you by instinct, as toward our only friend, as to
a brother, as to the only man who will be able to help us repair the
frightful misfortune which overwhelms us!” She stopped, stifled with
emotion.

“A misfortune!” exclaimed the young man. “What misfortune? Maria?”

“Yes! Maria!”

“An accident?--An illness?”

Louise made a rapid gesture with her arm and head which signified: “If
it were only that!” With her mouth distorted by a bitter smile and with
lowered eyes, talking confusedly, she said:

“Monsieur Maurice Roger--yes--your friend Maurice! A miserable
wretch!--he has deceived and ruined the unhappy child! Oh! what
infamy!--and now--now--”

Her deathly pale face flushed and became purple to the roots of her
hair.

“Now Maria will become a mother!”

At these words the poet gave a cry like some enraged beast; he reeled,
and would have fallen had the table not been near. He sat down on the
edge of it, supporting himself with his hands, completely frozen as if
from a great chill. Louise, overcome with shame, sat in the armchair,
hiding her face in her hands while great tears rolled down between the
fingers of her ragged gloves.



BOOK 4.



CHAPTER XIV. TOO LATE!

It had been more than three months since Maria and Maurice had met
again. One day the young man went to the Louvre to see his favorite
pictures of the painters of the Eighteenth Century. His attention was
attracted by the beautiful hair of a young artist dressed in black, who
was copying one of Rosalba’s portraits. It was our pretty pastel artist
whose wonderful locks disturbed all the daubers in the museum, and which
made colorists out of Signol’s pupils themselves. Maurice approached the
copyist, and then both exclaimed at once:

“Mademoiselle Maria!”

“Monsieur Maurice!”

She had recognized him so quickly and with such a charming smile, she
had not, then, forgotten him? When he used to visit Pere Gerard he had
noticed that she was not displeased with him; but after such a long
time, at first sight, to obtain such a greeting, such a delighted
exclamation--it was flattering!

The young man standing by her easel, with his hat off, so graceful
and elegant in his well-cut garments, began to talk with her. He spoke
first, in becoming and proper terms, of her father’s death; inquired for
her mother and sister, congratulated himself upon having been recognized
thus, and then yielding to his bold custom, he added:

“As to myself, I hesitated at first. You have grown still more beautiful
in two years.”

As she blushed, he continued, in a joking way, which excused his
audacity:

“Amedee told me that you had become delicious, but now I hardly dare ask
him for news of you. Ever since you have lived at Montmartre--and I know
that he sees you every Sunday--he has never offered to take me with him
to pay my respects. Upon my word of honor, Mademoiselle Maria, I believe
that he is in love with you and as jealous as a Turk.”

She protested against it, confused but still smiling.

Ah! if he had known of the dream that Maria had kept concealed in one
corner of her heart ever since their first meeting. If he had known that
her only desire was to be chosen and loved by this handsome Maurice, who
had gone through their house and among poor Papa Gerard’s bric-a-brac
like a meteor! Why not, after all? Did she not possess that great power,
beauty? Her father, her mother, and even her sister, the wise Louise,
had often said so to her. Yes! from the very first she had been charmed
by this young man with the golden moustache, and the ways of a young
lord; she had hoped to please him, and later, in spite of poverty and
death, she had continued to be intoxicated with this folly and to dream
of this narcotic against grief, of the return of this Prince Charming.
Poor Maria, so good and so artless, who had been told too many times
that she was pretty! Poor little spoiled child!

When he left you yesterday, little Maria, after half an hour’s pleasing
conversation, Maurice said to you jokingly: “Do not tell Violette, above
all, that we have met. I should lose my best friend.” You not only said
nothing to Amedee, but you told neither your mother nor your sister. For
Louise and Madame Gerard are prudent and wise, and they would tell you
to avoid this rash fellow who has accosted you in a public place, and
has told you at once that you are beautiful and beloved. They would
scold you; they would tell you that this young man is of a rich and
distinguished family; that his mother has great ambitions for him; that
you have only your old black dress and beautiful eyes, and to-morrow,
when you return to the Louvre, Madame Gerard will establish herself near
your easel and discourage the young gallant.

But, little Maria, you conceal it from your mother and Louise! You have
a secret from your family! To-morrow when you make your toilette before
the mirror and twist up your golden hair, your heart will beat with hope
and vanity. In the Louvre your attention will be distracted from your
work when you hear a man’s step resound in a neighboring gallery, and
when Maurice arrives you will doubtless be troubled, but very much
surprised and not displeased, ah! only too much pleased. Little Maria,
little Maria, he talks to you in a low tone now. His blond moustache is
very near your cheek, and you do well to lower your eyes, for I see a
gleam of pleasure under your long lashes. I do not hear what he says,
nor your replies; but how fast he works, how he gains your confidence!
You will compromise yourself, little Maria, if you keep him too long by
your easel. Four o’clock will soon strike, and the watchman in the green
coat, who is snoozing before Watteau’s designs, will arouse from his
torpor, stretch his arms, look at his watch, get up from his seat, and
call out “Time to close.” Why do you allow Maurice to help you arrange
your things, to accompany you through the galleries, carrying your box
of pastels? The long, lanky girl in the Salon Carre, who affects the
English ways, the one who will never finish copying the “Vierge au
coussin vert,” has followed you into the Louvre court. Take care! She
has noticed, envious creature, that you are very much moved as you take
leave of your companion, and that you let your hand remain for a second
in his! This old maid ‘a l’anglaise’ has a viper’s tongue. To-morrow you
will be the talk of the Louvre, and the gossip will spread to the ‘Ecole
des Beaux-Arts’, even to Signol’s studio, where the two daubers, your
respectful admirers, who think of cutting their throats in your honor,
will accost each other with a “Well, the pretty pastellist! Yes, I know,
she has a lover.”

If it was only a lover! But the pretty pastellist has been very
careless, more foolish than the old maid or the two young fellows dream
of. It is so sweet to hear him say: “I love you!” and so delicious to
listen for the question: “And you, do you love me a little?” when she is
dying to say, “Yes!” Bending her head and blushing with confusion under
Maurice’s ardent gaze, the pretty Maria ends by murmuring the fatal
“Yes.” Then she sees Maurice turn pale with joy, and he says to her, “I
must talk to you alone; not before these bores.” She replies: “But how?
It is impossible!” Then he asks whether she does not trust him, whether
she does not believe him to be an honest man, and the young girl’s looks
say more than any protestation would.

“Well! to-morrow morning at ten o’clock--instead of coming to the
Louvre--will you? I will wait for you on the Quai d’Orsay, before the
Saint-Cloud pier.”

She was there at the appointed hour, overwhelmed with emotion and ready
to faint. He took her by the arm and led her aboard the boat.

“Do you see, now we are almost alone. Give me the pleasure of wandering
through the fields with you. It is such beautiful weather. Be tranquil,
we shall return early.”

Oh, the happy day! Maria sees pass before her, as she is seated beside
Maurice, who is whispering in her ear loving words and whose glances
cover her with caresses, as if in a dream, views of Paris that were not
familiar to her, high walls, arches of bridges, then the bare suburbs,
the smoking manufactories of Grenelle, the Bas Meudon, with its boats
and public-houses. At last, on the borders of the stream, the park with
its extensive verdure appeared.

They wandered there for a long time under the chestnut-trees, loaded
with their fruit in its green shells. The sun, filtering through the
foliage, dotted the walks with patches of light, and Maurice continued
to repeat to Maria that he loved her; that he had never loved any one
but her! that he had loved her from the very first time that he saw her
at Pere Gerard’s, and that neither time nor absence had been able to
drive away the remembrance of her. And at this moment he imagined that
it was true. He did not think that he was telling a lie. As to poor
Maria, do not be too severe upon her! think of her youth, her poverty
and imprisonment--she was overwhelmed with happiness. She could think
of nothing to say, and, giving herself up into the young man’s arms, she
had hardly the strength to turn upon him, from time to time, her eyes
tortured with love.

Is it necessary to tell how she succumbed? how they went to a restaurant
and dined? Emotion, the heavy heat of the afternoon, champagne, that
golden wine that she tasted for the first time, stunned the imprudent
child. Her charming head slips down upon the sofa-pillow, she is nearly
fainting.

“You are too warm,” said Maurice. “This bright light makes you ill.”

He draws the curtains; they are in the darkness, and he takes the young
girl in his arms, covering her hands, eyes, and lips with kisses.

Doubtless he swears to her that she shall be his wife. He asks only a
little time, a few weeks, in which to prepare his mother, the ambitious
Madame Roger, for his unexpected marriage. Maria never doubts him, but
overcome by her fault, she feels an intense shame, and buries her face
on her lover’s shoulder. She thinks then, the guilty girl, of her past;
of her innocence and poverty, of her humble but honest home; her dead
father, her mother and sister---her two mothers, properly speaking---who
yet call her “little one” and always consider her as a child, an infant
in all its purity. She feels impressed with her sin, and wishes that she
might die there at once.

Oh! I beg of you, be charitable to the poor, weak Maria, for she is
young and she must suffer!

Maurice was not a rascal, after all; he was in earnest when he promised
to marry her without delay. He even meant to admit all to his mother the
next day; but when he saw her she never had appeared so imposing to him,
with her gray hair under her widow’s cap. He shivered as he thought of
the tearful scenes, the reproaches and anger, and in his indolence he
said to himself: “Upon my honor, I will do it later!” He loves Maria
after his fashion. He is faithful to her, and when she steals away an
hour from her work to come to see him, he is uneasy at the least delay.
She is truly adorable, only Maurice does not like the unhappy look that
she wears when she asks him, in a trembling voice: “Have you spoken to
your mother?” He embraces her, reassures her. “Be easy. Leave me time
to arrange it.” The truth is, that now he begins to be perplexed at the
idea of this marriage. It is his duty, he knows that very well; but he
is not twenty three years old yet. There is no hurry. After all, is it
duty? the little one yielded easily enough. Has he not the right to test
her and wait a little? It is what his mother would advise him, he is
certain. That is the only reasonable way to look at it.

Alas, egotists and cowards always have a reason for everything!

