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Title: His Masterpiece
Author: Zola, Émile
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "His Masterpiece" ***

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HIS MASTERPIECE

By Emile Zola


Edited, With a Preface, By Ernest Alfred Vizetelly



PREFACE

‘HIS MASTERPIECE,’ which in the original French bears the title of
_L’Oeuvre_, is a strikingly accurate story of artistic life in Paris
during the latter years of the Second Empire. Amusing at times,
extremely pathetic and even painful at others, it not only contributes
a necessary element to the Rougon-Macquart series of novels--a series
illustrative of all phases of life in France within certain dates--but
it also represents a particular period of M. Zola’s own career and work.
Some years, indeed, before the latter had made himself known at all
widely as a novelist, he had acquired among Parisian painters and
sculptors considerable notoriety as a revolutionary art critic, a
fervent champion of that ‘Open-air’ school which came into being during
the Second Empire, and which found its first real master in Edouard
Manet, whose then derided works are regarded, in these later days, as
masterpieces. Manet died before his genius was fully recognised; still
he lived long enough to reap some measure of recognition and to see his
influence triumph in more than one respect among his brother artists.
Indeed, few if any painters left a stronger mark on the art of the
second half of the nineteenth century than he did, even though the
school, which he suggested rather than established, lapsed largely into
mere impressionism--a term, by the way, which he himself coined already
in 1858; for it is an error to attribute it--as is often done--to his
friend and junior, Claude Monet.

It was at the time of the Salon of 1866 that M. Zola, who criticised
that exhibition in the _Evenement_ newspaper,* first came to the front
as an art critic, slashing out, to right and left, with all the vigour
of a born combatant, and championing M. Manet--whom he did not as yet
know personally--with a fervour born of the strongest convictions. He
had come to the conclusion that the derided painter was being treated
with injustice, and that opinion sufficed to throw him into the fray;
even as, in more recent years, the belief that Captain Dreyfus was
innocent impelled him in like manner to plead that unfortunate officer’s
cause. When M. Zola first championed Manet and his disciples he was only
twenty-six years old, yet he did not hesitate to pit himself against men
who were regarded as the most eminent painters and critics of France;
and although (even as in the Dreyfus case) the only immediate result of
his campaign was to bring him hatred and contumely, time, which always
has its revenges, has long since shown how right he was in forecasting
the ultimate victory of Manet and his principal methods.

  * Some of the articles will be found in the volume of his
    miscellaneous writings entitled _Mes Haines_.

In those days M. Zola’s most intimate friend--a companion of his boyhood
and youth--was Paul Cezanne, a painter who developed talent as an
impressionist; and the lives of Cezanne and Manet, as well as that of
a certain rather dissolute engraver, who sat for the latter’s famous
picture _Le Bon Bock_, suggested to M. Zola the novel which he has
called _L’Oeuvre_. Claude Lantier, the chief character in the book, is,
of course, neither Cezanne nor Manet, but from the careers of those two
painters, M. Zola has borrowed many little touches and incidents.* The
poverty which falls to Claude’s lot is taken from the life of Cezanne,
for Manet--the only son of a judge--was almost wealthy. Moreover, Manet
married very happily, and in no wise led the pitiful existence which in
the novel is ascribed to Claude Lantier and his helpmate, Christine. The
original of the latter was a poor woman who for many years shared the
life of the engraver to whom I have alluded; and, in that connection, it
as well to mention that what may be called the Bennecourt episode of the
novel is virtually photographed from life.

  * So far as Manet is concerned, the curious reader may consult M.
    Antonin Proust’s interesting ‘Souvenirs,’ published in the _Revue
    Blanche_, early in 1897.

Whilst, however, Claude Lantier, the hero of _L’Oeuvre_, is unlike
Manet in so many respects, there is a close analogy between the artistic
theories and practices of the real painter and the imaginary one.
Several of Claude’s pictures are Manet’s, slightly modified. For
instance, the former’s painting, ‘In the Open Air,’ is almost a replica
of the latter’s _Dejeuner sur l’Herbe_ [‘A Lunch on the Grass’), shown
at the Salon of the Rejected in 1863. Again, many of the sayings put
into Claude’s mouth in the novel are really sayings of Manet’s. And
Claude’s fate, at the end of the book, is virtually that of a moody
young fellow who long assisted Manet in his studio, preparing his
palette, cleaning his brushes, and so forth. This lad, whom Manet
painted in _L’Enfant aux Cerises_ [‘The Boy with the Cherries’), had
artistic aspirations of his own and, being unable to justify them, ended
by hanging himself.

I had just a slight acquaintance with Manet, whose studio I first
visited early in my youth, and though the exigencies of life led me long
ago to cast aside all artistic ambition of my own, I have been for
more than thirty years on friendly terms with members of the French art
world. Thus it would be comparatively easy for me to identify a
large number of the characters and the incidents figuring in ‘His
Masterpiece’; but I doubt if such identification would have any
particular interest for English readers. I will just mention that
Mahoudeau, the sculptor, is, in a measure, Solari, another friend of
M. Zola’s boyhood and youth; that Fagerolles, in his main features,
is Gervex; and that Bongrand is a commingling of Courbet, Cabanel and
Gustave Flaubert. For instance, his so-called ‘Village Wedding’ is
suggested by Courbet’s ‘Funeral at Ornans’; his friendship for Claude is
Cabanel’s friendship for Manet; whilst some of his mannerisms, such as
his dislike for the praise accorded to certain of his works, are simply
those of Flaubert, who (like Balzac in the case of _Eugenie Grandet_)
almost invariably lost his temper if one ventured to extol _Madame
Bovary_ in his presence. Courbet, by the way, so far as disposition
goes, crops up again in M. Zola’s pages in the person of Champbouvard, a
sculptor, who, artistically, is a presentment of Clesinger.

I now come to a personage of a very different character, Pierre Sandoz,
clerk, journalist, and novelist; and Sandoz, it may be frankly admitted,
is simply M. Zola himself. Personal appearance, life, habits, opinions,
all are those of the novelist at a certain period of his career; and
for this reason, no doubt, many readers of ‘His Masterpiece’ will find
Sandoz the most interesting personage in the book. It is needless, I
think, to enter into particulars on the subject. The reader may take
it from me that everything attributed in the following pages to Pierre
Sandoz was done, experienced, felt or said by Emile Zola. In this
respect, then ‘His Masterpiece’ is virtually M. Zola’s ‘David
Copperfield’--the book into which he has put most of his real life. I
may also mention, perhaps, that the long walks on the quays of Paris
which in the narrative are attributed to Claude Lantier are really M.
Zola’s walks; for, in his youth, when he vainly sought employment
after failing in his examinations, he was wont, at times of great
discouragement, to roam the Paris quays, studying their busy life
and their picturesque vistas, whenever he was not poring over the
second-hand books set out for sale upon their parapets. From a purely
literary standpoint, the pictures of the quays and the Seine to be found
in _L’Oeuvre_ are perhaps the best bits of the book, though it is all
of interest, because it is essentially a _livre vecu_, a work really
‘lived’ by its author. And if in the majority of its characters, those
readers possessing some real knowledge of French art life find one man’s
qualities blended with another’s defects, the appearance of a third, and
the habits of a fourth, the whole none the less makes a picture of great
fidelity to life and truth. This is the Parisian art world as it really
was, with nothing improbable or overstrained in the narrative, save its
very first chapter, in which romanticism is certainly allowed full play.

It is quite possible that some readers may not judge Claude Lantier, the
‘hero,’ very favourably; he is like the dog in the fable who forsakes
the substance for the shadow; but it should be borne in mind that he is
only in part responsible for his actions, for the fatal germ of insanity
has been transmitted to him from his great-grandmother. He is, indeed,
the son of Gervaise, the heroine of _L’Assommoir_ [‘The Dram Shop’), by
her lover Lantier. And Gervaise, it may be remembered, was the daughter
of Antoine Macquart (of ‘The Fortune of the Rougons’ and ‘Dr. Pascal’),
the latter being the illegitimate son of Adelaide Fouque, from whom
sprang the insanity of the Rougon-Macquarts. At the same time, whatever
view may be taken of Claude’s artistic theories, whatever interest his
ultimate fate may inspire, it cannot be denied that his opinions
on painting are very ably expressed, and that his ‘case,’ from a
pathological point of view, is diagnosticated by M. Zola with all the
skill of a physician. Moreover, there can be but one opinion concerning
the helpmate of his life, the poor devoted Christine; and no one
possessed of feeling will be able to read the history of little Jacques
unmoved.

Stories of artistic life are not as a rule particularly popular with
English readers, but this is not surprising when one remembers that
those who take a genuine interest in art, in this country, are still a
small minority. Quite apart from artistic matters, however, there is, I
think, an abundance of human interest in the pages of ‘His Masterpiece,’
and thus I venture to hope that the present version, which I have
prepared as carefully as my powers permit, will meet with the favour of
those who have supported me, for a good many years now, in my endeavours
to make the majority of M. Zola’s works accessible in this country.

                                                              E. A. V.

         MERTON, SURREY.



                          HIS MASTERPIECE



I

CLAUDE was passing in front of the Hotel de Ville, and the clock was
striking two o’clock in the morning when the storm burst forth. He had
been roaming forgetfully about the Central Markets, during that burning
July night, like a loitering artist enamoured of nocturnal Paris.
Suddenly the raindrops came down, so large and thick, that he took to
his heels and rushed, wildly bewildered, along the Quai de la Greve. But
on reaching the Pont Louis Philippe he pulled up, ragefully breathless;
he considered this fear of the rain to be idiotic; and so amid the
pitch-like darkness, under the lashing shower which drowned the
gas-jets, he crossed the bridge slowly, with his hands dangling by his
side.

He had only a few more steps to go. As he was turning on to the Quai
Bourbon, on the Isle of St. Louis, a sharp flash of lightning illumined
the straight, monotonous line of old houses bordering the narrow road
in front of the Seine. It blazed upon the panes of the high, shutterless
windows, showing up the melancholy frontages of the old-fashioned
dwellings in all their details; here a stone balcony, there the railing
of a terrace, and there a garland sculptured on a frieze. The painter
had his studio close by, under the eaves of the old Hotel du Martoy,
nearly at the corner of the Rue de la Femme-sans-Tete.* So he went
on while the quay, after flashing forth for a moment, relapsed into
darkness, and a terrible thunder-clap shook the drowsy quarter.

  * The street of the Headless woman.--ED.

When Claude, blinded by the rain, got to his door--a low, rounded door,
studded with iron--he fumbled for the bell knob, and he was exceedingly
surprised--indeed, he started--on finding a living, breathing body
huddled against the woodwork. Then, by the light of a second flash, he
perceived a tall young girl, dressed in black, and drenched already, who
was shivering with fear. When a second thunder-clap had shaken both of
them, Claude exclaimed:

‘How you frighten one! Who are you, and what do you want?’

He could no longer see her; he only heard her sob, and stammer:

‘Oh, monsieur, don’t hurt me. It’s the fault of the driver, whom I hired
at the station, and who left me at this door, after ill-treating me.
Yes, a train ran off the rails, near Nevers. We were four hours late,
and a person who was to wait for me had gone. Oh, dear me; I have never
been in Paris before, and I don’t know where I am....’

Another blinding flash cut her short, and with dilated eyes she stared,
terror-stricken, at that part of the strange capital, that violet-tinted
apparition of a fantastic city. The rain had ceased falling. On the
opposite bank of the Seine was the Quai des Ormes, with its small grey
houses variegated below by the woodwork of their shops and with their
irregular roofs boldly outlined above, while the horizon suddenly became
clear on the left as far as the blue slate eaves of the Hotel de Ville,
and on the right as far as the leaden-hued dome of St. Paul. What
startled her most of all, however, was the hollow of the stream, the
deep gap in which the Seine flowed, black and turgid, from the heavy
piles of the Pont Marie, to the light arches of the new Pont Louis
Philippe. Strange masses peopled the river, a sleeping flotilla of small
boats and yawls, a floating washhouse, and a dredger moored to the quay.
Then, farther down, against the other bank, were lighters, laden with
coals, and barges full of mill stone, dominated as it were by the
gigantic arm of a steam crane. But, suddenly, everything disappeared
again.

Claude had an instinctive distrust of women--that story of an accident,
of a belated train and a brutal cabman, seemed to him a ridiculous
invention. At the second thunder-clap the girl had shrunk farther still
into her corner, absolutely terrified.

‘But you cannot stop here all night,’ he said.

She sobbed still more and stammered, ‘I beseech you, monsieur, take me
to Passy. That’s where I was going.’

He shrugged his shoulders. Did she take him for a fool? Mechanically,
however, he turned towards the Quai des Celestins, where there was a
cabstand. Not the faintest glimmer of a lamp to be seen.

‘To Passy, my dear? Why not to Versailles? Where do you think one can
pick up a cab at this time of night, and in such weather?’

Her only answer was a shriek; for a fresh flash of lightning had almost
blinded her, and this time the tragic city had seemed to her to be
spattered with blood. An immense chasm had been revealed, the two
arms of the river stretching far away amidst the lurid flames of a
conflagration. The smallest details had appeared: the little closed
shutters of the Quai des Ormes, and the two openings of the Rue de la
Masure, and the Rue du Paon-Blanc, which made breaks in the line of
frontages; then near the Pont Marie one could have counted the leaves
on the lofty plane trees, which there form a bouquet of magnificent
verdure; while on the other side, beneath the Pont Louis Philippe, at
the Mail, the barges, ranged in a quadruple line, had flared with the
piles of yellow apples with which they were heavily laden. And there
was also the ripple of the water, the high chimney of the floating
washhouse, the tightened chain of the dredger, the heaps of sand on the
banks, indeed, an extraordinary agglomeration of things, quite a little
world filling the great gap which seemed to stretch from one horizon to
the other. But the sky became dark again, and the river flowed on, all
obscurity, amid the crashing of the thunder.

‘Thank heaven it’s over. Oh, heaven! what’s to become of me?’

Just then the rain began to fall again, so stiffly and impelled by so
strong a wind that it swept along the quay with the violence of water
escaping through an open lock.

‘Come, let me get in,’ said Claude; ‘I can stand this no longer.’

Both were getting drenched. By the flickering light of the gas lamp at
the corner of the Rue de la Femme-sans-Tete the young man could see the
water dripping from the girl’s dress, which was clinging to her skin, in
the deluge that swept against the door. He was seized with compassion.
Had he not once picked up a cur on such a stormy night as this? Yet he
felt angry with himself for softening. He never had anything to do with
women; he treated them all as if ignorant of their existence, with a
painful timidity which he disguised under a mask of bravado. And that
girl must really think him a downright fool, to bamboozle him with that
story of adventure--only fit for a farce. Nevertheless, he ended by
saying, ‘That’s enough. You had better come in out of the wet. You can
sleep in my rooms.’

But at this the girl became even more frightened, and threw up her arms.

‘In your rooms? Oh! good heavens. No, no; it’s impossible. I beseech
you, monsieur, take me to Passy. Let me beg of you.’

But Claude became angry. Why did she make all this fuss, when he was
willing to give her shelter? He had already rung the bell twice. At last
the door opened and he pushed the girl before him.

‘No, no, monsieur; I tell you, no--’

But another flash dazzled her, and when the thunder growled she bounded
inside, scarce knowing what she was about. The heavy door had closed
upon them, she was standing under a large archway in complete darkness.

‘It’s I, Madame Joseph,’ cried Claude to the doorkeeper. Then he added,
in a whisper, ‘Give me your hand, we have to cross the courtyard.’

The girl did as she was told; she no longer resisted; she was
overwhelmed, worn out. Once more they encountered the diluvian rain, as
they ran side by side as hard as they could across the yard. It was a
baronial courtyard, huge, and surrounded with stone arcades, indistinct
amidst the gloom. However, they came to a narrow passage without a
door, and he let go her hand. She could hear him trying to strike some
matches, and swearing. They were all damp. It was necessary for them to
grope their way upstairs.