How dearly poor Maria’s foolish step has cost her! How heavily such
a secret weighs upon the child’s heart! For a few moments of uneasy
intoxication with this man, whom she already doubts and who sometimes
makes her afraid, she must lie to her mother without blushing or
lowering her eyes, and enter Maurice’s house veiled and hiding like a
thief. But that is nothing yet. After some time of this agonizing life
her health is troubled. Quickly she goes to find Maurice! She arrives
unexpectedly and finds him lying upon the sofa smoking a cigar. Without
giving him time to rise, she throws herself into his arms, and, bursting
into sobs, makes her terrible avowal. At first he only gives a start of
angry astonishment, a harsh glance.

“Bah! you must be mistaken.”

“I am sure of it, I tell you, I am sure of it!”

She has caught his angry glance and feels condemned in advance. However,
he gives her a cold kiss, and it is with a great effort that she
stammers:

“Maurice--you must--speak to your mother--”

He rises with an impatient gesture and Maria seats herself--her strength
is leaving her--while he walks up and down the room.

“My poor Maria,” he begins in a hesitating manner, “I dared not tell
you, but my mother will not consent to our marriage--now, at least.”

He lies! He has not spoken to his mother; she knows it. Ah! unhappy
creature! he does not love her! and, discouraged, with a rumbling noise
in her ears, she listens to Maurice as he speaks in his soft voice.

“Oh! be tranquil. I shall not abandon you, my poor child. If what you
say is true-if you are sure of it, then the best thing that you can do,
you see, is to leave your family and come and live with me. At first we
will go away from Paris; you can be confined in the country. We can
put the child out to nurse; they will take care of the little brat, of
course. And later, perhaps, my mother will soften and will understand
that we must marry. No, truly, the more I think of it, the more I
believe that that is the best way to do. Yes! I know very well it will
be hard to leave your home, but what can you do, my darling? You can
write your mother a very affectionate letter.”

And going to her he takes her, inert and heartbroken, into his arms, and
tries to show himself loving.

“You are my wife, my dear little wife, I repeat it. Are you not glad,
eh! that we can live together?”

This is what he proposes to do. He thinks to take her publicly to his
house and to blazon her shame before the eyes of everybody! Maria feels
that she is lost. She rises abruptly and says to him in the tone of a
somnambulist: “That will do. We will talk of it again.”

She goes away and returns to Montmartre at a crazy woman’s pace, and
finds her mother knitting and her sister ready to lay the table-yes!
as if nothing at all was the matter. She takes their hands and falls at
their feet!

Ah, poor women!

They had already been very much tried. The decay of this worthy family
was lamentable; but in spite of all, yesterday even, they endured their
fate with resignation. Yes! the economy, the degrading drudgery, the
old, mended gowns--they accepted all this without a murmur. A noble
sentiment sustained and gave them courage. All three--the old mother in
a linen cap doing the cooking and the washing, the elder sister giving
lessons at forty sous, and the little one working in pastels--were
vaguely conscious of representing something very humble, but sacred and
noble--a family without a blemish on their name. They felt that they
moved in an atmosphere of esteem and respect. “Those ladies upon the
first floor have so many accomplishments,” say the neighbors. Their
apartment--with its stained woodwork, its torn wall, paper, but where
they were all united in work and drawn closer and closer to each other
in love--had still the sweetness of a home; and upon their ragged
mourning, their dilapidated furniture, the meagre meat soup at night,
the pure light of honor gleamed and watched over them. Now, after this
guilty child’s avowal, all this was ended, lost forever! There was a
blemish upon their life of duty and poverty, upon their irreproachable
past, even upon the father’s memory. Certainly the mother and elder
sister excused the poor creature who sobbed under their kisses and
begged their pardon. However, when they gazed at each other with red
eyes and dry lips, they measured the fall of the family; they saw for
the first time how frightful were their destitution and distress; they
felt the unbearable feeling of shame glide into their hearts like
a sinister and unexpected guest who, at the first glance, makes one
understand that he has come to be master of the lodging. This was the
secret, the overwhelming secret, which the distracted Louise Gerard
revealed that evening to her only friend, Amedee Violette, acting thus
by instinct, as a woman with too heavy a burden throws it to the ground,
crying for help.

When she had ended her cruel confidence, to which the poet listened
with his face buried in his hands, and he uncovered his face creased and
furrowed by the sudden wrinkles of despair, Louise was frightened.

“How I have wounded him!” she thought. “How he loves Maria!”

But she saw shining in the young man’s eyes a gloomy resolution.

“Very well, Louise,” muttered he, between his teeth. “Do not tell me any
more, I beg of you. I do not know where to find Maurice at this hour,
but he will see me to-morrow morning, rest easy. If the evil is not
repaired--and at once!”

He did not finish; his voice was stifled with grief and rage, and upon
an almost imperious gesture to leave, Louise departed, overcome by her
undertaking.

No, Maurice Roger was not a villain. After Maria’s departure he felt
ashamed and displeased with himself. A mother! poor little thing!
Certainly he would take charge of her and the child; he would behave
like a gentleman. But, to speak plainly, he did not now love her as much
as he did. His vagabond nature was already tired of his love-affair.
This one was watered too much by tears. Bah! he was usually lucky, and
this troublesome affair would come out all right like the others. Truly,
it was as bad an accident as if one had fallen into a hole and broken
his leg. But then, who could tell? Chance and time arrange many things.
The child might not live, perhaps; at any rate, it was perfectly natural
that he should wait and see what happened.

The next morning the reckless Maurice--who had not slept badly--was
tranquilly preparing his palette while awaiting his model, when he saw
Amedee Violette enter his studio. At the first glance he saw that the
poet knew all.

“Maurice,” said Amedee, in a freezing tone, “I received a visit from
Mademoiselle Louise Gerard last evening. She told me everything--all, do
you understand me perfectly? I have come to learn whether I am mistaken
regarding you--whether Maurice Roger is an honest man.”

A flame darted from the young artist’s eyes. Amedee, with his livid
complexion and haggard from a sleepless night and tears, was pitiful to
see. And then it was Amedee, little Amedee whom Maurice sincerely loved,
for whom he had kept, ever since their college days, a sentiment, all
the more precious that it flattered his vanity, the indulgent affection
and protection of a superior.

“Oh! Grand, melodramatic words already!” said he, placing his palette
upon the table. “Amedee, my dear boy, I do not recognize you, and if you
have any explanation that you wish to ask of your old friend, it is not
thus that you should do it. You have received, you tell me, Mademoiselle
Gerard’s confidence. I know you are devoted to those ladies. I
understand your emotion and I think your intervention legitimate; but
you see I speak calmly and in a friendly way. Calm yourself in your turn
and do not forget that, in spite of your zeal for those ladies, I am the
best and dearest companion of your youth. I am, I know, in one of the
gravest situations of my life. Let us talk of it. Advise me; you
have the right to do so; but not in that tone of voice--that angry,
threatening tone which I pardon, but which hurts and makes me doubt,
were it possible, your love for me.”

“Ah! you know very well that I love you,” replied the unhappy Amedee,
“but why do you need my advice? You are frank enough to deny nothing.
You admit that it is true, that you have seduced a young girl. Does not
your conscience tell you what to do?”

“To marry her? That is my intention. But, Amedee, do you think of my
mother? This marriage will distress her, destroy her fond hopes and
ambitions. I hope to be able to gain her consent; only I must have time
to turn myself. Later--very soon. I do not say--if the child lives.”

This word, torn from Maurice by the cynicism which is in the heart of
all egotists, made Amedee angry.

“Your mother!” exclaimed he. “Your mother is the widow of a French
officer who died facing the enemy. She will understand it, I am sure,
as a matter of honor and duty. Go and find her, tell her that you have
ruined this unfortunate child. Your mother will advise you to marry her.
She will command you to do it.”

This argument was forcible and direct, and impressed Maurice; but his
friend’s violence irritated him.

“You go to work badly, Amedee, I repeat it,” said he, raising his tone.
“You have no right to prejudge my mother’s opinion, and I receive no
orders from anybody. After all, nothing authorizes you to do it; if it
is because you were in love with Maria--”

A furious cry interrupted him. Amedee, with wild eyes and shaking his
fists, walked toward Maurice, speaking in a cutting tone:

“Well, yes! I loved her,” said he, “and I wished to make her my wife.
You, who no longer love her, who took her out of caprice, as you have
taken others, you have destroyed all of my dreams for the future. She
preferred you, and, understand me, Maurice, I am too proud to complain,
too just to hold spite against you. I am only here to prevent your
committing an infamy. Upon my honor! If you repulse me, our friendship
is destroyed forever, and I dare not think of what will happen between
us, but it will be terrible! Alas! I am wrong, I do not talk to you as
I ought. Maurice, there is time yet! Only listen to your heart, which I
know is generous and good. You have wronged an innocent child and driven
a poor and worthy family to despair. You can repair the evil you have
caused. You wish to. You will! I beg of you, do it out of respect for
yourself and the name you bear. Act like a brave man and a gentleman!
Give this young girl--whose only wrong has been in loving you too
much--give the mother of your child your name, your heart, your love.
You will be happy with her and through her. Go! I shall not be jealous
of your happiness, but only too glad to have found my friend, my loyal
Maurice once more, and to be able still to love and admire him as
heretofore.”

Stirred by these warm words, and fatigued by the discussion and
struggle, the painter reached out his hands to his friend, who pressed
them in his. Suddenly he looked at Amedee and saw his eyes shining with
tears, and, partly from sorrow, but more from want of will and from
moral weakness, to end it he exclaimed:

“You are right, after all. We will arrange this matter without delay.
What do you wish me to do?”

Ah, how Amedee bounded upon his neck!

“My good, my dear Maurice! Quickly dress yourself. Let us go to those
ladies and embrace and console that dear child. Ah! I knew very well
that you would understand me and that your heart was in the right place.
How happy the poor women will be! Now then, my old friend, is it not
good to do one’s duty?”

Yes, Maurice found that it was good now; excited and carried away by his
friend, he hurried toward the good action that was pointed out to him as
he would to a pleasure-party, and while putting on his coat to go out,
he said:

“After all, my mother can only approve, and since she always does as I
wish, she will end by adoring my little Maria. It is all right; there
is no way of resisting you, Violette. You are a good and persuasive
Violette. Now, then, here I am, ready--a handkerchief--my hat. Off we
go!”

They went out and took a cab which carried them toward Montmartre. The
easy-going Maurice, reconciled to his future, sketched out his plan of
life. Once married, he would work seriously. At first, immediately after
the ceremony, he would leave with his wife to pass the winter in the
South, where she could be confined. He knew a pretty place in the
Corniche, near Antibes, where he should not lose his time, as he could
bring back marine and landscape sketches. But it would not be until the
next winter that he would entirely arrange his life. The painter Laugeol
was going to move; he would hire his apartment--“a superb studio, my
dear fellow, with windows looking out upon the Luxembourg.” He could
see himself there now, working hard, having a successful picture in the
Salon, wearing a medal. He chose even the hangings in the sleeping-rooms
in advance. Then, upon beautiful days, how convenient the garden would
be for the child and the nurse.

Suddenly, in the midst of this chattering, he noticed Amedee’s sad face
as he shrank into the back of the carriage.

“Forgive me, my dear friend,” said he, taking him affectionately by the
hand. “I forgot what you told me just now. Ah! fate is ridiculous, when
I think that my happiness makes you feel badly.”

The poet gave his friend a long, sad look.

“Be happy with Maria and make her happy, that is all I ask for you
both.”

They had reached the foot of Montmartre, and the carriage went slowly up
the steep streets.

“My friend,” said Amedee, “we shall arrive there soon. You will go in
alone to see these ladies, will you not? Oh! do not be afraid. I know
Louise and the mother. They will not utter one word of reproach. Your
upright act will be appreciated by them as it merits--but you will
excuse me from going with you, do you see? It would be too painful for
me.”

“Yes, I understand, my poor Amedee. As it pleases you. Now then,
courage, you will be cured of it. Everything is alleviated in time,”
 replied Maurice, who supposed everybody to have his fickle nature. “I
shall always remember the service that you have rendered me, for I blush
now as I think of it. Yes, I was going to do a villainous act. Amedee,
embrace me.”

They threw their arms about each other’s neck, and the carriage stopped.
Once on the sidewalk, Amedee noticed his friend’s wry face as he saw
the home of the Gerards, a miserable, commonplace lodging-house, whose
crackled plastered front made one think of the wrinkles on a poor man’s
face. On the right and on the left of the entrance-door were two shops,
one a butcher’s, the other a fruiterer’s, exhaling their fetid odors.
But Amedee paid no attention to the delicate Maurice’s repugnance,
saying:

“Do you see that little garden at the end of the walk? It is there. Au
revoir.”

They separated with a last grasp of the hand. The poet saw Maurice enter
the dark alley, cross the narrow court and push the gate open into the
garden, and then disappear among the mass of verdure. How many times
Amedee had passed through there, moved at the thought that he was going
to see Maria; and Maurice crossed this threshold for the first time
in his life to take her away. He wanted her! He had himself given his
beloved to another! He had begged, almost forced his rival, so to speak,
to rob him of his dearest hope! What sorrow!

Amedee gave his address to the driver and entered the carriage again. A
cold autumn rain had commenced to fall, and he was obliged to close
the windows. As he was jolted harshly through the streets of Paris at
a trot, the young poet, all of a shiver, saw carriages streaming with
water, bespattered pedestrians under their umbrellas, a heavy gloom fall
from the leaden sky; and Amedee, stupefied with grief, felt a strange
sensation of emptiness, as if somebody had taken away his heart.

When he entered his room, the sight of his furniture, his engravings,
his books on their shelves, and his table covered with its papers
distressed him. His long evenings of study near this lamp, the long
hours of thought over some difficult work, the austere and cheerless
year that he had lived there, all had been dedicated to Maria. It was
in order to obtain her some day, that he had labored so assiduously
and obstinately! And now the frivolous and guilty child was doubtless
weeping for joy in Maurice’s arms, her husband to-morrow?

Seated before his table, with his head buried in his hands, Amedee sank
into the depths of melancholy. His life seemed such a failure, his fate
so disastrous, his future so gloomy, he felt so discouraged and lonely,
that for the moment the courage to live deserted him. It seemed to him
that an invisible hand touched him upon the shoulder with compassion,
and he had at once a desire and a fear to turn around and look; for he
knew very well that this hand was that of the dead. He did not fancy it
under the hideous aspect of a skeleton, but as a calm, sad, but yet very
sweet face which drew him against its breast with a mother’s tenderness,
and made him and his grief sleep--a sleep without dreams, profound and
eternal. Suddenly he turned around and uttered a frightful cry. For
a moment he thought he saw, extended at his feet, and still holding a
razor in his hand, the dead body of his unhappy father, a horrible wound
in his throat, and his thin gray hair in a pool of blood!

He was still trembling with this frightful hallucination when somebody
knocked at his door. It was the concierge, who brought him two letters.

The first was stamped with the celebrated name:

“Comedie Francaise, 1680.” The manager announced in the most gracious
terms that he had read with the keenest pleasure his drama in verse,
entitled L’Atelier, and he hoped that the reading committee would accept
this work.

“Too late!” thought the young poet, as he tore open the other envelope.

This second letter bore the address of a Paris notary, and informed M.
Amedee Violette that M. Isidore Gaufre had died without leaving a will,
and that, as nephew of the defunct, he would receive a part of the
estate, still difficult to appraise, but which would not be less than
two hundred and fifty or three hundred thousand francs.

Success and fortune! Everything came at once! Amedee was at first
overwhelmed with surprise; but with all these unhoped-for favors of
fortune, which did not give him the power to repair his misfortune, the
noble poet deeply realized that riches and glory were not equal to a
great love or a beautiful dream, and, completely upset by the irony of
his fate, he broke into a harsh burst of laughter.



CHAPTER XV. REPARATION

The late M. Violette was not mistaken when he supposed M. Gaufre capable
of disinheriting his family in favor of his servant-mistress, but
Berenice was wanting in patience. The rough beard and cap of an
irresistible sergeant-major were the ruin of the girl. One Sunday, when
M. Gaufre, as usual, recited vespers at St. Sulpice, he found that for
the first time in his life he had forgotten his snuff-box. The holy
offices were unbearable to this hypocritical person unless frequently
broken by a good pinch of snuff. Instead of waiting for the final
benediction and then going to take his usual walk, he left his church
warden’s stall and returned unexpectedly to the Rue Servandoni, where he
surprised Berenice in a loving interview with her military friend. The
old man’s rage was pitiful to behold. He turned the Normandy beauty
ignominiously out of doors, tore up the will he had made in her favor,
and died some weeks after from indigestion, and left, in spite of
himself, all his fortune to his natural heirs.

Amedee’s drama had been accepted by the Comedie Francaise, but was not
to be brought out until spring. The notary in charge of his uncle’s
estate had advanced him a few thousand francs, and, feeling sad and not
having the courage to be present at the marriage of Maurice and Maria,
the poet wished at least to enjoy, in a way, his new fortune and the
independence that it gave him; so he resigned his position and left for
a trip to Italy, in the hope of dissipating his grief.

Ah, never travel when the heart is troubled! You sleep with the echo of
a dear name in your thoughts, and the half sleep of nights on a train
is feverish and full of nightmares. Amedee suffered tortures from it.
In the midst of the continual noise of the cars he thought he could hear
sad voices crying loudly the name of a beloved lost one. Sometimes the
tumult would become quiet for a little; brakes, springs, wheels, all
parts of the furious cast-iron machine seemed to him tired of howling
the deafening rhythmical gallop, and the vigorously rocked traveller
could distinguish in the diminished uproar a strain of music, at first
confused like a groan, then more distinct, but always the same cruel,
haunting monotone--the fragment of a song that Maria once sang when
they were both children. Suddenly a mournful and prolonged whistle would
resound through the night. The express rushed madly into a tunnel. Under
the sonorous roof, the frightful concert redoubled, exasperating him
among all these metallic clamors; but Amedee still heard a distant sound
like that of a blacksmith’s hammer, and each heavy blow made his heart
bound painfully.

Ah! never travel, and above all, never travel alone, if your heart is
sad! How hostile and inhospitable the first sensation is that one feels
then when entering an unknown city! Amedee was obliged to submit to the
tiresome delay of looking after his baggage in a commonplace station;
the hasty packing into an omnibus of tired-out travellers, darting
glances of bad humor and suspicion; to the reception upon the hotel
steps by the inevitable Swiss porter with his gold-banded cap, murdering
all the European languages, greeting all the newcomers, and getting
mixed in his “Yes, sir,” “Ja, wohl,” and “Si, signor.” Amedee was an
inexperienced tourist, who did not drag along with him a dozen trunks,
and had not a rich and indolent air; so he was quickly despatched by the
Swiss polyglot into a fourth-story room, which looked out into an open
well, and was so gloomy that while he washed his hands he was afraid
of falling ill and dying there without help. A notice written in four
languages hung upon the wall, and, to add to his cheerfulness, it
advised him to leave all his valuables at the office of the hotel--as
if he had penetrated a forest infested with brigands. The rigid writing
warned him still further that they looked upon him as a probable
sharper, and that his bill would be presented every five days.

The tiresome life of railroads and table-d’hotes began for him.

He would be dragged about from city to city, like a bag of wheat or a
cask of wine. He would dwell in pretentious and monumental hotels, where
he would be numbered like a convict; he would meet the same carnivorous
English family, with whom he might have made a tour of the world without
exchanging one word; swallowing every day the tasteless soup, old
fish, tough vegetables, and insipid wine which have an international
reputation, so to speak. But above all, he was to have the horror, every
evening upon going to his room, of passing through those uniform and
desolate corridors, faintly lighted by gas, where before each door are
pairs of cosmopolitan shoes--heavy alpine shoes, filthy German boots,
the conjugal boots of my lord and my lady, which make one think, by
their size, of the troglodyte giants--awaiting, with a fatigued air,
their morning polish.

The imprudent Amedee was destined to all sorts of weariness, all sorts
of deceptions, and all the homesickness of a solitary traveller. At the
sight of the famous monuments and celebrated sites, which have become
in some way looked upon as models for painters and material for
literary development, Amedee felt that sensation of “already seen” which
paralyzes the faculty of admiration. Dare we say it? The dome in Milan,
that enormous quiver of white marble arrows, did not move him. He
was indifferent to the sublime medley of bronze in the Baptistery in
Florence; and the leaning tower at Pisa produced simply the effect of
mystification. He walked miles through the museums and silent galleries,
satiated with art and glutted with masterpieces. He was disgusted to
find that he could not tolerate a dozen “Adorations of the Shepherds,”
 or fourteen “Descents from the Cross,” consecutively, even if they
were signed with the most glorious names. The scenes of suffering and
martyrdom, so many times repeated, were particularly distasteful to
him; and he took a still greater dislike even to a certain monk, always
represented on his knees in prayer with an axe sticking in his tonsure,
than to the everlasting St. Sebastian pierced with arrows. His deadened
and depraved attention discerned only the disagreeable and ugly side
of a work of art. In the adorable artless originals he could see only
childish and barbarous drawing, and he thought the old colorists’
yolk-of-an-egg tone monotonous.