‘Take hold of the banisters, and be careful,’ said Claude; ‘the steps
are very high.’

The staircase, a very narrow one, a former servants’ staircase, was
divided into three lofty flights, which she climbed, stumbling, with
unskilful, weary limbs. Then he warned her that they had to turn down a
long passage. She kept behind him, touching the walls on both sides with
her outstretched hands, as she advanced along that endless passage which
bent and came back to the front of the building on the quay. Then there
were still other stairs right under the roof--creaking, shaky wooden
stairs, which had no banister, and suggested the unplaned rungs of
a miller’s ladder. The landing at the top was so small that the girl
knocked against the young man, as he fumbled in his pocket for his key.
At last, however, he opened the door.

‘Don’t come in, but wait, else you’ll hurt yourself again.’

She did not stir. She was panting for breath, her heart was beating
fast, there was a buzzing in her ears, and she felt indeed exhausted
by that ascent in the dense gloom. It seemed to her as if she had been
climbing for hours, in such a maze, amidst such a turning and twisting
of stairs that she would never be able to find her way down again.
Inside the studio there was a shuffling of heavy feet, a rustling of
hands groping in the dark, a clatter of things being tumbled about,
accompanied by stifled objurgations. At last the doorway was lighted up.

‘Come in, it’s all right now.’

She went in and looked around her, without distinguishing anything. The
solitary candle burned dim in that garret, more than fifteen feet high,
and filled with a confused jumble of things whose big shadows showed
fantastically on the walls, which were painted in grey distemper. No,
she did not distinguish anything. She mechanically raised her eyes
to the large studio-window, against which the rain was beating with a
deafening roll like that of a drum, but at that moment another flash
of lightning illumined the sky, followed almost immediately by a
thunder-clap that seemed to split the roof. Dumb-stricken, pale as
death, she dropped upon a chair.

‘The devil!’ muttered Claude, who also was rather pale. ‘That clap
wasn’t far off. We were just in time. It’s better here than in the
streets, isn’t it?’

Then he went towards the door, closed it with a bang and turned the key,
while she watched him with a dazed look.

‘There, now, we are at home.’

But it was all over. There were only a few more thunder-claps in the
distance, and the rain soon ceased altogether. Claude, who was now
growing embarrassed, had examined the girl, askance. She seemed by no
means bad looking, and assuredly she was young: twenty at the most. This
scrutiny had the effect of making him more suspicious of her still,
in spite of an unconscious feeling, a vague idea, that she was not
altogether deceiving him. In any case, no matter how clever she might
be, she was mistaken if she imagined she had caught him. To prove this
he wilfully exaggerated his gruffness and curtness of manner.

Her very anguish at his words and demeanour made her rise, and in her
turn she examined him, though without daring to look him straight in the
face. And the aspect of that bony young man, with his angular joints and
wild bearded face, increased her fears. With his black felt hat and
his old brown coat, discoloured by long usage, he looked like a kind of
brigand.

Directly he told her to make herself at home and go to bed, for he
placed his bed at her disposal, she shrinkingly replied: ‘Thank you;
I’ll do very well as I am; I’ll not undress.’

‘But your clothes are dripping,’ he retorted. ‘Come now, don’t make an
idiot of yourself.’

And thereupon he began to knock about the chairs, and flung aside an old
screen, behind which she noticed a washstand and a tiny iron bedstead,
from which he began to remove the coverlet.

‘No, no, monsieur, it isn’t worth while; I assure you that I shall stay
here.’

At this, however, Claude became angry, gesticulating and shaking his
fists.

‘How much more of this comedy are we to have?’ said he. ‘As I give you
my bed, what have you to complain of? You need not pay any attention to
me. I shall sleep on that couch.’

He strode towards her with a threatening look, and thereupon, beside
herself with fear, thinking that he was going to strike her, she
tremblingly unfastened her hat. The water was dripping from her skirts.
He kept on growling. Nevertheless, a sudden scruple seemed to come to
him, for he ended by saying, condescendingly:

‘Perhaps you don’t like to sleep in my sheets. I’ll change them.’

He at once began dragging them from the bed and flinging them on to the
couch at the other end of the studio. And afterwards he took a clean
pair from the wardrobe and began to make the bed with all the deftness
of a bachelor accustomed to that kind of thing. He carefully tucked in
the clothes on the side near the wall, shook the pillows, and turned
back a corner of the coverlet.

‘There, that’ll do; won’t it?’ said he.

And as she did not answer, but remained motionless, he pushed her behind
the screen. ‘Good heavens! what a lot of fuss,’ he thought. And after
spreading his own sheets on the couch, and hanging his clothes on an
easel, he quickly went to bed himself. When he was on the point of
blowing out the candle, however, he reflected that if he did so she
would have to undress in the dark, and so he waited. At first he had
not heard her stir; she had no doubt remained standing against the
iron bedstead. But at last he detected a slight rustling, a slow,
faint movement, as if amidst her preparations she also were listening,
frightened perchance by the candle which was still alight. At last,
after several minutes, the spring mattress creaked, and then all became
still.

‘Are you comfortable, mademoiselle?’ now asked Claude, in a much more
gentle voice.

‘Yes, monsieur, very comfortable,’ she replied, in a scarcely audible
voice, which still quivered with emotion.

‘Very well, then. Good-night.’

‘Good-night.’

He blew out the candle, and the silence became more intense. In spite of
his fatigue, his eyes soon opened again, and gazed upward at the large
window of the studio. The sky had become very clear again, the stars
were twinkling in the sultry July night, and, despite the storm, the
heat remained oppressive. Claude was thinking about the girl--agitated
for a moment by contrary feelings, though at last contempt gained
the mastery. He indeed believed himself to be very strong-minded; he
imagined a romance concocted to destroy his tranquillity, and he gibed
contentedly at having frustrated it. His experience of women was very
slight, nevertheless he endeavoured to draw certain conclusions from
the story she had told him, struck as he was at present by certain petty
details, and feeling perplexed. But why, after all, should he worry his
brain? What did it matter whether she had told him the truth or a lie?
In the morning she would go off; there would be an end to it all, and
they would never see each other again. Thus Claude lay cogitating, and
it was only towards daybreak, when the stars began to pale, that he
fell asleep. As for the girl behind the screen, in spite of the crushing
fatigue of her journey, she continued tossing about uneasily, oppressed
by the heaviness of the atmosphere beneath the hot zinc-work of the
roof; and doubtless, too, she was rendered nervous by the strangeness of
her surroundings.

In the morning, when Claude awoke, his eyes kept blinking. It was very
late, and the sunshine streamed through the large window. One of his
theories was, that young landscape painters should take studios despised
by the academical figure painters--studios which the sun flooded with
living beams. Nevertheless he felt dazzled, and fell back again on his
couch. Why the devil had he been sleeping there? His eyes, still heavy
with sleep, wandered mechanically round the studio, when, all at once,
beside the screen he noticed a heap of petticoats. Then he at
once remembered the girl. He began to listen, and heard a sound of
long-drawn, regular breathing, like that of a child comfortably asleep.
Ah! so she was still slumbering, and so calmly, that it would be a pity
to disturb her. He felt dazed and somewhat annoyed at the adventure,
however, for it would spoil his morning’s work. He got angry at his own
good nature; it would be better to shake her, so that she might go
at once. Nevertheless he put on his trousers and slippers softly, and
walked about on tiptoes.

The cuckoo clock struck nine, and Claude made a gesture of annoyance.
Nothing had stirred; the regular breathing continued. The best thing to
do, he thought, would be to set to work on his large picture; he would
see to his breakfast later on, when he was able to move about. But,
after all, he could not make up his mind. He who lived amid chronic
disorder felt worried by that heap of petticoats lying on the floor.
Some water had dripped from them, but they were damp still. And so,
while grumbling in a low tone, he ended by picking them up one by one
and spreading them over the chairs in the sunlight. Had one ever seen
the like, clothes thrown about anyhow? They would never get dry, and
she would never go off! He turned all that feminine apparel over very
awkwardly, got entangled with the black dress-body, and went on all
fours to pick up the stockings that had fallen behind an old canvas.
They were Balbriggan stockings of a dark grey, long and fine, and he
examined them, before hanging them up to dry. The water oozing from the
edge of the dress had soaked them, so he wrung and stretched them with
his warm hands, in order that he might be able to send her away the
quicker.

Since he had been on his legs, Claude had felt sorely tempted to push
aside the screen and to take a look at his guest. This self-condemned
curiosity only increased his bad temper. At last, with his habitual
shrug of the shoulders, he was taking up his brushes, when he heard some
words stammered amidst a rustling of bed-clothes. Then, however, soft
breathing was heard again, and this time he yielded to the temptation,
dropping his brushes, and peeping from behind the screen. The sight that
met his eyes rooted him to the spot, so fascinated that he muttered,
‘Good gracious! good gracious!’

The girl, amidst the hot-house heat that came from the window, had
thrown back her coverlet, and, overcome with the fatigue of a restless
night, lay steeped in a flood of sunshine, unconscious of everything.
In her feverish slumbers a shoulder button had become unfastened, and
a sleeve slipping down allowed her bosom to be seen, with skin which
looked almost gilded and soft like satin. Her right arm rested beneath
her neck, her head was thrown back, and her black unwound tresses
enwrapped her like a dusky cloak.

‘Good gracious! But she’s a beauty!’ muttered Claude once more.

There, in every point, was the figure he had vainly sought for his
picture, and it was almost in the right pose. She was rather spare,
perhaps, but then so lithe and fresh.

With a light step, Claude ran to take his box of crayons, and a large
sheet of paper. Then, squatting on a low chair, he placed a portfolio on
his knees and began to sketch with an air of perfect happiness. All else
vanished amidst artistic surprise and enthusiasm. No thought of sex came
to him. It was all a mere question of chaste outlines, splendid flesh
tints, well-set muscles. Face to face with nature, an uneasy mistrust of
his powers made him feel small; so, squaring his elbows, he became very
attentive and respectful. This lasted for about a quarter of an hour,
during which he paused every now and then, blinking at the figure before
him. As he was afraid, however, that she might change her position, he
speedily set to work again, holding his breath, lest he should awaken
her.

And yet, while steadily applying himself to his work, vague fancies
again assailed his mind. Who could she be? Assuredly no mere hussy. But
why had she told him such an unbelievable tale? Thereupon he began to
imagine other stories. Perhaps she had but lately arrived in Paris with
a lover, who had abandoned her; perhaps she was some young woman of the
middle classes led into bad company by a female friend, and not daring
to go home to her relatives; or else there was some still more intricate
drama beneath it all; something horrible, inexplicable, the truth
of which he would never fathom. All these hypotheses increased his
perplexity. Meanwhile, he went on sketching her face, studying it with
care. The whole of the upper part, the clear forehead, as smooth as
a polished mirror, the small nose, with its delicately chiselled and
nervous nostrils, denoted great kindliness and gentleness. One divined
the sweet smile of the eyes beneath the closed lids; a smile that would
light up the whole of the features. Unfortunately, the lower part of the
face marred that expression of sweetness; the jaw was prominent, and the
lips, rather too full, showed almost blood-like over the strong white
teeth. There was here, like a flash of passion, something that spoke
of awakening womanhood, still unconscious of itself amidst those other
traits of childlike softness.

But suddenly a shiver rippled over the girl’s satiny skin. Perhaps
she had felt the weight of that gaze thus mentally dissecting her. She
opened her eyes very wide and uttered a cry.

‘Ah! great heavens!’

Sudden terror paralysed her at the sight of that strange room, and that
young man crouching in his shirt-sleeves in front of her and devouring
her with his eyes. Flushing hotly, she impulsively pulled up the
counterpane.

‘Well, what’s the matter?’ cried Claude, angrily, his crayon suspended
in mid-air; ‘what wasp has stung you now?’

He, whose knowledge of womankind was largely limited to professional
models, was at a loss to understand the girl’s action.

She neither spoke nor stirred, but remained with the counterpane tightly
wrapped round her throat, her body almost doubled up, and scarcely
showing an outline beneath her coverings.

‘I won’t eat you, will I?’ urged Claude. ‘Come, just lie as you were,
there’s a good girl.’

Again she blushed to her very ears. At last she stammered, ‘Oh, no,
monsieur, no--pray!’

But he began to lose his temper altogether. One of the angry fits to
which he was subject was coming upon him. He thought her obstinacy
stupid. And as in response to his urgent requests she only began to sob,
he quite lost his head in despair before his sketch, thinking that he
would never be able to finish it, and would thus lose a capital study
for his picture.

‘Well, you won’t, eh? But it’s idiotic. What do you take me for? Have
I annoyed you at all? You know I haven’t. Besides, listen, it is very
unkind of you to refuse me this service, because, after all, I sheltered
you--I gave up my bed to you.’

She only continued to cry, with her head buried in the pillow.

‘I assure you that I am very much in want of this sketch, else I
wouldn’t worry you.’

He grew surprised at the girl’s abundant tears, and ashamed at
having been so rough with her, so he held his tongue at last, feeling
embarrassed, and wishing too that she might have time to recover a bit.
Then he began again, in a very gentle tone:

‘Well, as it annoys you, let’s say no more about it. But if you only
knew. I’ve got a figure in my picture yonder which doesn’t make head-way
at all, and you were just in the very note. As for me, when it’s a
question of painting, I’d kill father and mother, you know. Well, you’ll
excuse me, won’t you? And if you’d like me to be very nice, you’d just
give me a few minutes more. No, no; keep quiet as you are; I only want
the head--nothing but the head. If I could finish that, it would be all
right. Really now, be kind; put your arm as it was before, and I shall
be very grateful to you--grateful all my life long.’

It was he who was entreating now, pitifully waving his crayon amid
the emotion of his artistic craving. Besides, he had not stirred, but
remained crouching on his low chair, at a distance from the bed. At last
she risked the ordeal, and uncovered her tranquillised face. What else
could she do? She was at his mercy, and he looked so wretchedly unhappy.

Nevertheless, she still hesitated, she felt some last scruples. But
eventually, without saying a word, she slowly brought her bare arm from
beneath the coverings, and again slipped it under her head, taking care,
however, to keep the counterpane tightly round her throat.

‘Ah! how kind you are! I’ll make haste, you will be free in a minute.’

He bent over his drawing, and only looked at her now and then with the
glance of a painter who simply regards the woman before him as a model.
At first she became pink again; the consciousness that she was showing
her bare arm--which she would have shown in a ball-room without thinking
at all about it--filled her with confusion. Nevertheless, the young
man seemed so reasonable that she became reassured. The blush left her
cheeks, and her lips parted in a vague confiding smile. And from between
her half-opened eyelids she began to study him. How he had frightened
her the previous night with his thick brown beard, his large head, and
his impulsive gestures. And yet he was not ugly; she even detected great
tenderness in the depths of his brown eyes, while his nose altogether
surprised her. It was a finely-cut woman’s nose, almost lost amidst the
bristling hair on his lips. He shook slightly with a nervous anxiety
which made his crayon seem a living thing in his slender hand, and
which touched her though she knew not why. She felt sure he was not
bad-natured, his rough, surly ways arose from bashfulness. She did not
decipher all this very clearly, but she divined it, and began to put
herself at her ease, as if she were with a friend.