He wished to spur his sensations, to see something extraordinary. He
travelled toward Venice, the noiseless city, the city without birds or
verdure, toward that silent country of sky, marble, and water; but once
there, the reality seemed inferior to his dream. He had not that shock
of surprise and enthusiasm in the presence of St. Mark’s and the Doges’
palace which he had hoped for. He had read too many descriptions of all
these wonders; seen too many more or less faithful pictures, and in his
disenchantment he recalled a lamp-shade which once, in his own home, had
excited his childish imagination--an ugly lampshade of blue pasteboard
upon which was printed a nocturnal fete, the illuminations upon the
ducal palace being represented by a row of pin-pricks.

Once more I repeat it, never travel alone, and above all, never go
to Venice alone and without love! For young married people in their
honeymoon, or a pair of lovers, the gondola is a floating boudoir, a
nest upon the waters like a kingfisher’s. But for one who is sad, and
who stretches himself upon the sombre cushions of the bark, the gondola
is a tomb.

Toward the last of January, Amedee suddenly returned to Paris. He would
not be obliged to see Maurice or his young bride at once. They had been
married one month and would remain in the South until the end of winter.
He was recalled by the rehearsals of his drama. The notary who had
charge of his affairs gave him twelve thousand pounds’ income, a large
competency, which enabled him to work for the pure and disinterested
love of art, and without concessions to common people. The young poet
furnished an elegant apartment in an old and beautiful house on the
Quai d’Orsay, and sought out some of his old comrades--among others Paul
Sillery, who now held a distinguished place in journalism and reappeared
a little in society, becoming very quickly reconciled with life.

His first call was upon Madame Roger. He was very glad to see Maurice’s
mother; she was a little sad, but indulgent to Maurice, and resigned to
her son’s marriage, because she felt satisfied that he had acted like a
man of honor. He also went at once to Montmartre to embrace Louise and
Madame Gerard, who received him with great demonstrations. They were not
so much embarrassed in money matters, for Maurice was very generous
and had aided his wife’s family. Louise gave lessons now for a proper
remuneration, and Madame Gerard was able to refuse, with tears of
gratitude, the poet’s offer of assistance, who filially opened his purse
to her. He dined as usual with his old friends, and they had tact enough
not to say too much about the newly married ones; but there was one
empty place at the table. He was once more seized with thoughts of the
absent, and returned to his room that evening with an attack of the
blues.

The rehearsal of his piece, which had just begun at the Comedie
Francaise, the long sittings at the theatre, and the changes to be
made from day to day, were a useful and powerful distraction for Amedee
Violette’s grief. L’Atelier, when played the first week in April, did
not obtain more than a respectful greeting from the public; it was
an indifferent success. This vulgar society, these simple, plain,
sentiments, the sweetheart in a calico gown, the respectable old man in
short frock and overalls, the sharp lines where here and there boldly
rang out a slang word of the faubourg; above all, the scene representing
a mill in full activity, with its grumbling workmen, its machines in
motion, even the continual puffing of steam, all displeased the worldly
people and shocked them. This was too abrupt a change from luxurious
drawing-rooms, titled persons, aristocratic adulteresses, and
declarations of love murmured to the heroine in full toilette by a lover
leaning his elbow upon the piano, with all the airs and graces of a
first-class dandy. However, Jocquelet, in the old artisan’s role, was
emphatic and exaggerated, and an ugly and commonplace debutante was an
utter failure. The criticisms, generally routine in character, were
not gracious, and the least surly ones condemned Amedee’s attempt,
qualifying it as an honorable effort. There were some slashes;
one “long-haired” fellow from the Cafe de Seville failed in his
criticism--the very one who once wrote a description of the violation of
a tomb--to crush the author of L’Atelier in an ultra-classical article,
wherein he protested against realism and called to witness all the
silent, sculptured authors in the hall.

It was a singular thing, but Amedee was easily consoled over his
failure. He did not have the necessary qualities to succeed in the
theatrical line? Very well, he would give it up, that was all! It
was not such a great misfortune, upon the whole, to abandon the most
difficult art of all, but not the first; which did not allow a poet to
act his own free liking. Amedee began to compose verses for himself--for
his own gratification; to become intoxicated with his own rhymes and
fancies; to gather with a sad pleasure the melancholy flowers that his
trouble had caused to blossom in his heart.

Meanwhile summer arrived, and Maurice returned to Paris with his wife
and a little boy, born at Nice, and Amedee must go to see them, although
he knew in advance that the visit would make him unhappy.

The amateur painter was handsomer than ever. He was alone in his studio,
wearing his same red jacket. He had decorated and even crammed the
room full of luxurious and amusing knickknacks. The careless young man
received his friend as if nothing had happened between them, and after
their greetings and inquiries as to old friends, and the events that had
happened since their last meeting, they lighted their cigarettes.

“Well, what have you done?” asked the poet. “You had great projects of
work. Have you carried out your plans? Have you many sketches to show
me?”

“Upon my word, no! Almost nothing. Do you know, when I was there I
abandoned myself to living; I played the lizard in the sun. Happiness is
very engrossing, and I have been foolishly happy.”

Then placing his hand upon his friend’s, who sat near him, he added:

“But I owe that happiness to you, my good Amedee.”

Maurice said this carelessly, in order to satisfy his conscience. Did
he remember, did he even suspect how unhappy the poet had been, and was
now, on account of this happiness? A bell rang.

“Ah!” exclaimed the master of the house, joyfully.

“It is Maria returning with the baby from a walk in the gardens. This
little citizen will be six weeks old to-morrow, and you must see what a
handsome little fellow he is already.”

Amedee felt stifled with emotion. He was about to see her again! To see
her as a wife and a mother was quite different, of course.

She appeared, raising the portiere with one hand, while behind her
appeared the white bonnet and rustic face of the nurse. No! she was not
changed, but maternity, love, and a rich and easy life had expanded her
beauty. She was dressed in a fresh and charming toilette. She blushed
when she first recognized Amedee; and he felt with sadness that his
presence could only awaken unpleasant recollections in the young woman’s
mind.

“Kiss each other, like old acquaintances,” said the painter, laughing,
with the air of a man who is loved and sure of himself.

But Amedee contented himself with kissing the tips of her glove, and
the glance with which Maria thanked him for this reserve was one more
torture for him to endure. She was grateful to him and gave him a kind
smile.

“My mother and my sister,” said she, graciously, “often have the
pleasure of a visit from you, Monsieur Amedee. I hope that you will not
make us jealous, but come often to see Maurice and me.”

“Maurice and me!” How soft and tender her voice and eyes became as she
said these simple words, “Maurice and me!” Ah, were they not one! How
she loved him! How she loved him!

Then Amedee must admire the baby, who was now awake in his nurse’s arms,
aroused by his father’s noisy gayety. The child opened his blue eyes, as
serious as those of an old man’s, and peeped out from the depth of lace,
feebly squeezing the finger that the poet extended to him.

“What do you call him?” asked Amedee, troubled to find anything to say.

“Maurice, after his father,” quickly responded Maria, who also put a
mint of love into these words.

Amedee could endure no more. He made some pretext for withdrawing and
went away, promising that he would see them again soon.

“I shall not go there very often!” he said to himself, as he descended
the steps, furious with himself that he was obliged to hold back a sob.

He went there, however, and always suffered from it. He was the one who
had made this marriage; he ought to rejoice that Maurice, softened
by conjugal life and paternity, did not return to his recklessness of
former days; but, on the contrary, the sight of this household, Maria’s
happy looks, the allusions that she sometimes made of gratitude to
Amedee; above all Maurice’s domineering way in his home, his way of
speaking to his wife like an indulgent master to a slave delighted
to obey, all displeased and unmanned him. He always left Maurice’s
displeased with himself, and irritated with the bad sentiments that he
had in his heart; ashamed of loving another’s wife, the wife of his old
comrade; and keeping up all the same his friendship for Maurice, whom he
was never able to see without a feeling of envy and secret bitterness.

He managed to lengthen the distance between his visits to the young
pair, and to put another interest into his life. He was now a man of
leisure, and his fortune allowed him to work when he liked and
felt inspired. He returned to society and traversed the midst of
miscellaneous parlors, greenrooms, and Bohemian society. He loitered
about these places a great deal and lost his time, was interested by all
the women, duped by his tender imagination; always expending too much
sensibility in his fancies; taking his desires for love, and devoting
himself to women.

The first of his loves was a beautiful Madame, whom he met in the
Countess Fontaine’s parlors. She was provided with a very old husband
belonging to the political and financial world; a servant of several
regimes, who having on many occasions feathered his own nest, made false
statements of accounts, and betrayed his vows, his name could not be
spoken in public assemblies without being preceded by the epithet of
honorable. A man so seriously occupied in saving the Capitol, that is to
say, in courageously sustaining the stronger, approving the majorities
in all of their mean actions and thus increasing his own ground,
sinecures, tips, stocks, and various other advantages, necessarily
neglected his charming wife, and took very little notice of the ridicule
that she inflicted upon him often, and to which he seemed predestined.

The fair lady--with a wax doll’s beauty, not very young, confining
herself to George Sand in literature, making three toilettes a day, and
having a large account at the dentist’s--singled out the young poet with
a romantic head, and rapidly traversed with him the whole route through
the country of Love. Thanks to modern progress, the voyage is now made
by a through train. After passing the smaller stations, “blushing
behind the fan,” a “significant pressure of the hand,” “appointment in a
museum,” etc., and halting at a station of very little importance called
“scruples” (ten minutes’ pause), Amedee reached the terminus of the line
and was the most enviable of mortals. He became Madame’s lapdog, the
essential ornament in her drawing-room, figured at all the dinners,
balls, and routs where she appeared, stifled his yawns at the back of
her box at the Opera, and received the confidential mission of going
to hunt for sweetmeats and chocolates in the foyer. His recompense
consisted in metaphysical conversations and sentimental seances, in
which he was not long in discovering that his heart was blinded by his
emotions. At the end of a few months of this commonplace happiness,
the rupture took place without any regrets on either side, and Amedee
returned, without a pang, the love-tokens he had received, namely: a
photograph, a package of letters in imitation of fashionable romances,
written in long, angular handwriting, after the English style, upon very
chic paper; and, we must not forget, a white glove which was a little
yellowed from confinement in the casket, like the beautiful Madame
herself.

A tall girl, with a body like a goddess, who earned three hundred francs
a month by showing her costumes on the Vaudeville stage, and who gave
one louis a day to her hairdresser, gave Amedee a new experience in
love, more expensive, but much more amusing than the first. There were
no more psychological subtleties or hazy consciences; but she had fine,
strong limbs and the majestic carriage of a cardinal’s mistress going
through the Rue de Constance in heavy brocade garments, to see Jean
Huss burned; and her voluptuous smile showed teeth made to devour
patrimonies. Unfortunately, Mademoiselle Rose de Juin’s--that was the
young lady’s theatrical name--charming head was full of the foolishness
and vanity of a poor actress. Her attacks of rage when she read an
article in the journals which cut her up, her nervous attacks and
torrents of tears when they gave her parts with only fifteen lines in a
new piece, had begun to annoy Amedee, when chance gave him a new rival
in the person of Gradoux, an actor in the Varietes, the ugly clown
whose chronic cold in the head and ugly face seemed for twenty years so
delicious to the most refined public in the world. Relieved of a large
number of bank-notes, Violette discreetly retired.

He next carried on a commonplace romance with a pretty little girl whose
acquaintance he made one evening at a public fete. Louison was twenty
years old, and earned her living at a famous florist’s, and was as pink
and fresh as an almond-bush in April. She had had only two lovers, gay
fellows--an art student first--then a clerk in a novelty store, who had
given her the not very aristocratic taste for boating. It was on the
Marne, seated near Louison in a boat moored to the willows on the Ile
d’Amour, that Amedee obtained his first kiss between two stanzas of
a boating song, and this pretty creature, who never came to see
him without bringing him a bouquet, charmed the poet. He remembered
Beranger’s charming verses, “I am of the people as well, my love!” felt
that he loved, and was softened. In reality, he had turned this naive
head. Louison became dreamy, asked for a lock of his hair, which she
always carried with her in her ‘porte-monnaie’, went to get her fortune
told to know whether the dark-complexioned young man, the knave of
clubs, would be faithful to her for a long time. Amedee trusted this
simple heart for some time, but at length he became tired of her
vulgarities. She was really too talkative, not minding her h’s and
punctuating her discourse with “for certain” and “listen to me, then,”
 calling Amedee “my little man,” and eating vulgar dishes. One day she
offered to kiss him, with a breath that smelled of garlic. She was the
one who left him, from feminine pride, feeling that he no longer loved
her, and he almost regretted her.

Thus his life passed; he worked a little and dreamed much. He went
as rarely as possible to Maurice Roger’s house. Maurice had decidedly
turned out to be a good husband, and was fond of his home and playing
with his little boy. Every time that Amedee saw Maria it meant several
days of discouragement, sorrow, and impossibility of work.

“Well! well!” he would murmur, throwing down his pen, when the young
woman’s face would rise between his thoughts and his page; “I am
incurable; I shall always love her.”

In the summer of 1870 Amedee, being tired of Paris, thought of a new
trip, and he was upon the point of going again, unfortunate fellow! to
see the Swiss porters who speak all the languages in the world, and to
view the melancholy boots in the hotel corridors, when the war broke
out. The poet’s passage through the midst of the revolutionary “beards”
 in the Cafe de Seville, and the parliamentary cravats in the Countess’s
drawing-room, had disgusted him forever with politics. He also was very
suspicious of the Liberal ministers and all the different phases of
the malady that was destroying the Second Empire. But Amedee was a good
Frenchman. The assaults upon the frontiers, and the first battles lost,
made a burning blush suffuse his face at the insult. When Paris was
threatened he asked for arms, like the others, and although he had not a
military spirit, he swore to do his duty, and his entire duty, too. One
beautiful September morning he saw Trochu’s gilded cap passing among the
bayonets; four hundred thousand Parisians were there, like himself,
full of good-will, who had taken up their guns with the resolve to die
steadfast. Ah, the misery of defeat! All these brave men for five months
could only fidget about the place and eat carcases. May the good God
forgive the timid and the prattler! Alas! Poor old France! After so much
glory! Poor France of Jeanne d’Arc and of Napoleon!



CHAPTER XVI. IN TIME OF WAR

The great siege lasted nearly three months. Upon the thirtieth of
November they had fought a battle upon the banks of the Marne, then for
twenty-four hours the fight had seemed to slacken, and there was a heavy
snow-storm; but they maintained that the second of December would be
decisive. That morning the battalion of the National Guard, of which
Amedee Violette was one, went out for the first time, with the order
simply to hold themselves in reserve in the third rank, by the fort’s
cannons, upon a hideous plain at the east of Paris.

Truly this National Guard did not make a bad appearance. They were a
trifle awkward, perhaps, in their dark-blue hooded cloaks, with their
tin-plate buttons, and armed with breech-loading rifles, and encumbered
with canteens, basins, and pouches, all having an unprepared and too-new
look. They all came from the best parts of the city, with accelerated
steps and a loud beating of drums, and headed, if you please, by their
major on horseback, a truss-maker, who had formerly been quartermaster
of the third hussars. Certainly they only asked for service; it was not
their fault, after all, if one had not confidence in them, and if they
were not sent to the front as soon as they reached the fortifications.
While crossing the drawbridge they had sung the Marseillaise like men
ready to be shot down. What spoiled their martial appearance, perhaps,
were their strong hunting-boots, their leather leggings, knit gloves,
and long gaiters; lastly, that comfortable air of people who have
brought with them a few dainties, such as a little bread with something
eatable between, some tablets of chocolate, tobacco, and a phial filled
with old rum. They had not gone two kilometres outside the ramparts, and
were near the fort, where for the time being the artillery was silent,
when a staff officer who was awaiting them upon an old hack of a horse,
merely skin and bones, stopped them by a gesture of the hand, and said
sharply to their major to take position on the left of the road, in
an open field. They then stacked their arms there and broke ranks, and
rested until further orders.

What a dismal place! Under a canopy of dull clouds, the earth bare with
half-melted snow, with the low fort rising up before them as if in an
attitude of defence, here and there groups of ruined houses, a mill
whose tall chimney and walls had been half destroyed by shells, but
where one still read, in large black letters, these words, “Soap-maker
to the Nobility;” and through this desolated country was a long and
muddy road which led over to where the battle field lay, and in the
midst of which, presenting a symbol of death, lay the dead body of a
horse.

In front of the National Guard, on the other side of the road, a
battalion, which had been strongly put to the test the night before,
were cooking. They had retreated as far as this to rest a little,
and had spent all that night without shelter under the falling snow.
Exhausted, bespattered, in rags, they were dolefully crouched around
their meagre green-wood fires; the poor creatures were to be pitied.
Underneath their misshapen caps they all showed yellow, wrinkled, and
unshaven faces. The bitter, cold wind that swept over the plain
made their thin shoulders, stooping from fatigue, shiver, and their
shoulder-blades protruded under their faded capes. Some of them were
wounded, too slightly to be sent away in the ambulance, and wore about
their wrists and foreheads bands of bloody linen. When an officer passed
with his head bent and a humiliated air, nobody saluted him. These
men had suffered too much, and one could divine an angry and insolent
despair in their gloomy looks, ready to burst out and tell of their
injuries. They would have disgusted one if they had not excited one’s
pity. Alas, they were vanquished!

The Parisians were eager for news as to recent military operations, for
they had only read in the morning papers--as they always did during
this frightful siege--enigmatical despatches and bulletins purposely
bristling with strategic expressions not comprehensible to the outsider.
But all, or nearly all, had kept their patriotic hopes intact, or, to
speak more plainly, their blind fanatical patriotism, and were certain
against all reason of a definite victory; they walked along the road in
little groups, and drew near the red pantaloons to talk a little.

“Well, it was a pretty hot affair on the thirtieth, wasn’t it? Is it
true that you had command of the Marne? You know what they say in Paris,
my children? That Trochu knows something new, that he is going to make
his way through the Prussian lines and join hands with the helping
armies--in a word that we are going to strike the last blow.”

At the sight of these spectres of soldiers, these unhappy men broken
down with hunger and fatigue, the genteel National Guards, warmly clad
and wrapped up for the winter, commenced to utter foolish speeches and
big hopes which had been their daily food for several months: “Break
the iron circle;” “not one inch, not a stone;” “war to the knife;” “one
grand effort,” etc. But the very best talkers were speedily discouraged
by the shrugging of shoulders and ugly glances of the soldiers, that
were like those of a snarling cur.

Meanwhile, a superb sergeant-major of the National Guard, newly
equipped, a big, full-blooded fellow, with a red beard, the husband of
a fashionable dressmaker, who every evening at the beer-house, after
his sixth glass of beer would show, with matches, an infallible plan
for blocking Paris and crushing the Prussian army like pepper, and was
foolish enough to insist upon it.

“Now then, you, my good fellow,” said he, addressing an insignificant
corporal just about to eat his stew, as if he were questioning an old
tactician or a man skilled like Turenne or Davoust; “do you see? you hit
it in this affair of day before yesterday. Give us your opinion. Are the
positions occupied by Ducrot as strong as they pretend? Is it victory
for to-day?”

The corporal turned around suddenly; with a face the color of boxwood,
and his blue eyes shining with rage and defiance, he cried in a hoarse
voice:

“Go and see for yourselves, you stay-at-homes!”

Saddened and heart-broken at the demoralization of the soldiers, the
National Guards withdrew.

“Behold the army which the Empire has left us!” said the dressmaker’s
husband, who was a fool.