Nevertheless, the studio continued to frighten her a little. She
cast sidelong glances around it, astonished at so much disorder and
carelessness. Before the stove the cinders of the previous winter still
lay in a heap. Besides the bed, the small washstand, and the couch,
there was no other furniture than an old dilapidated oaken wardrobe and
a large deal table, littered with brushes, colours, dirty plates, and
a spirit lamp, atop of which was a saucepan, with shreds of vermicelli
sticking to its sides. Some rush-bottomed chairs, their seats the worse
for wear, were scattered about beside spavined easels. Near the couch
the candlestick used on the previous night stood on the floor, which
looked as if it had not been swept for fully a month. There was only the
cuckoo clock, a huge one, with a dial illuminated with crimson flowers,
that looked clean and bright, ticking sonorously all the while. But what
especially frightened her were some sketches in oils that hung frameless
from the walls, a serried array of sketches reaching to the floor, where
they mingled with heaps of canvases thrown about anyhow. She had never
seen such terrible painting, so coarse, so glaring, showing a violence
of colour, that jarred upon her nerves like a carter’s oath heard on the
doorstep of an inn. She cast her eyes down for a moment, and then became
attracted by a picture, the back of which was turned to her. It was
the large canvas at which the painter was working, and which he pushed
against the wall every night, the better to judge it on the morrow
in the surprise of the first glance. What could it be, that one, she
wondered, since he dared not even show it? And, meantime, through the
vast room, a sheet of burning sunlight, falling straight from the window
panes, unchecked by any blind, spread with the flow of molten gold over
all the broken-down furniture, whose devil-may-care shabbiness it threw
into bold relief.

Claude began to feel the silence oppressive; he wanted to say something,
no matter what, first, in order to be polite, and more especially to
divert her attention from her pose. But cudgel his brain as he would, he
could only think of asking: ‘Pray, what is your name?’

She opened her eyes, which she had closed, as if she were feeling
sleepy.

‘Christine,’ she said.

At which he seemed surprised. Neither had he told her his name. Since
the night before they had been together, side by side, without knowing
one another.

‘My name is Claude.’

And, having looked at her just at that moment, he saw her burst into
a pretty laugh. It was the sudden, merry peal of a big girl, still
scarcely more than a hoyden. She considered this tardy exchange of names
rather droll. Then something else amused her.

‘How funny--Claude, Christine--they begin with the same letter.’

They both became silent once more. He was blinking at his work, growing
absorbed in it, and at a loss how to continue the conversation. He
fancied that she was beginning to feel tired and uncomfortable, and in
his fear lest she should stir, he remarked at random, merely to occupy
her thoughts, ‘It feels rather warm.’

This time she checked her laughter, her natural gaiety that revived and
burst forth in spite of herself ever since she had felt easier in mind.
Truth to tell, the heat was indeed so oppressive that it seemed to her
as if she were in a bath, with skin moist and pale with the milky pallor
of a camellia.

‘Yes, it feels rather warm,’ she said, seriously, though mirth was
dancing in her eyes.

Thereupon Claude continued, with a good-natured air:

‘It’s the sun falling straight in; but, after all, a flood of sunshine
on one’s skin does one good. We could have done with some of it last
night at the door, couldn’t we?’

At this both burst out laughing, and he, delighted at having hit upon
a subject of conversation, questioned her about her adventure, without,
however, feeling inquisitive, for he cared little about discovering the
real truth, and was only intent upon prolonging the sitting.

Christine simply, and in a few words, related what had befallen her.
Early on the previous morning she had left Clermont for Paris, where
she was to take up a situation as reader and companion to the widow of a
general, Madame Vanzade, a rich old lady, who lived at Passy. The train
was timed to reach Paris at ten minutes past nine in the evening, and
a maid was to meet her at the station. They had even settled by letter
upon a means of recognition. She was to wear a black hat with a grey
feather in it. But, a little above Nevers, her train had come upon a
goods train which had run off the rails, its litter of smashed trucks
still obstructing the line. There was quite a series of mishaps
and delays. First an interminable wait in the carriages, which the
passengers had to quit at last, luggage and all, in order to trudge to
the next station, three kilometres distant, where the authorities had
decided to make up another train. By this time they had lost two hours,
and then another two were lost in the general confusion which the
accident had caused from one end of the line to the other, in such wise
that they reached the Paris terminus four hours behind time, that is, at
one o’clock in the morning.

‘Bad luck, indeed,’ interrupted Claude, who was still sceptical,
though half disarmed, in his surprise at the neat way in which the girl
arranged the details of her story.

‘And, of course, there was no one at the station to meet you?’ he added.

Christine had, indeed, missed Madame Vanzade’s maid, who, no doubt, had
grown tired of waiting. She told Claude of her utter helplessness at the
Lyons terminus--that large, strange, dark station, deserted at that late
hour of night. She had not dared to take a cab at first, but had kept
on walking up and down, carrying her small bag, and still hoping that
somebody would come for her. When at last she made up her mind there
only remained one driver, very dirty and smelling of drink, who prowled
round her, offering his cab in a knowing, impudent way.

‘Yes, I know, a dawdler,’ said Claude, getting as interested as if he
were listening to a fairy tale. ‘So you got into his cab?’

Looking up at the ceiling, Christine continued, without shifting her
position: ‘He made me; he called me his little dear, and frightened me.
When he found out that I was going to Passy, he became very angry, and
whipped his horse so hard that I was obliged to hold on by the doors.
After that I felt more easy, because the cab trundled along all
right through the lighted streets, and I saw people about. At last I
recognised the Seine, for though I was never in Paris before, I had
often looked at a map. Naturally I thought he would keep along the quay,
so I became very frightened again on noticing that we crossed a bridge.
Just then it began to rain, and the cab, which had got into a very
dark turning, suddenly stopped. The driver got down from his seat, and
declared it was raining too hard for him to remain on the box--’

Claude burst out laughing. He no longer doubted. She could not have
invented that driver. And as she suddenly stopped, somewhat confused, he
said, ‘All right, the cabman was having a joke.’

‘I jumped out at once by the other door,’ resumed Christine. ‘Then he
began to swear at me, saying that we had arrived at Passy, and that he
would tear my hat from my head if I did not pay him. It was raining in
torrents, and the quay was absolutely deserted. I was losing my head,
and when I had pulled out a five-franc piece, he whipped up his horse
and drove off, taking my little bag, which luckily only contained two
pocket-handkerchiefs, a bit of cake, and the key of my trunk, which I
had been obliged to leave behind in the train.’

‘But you ought to have taken his number,’ exclaimed the artist
indignantly. In fact he now remembered having been brushed against by
a passing cab, which had rattled by furiously while he was crossing the
Pont Louis Philippe, amid the downpour of the storm. And he reflected
how improbable truth often was. The story he had conjured up as being
the most simple and logical was utterly stupid beside the natural chain
of life’s many combinations.

‘You may imagine how I felt under the doorway,’ concluded Christine.
‘I knew well enough that I was not at Passy, and that I should have to
spend the night there, in this terrible Paris. And there was the thunder
and the lightning--those horrible blue and red flashes, which showed me
things that made me tremble.’

She closed her eyelids once more, she shivered, and the colour left her
cheeks as, in her fancy, she again beheld the tragic city--that line
of quays stretching away in a furnace-like blaze, the deep moat of the
river, with its leaden waters obstructed by huge black masses, lighters
looking like lifeless whales, and bristling with motionless cranes which
stretched forth gallows-like arms. Was that a welcome to Paris?

Again did silence fall. Claude had resumed his drawing. But she became
restless, her arm was getting stiff.

‘Just put your elbow a little lower, please,’ said Claude. Then, with an
air of concern, as if to excuse his curtness: ‘Your parents will be very
uneasy, if they have heard of the accident.’

‘I have no parents.’

‘What! neither father nor mother? You are all alone in the world?’

‘Yes; all alone.’

She was eighteen years old, and had been born in Strasburg, quite by
chance, though, between two changes of garrison, for her father was a
soldier, Captain Hallegrain. Just as she entered upon her twelfth year,
the captain, a Gascon, hailing from Montauban, had died at Clermont,
where he had settled when paralysis of the legs had obliged him to
retire from active service. For nearly five years afterwards, her
mother, a Parisian by birth, had remained in that dull provincial town,
managing as well as she could with her scanty pension, but eking it
out by fan-painting, in order that she might bring up her daughter as a
lady. She had, however, now been dead for fifteen months, and had left
her child penniless and unprotected, without a friend, save the Superior
of the Sisters of the Visitation, who had kept her with them. Christine
had come straight to Paris from the convent, the Superior having
succeeded in procuring her a situation as reader and companion to her
old friend, Madame Vanzade, who was almost blind.

At these additional particulars, Claude sat absolutely speechless. That
convent, that well-bred orphan, that adventure, all taking so romantic
a turn, made him relapse into embarrassment again, into all his former
awkwardness of gesture and speech. He had left off drawing, and sat
looking, with downcast eyes, at his sketch.

‘Is Clermont pretty?’ he asked, at last.

‘Not very; it’s a gloomy town. Besides, I don’t know; I scarcely ever
went out.’

She was resting on her elbow, and continued, as if talking to herself in
a very low voice, still tremulous from the thought of her bereavement.

‘Mamma, who wasn’t strong, killed herself with work. She spoilt me;
nothing was too good for me. I had all sorts of masters, but I did not
get on very well; first, because I fell ill, then because I paid no
attention. I was always laughing and skipping about like a featherbrain.
I didn’t care for music, piano playing gave me a cramp in my arms. The
only thing I cared about at all was painting.’

He raised his head and interrupted her. ‘You can paint?’

‘Oh, no; I know nothing, nothing at all. Mamma, who was very talented,
made me do a little water-colour, and I sometimes helped her with the
backgrounds of her fans. She painted some lovely ones.’

In spite of herself, she then glanced at the startling sketches with
which the walls seemed ablaze, and her limpid eyes assumed an uneasy
expression at the sight of that rough, brutal style of painting. From
where she lay she obtained a topsy-turvy view of the study of herself
which the painter had begun, and her consternation at the violent tones
she noticed, the rough crayon strokes, with which the shadows were
dashed off, prevented her from asking to look at it more closely.
Besides, she was growing very uncomfortable in that bed, where she lay
broiling; she fidgetted with the idea of going off and putting an end to
all these things which, ever since the night before, had seemed to her
so much of a dream.

Claude, no doubt, became aware of her discomfort. A sudden feeling of
shame brought with it one of compunction.

He put his unfinished sketch aside, and hastily exclaimed: ‘Much obliged
for your kindness, mademoiselle. Forgive me, I have really abused it.
Yes, indeed, pray get up; it’s time for you to look for your friends.’

And without appearing to understand why she did not follow his advice,
but hid more and more of her bare arm in proportion as he drew nearer,
he still insisted upon advising her to rise. All at once, as the real
state of things struck him, he swung his arms about like a madman, set
the screen in position, and went to the far end of the studio, where he
began noisily setting his crockery in order, so that she might jump out
and dress herself, without fear of being overheard.

Amidst the din he had thus raised, he failed to hear her hesitating
voice, ‘Monsieur, monsieur--’

At last he caught her words.

‘Monsieur, would you be so kind--I can’t find my stockings.’

Claude hurried forward. What had he been thinking of? What was she to do
behind that screen, without her stockings and petticoats, which he had
spread out in the sunlight? The stockings were dry, he assured himself
of that by gently rubbing them together, and he handed them to her over
the partition; again noticing her arm, bare, plump and rosy like that of
a child. Then he tossed the skirts on to the foot of the bed and pushed
her boots forward, leaving nothing but her bonnet suspended from the
easel. She had thanked him and that was all; he scarcely distinguished
the rustling of her clothes and the discreet splashing of water. Still
he continued to concern himself about her.

‘You will find the soap in a saucer on the table. Open the drawer and
take a clean towel. Do you want more water? I’ll give you the pitcher.’

Suddenly the idea that he was blundering again exasperated him.

‘There, there, I am only worrying you. I will leave you to your own
devices. Do as if you were at home.’

And he continued to potter about among the crockery. He was debating
with himself whether he should ask her to stay to breakfast. He ought
not to let her go like that. On the other hand, if she did stay, he
would never get done; it would mean a loss of his whole morning. Without
deciding anything, as soon as he had lighted his spirit lamp, he washed
his saucepan and began to make some chocolate. He thought it more
_distingue_, feeling rather ashamed of his vermicelli, which he mixed
with bread and soused with oil as people do in the South of France.
However, he was still breaking the chocolate into bits, when he uttered
a cry of surprise, ‘What, already?’

It was Christine, who had pushed back the screen, and who appeared
looking neat and correct in her black dress, duly laced and buttoned
up, equipped, as it were, in a twinkle. Her rosy face did not even show
traces of the water, her thick hair was twisted in a knot at the back
of her head, not a single lock out of place. And Claude remained
open-mouthed before that miracle of quickness, that proof of feminine
skill in dressing well and promptly.

‘The deuce, if you go about everything in that way!’ said he.

He found her taller and handsomer than he had fancied. But what struck
him most was her look of quiet decision. She was evidently no longer
afraid of him. It seemed as though she had re-donned her armour and
become an amazon again. She smiled and looked him straight in the face.
Whereupon he said what he was still reluctant to say:

‘You’ll breakfast with me, won’t you?’

But she refused the offer. ‘No, thank you. I am going to the station,
where my trunk must have arrived by now, and then I shall drive to
Passy.’

It was in vain that he told her that she must be hungry, that it was
unreasonable for her to go out without eating something.

‘Well, if you won’t, I’ll go down and fetch you a cab,’ he ended by
exclaiming.

‘Pray don’t take such trouble.’

‘But you can’t go such a distance on foot. Let me at least take you to
the cabstand, as you don’t know Paris.’

‘No, really I do not need you. If you wish to oblige me, let me go away
by myself.’

She had evidently made up her mind. She no doubt shrank from the idea
of being seen with a man, even by strangers. She meant to remain silent
about that strange night, she meant to tell some falsehood, and keep
the recollection of her adventure entirely to herself. He made a
furious gesture, which was tantamount to sending her to the devil. Good
riddance; it suited him better not to have to go down. But, all the
same, he felt hurt at heart, and considered that she was ungrateful.

‘As you please, then. I sha’n’t resort to force,’ he said.

At these words, Christine’s vague smile became more accentuated. She did
not reply, but took her bonnet and looked round in search of a glass.
Failing to find one, she tied the strings as best she could. With her
arms uplifted, she leisurely arranged and smoothed the ribbons, her face
turned towards the golden rays of the sun. Somewhat surprised, Claude
looked in vain for the traits of childish softness that he had just
portrayed; the upper part of her face, her clear forehead, her gentle
eyes had become less conspicuous; and now the lower part stood out, with
its somewhat sensual jaw, ruddy mouth, and superb teeth. And still she
smiled with that enigmatical, girlish smile, which was, perhaps, an
ironical one.

‘At any rate,’ he said, in a vexed tone, ‘I do not think you have
anything to reproach me with.’

At which she could not help laughing, with a slight, nervous laugh.

‘No, no, monsieur, not in the least.’

He continued staring at her, fighting the battle of inexperience and
bashfulness over again, and fearing that he had been ridiculous. Now
that she no longer trembled before him, had she become contemptuously
surprised at having trembled at all? What! he had not made the slightest
attempt at courtship, not even pressed a kiss on her finger-tips. The
young fellow’s bearish indifference, of which she had assuredly been
conscious, must have hurt her budding womanly feelings.

‘You were saying,’ she resumed, becoming sedate once more, ‘that the
cabstand is at the end of the bridge on the opposite quay?’

‘Yes; at the spot where there is a clump of trees.’

She had finished tying her bonnet strings, and stood ready gloved,
with her hands hanging by her side, and yet she did not go, but stared
straight in front of her. As her eyes met the big canvas turned to
the wall she felt a wish to see it, but did not dare to ask. Nothing
detained her; still she seemed to be looking around as if she had
forgotten something there, something which she could not name. At last
she stepped towards the door.

Claude was already opening it, and a small loaf placed erect against the
post tumbled into the studio.

‘You see,’ he said, ‘you ought to have stopped to breakfast with me. My
doorkeeper brings the bread up every morning.’

She again refused with a shake of the head. When she was on the landing
she turned round, and for a moment remained quite still. Her gay smile
had come back; she was the first to hold out her hand.

‘Thank you, thank you very much.’