Upon the road leading from Paris, pressing toward the cannon’s mouth
which was commencing to grumble again in the distance, a battalion of
militia arrived, a disorderly troop. They were poor fellows from the
departments in the west, all young, wearing in their caps the Brittany
coat-of-arms, and whom suffering and privation had not yet entirely
deprived of their good country complexions. They were less worn out than
the other unfortunate fellows whose turn came too often, and did
not feel the cold under their sheepskins, and still respected their
officers, whom they knew personally, and were assured in case of
accident of absolution given by one of their priests, who marched in the
rear file of the first company, with his cassock tucked up and his
Roman hat over his eyes. These country fellows walked briskly, a little
helter-skelter, like their ancestors in the time of Stofflet and M. de
la Rochejaquelin, but with a firm step and their muskets well placed
upon their shoulders, by Ste. Anne! They looked like soldiers in
earnest.

When they passed by the National Guard, the big blond waved his cap in
the air, furiously shouting at the top of his lungs:

“Long live the Republic!”

But once more the fanatical patriot’s enthusiasm fell flat. The Bretons
were marching into danger partly from desire, but more from duty and
discipline. At the very first shot these simple-minded creatures reach
the supreme wisdom of loving one’s country and losing one’s life for
it, if necessary, without interesting themselves in the varied
mystifications one calls government. Four or five of the men, more or
less astonished at the cry which greeted them, turned their placid,
countrified faces toward the National Guard, and the battalion passed
by.

The dressmaker’s husband--he did nothing at his trade, for his wife
adored him, and he spent at cafes all the money which she gave him--was
extremely scandalized. During this time Amedee Violette was dreamily
walking up and down before the stacks of guns. His warlike ardor of
the first few days had dampened. He had seen and heard too many foolish
things said and done since the beginning of this horrible siege; had
taken part too many times in one of the most wretched spectacles in
which a people can show vanity in adversity. He was heart broken to see
his dear compatriots, his dear Parisians, redouble their boasting
after each defeat and take their levity for heroism. If he admired the
resignation of the poor women standing in line before the door of a
butcher’s shop, he was every day more sadly tormented by the bragging
of his comrades, who thought themselves heroes when playing a game of
corks. The official placards, the trash in the journals, inspired him
with immense disgust, for they had never lied so boldly or flattered the
people with so much low meanness. It was with a despairing heart and the
certitude of final disaster that Amedee, needing a little sleep after
the fatigue, wandered through Paris’s obscure streets, barely lighted
here and there by petroleum lamps, under the dark, opaque winter sky,
where the echoes of the distant cannonading unceasingly growled like the
barking of monstrous dogs.

What solitude! The poet had not one friend, not one comrade to whom he
could confide his patriotic sorrows. Paul Sillery was serving in the
army of the Loire. Arthur Papillon, who had shown such boisterous
enthusiasm on the fourth of September, had been nominated prefet in a
Pyrenean department, and having looked over his previous studies, the
former laureate of the university examinations spent much of his time
therein, far from the firing, in making great speeches and haranguing
from the top of the balconies, in which speeches the three hundred
heroes of antiquity in a certain mountain-pass were a great deal too
often mentioned. Amedee sometimes went to see Jocquelet in the theatres,
where they gave benefit performances for the field hospitals or to
contribute to the molding of a new cannon. The actor, wearing a short
uniform and booted to the thighs, would recite with enormous success
poems of the times in which enthusiasm and fine sentiments took the
place of art and common sense. What can one say to a triumphant actor
who takes himself for a second Tyrtee, and who after a second recall is
convinced that he is going to save the country, and that Bismarck and
old William had better look after their laurels.

As to Maurice Roger, at the beginning of the campaign he sent his
mother, wife, and child into the country, and, wearing the double
golden stripe of a lieutenant upon his militia jacket, he was now at the
outposts near his father’s old friend, Colonel Lantz.

Owing to a scarcity of officers, they had fished up the old Colonel
from the depths of his engineer’s office, and had torn him away from his
squares and compasses. Poor old fellow! His souvenirs of activity went
as far back as the Crimea and Sebastopol. Since that time he had not
even seen a pickaxe glisten in the sun, and, behold, they asked this
worthy man to return to the trench, and to powder his despatches
with earth ploughed up by bombs, like Junot at Toulon in the fearless
battery.

Well, he did not say “No,” and after kissing his three portionless
daughters on the forehead, he took his old uniform, half-eaten up by
moths, from a drawer, shook the grains of pepper and camphor from it,
and, with his slow, red-tapist step, went to make his excavators work
as far as possible from the walls and close by the Prussians. I can
tell you, the men of the auxiliary engineers and the gentlemen with the
American-caps had not joked for some time over his African cape or his
superannuated cap, which seemed to date from Pere Bugeaud. One day,
when a German bomb burst among them, and they all fell to the ground
excepting Colonel Lantz, who had not flinched. He tranquilly settled his
glasses upon his nose and wiped off his splashed beard as coolly as he
had, not long since, cleaned his India-ink brushes. Bless me! it gave
you a lesson, gentlemen snobs, to sustain the honor of the special army,
and taught you to respect the black velvet plastron and double red
bands on the trousers. In spite of his appearance of absence of mind
and deafness, the Colonel had just before heard murmured around him the
words “old Lantz,” and “old dolphin.” Very well, gentlemen officers, you
know now that the old army was composed of good material!

Maurice Roger was ordered from his battalion to Colonel Lantz, and did
his duty like a true soldier’s son, following his chief into the most
perilous positions, and he no longer lowered his head or bent his
shoulders at the whistling of a bomb. It was genuine military blood that
flowed in his veins, and he did not fear death; but life in the open
air, absence from his wife, the state of excitement produced by the
war, and this eagerness for pleasure common to all those who risk
their lives, had suddenly awakened his licentious temperament. When
his service allowed him to do so, he would go into Paris and spend
twenty-four hours there, profiting by it to have a champagne dinner at
Brebant’s or Voisin’s, in company with some beautiful girl, and to eat
the luxurious dishes of that time, such as beans, Gruyere cheese, and
the great rarity which had been secretly raised for three months on the
fifth floor, a leg of mutton.

One evening Amedee Violette was belated upon the boulevards, and saw
coming out of a restaurant Maurice in full uniform, with one of the
pretty comedienes from the Varietes leaning upon his arm. This meeting
gave Amedee one heart-ache the more. It was for such a husband as this,
then, that Maria, buried in some country place, was probably at this
very time overwhelmed with fears about his safety. It was for this
incorrigible rake that she had disdained her friend from childhood, and
scorned the most delicate, faithful, and tender of lovers.

Finally, to kill time and to flee from solitude, Amedee went to the Cafe
de Seville, but he only found a small group of his former acquaintances
there. No more literary men, or almost none. The “long-haired” ones had
to-day the “regulation cut,” and wore divers head-gears, for the most
of the scattered poets carried cartridge-boxes and guns; but some of the
political “beards” had not renounced their old customs; the war and
the fall of the Empire had been a triumph for them, and the fourth of
September had opened every career for them. Twenty of these “beards”
 had been provided with prefectures; at least all, or nearly all, of them
occupied public positions. There was one in the Government of National
Defence, and three or four others, chosen from among the most rabid
ones, were members of the Committee on Barricades; for, improbable as
the thing may seem today, this commission existed and performed its
duties, a commission according to all rules, with an organized office, a
large china inkstand, stamped paper, verbal reports read and voted upon
at the beginning of each meeting; and, around a table covered with green
cloth, these professional instigators of the Cafe de Seville, these
teachers of insurrection, generously gave the country the benefit of the
practical experience that they had acquired in practising with the game
of dominoes.

The “beards” remaining in Paris were busied with employments more or
less considerable in the government, but did not do very much, the
offices in which they worked for France’s salvation usually closed at
four o’clock, and they went as usual to take their appetizers at the
Cafe de Seville. It was there that Amedee met them again, and mixed anew
in their conversations, which now dwelt exclusively upon patriotic and
military subjects. These “beards” who would none of them have been able
to command “by the right flank” a platoon of artillery, had all at once
been endowed by some magical power with the genius of strategy. Every
evening, from five to seven, they fought a decisive battle upon each
marble table, sustained by the artillery of the iced decanter which
represented Mount Valerien, a glass of bitters, that is to say,
Vinoy’s brigade, feigned to attack a saucer representing the Montretout
batteries; while the regular army and National Guard, symbolized by a
glass of vermouth and absinthe, were coming in solid masses from the
south, and marching straight into the heart of the enemy, the match-box.

There were scheming men among these “beards,” and particularly terrible
inventors, who all had an infallible way of destroying at a blow
the Prussian army, and who accused General Trochu of treason, and of
refusing their offers, giving as a reason the old prejudices of military
laws among nations. One of these visionary people had formerly been
physician to a somnambulist, and took from his pocket--with his tobacco
and cigarette papers--a series of bottles labelled: cholera, yellow
fever, typhus fever, smallpox, etc., and proposed as a very simple thing
to go and spread these epidemics in all the German camps, by the aid of
a navigable balloon, which he had just invented the night before upon
going to bed. Amedee soon became tired of these braggarts and lunatics,
and no longer went to the Cafe de Seville. He lived alone and shut
himself up in his discouragement, and he had never perhaps had it weigh
more heavily upon his shoulders than this morning of the second of
December, the last day of the battle of Champigny, while he was sadly
promenading before the stacked guns of his battalion.

The dark clouds, heavy with snow, were hurrying by, the tormenting
rumble of the cannons, the muddy country, the crumbling buildings, and
these vanquished soldiers shivering under their rags, all threw the poet
into the most gloomy of reveries. Then humanity so many ages, centuries,
perhaps, old, had only reached this point: Hatred, absurd war,
fratricidal murder! Progress? Civilization? Mere words! No rest, no
peaceful repose, either in fraternity or love! The primitive brute
always reappears, the right of the stronger to hold in its clutches
the pale cadaver of justice! What is the use of so many religions,
philosophies, all the noble dreams, all the grand impulses of the
thought toward the ideal and good? This horrible doctrine of the
pessimists was true then! We are, then, like animals, eternally
condemned to kill each other in order to live? If that is so, one might
as well renounce life, and give up the ghost!