He had taken her small gloved hand within his large one, all
pastel-stained as it was. Both hands remained like that for a few
moments, closely and cordially pressed. The young girl was still smiling
at him, and he had a question on the tip of his tongue: ‘When shall I
see you again?’ But he felt ashamed to ask it, and after waiting a while
she withdrew her hand.

‘Good-bye, monsieur.’

‘Good-bye, mademoiselle.’

Christine, without another glance, was already descending the steep
ladder-like stairway whose steps creaked, when Claude turned abruptly
into his studio, closing the door with a bang, and shouting to himself:
‘Ah, those confounded women!’

He was furious--furious with himself, furious with everyone. Kicking
about the furniture, he continued to ease his feelings in a loud voice.
Was not he right in never allowing them to cross his threshold? They
only turned a fellow’s head. What proof had he after all that yonder
chit with the innocent look, who had just gone, had not fooled him most
abominably? And he had been silly enough to believe in her cock-and-bull
stories! All his suspicions revived. No one would ever make him swallow
that fairy tale of the general’s widow, the railway accident, and
especially the cabman. Did such things ever happen in real life?
Besides, that mouth of hers told a strange tale, and her looks had
been very singular just as she was going. Ah! if he could only have
understood why she had told him all those lies; but no, they were
profitless, inexplicable. It was art for art’s sake. How she must be
laughing at him by this time.

He roughly folded up the screen and sent it flying into a corner. She
had no doubt left all in disorder. And when he found that everything was
in its proper place--basin, towel, and soap--he flew into a rage because
she had not made the bed. With a great deal of fuss he began to make it
himself, lifting the mattress in his arms, banging the pillow about with
his fists, and feeling oppressed by the pure scent of youth that rose
from everything. Then he had a good wash to cool himself, and in the
damp towel he found the same virgin fragrance, which seemed to spread
through the studio. Swearing the while, he drank his chocolate from
the saucepan, so excited, so eager to set to work, as to swallow large
mouthfuls of bread without taking breath.

‘Why, it’s enough to kill one here,’ he suddenly exclaimed. ‘It must be
this confounded heat that’s making me ill.’

After all, the sun had shifted, and it was far less hot. But he opened
a small window on a level with the roof, and inhaled, with an air of
profound relief, the whiff of warm air that entered. Then he took up his
sketch of Christine’s head and for a long while he lingered looking at
it.



II

IT had struck twelve, and Claude was working at his picture when
there was a loud, familiar knock at the door. With an instinctive yet
involuntary impulse, the artist slipped the sketch of Christine’s head,
by the aid of which he was remodelling the principal figure of his
picture, into a portfolio. After which he decided to open the door.

‘You, Pierre!’ he exclaimed, ‘already!’

Pierre Sandoz, a friend of his boyhood, was about twenty-two, very dark,
with a round and determined head, a square nose, and gentle eyes, set in
energetic features, girt round with a sprouting beard.

‘I breakfasted earlier than usual,’ he answered, ‘in order to give you a
long sitting. The devil! you are getting on with it.’

He had stationed himself in front of the picture, and he added almost
immediately: ‘Hallo! you have altered the character of your woman’s
features!’

Then came a long pause; they both kept staring at the canvas. It
measured about sixteen feet by ten, and was entirely painted over,
though little of the work had gone beyond the roughing-out. This
roughing-out, hastily dashed off, was superb in its violence and ardent
vitality of colour. A flood of sunlight streamed into a forest clearing,
with thick walls of verdure; to the left, stretched a dark glade with a
small luminous speck in the far distance. On the grass, amidst all the
summer vegetation, lay a nude woman with one arm supporting her head,
and though her eyes were closed she smiled amidst the golden shower that
fell around her. In the background, two other women, one fair, and the
other dark, wrestled playfully, setting light flesh tints amidst all the
green leaves. And, as the painter had wanted something dark by way of
contrast in the foreground, he had contented himself with seating there
a gentleman, dressed in a black velveteen jacket. This gentleman had
his back turned and the only part of his flesh that one saw was his left
hand, with which he was supporting himself on the grass.

‘The woman promises well,’ said Sandoz, at last; ‘but, dash it, there
will be a lot of work in all this.’

Claude, with his eyes blazing in front of his picture, made a gesture
of confidence. ‘I’ve lots of time from now till the Salon. One can get
through a deal of work in six months. And perhaps this time I’ll be able
to prove that I am not a brute.’

Thereupon he set up a whistle, inwardly pleased at the sketch he had
made of Christine’s head, and buoyed up by one of those flashes of hope
whence he so often dropped into torturing anguish, like an artist whom
passion for nature consumed.

‘Come, no more idling,’ he shouted. ‘As you’re here, let us set to.’

Sandoz, out of pure friendship, and to save Claude the cost of a model,
had offered to pose for the gentleman in the foreground. In four or five
Sundays, the only day of the week on which he was free, the figure would
be finished. He was already donning the velveteen jacket, when a sudden
reflection made him stop.

‘But, I say, you haven’t really lunched, since you were working when I
came in. Just go down and have a cutlet while I wait here.’

The idea of losing time revolted Claude. ‘I tell you I have breakfasted.
Look at the saucepan. Besides, you can see there’s a crust of bread
left. I’ll eat it. Come, to work, to work, lazy-bones.’

And he snatched up his palette and caught his brushes, saying, as he did
so, ‘Dubuche is coming to fetch us this evening, isn’t he?’

‘Yes, about five o’clock.’

‘Well, that’s all right then. We’ll go down to dinner directly he comes.
Are you ready? The hand more to the left, and your head a little more
forward.’

Having arranged some cushions, Sandoz settled himself on the couch
in the required attitude. His back was turned, but all the same the
conversation continued for another moment, for he had that very morning
received a letter from Plassans, the little Provencal town where he and
the artist had known each other when they were wearing out their first
pairs of trousers on the eighth form of the local college. However, they
left off talking. The one was working with his mind far away from the
world, while the other grew stiff and cramped with the sleepy weariness
of protracted immobility.

It was only when Claude was nine years old that a lucky chance had
enabled him to leave Paris and return to the little place in Provence,
where he had been born. His mother, a hardworking laundress,* whom his
ne’er-do-well father had scandalously deserted, had afterwards married
an honest artisan who was madly in love with her. But in spite of
their endeavours, they failed to make both ends meet. Hence they gladly
accepted the offer of an elderly and well-to-do townsman to send the
lad to school and keep him with him. It was the generous freak of an
eccentric amateur of painting, who had been struck by the little figures
that the urchin had often daubed. And thus for seven years Claude had
remained in the South, at first boarding at the college, and afterwards
living with his protector. The latter, however, was found dead in his
bed one morning. He left the lad a thousand francs a year, with the
faculty of disposing of the principal when he reached the age of
twenty-five. Claude, already seized with a passion for painting,
immediately left school without even attempting to secure a bachelor’s
degree, and rushed to Paris whither his friend Sandoz had preceded him.

  * Gervaise of ‘The Dram Shop’ (L’Assommoir).--ED.

At the College of Plassans, while still in the lowest form, Claude
Lantier, Pierre Sandoz, and another lad named Louis Dubuche, had been
three inseparables. Sprung from three different classes of society, by
no means similar in character, but simply born in the same year at a few
months’ interval, they had become friends at once and for aye, impelled
thereto by certain secret affinities, the still vague promptings of
a common ambition, the dawning consciousness of possessing greater
intelligence than the set of dunces who maltreated them. Sandoz’s
father, a Spaniard, who had taken refuge in France in consequence of
some political disturbances in which he had been mixed up, had started,
near Plassans, a paper mill with new machinery of his own invention.
When he had died, heart-broken by the petty local jealousy that had
sought to hamper him in every way, his widow had found herself in so
involved a position, and burdened with so many tangled law suits, that
the whole of her remaining means were swallowed up. She was a native of
Burgundy. Yielding to her hatred of the Provencals, and laying at their
door even the slow paralysis from which she was suffering, she removed
to Paris with her son, who then supported her out of a meagre clerk’s
salary, he himself haunted by the vision of literary glory. As for
Dubuche, he was the son of a baker of Plassans. Pushed by his mother, a
covetous and ambitious woman, he had joined his friends in Paris later
on. He was attending the courses at the School of Arts as a pupil
architect, living as best he might upon the last five-franc pieces
that his parents staked on his chances, with the obstinacy of usurers
discounting the future at the rate of a hundred per cent.

‘Dash it!’ at last exclaimed Sandoz, breaking the intense silence that
hung upon the room. ‘This position isn’t at all easy; my wrist feels
broken. Can I move for a moment?’

Claude let him stretch himself without answering. He was now working at
the velveteen jacket, laying on the colour with thick strokes, However,
stepping backward and blinking, he suddenly burst into loud laughter at
some reminiscence.

‘I say, do you recollect, when we were in the sixth form, how, one day,
Pouillaud lighted the candles in that idiot Lalubie’s cupboard? And how
frightened Lalubie was when, before going to his desk, he opened the
cupboard to take his books, and found it transformed into a mortuary
chapel? Five hundred lines to every one in the form.’

Sandoz, unable to withstand the contagion of the other’s gaiety, flung
himself back on the couch. As he resumed his pose, he remarked, ‘Ah,
that brute of a Pouillaud. You know that in his letter this morning he
tells me of Lalubie’s forthcoming marriage. The old hack is marrying
a pretty girl. But you know her, she’s the daughter of Gallissard, the
haberdasher--the little fair-haired girl whom we used to serenade!’

Once on the subject of their recollections there was no stopping them,
though Claude went on painting with growing feverishness, while Pierre,
still turned towards the wall, spoke over his shoulders, shaking every
now and then with excitement.

First of all came recollections of the college, the old, dank convent,
that extended as far as the town ramparts; the two courtyards with their
huge plane trees; the slimy sedge-covered pond, where they had learned
to swim, and the class-rooms with dripping plaster walls on the ground
floor; then the refectory, with its atmosphere constantly poisoned by
the fumes of dish-water; the dormitory of the little ones, famous for
its horrors, the linen room, and the infirmary, full of gentle sisters,
nuns in black gowns who looked so sweet beneath their white coifs. What
a to-do there had been when Sister Angela, she whose Madonna-like face
had turned the heads of all the big fellows, disappeared one morning
with Hermeline, a stalwart first-form lad, who, from sheer love,
purposely cut his hands with his penknife so as to get an opportunity of
seeing and speaking to her while she dressed his self-inflicted injuries
with gold-beater’s skin.

Then they passed the whole college staff in review; a pitiful,
grotesque, and terrible procession it was, with such heads as are seen
on meerschaum pipes, and profiles instinct with hatred and suffering.
There was the head master, who ruined himself in giving parties, in
order to marry his daughters--two tall, elegant girls, the butt of
constant and abominable insults, written and sketched on every wall;
there was the comptroller Pifard, whose wonderful nose betrayed his
presence behind every door, when he went eavesdropping; and there were
all the teachers, each befouled with some insulting nickname: the severe
‘Rhadamantus,’ who had never been seen to smile; ‘Filth,’ who by the
constant rubbing of his head had left his mark on the wall behind
every professional seat he occupied; ‘Thou-hast-deceived-me-Adele,’
the professor of physics, at whom ten generations of schoolboys had
tauntingly flung the name of his unfaithful wife. There were others
still: Spontini, the ferocious usher, with his Corsican knife, rusty
with the blood of three cousins; little Chantecaille, who was so
good-natured that he allowed the pupils to smoke when out walking; and
also a scullion and a scullery maid, two ugly creatures who had been
nicknamed Paraboulomenos and Paralleluca, and who were accused of
kissing one another over the vegetable parings.

Then came comical reminiscences; the sudden recollection of practical
jokes, at which they shook with laughter after all those years. Oh!
the morning when they had burned the shoes of Mimi-la-Mort, _alias_ the
Skeleton Day Boarder, a lank lad, who smuggled snuff into the school for
the whole of the form. And then that winter evening when they had bagged
some matches lying near the lamp in the chapel, in order to smoke dry
chestnut leaves in reed pipes. Sandoz, who had been the ringleader on
that occasion, now frankly avowed his terror; the cold perspiration
that had come upon him when he had scrambled out of the choir, wrapt
in darkness. And again there was the day when Claude had hit upon the
sublime idea of roasting some cockchafers in his desk to see whether
they were good to eat, as people said they were. So terrible had been
the stench, so dense the smoke that poured from the desk, that the usher
had rushed to the water pitcher, under the impression that the place was
on fire. And then their marauding expeditions; the pillaging of onion
beds while they were out walking; the stones thrown at windows,
the correct thing being to make the breakage resemble a well-known
geographical map. Also the Greek exercises, written beforehand in large
characters on the blackboard, so that every dunce might easily read
them though the master remained unaware of it; the wooden seats of the
courtyard sawn off and carried round the basin like so many corpses, the
boys marching in procession and singing funeral dirges. Yes! that had
been a capital prank. Dubuche, who played the priest, had tumbled into
the basin while trying to scoop some water into his cap, which was to
serve as a holy water pot. But the most comical and amusing of all the
pranks had perhaps been that devised by Pouillaud, who one night had
fastened all the unmentionable crockery of the dormitory to one long
string passed under the beds. At dawn--it was the very morning when the
long vacation began--he had pulled the string and skedaddled down the
three flights of stairs with this frightful tail of crockery bounding
and smashing to pieces behind him.

At the recollection of this last incident, Claude remained grinning from
ear to ear, his brush suspended in mid-air. ‘That brute of a Pouillaud!’
he laughed. ‘And so he has written to you. What is he doing now?’

‘Why, nothing at all, old man,’ answered Sandoz, seating himself
more comfortably on the cushions. ‘His letter is idiotic. He is just
finishing his law studies, and he will inherit his father’s practice as
a solicitor. You ought to see the style he has already assumed--all the
idiotic austerity of a philistine, who has turned over a new leaf.’

They were silent once more until Sandoz added, ‘You see, old boy, we
have been protected against that sort of thing.’

Then they relapsed again into reminiscences, but such as made their
hearts thump; the remembrance of the many happy days they had spent far
away from the college, in the open air and the full sunlight. When
still very young, and only in the sixth form, the three inseparables
had become passionately fond of taking long walks. The shortest holidays
were eagerly seized upon to tramp for miles and miles; and, getting
bolder as they grew up, they finished by scouring the whole of the
country-side, by making journeys that sometimes lasted for days. They
slept where they could, in the cleft of a rock, on some threshing-floor,
still burning hot, where the straw of the beaten corn made them a soft
couch, or in some deserted hut, the ground of which they covered with
wild thyme and lavender. Those were flights far from the everyday world,
when they became absorbed in healthy mother Nature herself, adoring
trees and streams and mountains; revelling in the supreme joy of being
alone and free.

Dubuche, who was a boarder, had only joined them on half-holidays and
during the long vacation. Besides, his legs were heavy, and he had the
quiet nature of a studious lad. But Claude and Sandoz never wearied;
they awakened each other every Sunday morning by throwing stones at
their respective shutters. In summer, above all, they were haunted by
the thought of the Viorne, the torrent, whose tiny stream waters the
low-lying pastures of Plassans. When scarcely twelve they already knew
how to swim, and it became a passion with them to potter about in the
holes where the water accumulated; to spend whole days there, stark
naked, drying themselves on the burning sand, and then replunging into
the river, living there as it were, on their backs, on their stomachs,
searching among the reeds on the banks, immersed up to their ears, and
watching the hiding-places of the eels for hours at a stretch. That
constant contact of water beneath a burning sun prolonged their
childhood, as it were, and lent them the joyous laughter of truant
urchins, though they were almost young men, when of an evening they
returned to the town amidst the still oppressive heat of a summer
sunset. Later on they became very fond of shooting, but shooting such
as is carried on in a region devoid of game, where they had to trudge
a score of miles to pick off half a dozen pettychaps, or fig-peckers;
wonderful expeditions, whence they returned with their bags empty, or
with a mere bat, which they had managed to bring down while discharging
their guns at the outskirts of the town. Their eyes moistened at the
recollection of those happy days; they once more beheld the white
endless roads, covered with layers of dust, as if there had been a fall
of snow. They paced them again and again in their imagination, happy to
hear the fancied creaking of their heavy shoes. Then they cut across the
fields, over the reddish-brown ferruginous soil, careering madly on
and on; and there was a sky of molten lead above them, not a shadow
anywhere, nothing but dwarf olive trees and almond trees with scanty
foliage. And then the delicious drowsiness of fatigue on their return,
their triumphant bravado at having covered yet more ground than on the
precious journey, the delight of being no longer conscious of effort,
of advancing solely by dint of strength acquired, spurring themselves on
with some terrible martial strain which helped to make everything like a
dream.

Already at that time Claude, in addition to his powder-flask and
cartridge-belt, took with him an album, in which he sketched little bits
of country, while Sandoz, on his side, always had some favourite poet
in his pocket. They lived in a perfect frenzy of romanticism, winged
strophes alternated with coarse garrison stories, odes were flung upon
the burning, flashing, luminous atmosphere that enwrapt them. And when
perchance they came upon a small rivulet, bordered by half a dozen
willows, casting grey shadows on the soil all ablaze with colour, they
at once went into the seventh heaven. They there by themselves performed
the dramas they knew by heart, inflating their voices when repeating
the speeches of the heroes, and reducing them to the merest whisper when
they replied as queens and love-sick maidens. On such days the sparrows
were left in peace. In that remote province, amidst the sleepy stupidity
of that small town, they had thus lived on from the age of fourteen,
full of enthusiasm, devoured by a passion for literature and art. The
magnificent scenarios devised by Victor Hugo, the gigantic phantasies
which fought therein amidst a ceaseless cross-fire of antithesis, had
at first transported them into the fulness of epic glory; gesticulating,
watching the sun decline behind some ruins, seeing life pass by amidst
all the superb but false glitter of a fifth act. Then Musset had come to
unman them with his passion and his tears; they heard their own hearts
throb in response to his, a new world opened to them--a world more
human--that conquered them by its cries for pity, and of eternal misery,
which henceforth they were to hear rising from all things. Besides,
they were not difficult to please; they showed the voracity of youth,
a furious appetite for all kinds of literature, good and bad alike. So
eager were they to admire something, that often the most execrable works
threw them into a state of exaltation similar to that which the purest
masterpieces produce.

And as Sandoz now remarked, it was their great love of bodily exercise,
their very revels of literature that had protected them against the
numbing influence of their ordinary surroundings. They never entered a
cafe, they had a horror of the streets, even pretending to moult in
them like caged eagles, whereas their schoolfellows were already rubbing
their elbows over the small marble tables and playing at cards for
drinks. Provincial life, which dragged other lads, when still young,
within its cogged mechanism, that habit of going to one’s club, of
spelling out the local paper from its heading to the last advertisement,
the everlasting game of dominoes no sooner finished than renewed, the
same walk at the self-same hour and ever along the same roads--all that
brutifies the mind, like a grindstone crushing the brain, filled them
with indignation, called forth their protestations. They preferred to
scale the neighbouring hills in search of some unknown solitary spot,
where they declaimed verses even amidst drenching showers, without
dreaming of shelter in their very hatred of town-life. They had even
planned an encampment on the banks of the Viorne, where they were to
live like savages, happy with constant bathing, and the company of five
or six books, which would amply suffice for their wants. Even womankind
was to be strictly banished from that camp. Being very timid and awkward
in the presence of the gentler sex, they pretended to the asceticism
of superior intellects. For two years Claude had been in love with a
‘prentice hat-trimmer, whom every evening he had followed at a distance,
but to whom he had never dared to address a word. Sandoz nursed dreams
of ladies met while travelling, beautiful girls who would suddenly
spring up in some unknown wood, charm him for a whole day, and melt into
air at dusk. The only love adventure which they had ever met with still
evoked their laughter, so silly did it seem to them now. It consisted
of a series of serenades which they had given to two young ladies during
the time when they, the serenaders, had formed part of the college band.
They passed their nights beneath a window playing the clarinet and the
cornet-a-piston, and thus raising a discordant din which frightened all
the folk of the neighbourhood, until one memorable evening the indignant
parents had emptied all the water pitchers of the family over them.

Ah! those were happy days, and how loving was the laughter with
which they recalled them. On the walls of the studio hung a series of
sketches, which Claude, it so happened, had made during a recent trip
southward. Thus it seemed as if they were surrounded by the familiar
vistas of bright blue sky overhanging a tawny country-side. Here
stretched a plain dotted with little greyish olive trees as far as a
rosy network of distant hills. There, between sunburnt russet slopes,
the exhausted Viorne was almost running dry beneath the span of an
old dust-bepowdered bridge, without a bit of green, nothing save a few
bushes, dying for want of moisture. Farther on, the mountain gorge of
the Infernets showed its yawning chasm amidst tumbled rocks, struck down
by lightning, a huge chaos, a wild desert, rolling stony billows as far
as the eye could reach. Then came all sorts of well remembered nooks:
the valley of Repentance, narrow and shady, a refreshing oasis amid
calcined fields; the wood of Les Trois Bons-Dieux, with hard, green,
varnished pines shedding pitchy tears beneath the burning sun; the sheep
walk of Bouffan, showing white, like a mosque, amidst a far-stretching
blood-red plain. And there were yet bits of blinding, sinuous roads;
ravines, where the heat seemed even to wring bubbling perspiration from
the pebbles; stretches of arid, thirsty sand, drinking up rivers drop
by drop; mole hills, goat paths, and hill crests, half lost in the azure
sky.

‘Hallo!’ exclaimed Sandoz, turning towards one sketch, ‘what’s that?’

Claude, indignant, waved his palette. ‘What! don’t you remember? We
were very nigh breaking our necks there. Surely you recollect the day we
clambered from the very bottom of Jaumegarde with Dubuche? The rock was
as smooth as your hand, and we had to cling to it with our nails, so
that at one moment we could neither get up nor go down again. When we
were once atop and about to cook our cutlets, we, you and I, nearly came
to blows.’

Sandoz now remembered. ‘Yes, yes; each had to roast his own cutlet on
rosemary sticks, and, as mine took fire, you exasperated me by chaffing
my cutlet, which was being reduced to cinders.’

They both shook with laughter, until the painter resumed his work,
gravely concluding, ‘That’s all over, old man. There is to be no more
idling at present.’

He spoke the truth. Since the three inseparables had realised
their dream of meeting together in Paris, which they were bent upon
conquering, their life had been terribly hard. They had tried to renew
the long walks of old. On certain Sunday mornings they had started on
foot from the Fontainebleau gate, had scoured the copses of Verrieres,
gone as far as the Bievre, crossed the woods of Meudon and Bellevue,
and returned home by way of Grenelle. But they taxed Paris with spoiling
their legs; they scarcely ever left the pavement now, entirely taken up
as they were with their struggle for fortune and fame.

From Monday morning till Saturday night Sandoz sat fuming and fretting
at the municipal building of the fifth Arrondissement in a dark corner
of the registry office for births, rooted to his stool by the thought of
his mother, whom his salary of a hundred and fifty francs a month
helped in some fashion to keep. Dubuche, anxious to pay his parents the
interest of the money placed on his head, was ever on the look-out for
some petty jobs among architects, outside his studies at the School of
Arts. As for Claude, thanks to his thousand francs a year, he had his
full liberty; but the latter days of each month were terrible enough,
especially if he had to share the fag-end of his allowance. Luckily he
was beginning to sell a little; disposing of tiny canvases, at the
rate of ten and twelve francs a-piece, to Papa Malgras, a wary picture
dealer. After all, he preferred starvation to turning his art into
mere commerce by manufacturing portraits of tradesmen and their wives;
concocting conventional religious pictures or daubing blinds for
restaurants or sign-boards for accoucheuses. When first he had
returned to Paris, he had rented a very large studio in the Impasse des
Bourdonnais; but he had moved to the Quai de Bourbon from motives of
economy. He lived there like a savage, with an absolute contempt for
everything that was not painting. He had fallen out with his relatives,
who disgusted him; he had even ceased visiting his aunt, who kept a
pork-butcher’s shop near the Central Markets, because she looked too
flourishing and plump.* Respecting the downfall of his mother, who was
being eaten out of doors and driven into the streets, he nursed a secret
grief.

  * This aunt is Lisa of ‘The Fat and the Thin’ (Le Ventre de Paris)
    in a few chapters of which Claude figures.--ED.

Suddenly he shouted to Sandoz, ‘Will you be kind enough not to tumble to
pieces?’ But Sandoz declared that he was getting stiff, and jumped
from the couch to stretch his legs a bit. They took ten minutes’
rest, talking meanwhile about many things. Claude felt condescendingly
good-tempered. When his work went smoothly he brightened up and became
talkative; he, who painted with his teeth set, and raged inwardly
directly he felt that nature was escaping him. Hence his friend had
scarcely resumed his attitude before he went on chattering, without,
however, missing a stroke of his brush.

‘It’s going on all right, old boy, isn’t it? You look all there in it.
Oh, the brutes, I’ll just see whether they’ll refuse me this time. I am
more severe for myself than they are for themselves, I’m sure of it; and
whenever I pass one of my own pictures, it’s more serious than if it had
passed before all the hanging committees on earth. You know my picture
of the markets, with the two urchins tumbling about on a heap of
vegetables? Well, I’ve scratched it all out, it didn’t come right. I
found that I had got hold of a beastly machine,* a deal too heavy for my
strength. But, never you fear, I’ll take the subject up again some day,
when I know better, and I’ll take up others, machines which will knock
them all cock-a-hoop with surprise.’

  * In familiar conversation, French artists, playwrights, and
    novelists invariably call their productions by the slang
    term ‘machines.’--ED.

He made a magnificent gesture, as if to sweep a whole crowd away;
emptied a tube of cobalt on his palette; and then began to jeer, asking
what his first master would say to a picture like this? His first master
indeed, Papa Belloque, a retired infantry captain, with one arm, who for
a quarter of a century had taught drawing to the youth of Plassans
in one of the galleries of the Museum! Then, in Paris, hadn’t the
celebrated Berthou, the painter of ‘Nero in the Circus’--Berthou, whose
lessons he had attended for six long months--told him a score of times
that he would never be able to do anything? How he now regretted those
six months wasted in idiotic efforts, absurd ‘studies,’ under the iron
rule of a man whose ideas differed so much from his own. He at last
began to hold forth against working at the Louvre. He would, he said,
sooner chop his hand off than return there to spoil his perception of
nature by undertaking one of those copies which for ever dim the vision
of the world in which one lives.

Was there aught else in art than the rendering of what one felt within
oneself? Was not the whole of art reduced to placing a woman in front
of one--and then portraying her according to the feelings that she
inspired? Was not a bunch of carrots--yes, a bunch of carrots--studied
from nature, and painted unaffectedly, in a personal style, worth all
the ever-lasting smudges of the School of Arts, all that tobacco-juice
painting, cooked up according to certain given recipes? The day would
come when one carrot, originally rendered, would lead to a revolution.
It was because of this that he now contented himself with going to the
Boutin studio, a free studio, kept by a former model, in the Rue de la
Huchette. When he had paid his twenty francs he was put in front of as
many men and women as he cared for, and set about his work with a will,
never thinking of eating or drinking, but struggling unrestingly with
nature, mad almost with the excitement of work, by the side of a pack
of dandies who accused him of ignorant laziness, and arrogantly prated
about their ‘studies,’ because they copied noses and mouths, under the
eye of a master.

‘Listen to this, old man: when one of those whipper-snappers can build
up a torso like that one over yonder, he may come up and tell me, and
we’ll have a talk together.’

With the end of his brush he pointed to a study of the nude, suspended
from the wall near the door. It was really magnificent, full of masterly
breadth of colouring. By its side were some other admirable bits, a
girl’s feet exquisite in their delicate truthfulness, and a woman’s
trunk with quivering satin-like skin. In his rare moments of content
he felt proud of those few studies, the only ones which satisfied him,
which, as it were, foretold a great painter, admirably gifted, but
hampered by sudden and inexplicable fits of impotency.

Dealing sabre-like strokes at the velveteen jacket, he continued lashing
himself into excitement with his uncompromising theories which respected
nobody:

‘They are all so many daubers of penny prints, who have stolen their
reputations; a set of idiots or knaves on their knees before public
imbecility! Not one among them dares to give the philistines a slap in
the face. And, while we are about it, you know that old Ingres turns me
sick with his glairy painting. Nevertheless, he’s a brick, and a plucky
fellow, and I take off my hat to him, for he did not care a curse for
anybody, and he used to draw like the very devil. He ended by making the
idiots, who nowadays believe they understand him, swallow that drawing
of his. After him there are only two worth speaking of, Delacroix and
Courbet. The others are only numskulls. Oh, that old romantic lion, the
carriage of him! He was a decorator who knew how to make the colours
blaze. And what a grasp he had! He would have covered every wall in
Paris if they had let him; his palette boiled, and boiled over. I know
very well that it was only so much phantasmagoria. Never mind, I like it
for all that, as it was needed to set the School on fire. Then came the
other, a stout workman--that one, the truest painter of the century,
and altogether classical besides, a fact which not one of the dullards
understood. They yelled, of course; they shouted about profanation
and realism, when, after all, the realism was only in the subject. The
perception remained that of the old masters, and the execution
resumed and continued the best bits of work one can find in our public
galleries. Both Delacroix and Courbet came at the proper time. Each made
a stride forward. And now--ah, now!’

He ceased speaking and drew back a few steps to judge of the effect of
his picture, becoming absorbed in contemplation for a moment, and then
resuming:

‘Yes, nowadays we want something different--what, I don’t exactly know.
If I did, and could do it, I should be clever indeed. No one else would
be in the race with me. All I do know and feel is that Delacroix’s
grand romantic scenes are foundering and splitting, that Courbet’s black
painting already reeks of the mustiness of a studio which the sun never
penetrates. You understand me, don’t you? We, perhaps, want the sun, the
open air, a clear, youthful style of painting, men and things such as
they appear in the real light. In short, I myself am unable to say what
our painting should be; the painting that our eyes of to-day should
execute and behold.’

His voice again fell; he stammered and found himself unable to explain
the formulas of the future that were rising within him. Deep silence
came while he continued working at the velveteen jacket, quivering all
the time.

Sandoz had been listening to him without stirring from his position. His
back was still turned, and he said slowly, as if speaking to the wall in
a kind of dream:

‘No; one does not know, and still we ought to know. But each time a
professor has wanted to impress a truth upon me, I have mistrustfully
revolted, thinking: “He is either deceiving himself or deceiving me.”
 Their ideas exasperate me. It seems to me that truth is larger, more
general. How beautiful would it be if one could devote the whole of
one’s existence to one single work, into which one would endeavour to
put everything, the beasts of the field as well as mankind; in short,
a kind of immense ark. And not in the order indicated by manuals of
philosophy, or according to the idiotic hierarchy on which we pride
ourselves, but according to the full current of life; a world in which
we should be nothing more than an accident, in which the passing cur,
even the stones of the roads, would complete and explain us. In sum, the
grand whole, without low or high, or clean or unclean, such as it indeed
is in reality. It is certainly to science that poets and novelists ought
to address themselves, for it is the only possible source of inspiration
to-day. But what are we to borrow from it? How are we to march in its
company? The moment I begin to think about that sort of thing I feel
that I am floundering. Ah, if I only knew, what a series of books I
would hurl at the heads of the crowd!’

He also became silent. The previous winter he had published his first
book: a series of little sketches, brought from Plassans, among which
only a few rougher notes indicated that the author was a mutineer, a
passionate lover of truth and power. And lately he had been feeling his
way, questioning himself while all sorts of confused ideas throbbed in
his brain. At first, smitten with the thought of undertaking something
herculean, he had planned a genesis of the universe, in three phases or
parts; the creation narrated according to science; mankind supervening
at the appointed hour and playing its part in the chain of beings and
events; then the future--beings constantly following one another, and
finishing the creation of the world by the endless labour of life. But
he had calmed down in presence of the venturesome hypotheses of this
third phase; and he was now looking out for a more restricted, more
human framework, in which, however, his vast ambition might find room.