Meanwhile the cannonading now redoubled, and with its tragic grumbling
was mingled the dry crackling sound of the musketry; beyond a wooded
hillock, which restricted the view toward the southeast, a very thick
white smoke spread over the horizon, mounting up into the gray sky. The
fight had just been resumed there, and it was getting hot, for soon the
ambulances and army-wagons drawn by artillery men began to pass. They
were full of the wounded, whose plaintive moans were heard as they
passed. They had crowded the least seriously wounded ones into the
omnibus, which went at a foot pace, but the road had been broken up by
the bad weather, and it was pitiful to behold these heads shaken as
they passed over each rut. The sight of the dying extended upon bloody
mattresses was still more lugubrious to see. The frightful procession
of the slaughtered went slowly toward the city to the hospitals, but
the carriages sometimes stopped, only a hundred steps from the position
occupied by the National Guards, before a house where a provisionary
hospital had been established, and left their least transportable ones
there. The morbid but powerful attraction that horrible sights exert
over a man urged Amedee Violette to this spot. This house had been
spared from bombardment and protected from pillage and fire by the
Geneva flag; it was a small cottage which realized the dream of every
shopkeeper after he has made his fortune. Nothing was lacking, not even
the earthen lions at the steps, or the little garden with its glittering
weather-vane, or the rock-work basin for goldfish. On warm days the past
summer passers-by might have seen very often, under the green arbor,
bourgeoisie in their shirt-sleeves and women in light dresses eating
melons together. The poet’s imagination fancied at once this picture of
a Parisian’s Sunday, when suddenly a young assistant appeared at an
open window on the first floor, wiping his hands upon his blood-stained
apron. He leaned out and called to a hospital attendant, that Amedee had
not noticed before, who was cutting linen upon a table in the garden:

“Well, Vidal, you confounded dawdler,” exclaimed he, impatiently, “are
those bandages ready? Good God! are we to have them to-day or tomorrow?”

“Make room, if you please!” said at this moment a voice at Amedee’s
elbow, who stepped aside for two stretchers borne by four brothers
of the Christian doctrine to pass. The poet gave a start and a cry of
terror. He recognized in the two wounded men Maurice Roger and Colonel
Lantz.

Wounded, both of them, yes! and mortally. Only one hour ago.

Affairs had turned out badly for us down there, then, on the borders of
the Marne. They did a foolish thing to rest one day and give the enemy
time to concentrate his forces; when they wished to renew the attack
they dashed against vast numbers and formidable artillery. Two generals
killed! So many brave men sacrificed! Now they beat a retreat once more
and lose the ground. One of the chief generals, with lowered head and
drooping shoulders, more from discouragement than fatigue, stood glass
in hand, observing from a distance our lines, which were breaking.

“If we could fortify ourselves there at least,” said he, pointing to an
eminence which overlooked the river, “and establish a redoubt--in one
night with a hundred picks it could be done. I do not believe that the
enemy’s fire could reach this position--it is a good one.”

“We could go there and see, General,” said some one, very quietly.

It was Pere Lantz, the “old dolphin,” who was standing there with
Maurice beside him and three or four of the auxiliary engineers; and,
upon my word, in spite of his cap, which seemed to date from the time of
Horace Vernet’s “Smala,” the poor man, with his glasses upon his nose,
long cloak, and pepper colored beard, had no more prestige than a
policeman in a public square, one of those old fellows who chase
children off the grass, threatening them with their canes.

“When I say that the German artillery will not reach there,” murmured
the head general, “I am not sure of it. But you are right, Colonel. We
must see. Send two of your men.”

“With your permission, General,” said Pere Lantz, “I will go myself.”
 Maurice bravely added at once:

“Not without me, Colonel!”

“As you please,” said the General, who had already pointed his glass
upon another point of the battlefield.

Followed by the only son of his companion in arms in Africa and the
Crimea, this office clerk and dauber in watercolors walked to the front
as tranquilly as he would have gone to the minister’s office with his
umbrella under his arm. At the very moment when the two officers reached
the plateau, a projectile from the Prussian batteries fell upon a chest
and blew it up with a frightful uproar. The dead and wounded were heaped
upon the ground. Pere Lantz saw the foot-soldiers fleeing, and the
artillery men harnessing their wagons.

“What!” exclaimed he, rising up to his full height, “do they abandon the
position?”

The Colonel’s face was transfigured; opening wide his long cloak and
showing his black velvet plastron upon which shone his commander’s
cross, he drew his sword, and, putting his cap upon the tip of it,
bareheaded, with his gray hair floating in the wind, with open arms he
threw himself before the runaways.

“Halt!” he commanded, in a thundering tone. “Turn about, wretches, turn
about! You are here at a post of honor. Form again, my men! Gunners, to
your places! Long life to France!”

Just then a new shell burst at the feet of the Colonel and of Maurice,
and they both fell to the ground.

Amedee, staggering with emotion and a heart bursting with grief and
fear, entered the hospital behind the two litters.

“Put them in the dining-room,” said one of the brothers. “There is
nobody there. The doctor will come immediately.”

The young man with the bloody apron came in at once, and after a look at
the wounded man he gave a despairing shake of the head, and, shrugging
his shoulders, said:

“There is nothing to be done they will not last long.”

In fact, the Colonel was dying. They had thrown an old woollen covering
over him through which the hemorrhage showed itself by large stains of
blood which were constantly increasing and penetrating the cloth. The
wounded man seemed to be coming out of his faint; he half opened his
eyes, and his lips moved.

The doctor, who had just come in, came up to the litter upon which the
old officer was lying and leaned over him.

“Did you wish to say anything?” he asked.

The old Colonel, without moving his head, turned his sad gaze upon the
surgeon, oh! so sad, and in a voice scarcely to be heard he murmured:

“Three daughters--to marry--without a dowry! Three--three--!”

Then he heaved a deep sigh, his blue eyes paled and became glassy.
Colonel Lantz was dead.

Do not despair, old military France! You will always have these
simple-hearted soldiers who are ready to sacrifice themselves for your
flag, ready to serve you for a morsel of bread, and to die for you,
bequeathing their widows and orphans to you! Do not despair, old France
of the one hundred years’ war and of ‘92!

The brothers, who wore upon their black robes the red Geneva cross,
were kneeling around the body and praying in a low tone. The assistant
surgeon noticed Amedee Violette for the first time, standing motionless
in a corner of the room.

“What are you doing here?” he asked him, brusquely.

“I am this poor officer’s friend,” Amedee replied, pointing to Maurice.

“So be it! stay with him--if he asks for a drink you have the tea there
upon the stove. You, gentlemen,” added he, addressing the brothers,
who arose after making the sign of the cross, “you will return to the
battle-field, I suppose?”

They silently bowed their heads, the eldest of them closed the dead
man’s eyes. As they were all going out together, the assistant surgeon
said to them, in a petulant tone of voice:

“Try to bring me some not quite so much used up.”

Maurice Roger was about to die, too. His shirt was stained with blood,
and a stream ran down from his forehead upon his blond moustache, but he
was still beautiful in his marble-like pallor. Amedee carefully raised
up one of the wounded man’s arms and placed it upon the stretcher,
keeping his friend’s hand in his own. Maurice moved slightly at the
touch, and ended by opening his eyes.

“Ah, how thirsty I am!” he groaned.

Amedee went to the stove and got the pot of tea, and leaned over to help
the unfortunate man drink it. Maurice looked at him with surprise. He
recognized Amedee.

“You, Amedee!--where am I, then?”

He attempted in vain to rise. His head dropped slightly to the left, and
he saw, not two steps from him, the lifeless body of his old colonel,
with eyes closed and features already calmed by the first moments of
perfect repose.

“My Colonel!” said he. “Ah! I understand--I remember-! How they ran
away--miserable cowards! But you, Amedee? Why are you here--?”

His friend could not restrain his tears, and Maurice murmured:

“Done for, am I not?”

“No, no!” exclaimed Amedee, with animation. “They are going to dress
your wounds at once--They will come soon! Courage, my good Maurice!
Courage!”

Suddenly the wounded man had a terrible chill; his teeth chattered, and
he said again:

“I am thirsty!--something to drink, my friend!--give me something to
drink!”

A few swallows of tea calmed him a little. He closed his eyes as if
to rest, but a moment after he opened them, and, fixing them upon his
friend’s face, he said to him in a faint voice:

“You know--Maria, my wife--marry her--I confide them to you--she and my
son--”

Then, doubtless tired out by the fatigue of having spoken these words,
he seemed to collapse and sink down into the litter, which was saturated
now with his blood. A moment later he began to pant for breath. Amedee
knelt by his side, and tears fell upon his hands, while between the
dying man’s gasps he could hear in the distance, upon the battlefield,
the uninterrupted rumbling of the cannon as it mowed down others.



CHAPTER XVII. “WHEN YOUTH, THE DREAM, DEPARTS”

The leaves are falling!

This October afternoon is deliciously serene, there is not a cloud in
the grayish-blue sky, where the sun, which has shed a pure and steady
light since morning, has begun majestically to decline, like a good king
who has grown old after a long and prosperous reign. How soft the air
is! How calm and fresh! This is certainly one of the most beautiful
of autumn days. Below, in the valley, the river sparkles like liquid
silver, and the trees which crown the hill-tops are of a lurid gold and
copper color. The distant panorama of Paris is grand and charming, with
all its noted edifices and the dome of the Invalides shining like gold
outlined upon the horizon. As a loving and coquettish woman, who wishes
to be regretted, gives at the moment of departure her most intoxicating
smile to a friend, so the close of autumn had put on for one of her last
days all her splendid charms.

But the leaves are falling!

Amedee Violette is walking alone in his garden at Meudon. It is his
country home, where he has lived for eight years. A short time after
the close of the war he married Maurice’s widow. He is walking upon the
terrace planted with lindens that are now more than half-despoiled of
their leaves, admiring the beautiful picture and thinking.

He is celebrated, he has worked hard and has built up a reputation
by good, sincere books, as a poet. Doubtless, some persons are still
jealous of him, and he is often treated with injustice, but he is
estimated by the dignity of his life, which his love of art fills
entirely, and he occupies a superior position in literature. Although
his resources are modest, they are sufficient to exempt him from
anxieties of a trivial nature. Living far from society, in the close
intimacy of those that he loves, he does not know the miseries of
ambition and vanity. Amedee Violette should be happy.

His old friend, Paul Sillery, who breakfasted with him that morning
in Meudon, is condemned to daily labor and the exhausting life of a
journalist; and when he was seated in the carriage which took him back
to Paris that morning, to forced labor, to the article to be knocked off
for tomorrow, in the midst of the racket and chattering of an editor’s
office, beside an interrupted cigar laid upon the edge of a table, he
heaved a deep sigh as he thought of Amedee.