‘Ah, to be able to see and paint everything,’ exclaimed Claude, after a
long interval. ‘To have miles upon miles of walls to cover, to decorate
the railway stations, the markets, the municipal offices, everything
that will be built, when architects are no longer idiots. Only strong
heads and strong muscles will be wanted, for there will be no lack of
subjects. Life such as it runs about the streets, the life of the
rich and the poor, in the market places, on the race-courses, on the
boulevards, in the populous alleys; and every trade being plied, and
every passion portrayed in full daylight, and the peasants, too, and the
beasts of the fields and the landscapes--ah! you’ll see it all, unless I
am a downright brute. My very hands are itching to do it. Yes! the whole
of modern life! Frescoes as high as the Pantheon! A series of canvases
big enough to burst the Louvre!’

Whenever they were thrown together the painter and the author generally
reached this state of excitement. They spurred each other mutually, they
went mad with dreams of glory; and there was such a burst of youth, such
a passion for work about their plans, that they themselves often smiled
afterwards at those great, proud dreams which seemed to endow them with
suppleness, strength, and spirit.

Claude, who had stepped back as far as the wall, remained leaning
against it, and gazing at his work. Seeing which, Sandoz, overcome by
fatigue, left the couch and joined him. Then both looked at the picture
without saying a word. The gentleman in the velveteen jacket was
entirely roughed in. His hand, more advanced than the rest, furnished
a pretty fresh patch of flesh colour amid the grass, and the dark coat
stood out so vigorously that the little silhouettes in the background,
the two little women wrestling in the sunlight, seemed to have retreated
further into the luminous quivering of the glade. The principal figure,
the recumbent woman, as yet scarcely more than outlined, floated about
like some aerial creature seen in dreams, some eagerly desired Eve
springing from the earth, with her features vaguely smiling and her
eyelids closed.

‘Well, now, what are you going to call it?’ asked Sandoz.

‘_The Open Air_,’ replied Claude, somewhat curtly.

The title sounded rather technical to the writer, who, in spite of
himself, was sometimes tempted to introduce literature into pictorial
art.

‘_The Open Air_! that doesn’t suggest anything.’

‘There is no occasion for it to suggest anything. Some women and a man
are reposing in a forest in the sunlight. Does not that suffice? Don’t
fret, there’s enough in it to make a masterpiece.’

He threw back his head and muttered between his teeth: ‘Dash it all!
it’s very black still. I can’t get Delacroix out of my eye, do what I
will. And then the hand, that’s Courbet’s manner. Everyone of us dabs
his brush into the romantic sauce now and then. We had too much of it
in our youth, we floundered in it up to our very chins. We need a jolly
good wash to get clear of it.’

Sandoz shrugged his shoulders with a gesture of despair. He also
bewailed the fact that he had been born at what he called the confluence
of Hugo and Balzac. Nevertheless, Claude remained satisfied, full of the
happy excitement of a successful sitting. If his friend could give him
two or three more Sundays the man in the jacket would be all there. He
had enough of him for the present. Both began to joke, for, as a rule,
Claude almost killed his models, only letting them go when they were
fainting, half dead with fatigue. He himself now very nigh dropped, his
legs bending under him, and his stomach empty. And as the cuckoo
clock struck five, he snatched at his crust of bread and devoured it.
Thoroughly worn out, he broke it with trembling fingers, and scarcely
chewed it, again standing before his picture, pursued by his passion to
such a degree as to be unconscious even that he was eating.

‘Five o’clock,’ said Sandoz, as he stretched himself, with his arms
upraised. ‘Let’s go and have dinner. Ah! here comes Dubuche, just in
time.’

There was a knock at the door, and Dubuche came in. He was a stout young
fellow, dark, with regular but heavy features, close-cropped hair, and
moustaches already full-blown. He shook hands with both his friends,
and stopped before the picture, looking nonplussed. In reality that
harum-scarum style of painting upset him, such was the even balance of
his nature, such his reverence as a steady student for the established
formulas of art; and it was only his feeling of friendship which, as
a rule, prevented him from criticising. But this time his whole being
revolted visibly.

‘Well, what’s the matter? Doesn’t it suit you?’ asked Sandoz, who was
watching him.

‘Yes, oh yes, it’s very well painted--but--’

‘Well, spit it out. What is it that ruffles you?’

‘Not much, only the gentleman is fully dressed, and the women are not.
People have never seen anything like that before.’

This sufficed to make both the others wild. Why, were there not a
hundred pictures in the Louvre composed in precisely the same way?
Hadn’t all Paris and all the painters and tourists of the world seen
them? And besides, if people had never seen anything like it, they would
see it now. After all, they didn’t care a fig for the public!

Not in the least disconcerted by these violent replies, Dubuche
repeated quietly: ‘The public won’t understand--the public will think it
indecorous--and so it is!’

‘You wretched bourgeois philistine!’ exclaimed Claude, exasperated.
‘They are making a famous idiot of you at the School of Arts. You
weren’t such a fool formerly.’

These were the current amenities of his two friends since Dubuche had
attended the School of Arts. He thereupon beat a retreat, rather afraid
of the turn the dispute was taking, and saved himself by belabouring the
painters of the School. Certainly his friends were right in one respect,
the School painters were real idiots. But as for the architects, that
was a different matter. Where was he to get his tuition, if not there?
Besides his tuition would not prevent him from having ideas of his own,
later on. Wherewith he assumed a very revolutionary air.

‘All right,’ said Sandoz, ‘the moment you apologise, let’s go and dine.’

But Claude had mechanically taken up a brush and set to work again.
Beside the gentleman in the velveteen jacket the figure of the recumbent
woman seemed to be fading away. Feverish and impatient, he traced a bold
outline round her so as to bring her forward.

‘Are you coming?’

‘In a minute; hang it, what’s the hurry? Just let me set this right, and
I’ll be with you.’

Sandoz shook his head and then remarked very quietly, lest he should
still further annoy him: ‘You do wrong to worry yourself like that, old
man. Yes, you are knocked up, and have had nothing to eat, and you’ll
only spoil your work, as you did the other day.’

But the painter waved him off with a peevish gesture. It was the old
story--he did not know when to leave off; he intoxicated himself with
work in his craving for an immediate result, in order to prove to
himself that he held his masterpiece at last. Doubts had just driven him
to despair in the midst of his delight at having terminated a successful
sitting. Had he done right, after all, in making the velveteen jacket
so prominent, and would he not afterwards fail to secure the brilliancy
which he wished the female figure to show? Rather than remain in
suspense he would have dropped down dead on the spot. Feverishly drawing
the sketch of Christine’s head from the portfolio where he had hidden
it, he compared it with the painting on the canvas, assisting himself,
as it were, by means of this document derived from life.

‘Hallo!’ exclaimed Dubuche, ‘where did you get that from? Who is it?’

Claude, startled by the questions, did not answer; then, without
reflecting, he who usually told them everything, brusquely lied,
prompted by a delicate impulse to keep silent respecting the adventure
of the night.

‘Tell us who it is?’ repeated the architect.

‘Nobody at all--a model.’

‘A model! a very young one, isn’t she? She looks very nice. I wish you
would give me her address. Not for myself, but for a sculptor I know
who’s on the look-out for a Psyche. Have you got the address there?’

Thereupon Dubuche turned to a corner of the greyish wall on which the
addresses of several models were written in chalk, haphazard. The
women particularly left their cards in that way, in awkward, childish
handwriting. Zoe Piedefer, 7 Rue Campagne-Premiere, a big brunette, who
was getting rather too stout, had scrawled her sign manual right across
the names of little Flore Beauchamp, 32 Rue de Laval, and Judith Vaquez,
69 Rue du Rocher, a Jewess, both of whom were too thin.

‘I say, have you got the address?’ resumed Dubuche.

Then Claude flew into a passion. ‘Don’t pester me! I don’t know and
don’t care. You’re a nuisance, worrying like that just when a fellow
wants to work.’

Sandoz had not said a word. Surprised at first, he had soon smiled. He
was gifted with more penetration than Dubuche, so he gave him a knowing
nod, and they then began to chaff. They begged Claude’s pardon; the
moment he wanted to keep the young person for his personal use, they
would not ask him to lend her. Ha! ha! the scamp went hunting about for
pretty models. And where had he picked up that one?

More and more embarrassed by these remarks, Claude went on fidgetting.
‘What a couple of idiots you are!’ he exclaimed, ‘If you only knew what
fools you are making of yourselves. That’ll do. You really make me sorry
for both of you.’

His voice sounded so stern that they both became silent immediately,
while he, after once more scratching out the woman’s head, drew it anew
and began to paint it in, following his sketch of Christine, but with a
feverish, unsteady touch which went at random.

‘Just give me another ten minutes, will you?’ he repeated. ‘I will rough
in the shoulders to be ready for to-morrow, and then we’ll go down.’

Sandoz and Dubuche, knowing that it was of no use to prevent him from
killing himself in this fashion, resigned themselves to the inevitable.
The latter lighted his pipe, and flung himself on the couch. He was the
only one of the three who smoked; the others had never taken kindly to
tobacco, always feeling qualmish after a cigar. And when Dubuche was
stretched on his back, his eyes turned towards the clouds of smoke he
raised, he began to talk about himself in an interminable monotonous
fashion. Ah! that confounded Paris, how one had to work one’s fingers
to the bone in order to get on. He recalled the fifteen months
of apprenticeship he had spent with his master, the celebrated
Dequersonniere, a former grand-prize man, now architect of the Civil
Branch of Public Works, an officer of the Legion of Honour and a member
of the Institute, whose chief architectural performance, the church of
St. Mathieu, was a cross between a pastry-cook’s mould and a clock in
the so-called First Empire style. A good sort of fellow, after all, was
this Dequersonniere whom Dubuche chaffed, while inwardly sharing
his reverence for the old classical formulas. However, but for his
fellow-pupils, the young man would not have learnt much at the studio in
the Rue du Four, for the master only paid a running visit to the place
some three times a week. A set of ferocious brutes, were those comrades
of his, who had made his life jolly hard in the beginning, but who, at
least, had taught him how to prepare a surface, outline, and wash in
a plan. And how often had he had to content himself with a cup of
chocolate and a roll for dejeuner in order to pay the necessary
five-and-twenty francs to the superintendent! And the sheets of paper he
had laboriously smudged, and the hours he had spent in poring over
books before he had dared to present himself at the School! And he had
narrowly escaped being plucked in spite of all his assiduous endeavours.
He lacked imagination, and the drawings he submitted, a caryatide and
a summer dining-room, both extremely mediocre performances, had classed
him at the bottom of the list. Fortunately, he had made up for this
in his oral examination with his logarithms, geometry, and history of
architecture, for he was very strong in the scientific parts. Now that
he was attending the School as a second-class student, he had to toil
and moil in order to secure a first-class diploma. It was a dog’s life,
there was no end to it, said he.

He stretched his legs apart, high upon the cushions, and smoked
vigorously and regularly.

‘What with their courses of perspective, of descriptive geometry, of
stereotomy, of building, and of the history of art--ah! upon my word,
they do make one blacken paper with notes. And every month there is a
competitive examination in architecture, sometimes a simple sketch,
at others a complete design. There’s no time for pleasure if a fellow
wishes to pass his examinations and secure the necessary honourable
mentions, especially if, besides all that, he has to find time to earn
his bread. As for myself, it’s almost killing me.’

One of the cushions having slipped upon the floor, he fished it up with
his feet. ‘All the same, I’m lucky. There are so many of us scouring
the town every day without getting the smallest job. The day before
yesterday I discovered an architect who works for a large contractor.
You can have no idea of such an ignoramus of an architect--a downright
numskull, incapable even of tracing a plan. He gives me twenty-five sous
an hour, and I set his houses straight for him. It came just in time,
too, for my mother sent me word that she was quite cleared out. Poor
mother, what a lot of money I have to refund her!’

As Dubuche was evidently talking to himself, chewing the cud of
his everyday thoughts--his constant thoughts of making a rapid
fortune--Sandoz did not even trouble to listen to him. He had opened the
little window, and seated himself on a level with the roof, for he felt
oppressed by the heat in the studio. But all at once he interrupted the
architect.

‘I say, are you coming to dinner on Thursday? All the other fellows will
be there--Fagerolles, Mahoudeau, Jory, Gagniere.’

Every Thursday, quite a band met at Sandoz’s: friends from Plassans and
others met in Paris--revolutionaries to a man, and all animated by the
same passionate love of art.

‘Next Thursday? No, I think not,’ answered Dubuche.

‘I am obliged to go to a dance at a family’s I know.’

‘Where you expect to get hold of a dowry, I suppose?’

‘Well, it wouldn’t be such a bad spec.’

He shook the ashes from his pipe on to his left palm, and then,
suddenly raising his voice--‘I almost forgot. I have had a letter from
Pouillaud.’

‘You, too!--well, I think he’s pretty well done for, Pouillaud. Another
good fellow gone wrong.’

‘Why gone wrong? He’ll succeed his father; he’ll spend his money quietly
down there. He writes rationally enough. I always said he’d show us a
thing or two, in spite of all his practical jokes. Ah! that beast of a
Pouillaud.’

Sandoz, furious, was about to reply, when a despairing oath from
Claude stopped him. The latter had not opened his lips since he had
so obstinately resumed his work. To all appearance he had not even
listened.

‘Curse it--I have failed again. Decidedly, I’m a brute, I shall never do
anything.’ And in a fit of mad rage he wanted to rush at his picture and
dash his fist through it. His friends had to hold him back. Why, it was
simply childish to get into such a passion. Would matters be improved
when, to his mortal regret, he had destroyed his work? Still shaking,
he relapsed into silence, and stared at the canvas with an ardent fixed
gaze that blazed with all the horrible agony born of his powerlessness.
He could no longer produce anything clear or life-like; the woman’s
breast was growing pasty with heavy colouring; that flesh which, in his
fancy, ought to have glowed, was simply becoming grimy; he could not
even succeed in getting a correct focus. What on earth was the matter
with his brain that he heard it bursting asunder, as it were, amidst his
vain efforts? Was he losing his sight that he was no longer able to see
correctly? Were his hands no longer his own that they refused to obey
him? And thus he went on winding himself up, irritated by the strange
hereditary lesion which sometimes so greatly assisted his creative
powers, but at others reduced him to a state of sterile despair, such as
to make him forget the first elements of drawing. Ah, to feel giddy with
vertiginous nausea, and yet to remain there full of a furious passion
to create, when the power to do so fled with everything else, when
everything seemed to founder around him--the pride of work, the
dreamt-of glory, the whole of his existence!

‘Look here, old boy,’ said Sandoz at last, ‘we don’t want to worry you,
but it’s half-past six, and we are starving. Be reasonable, and come
down with us.’

Claude was cleaning a corner of his palette. Then he emptied some more
tubes on it, and, in a voice like thunder, replied with one single word,
‘No.’

For the next ten minutes nobody spoke; the painter, beside himself,
wrestled with his picture, whilst his friends remained anxious at this
attack, which they did not know how to allay. Then, as there came a
knock at the door, the architect went to open it.

‘Hallo, it’s Papa Malgras.’

Malgras, the picture-dealer, was a thick-set individual, with
close-cropped, brush-like, white hair, and a red splotchy face. He
was wrapped in a very dirty old green coat, that made him look like an
untidy cabman. In a husky voice, he exclaimed: ‘I happened to pass along
the quay, on the other side of the way, and I saw that gentleman at the
window. So I came up.’

Claude’s continued silence made him pause. The painter had turned to his
picture again with an impatient gesture. Not that this silence in any
way embarrassed the new comer, who, standing erect on his sturdy legs
and feeling quite at home, carefully examined the new picture with his
bloodshot eyes. Without any ceremony, he passed judgment upon it in one
phrase--half ironic, half affectionate: ‘Well, well, there’s a machine.’