Ah, this Violette was to be envied! With money, home, and a family, he
was not obliged to disseminate his ideas right and left. He had leisure,
and could stop when he was not in the spirit of writing; he could think
before he wrote and do some good work. It was not astonishing, to be
sure, that he produced veritable works of art when he is cheered by the
atmosphere of affection. First, he adores his wife, that is easily seen,
and he looks upon Maurice’s little son as his own, the little fellow is
so pretty and attractive with his long, light curls. Certainly, one can
see that Madame Violette has a never-to-be-forgotten grief, but what a
kind and grateful glance she gives her husband! Could anything be more
touching than Louise Gerard, that excellent old maid, the life of the
house, who has the knack of making pleasing order and elegant comfort
reign in the house, while she surrounds her mother, the paralytic
Grandmother Gerard, with every care? Truly, Amedee has arranged his life
well. He loves and is loved: he has procured for mind and body valuable
and certain customs. He is a wise and fortunate man.

While Paul Sillery, buried in the corner of a carriage, allowed himself
to be almost carried away by jealousy of his friend, Amedee, detained by
the charm of this beautiful day which is drawing to a close, walks with
slow, lingering steps under the lindens on the terrace.

The leaves are falling around him!

A very slight breeze is rising, the blue sky is fading a little below;
in the nearest Paris suburb the windows are shining in the oblique rays
of the setting sun. It will soon be night, and upon this carpet of dead
leaves, which crackle under the poet’s tread, other leaves will fall.
They fall rarely, slowly, but continually. The frost of the night before
has blighted them all. Dried up and rusty, they barely hang to the
trees, so that the slightest wind that passes over them gathers them one
after another, detaching them from their branches; whirling an instant
in the golden light, they at last rejoin, with a sad little sound, their
withered sisters, who sprinkle the gravel walks. The leaves fall, the
leaves fall!

Amedee Violette is filled with melancholy.

He ought to be happy. What can he reproach destiny with? Has he not the
one he always desired for his wife? Is she not the sweetest and best of
companions for him? Yes! but he knows very well that she consented to
marry him in order to obey Maurice’s last wish, he knows very well that
Maria’s heart is buried in the soldier’s grave at Champigny. She has set
apart a sanctuary within herself where burns, as a perpetual light,
the remembrance of the adored dead, of the man to whom she gave herself
without reserve, the father of her son, the hero who tore himself from
her arms to shed his blood for his country.

Amedee may be certain of the gratitude and devotion of his wife, but he
never will have her love, for Maurice, a posthumous rival, rises between
them. Ah, this Maurice! He had loved Maria very little or not very
faithfully! She should remember that he had first betrayed her, that but
for Amedee he would have abandoned her and she never would have been his
wife. If she knew that in Paris when she was far away he had deceived
her! But she never would know anything of it, for Amedee has too much
delicacy to hurt the memory of the dead, and he respects and even
admires this fidelity of illusion and love in Maria. He suffers from
it. The one to whom he has given his name, his heart, and his life, is
inconsolable, and he must be resigned to it. Although remarried, she is
a widow at the bottom of her heart, and it is in vain that she puts on
bright attire, her eyes and her smile are in mourning forever.

How could she forget her Maurice when he is before her every day in
her son, who is also named Maurice and whose bright, handsome face
strikingly resembles his father’s? Amedee feels a presentiment that in a
few years this child will be another Maurice, with the same attractions
and vices. The poet does not forget that his dying friend confided the
orphan to him, and he endeavors to be kind and good to him and to bring
him up well. He sometimes has a feeling of sorrow when he discovers
the same instincts and traits in the child as in the man whom he had so
dearly loved and who had made him such trouble; in spite of all, he can
not feel the sentiments of a father for another’s son. His own union has
been sterile.

Poor Amedee! Yet he is envied! The little joy that he has is mingled
with grief and sorrow, and he dares not confide it to the excellent
Louise--who suspects it, however--whose old and secret attachment for
him he surmises now, and who is the good genius of his household. Had he
only realized it before! It might have been happiness, genuine happiness
for him!

The leaves fall! the leaves fall!

After breakfast, while they were smoking their cigars and walking along
beside the masses of dahlias, upon which the large golden spider had
spun its silvery web, Amedee Violette and Paul Sillery had talked
of times past and the comrades of their youth. It was not a very gay
conversation, for since then there had been the war, the Commune. How
many were dead! How many had disappeared! And, then, this retrospective
review proves to one that one can be entirely deceived as to certain
people, and that chance is master.

Such an one, whom they had once considered as a great prose writer, as
the leader of a sect, and whose doctrines of art five or six faithful
disciples spread while copying his waistcoats and even imitating his
manner of speaking with closed teeth, is reduced to writing stories for
obscene journals. “Chose,” the fiery revolutionist, had obtained a good
place; and the modest “Machin,” a man hardly noticed in the clubs, had
published two exquisite books, genuine works of art.

All of the “beards” and “long-haired” men had taken unexpected paths.
But the politicians, above all, were astonishing in the variety of their
destinies. Among the cafe’s frequenters at the hour for absinthe one
could count eight deputies, three ministers, two ambassadors, one
treasurer, and thirty exiles at Noumea awaiting the long-expected
amnesty. The most interesting, everything considered, is that imbecile,
that old fanatic of a Dubief, the man that never drank anything but
sweetened water; for he, at least, was shot on the barricades by the
Versaillese soldiers.

One person of whom the very thought disgusted the two friends was
that jumping-jack of an Arthur Papillon. Universal suffrage, with its
accustomed intelligence, had not failed to elect this nonentity and
bombastic fool, and to-day he flounders about like a fish out of water
in the midst of this political cesspool. Having been enriched by a
large dowry, he has been by turns deputy, secretary, vice-president,
president, head of committees, under secretary of State, in one word,
everything that it was possible to be. For the time being he rants
against the clergy, and his wife, who is ugly, rich, and pious, has just
put their little girl into the Oiseaux school. He has not yet become
minister, but rest assured he will reach that in time. He is very vain,
full of confidence in himself, not more honest than necessary, and very
obtrusive. Unless in the meantime they decide to establish a rotation
providing that all the deputies be ministers by turns, Arthur Papillon
is the inevitable, necessary man mentioned. In such a case, this would
be terrible, for his eloquence would flow in torrents, and he would be
one of the most agitating of microbes in the parliamentary culture.

And Jocquelet? Ah! the two friends only need to speak his name to burst
into peals of laughter, for the illustrious actor now fills the universe
with his glory and ridiculousness. Jocquelet severed the chain some time
ago which bound him to the Parisian theatres. Like the tricolored flag,
he has made the tour of Europe several times; like the English standard,
he has crossed every ocean. He is the modern Wandering Actor, and the
capitals of the Old World and both Americas watch breathless with desire
for him to deign to shower over them the manna of his monologues. At
Chicago, they detached his locomotive, and he intended, at the sight of
this homage proportioned to his merits, to become a naturalized American
citizen. But they proposed a new tour for him in old Europe, and out of
filial remembrance he consented to return once more among us. As usual,
he gathered a cartload of gold and laurels. He was painfully surprised
upon reaching Stockholm by water not to be greeted by the squadrons with
volleys of artillery, as was once done in honor of a famous cantatrice.
Let Diplomacy look sharp! Jocquelet is indifferent to the court of
Sweden!

After Paul Sillery’s departure Amedee turned over in his mind various
other recollections of former days. He has been a trifle estranged from
Madame Roger since his marriage to Maria, but he sometimes takes little
Maurice to see her. She has sheltered and given each of Colonel Lantz’s
daughters a dowry. Pretty Rosine Combarieu’s face rises up before him,
his childhood’s companion, whom he met at Bullier’s and never has seen
since. What has become of the poor little creature? Amedee almost hopes
that she is dead. Ah, how sad these old memories are in the autumn, when
the leaves are falling and the sun is setting!

It has set, it has plunged beneath the horizon, and suddenly all is
dark. Over the darkened landscape in the vast pearl-colored sky spreads
the melancholy chill which follows the farewell of day. The white smoke
from the city has turned gray, the river is like a dulled mirror. A
moment ago, in the sun’s last rays, the dead leaves, as they fell,
looked like a golden rain, now they seem a dark snow.

Where are all your illusions and hopes of other days, Amedee Violette?
You think this evening of the rapid flight of years, of the snowy flakes
of winter which are beginning to fall on your temples. You have the
proof to-day of the impossibility of absolutely requited love in this
world. You know that happiness, or what is called so, exists only by
snatches and lasts only a moment, and how commonplace it often is
and how sad the next day! You depend upon your art for consolation.
Oppressed by the monotonous ennui of living, you ask for the
forgetfulness that only the intoxication of poetry and dreams can give
you. Alas! Poor sentimentalist, your youth is ended!

And still the leaves fall!


     ETEXT EDITOR’S BOOKMARKS:

     Break in his memory, like a book with several leaves torn out
     Dreams, instead of living
     Egotists and cowards always have a reason for everything
     Eternally condemned to kill each other in order to live
     Fortunate enough to keep those one loves
     God forgive the timid and the prattler!
     Good form consists, above all things, in keeping silent
     Happiness exists only by snatches and lasts only a moment
     He does not know the miseries of ambition and vanity
     He almost regretted her
     How sad these old memorics are in the autumn
     Inoffensive tree which never had harmed anybody
     Intimate friend, whom he has known for about five minutes
     It was all delightfully terrible!
     Learned that one leaves college almost ignorant
     Mild, unpretentious men who let everybody run over them
     My good fellow, you are quite worthless as a man of pleasure
     Never travel when the heart is troubled!
     Not more honest than necessary
     Now his grief was his wife, and lived with him
     Paint from nature
     Poor France of Jeanne d’Arc and of Napoleon
     Redouble their boasting after each defeat
     Society people condemned to hypocrisy and falsehood
     Take their levity for heroism
     Tediousness seems to ooze out through their bindings
     The leaves fall! the leaves fall!
     The sincere age when one thinks aloud
     Tired smile of those who have not long to live
     Trees are like men; there are some that have no luck
     Universal suffrage, with its accustomed intelligence
     Upon my word, there are no ugly ones (women)
     Very young, and was in love with love
     Voice of the heart which alone has power to reach the heart
     Were certain against all reason
     When he sings, it is because he has something to sing about





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