Then, seeing that nobody said anything, he began to stroll round the
studio, looking at the paintings on the walls.

Papa Malgras, beneath his thick layer of grease and grime, was really
a very cute customer, with taste and scent for good painting. He never
wasted his time or lost his way among mere daubers; he went straight, as
if from instinct, to individualists, whose talent was contested still,
but whose future fame his flaming, drunkard’s nose sniffed from afar.
Added to this he was a ferocious hand at bargaining, and displayed
all the cunning of a savage in his efforts to secure, for a song, the
pictures that he coveted. True, he himself was satisfied with very
honest profits, twenty per cent., thirty at the most. He based his
calculations on quickly turning over his small capital, never purchasing
in the morning without knowing where to dispose of his purchase at
night. As a superb liar, moreover, he had no equal.

Pausing near the door, before the studies from the nude, painted at the
Boutin studio, he contemplated them in silence for a few moments, his
eyes glistening the while with the enjoyment of a connoisseur, which his
heavy eyelids tried to hide. Assuredly, he thought, there was a great
deal of talent and sentiment of life about that big crazy fellow Claude,
who wasted his time in painting huge stretches of canvas which no one
would buy. The girl’s pretty legs, the admirably painted woman’s trunk,
filled the dealer with delight. But there was no sale for that kind of
stuff, and he had already made his choice--a tiny sketch, a nook of the
country round Plassans, at once delicate and violent--which he pretended
not to notice. At last he drew near, and said, in an off-hand way:

‘What’s this? Ah! yes, I know, one of the things you brought back with
you from the South. It’s too crude. I still have the two I bought of
you.’

And he went on in mellow, long-winded phrases. ‘You’ll perhaps not
believe me, Monsieur Lantier, but that sort of thing doesn’t sell at
all--not at all. I’ve a set of rooms full of them. I’m always afraid of
smashing something when I turn round. I can’t go on like that, honour
bright; I shall have to go into liquidation, and I shall end my days in
the hospital. You know me, eh? my heart is bigger than my pocket, and
there’s nothing I like better than to oblige young men of talent like
yourself. Oh, for the matter of that, you’ve got talent, and I keep on
telling them so--nay, shouting it to them--but what’s the good? They
won’t nibble, they won’t nibble!’

He was trying the emotional dodge; then, with the spirit of a man about
to do something rash: ‘Well, it sha’n’t be said that I came in to waste
your time. What do you want for that rough sketch?’

Claude, still irritated, was painting nervously. He dryly answered,
without even turning his head: ‘Twenty francs.’

‘Nonsense; twenty francs! you must be mad. You sold me the others
ten francs a-piece--and to-day I won’t give a copper more than eight
francs.’

As a rule the painter closed with him at once, ashamed and humbled at
this miserable chaffering, glad also to get a little money now and
then. But this time he was obstinate, and took to insulting the
picture-dealer, who, giving tit for tat, all at once dropped the formal
‘you’ to assume the glib ‘thou,’ denied his talent, overwhelmed him with
invective, and taxed him with ingratitude. Meanwhile, however, he had
taken from his pocket three successive five-franc pieces, which, as
if playing at chuck-farthing, he flung from a distance upon the table,
where they rattled among the crockery.

‘One, two, three--not one more, dost hear? for there is already one too
many, and I’ll take care to get it back; I’ll deduct it from something
else of thine, as I live. Fifteen francs for that! Thou art wrong, my
lad, and thou’lt be sorry for this dirty trick.’

Quite exhausted, Claude let him take down the little canvas, which
disappeared as if by magic in his capacious green coat. Had it dropped
into a special pocket, or was it reposing on Papa Malgras’ ample chest?
Not the slightest protuberance indicated its whereabouts.

Having accomplished his stroke of business, Papa Malgras abruptly calmed
down and went towards the door. But he suddenly changed his mind and
came back. ‘Just listen, Lantier,’ he said, in the honeyest of tones; ‘I
want a lobster painted. You really owe me that much after fleecing me.
I’ll bring you the lobster, you’ll paint me a bit of still life from
it, and keep it for your pains. You can eat it with your friends. It’s
settled, isn’t it?’

At this proposal Sandoz and Dubuche, who had hitherto listened
inquisitively, burst into such loud laughter that the picture-dealer
himself became gay. Those confounded painters, they did themselves no
good, they simply starved. What would have become of the lazy beggars if
he, Papa Malgras, hadn’t brought a leg of mutton now and then, or a nice
fresh plaice, or a lobster, with its garnish of parsley?

‘You’ll paint me my lobster, eh, Lantier? Much obliged.’ And he
stationed himself anew before the large canvas, with his wonted smile
of mingled derision and admiration. And at last he went off, repeating,
‘Well, well, there’s a machine.’

Claude wanted to take up his palette and brushes once more. But his legs
refused their service; his arms fell to his side, stiff, as if pinioned
there by some occult force. In the intense melancholy silence that had
followed the din of the dispute he staggered, distracted, bereft of
sight before his shapeless work.

‘I’m done for, I’m done for,’ he gasped. ‘That brute has finished me
off!’

The clock had just struck seven; he had been at work for eight mortal
hours without tasting anything but a crust of bread, without taking a
moment’s rest, ever on his legs, shaken by feverish excitement. And now
the sun was setting, shadows began to darken the studio, which in the
gloaming assumed a most melancholy aspect. When the light went down like
this on the crisis of a bad day’s work, it seemed to Claude as if the
sun would never rise again, but had for ever carried life and all the
jubilant gaiety of colour away.

‘Come,’ implored Sandoz, with all the gentleness of brotherly
compassion. ‘Come, there’s a good fellow.’

Even Dubuche added, ‘You’ll see more clearly into it to-morrow. Come and
dine.’

For a moment Claude refused to surrender. He stood rooted to the spot,
deaf to their friendly voices, and fiercely obstinate.

What did he want to do then, since his tired fingers were no longer able
to grasp the brush? He did not know, but, however powerless he might be,
he was gnawed by a mad craving to go on working still and to create
in spite of everything. Even if he did nothing, he would at least stay
there, he would not vacate the spot. All at once, however, he made up
his mind, shaken the while as by a big sob. He clutched firmly hold
of his broadest palette-knife, and, with one deep, slow sweep, he
obliterated the woman’s head and bosom. It was veritable murder, a
pounding away of human flesh; the whole disappeared in a murky, muddy
mash. By the side of the gentleman in the dark jacket, amidst the
bright verdure, where the two little wrestlers so lightly tinted were
disporting themselves, there remained naught of the nude, headless,
breastless woman but a mutilated trunk, a vague cadaverous stump, an
indistinct, lifeless patch of visionary flesh.

Sandoz and Dubuche were already descending the stairs with a great
clatter, and Claude followed them, fleeing his work, in agony at having
to leave it thus scarred with a gaping gash.



III

THE beginning of the week proved disastrous to Claude. He had relapsed
into one of those periods of self-doubt that made him hate painting,
with the hatred of a lover betrayed, who overwhelms the faithless one
with insults although tortured by an uncontrollable desire to worship
her yet again. So on the Thursday, after three frightful days of
fruitless and solitary battling, he left home as early as eight in
the morning, banging his door violently, and feeling so disgusted with
himself that he swore he would never take up a brush again. When he was
unhinged by one of these attacks there was but one remedy, he had to
forget himself, and, to do so, it was needful that he should look up
some comrades with whom to quarrel, and, above all, walk about and
trudge across Paris, until the heat and odour of battle rising from her
paving-stones put heart into him again.

That day, like every other Thursday, he was to dine at Sandoz’s, in
company with their friends. But what was he to do until the evening? The
idea of remaining by himself, of eating his heart out, disgusted him.
He would have gone straight to his friend, only he knew that the latter
must be at his office. Then the thought of Dubuche occurred to him, but
he hesitated, for their old friendship had lately been cooling down.
He felt that the fraternity of the earlier times of effort no longer
existed between them. He guessed that Dubuche lacked intelligence, had
become covertly hostile, and was occupied with ambitions different from
his own. However, he, Claude, must go somewhere. So he made up his mind,
and repaired to the Rue Jacob, where the architect rented a small room
on the sixth floor of a big frigid-looking house.

Claude was already on the landing of the second floor, when the
doorkeeper, calling him back, snappishly told him that M. Dubuche was
not at home, and had, in fact, stayed out all night. The young man
slowly descended the stairs and found himself in the street, stupefied,
as it were, by so prodigious an event as an escapade on the part of
Dubuche. It was a piece of inconceivable bad luck. For a moment he
strolled along aimlessly; but, as he paused at the corner of the Rue
de Seine, not knowing which way to go, he suddenly recollected what his
friend had told him about a certain night spent at the Dequersonniere
studio--a night of terrible hard work, the eve of the day on which the
pupils’ designs had to be deposited at the School of Arts. At once he
walked towards the Rue du Four, where the studio was situated. Hitherto
he had carefully abstained from calling there for Dubuche, from fear of
the yells with which outsiders were greeted. But now he made straight
for the place without flinching, his timidity disappearing so thoroughly
before the anguish of loneliness that he felt ready to undergo any
amount of insult could he but secure a companion in misfortune.

The studio was situated in the narrowest part of the Rue du Four, at
the far end of a decrepit, tumble-down building. Claude had to cross two
evil-smelling courtyards to reach a third, across which ran a sort of
big closed shed, a huge out-house of board and plaster work, which had
once served as a packing-case maker’s workshop. From outside, through
the four large windows, whose panes were daubed with a coating of white
lead, nothing could be seen but the bare whitewashed ceiling.

Having pushed the door open, Claude remained motionless on the
threshold. The place stretched out before him, with its four long tables
ranged lengthwise to the windows--broad double tables they were, which
had swarms of students on either side, and were littered with moist
sponges, paint saucers, iron candlesticks, water bowls, and wooden
boxes, in which each pupil kept his white linen blouse, his compasses,
and colours. In one corner, the stove, neglected since the previous
winter, stood rusting by the side of a pile of coke that had not been
swept away; while at the other end a large iron cistern with a tap was
suspended between two towels. And amidst the bare untidiness of this
shed, the eye was especially attracted by the walls which, above,
displayed a litter of plaster casts ranged in haphazard fashion on
shelves, and disappeared lower down behind forests of T-squares and
bevels, and piles of drawing boards, tied together with webbing straps.
Bit by bit, such parts of the partitions as had remained unoccupied
had become covered with inscriptions and drawings, a constantly rising
flotsam and jetsam of scrawls traced there as on the margin of an
ever-open book. There were caricatures of the students themselves,
coarse witticisms fit to make a gendarme turn pale, epigrammatic
sentences, addition sums, addresses, and so forth; while, above all
else, written in big letters, and occupying the most prominent place,
appeared this inscription: ‘On the 7th of June, Gorfu declared that he
didn’t care a hang for Rome.--Signed, Godemard.’*

  * The allusion is to the French Art School at Rome, and the
    competitions into which students enter to obtain admission
    to it, or to secure the prizes offered for the best exhibits
    which, during their term of residence, they send to Paris.--ED.

Claude was greeted with a growl like that of wild beasts disturbed in
their lair. What kept him motionless was the strange aspect of this
place on the morning of the ‘truck night,’ as the embryo architects
termed the crucial night of labour. Since the previous evening, the
whole studio, some sixty pupils, had been shut up there; those who had
no designs to exhibit--‘the niggers,’ as they were called remaining to
help the others, the competitors who, being behind time, had to knock
off the work of a week in a dozen hours. Already, at midnight, they had
stuffed themselves with brawn, saveloys, and similar viands, washed down
with cheap wine. Towards one o’clock they had secured the company of
some ‘ladies’; and, without the work abating, the feast had turned into
a Roman orgy, blended with a smoking competition. On the damp, stained
floor there remained a great litter of greasy paper and broken bottles;
while the atmosphere reeked of burnt tallow, musk, highly seasoned
sausages, and cheap bluish wine.

And now many voices savagely yelled: ‘Turn him out. Oh, that mug! What
does he want, that guy? Turn him out, turn him out.’

For a moment Claude, quite dazed, staggered beneath the violence of the
onslaught. But the epithets became viler, for the acme of elegance,
even for the more refined among these young fellows, was to rival
one’s friends in beastly language. He was, nevertheless, recovering
and beginning to answer, when Dubuche recognised him. The latter turned
crimson, for he detested that kind of adventure. He felt ashamed of
his friend, and rushed towards him, amidst the jeers, which were now
levelled at himself:

‘What, is it you?’ he gasped. ‘I told you never to come in. Just wait
for me a minute in the yard.’

At that moment, Claude, who was stepping back, narrowly escaped being
knocked down by a little hand-truck which two big full-bearded fellows
brought up at a gallop. It was from this truck that the night of heavy
toil derived its name: and for the last week the students who had got
behindhand with their work, through taking up petty paid jobs outside,
had been repeating the cry, ‘Oh! I’m in the truck and no mistake.’ The
moment the vehicle appeared, a clamour arose. It was a quarter to nine
o’clock, there was barely time to reach the School of Arts. However,
a helter-skelter rush emptied the studio; each brought out his chases,
amidst a general jostling; those who obstinately wished to give their
designs a last finishing touch were knocked about and carried away with
their comrades. In less than five minutes every frame was piled upon
the truck, and the two bearded fellows, the most recent additions to the
studio, harnessed themselves to it like cattle and drew it along with
all their strength, the others vociferating, and pushing from behind. It
was like the rush of a sluice; the three courtyards were crossed amidst
a torrential crash, and the street was invaded, flooded by the howling
throng.

Claude, nevertheless, had set up running by the side of Dubuche, who
came at the fag-end, very vexed at not having had another quarter of an
hour to finish a tinted drawing more carefully.

‘What are you going to do afterwards?’ asked Claude.

‘Oh! I’ve errands which will take up my whole day.’

The painter was grieved to see that even this friend escaped him. ‘All
right, then,’ said he; ‘in that case I leave you. Shall we see you at
Sandoz’s to-night?’

‘Yes, I think so; unless I’m kept to dinner elsewhere.’

Both were getting out of breath. The band of embryo architects, without
slackening their pace, had purposely taken the longest way round for the
pleasure of prolonging their uproar. After rushing down the Rue du Four,
they dashed across the Place Gozlin and swept into the Rue de l’Echaude.
Heading the procession was the truck, drawn and pushed along more and
more vigorously, and constantly rebounding over the rough paving-stones,
amid the jolting of the frames with which it was laden. Its escort
galloped along madly, compelling the passers-by to draw back close to
the houses in order to save themselves from being knocked down; while
the shop-keepers, standing open-mouthed on their doorsteps, believed
in a revolution. The whole neighbourhood seemed topsy-turvy. In the
Rue Jacob, such was the rush, so frightful were the yells, that several
house shutters were hastily closed. As the Rue Bonaparte was, at last,
being reached, one tall, fair fellow thought it a good joke to catch
hold of a little servant girl who stood bewildered on the pavement, and
drag her along with them, like a wisp of straw caught in a torrent.

‘Well,’ said Claude, ‘good-bye, then; I’ll see you to-night.’

‘Yes, to-night.’

The painter, out of breath, had stopped at the corner of the Rue des
Beaux Arts. The court gates of the Art School stood wide open in front
of him, and the procession plunged into the yard.

After drawing breath, Claude retraced his steps to the Rue de Seine. His
bad luck was increasing; it seemed ordained that he should not be able
to beguile a chum from work that morning. So he went up the street, and
slowly walked on as far as the Place du Pantheon, without any definite
aim. Then it occurred to him that he might just look into the Municipal
Offices, if only to shake hands with Sandoz. That would, at any rate,
mean ten minutes well spent. But he positively gasped when he was told
by an attendant that M. Sandoz had asked for a day off to attend a
funeral. However, he knew the trick of old. His friend always found the
same pretext whenever he wanted to do a good day’s work at home. He had
already made up his mind to join him there, when a feeling of artistic
brotherliness, the scruple of an honest worker, made him pause; yes, it
would be a crime to go and disturb that good fellow, and infect him with
the discouragement born of a difficult task, at the very moment when he
was, no doubt, manfully accomplishing his own work.

So Claude had to resign himself to his fate. He dragged his black
melancholy along the quays until mid-day, his head so heavy, so full
of thoughts of his lack of power, that he only espied the well-loved
horizons of the Seine through a mist. Then he found himself once more
in the Rue de la Femme-sans-Tete, where he breakfasted at Gomard’s wine
shop, whose sign ‘The Dog of Montargis,’ inspired him with interest.
Some stonemasons, in their working blouses, bespattered with mortar,
were there at table, and, like them, and with them, he ate his eight
sous’ ‘ordinary’--some beef broth in a bowl, in which he soaked some
bread, followed by a slice of boiled soup-beef, garnished with haricot
beans, and served up on a plate damp with dish-water. However, it
was still too good, he thought, for a brute unable to earn his bread.
Whenever his work miscarried, he undervalued himself, ranked himself
lower than a common labourer, whose sinewy arms could at least perform
their appointed task. For an hour he lingered in the tavern brutifying
himself by listening to the conversation at the tables around him. Once
outside he slowly resumed his walk in haphazard fashion.

When he got to the Place de l’Hotel de Ville, however, a fresh idea made
him quicken his pace. Why had he not thought of Fagerolles? Fagerolles
was a nice fellow, gay, and by no means a fool, although he studied at
the School of Arts. One could talk with him, even when he defended
bad painting. If he had lunched at his father’s, in the Rue
Vieille-du-Temple, he must certainly still be there.

On entering the narrow street, Claude felt a sensation of refreshing
coolness come over him. In the sun it had grown very warm, and moisture
rose from the pavement, which, however bright the sky, remained damp and
greasy beneath the constant tramping of the pedestrians. Every minute,
when a push obliged Claude to leave the footwalk, he found himself in
danger of being knocked down by trucks or vans. Still the street amused
him, with its straggling houses out of line, their flat frontages
chequered with signboards up to the very eaves, and pierced with small
windows, whence came the hum of every kind of handiwork that can be
carried on at home. In one of the narrowest parts of the street a small
newspaper shop made him stop. It was betwixt a hairdresser’s and a
tripeseller’s, and had an outdoor display of idiotic prints, romantic
balderdash mixed with filthy caricatures fit for a barrack-room. In
front of these ‘pictures,’ a lank hobbledehoy stood lost in reverie,
while two young girls nudged each other and jeered. He felt inclined to
slap their faces, but he hurried across the road, for Fagerolles’ house
happened to be opposite. It was a dark old tenement, standing forward
from the others, and was bespattered like them with the mud from the
gutters. As an omnibus came up, Claude barely had time to jump upon the
foot pavement, there reduced to the proportions of a simple ledge; the
wheels brushed against his chest, and he was drenched to his knees.

M. Fagerolles, senior, a manufacturer of artistic zinc-work, had his
workshops on the ground floor of the building, and having converted two
large front rooms on the first floor into a warehouse, he personally
occupied a small, dark, cellar-like apartment overlooking the courtyard.
It was there that his son Henri had grown up, like a true specimen of
the flora of the Paris streets, at the edge of that narrow pavement
constantly struck by the omnibus wheels, always soddened by the gutter
water, and opposite the print and newspaper shop, flanked by the
barber’s and tripeseller’s. At first his father had made an ornamental
draughtsman of him for personal use. But when the lad had developed
higher ambition, taking to painting proper, and talking about the School
of Arts, there had been quarrels, blows, a series of separations and
reconciliations. Even now, although Henri had already achieved some
successes, the manufacturer of artistic zinc-work, while letting him
have his will, treated him harshly, like a lad who was spoiling his
career.

After shaking off the water, Claude went up the deep archway entrance,
to a courtyard, where the light was quite greenish, and where there was
a dank, musty smell, like that at the bottom of a tank. There was an
overhanging roofing of glass and iron at the foot of the staircase,
which was a wide one, with a wrought-iron railing, eaten with rust. As
the painter passed the warehouse on the first floor, he glanced through
a glass door and noticed M. Fagerolles examining some patterns. Wishing
to be polite, he entered, in spite of the artistic disgust he felt for
all that zinc, coloured to imitate bronze, and having all the repulsive
mendacious prettiness of spurious art.

‘Good morning, monsieur. Is Henri still at home?’

The manufacturer, a stout, sallow-looking man, drew himself straight
amidst all his nosegay vases and cruets and statuettes. He had in
his hand a new model of a thermometer, formed of a juggling girl who
crouched and balanced the glass tube on her nose.

‘Henri did not come in to lunch,’ he answered drily.

This cool reception upset Claude. ‘Ah! he did not come back; I beg
pardon for having disturbed you, then. Good-day, monsieur.’

‘Good-day.’

Once more outside, Claude began to swear to himself. His ill-luck was
complete, Fagerolles escaped him also. He even felt vexed with himself
for having gone there, and having taken an interest in that picturesque
old street; he was infuriated by the romantic gangrene that ever
sprouted afresh within him, do what he might. It was his malady,
perhaps, the false principle which he sometimes felt like a bar across
his skull. And when he had reached the quays again, he thought of going
home to see whether his picture was really so very bad. But the mere
idea made him tremble all over. His studio seemed a chamber of horrors,
where he could no more continue to live, as if, indeed, he had left the
corpse of some beloved being there. No, no; to climb the three flights
of stairs, to open the door, to shut himself up face to face with
‘that,’ would have needed strength beyond his courage. So he crossed
the Seine and went along the Rue St. Jacques. He felt too wretched and
lonely; and, come what might, he would go to the Rue d’Enfer to turn
Sandoz from his work.

Sandoz’s little fourth-floor flat consisted of a dining-room, a bedroom,
and a strip of kitchen. It was tenanted by himself alone; his mother,
disabled by paralysis, occupied on the other side of the landing a
single room, where she lived in morose and voluntary solitude. The
street was a deserted one; the windows of the rooms overlooked the
gardens of the Deaf and Dumb Asylum, above which rose the rounded crest
of a lofty tree, and the square tower of St. Jacques-du-Haut-Pas.

Claude found Sandoz in his room, bending over his table, busy with a
page of ‘copy.’

‘I am disturbing you?’ said Claude.

‘Not at all. I have been working ever since morning, and I’ve had enough
of it. I’ve been killing myself for the last hour over a sentence that
reads anyhow, and which has worried me all through my lunch.’

The painter made a gesture of despair, and the other, seeing him so
gloomy, at once understood matters.

‘You don’t get on either, eh? Well, let’s go out. A sharp walk will take
a little of the rust off us. Shall we go?’

As he was passing the kitchen, however, an old woman stopped him. It was
his charwoman, who, as a rule, came only for two hours in the morning
and two hours in the evening. On Thursdays, however, she remained the
whole afternoon in order to look after the dinner.

‘Then it’s decided, monsieur?’ she asked. ‘It’s to be a piece of skate
and a leg of mutton, with potatoes.’

‘Yes, if you like.’

‘For how many am I to lay the cloth?’

‘Oh! as for that, one never knows. Lay for five, at any rate; we’ll see
afterwards. Dinner at seven, eh? we’ll try to be home by then.’

When they were on the landing, Sandoz, leaving Claude to wait for
him, stole into his mother’s room. When he came out again, in the same
discreet affectionate manner, they both went downstairs in silence.
Outside, having sniffed to right and left, as if to see which way the
wind blew, they ended by going up the street, reached the Place de
l’Observatoire, and turned down the Boulevard du Montparnasse. This was
their ordinary promenade; they reached the spot instinctively, being
fond of the wide expanse of the outer boulevards, where they could roam
and lounge at ease. They continued silent, for their heads were heavy
still, but the comfort of being together gradually made them more
serene. Still it was only when they were opposite the Western Railway
Station that Sandoz spoke.

‘I say, suppose we go to Mahoudeau’s, to see how he’s getting on with
his big machine. I know that he has given “his gods and saints” the slip
to-day.’

‘All right,’ answered Claude. ‘Let’s go to Mahoudeau’s.’

They at once turned into the Rue du Cherche-Midi. There, at a few steps
from the boulevard, Mahoudeau, a sculptor, had rented the shop of a
fruiterer who had failed in business, and he had installed his studio
therein, contenting himself with covering the windows with a layer of
whitening. At this point, the street, wide and deserted, has a quiet,
provincial aspect, with a somewhat ecclesiastical touch. Large gateways
stand wide open showing a succession of deep roomy yards; from a
cowkeeper’s establishment comes a tepid, pungent smell of litter; and
the dead wall of a convent stretches away for a goodly length. It was
between this convent and a herbalist’s that the shop transformed into
a studio was situated. It still bore on its sign-board the inscription,
‘Fruit and Vegetables,’ in large yellow letters.

Claude and Sandoz narrowly missed being blinded by some little girls who
were skipping in the street. On the foot pavement sat several families
whose barricades of chairs compelled the friends to step down on to
the roadway. However, they were drawing nigh, when the sight of the
herbalist’s shop delayed them for a moment. Between its windows, decked
with enemas, bandages, and similar things, beneath the dried herbs
hanging above the doorway, whence came a constant aromatic smell, a
thin, dark woman stood taking stock of them, while, behind her, in
the gloom of the shop, one saw the vague silhouette of a little
sickly-looking man, who was coughing and expectorating. The friends
nudged each other, their eyes lighted up with bantering mirth; and then
they turned the handle of Mahoudeau’s door.

The shop, though tolerably roomy, was almost filled by a mass of clay:
a colossal Bacchante, falling back upon a rock. The wooden stays bent
beneath the weight of that almost shapeless pile, of which nothing but
some huge limbs could as yet be distinguished. Some water had been spilt
on the floor, several muddy buckets straggled here and there, while
a heap of moistened plaster was lying in a corner. On the shelves,
formerly occupied by fruit and vegetables, were scattered some casts
from the antique, covered with a tracery of cinder-like dust which had
gradually collected there. A wash-house kind of dampness, a stale
smell of moist clay, rose from the floor. And the wretchedness of this
sculptor’s studio and the dirt attendant upon the profession were made
still more conspicuous by the wan light that filtered through the shop
windows besmeared with whitening.

‘What! is it you?’ shouted Mahoudeau, who sat before his female figure,
smoking a pipe.

He was small and thin, with a bony face, already wrinkled at
twenty-seven. His black mane-like hair lay entangled over his very low
forehead, and his sallow mask, ugly almost to ferociousness, was lighted
up by a pair of childish eyes, bright and empty, which smiled with
winning simplicity. The son of a stonemason of Plassans, he had achieved
great success at the local art competitions, and had afterwards come to
Paris as the town laureate, with an allowance of eight hundred francs
per annum, for a period of four years. In the capital, however, he had
found himself at sea, defenceless, failing in his competitions at the
School of Arts, and spending his allowance to no purpose; so that, at
the end of his term, he had been obliged for a livelihood to enter the
employment of a dealer in church statues, at whose establishment,
for ten hours a day, he scraped away at St. Josephs, St. Rochs, Mary
Magdalens, and, in fact, all the saints of the calendar. For the last
six months, however, he had experienced a revival of ambition, on
finding himself once more among his comrades of Provence, the eldest of
whom he was--fellows whom he had known at Geraud’s boarding-school for
little boys, and who had since grown into savage revolutionaries. At
present, through his constant intercourse with impassioned artists, who
troubled his brain with all sorts of wild theories, his ambition aimed
at the gigantic.

‘The devil!’ said Claude, ‘there’s a lump.’

The sculptor, delighted, gave a long pull at his pipe, and blew a cloud
of smoke.

‘Eh, isn’t it? I am going to give them some flesh, and living flesh,
too; not the bladders of lard that they turn out.’

‘It’s a woman bathing, isn’t it?’ asked Sandoz.

‘No; I shall put some vine leaves around her head. A Bacchante, you
understand.’

At this Claude flew into a violent passion.

‘A Bacchante? Do you want to make fools of people? Does such a thing as
a Bacchante exist? A vintaging girl, eh? And quite modern, dash it all.
I know she’s nude, so let her be a peasant woman who has undressed.
And that must be properly conveyed, mind; people must realise that she
lives.’

Mahoudeau, taken aback, listened, trembling. He was afraid of Claude,
and bowed to his ideal of strength and truth. So he even improved upon
the painter’s idea.

‘Yes, yes, that’s what I meant to say--a vintaging girl. And you’ll see
whether there isn’t a real touch of woman about her.’

At that moment Sandoz, who had been making the tour of the huge block of
clay, exclaimed: ‘Why, here’s that sneak of a Chaine.’

Behind the pile, indeed, sat Chaine, a burly fellow who was quietly
painting away, copying the fireless rusty stove on a small canvas. It
could be told that he was a peasant by his heavy, deliberate manner and
his bull-neck, tanned and hardened like leather. His only noticeable
feature was his forehead, displaying all the bumps of obstinacy; for his
nose was so small as to be lost between his red cheeks, while a stiff
beard hid his powerful jaws. He came from Saint Firmin, a village about
six miles from Plassans, where he had been a cow-boy, until he drew for
the conscription; and his misfortunes dated from the enthusiasm that a
gentleman of the neighbourhood had shown for the walking-stick handles
which he carved out of roots with his knife. From that moment, having
become a rustic genius, an embryo great man for this local connoisseur,
who happened to be a member of the museum committee, he had been helped
by him, adulated and driven crazy with hopes; but he had successively
failed in everything--his studies and competitions--thus missing the
town’s purse. Nevertheless, he had started for Paris, after worrying his
father, a wretched peasant, into premature payment of his heritage, a
thousand francs, on which he reckoned to live for a twelvemonth while
awaiting the promised victory. The thousand francs had lasted eighteen
months. Then, as he had only twenty francs left, he had taken up his
quarters with his friend, Mahoudeau. They both slept in the same bed, in
the dark back shop; they both in turn cut slices from the same loaves
of bread--of which they bought sufficient for a fortnight at a time, so
that it might get very hard, and that they might thus be able to eat but
little of it.

‘I say, Chaine,’ continued Sandoz, ‘your stove is really very exact.’

Chaine, without answering, gave a chuckle of triumph which lighted up
his face like a sunbeam. By a crowning stroke of imbecility, and to
make his misfortunes perfect, his protector’s advice had thrown him into
painting, in spite of the real taste that he showed for wood carving.
And he painted like a whitewasher, mixing his colours as a hodman mixes
his mortar, and managing to make the clearest and brightest of them
quite muddy. His triumph consisted, however, in combining exactness
with awkwardness; he displayed all the naive minuteness of the primitive
painters; in fact, his mind, barely raised from the clods, delighted in
petty details. The stove, with its perspective all awry, was tame and
precise, and in colour as dingy as mire.

Claude approached and felt full of compassion at the sight of that
painting, and though he was as a rule so harsh towards bad painters, his
compassion prompted him to say a word of praise.

‘Ah! one can’t say that you are a trickster; you paint, at any rate, as
you feel. Very good, indeed.’

However, the door of the shop had opened, and a good-looking, fair
fellow, with a big pink nose, and large, blue, short-sighted eyes,
entered shouting:

‘I say, why does that herbalist woman next door always stand on her
doorstep? What an ugly mug she’s got!’

They all laughed, except Mahoudeau, who seemed very much embarrassed.

‘Jory, the King of Blunderers,’ declared Sandoz, shaking hands with the
new comer.

‘Why? What? Is Mahoudeau interested in her? I didn’t know,’ resumed
Jory, when he had at length grasped the situation. ‘Well, well, what
does it matter? When everything’s said, they are all irresistible.’

‘As for you,’ the sculptor rejoined, ‘I can see you have tumbled on your
lady-love’s finger-nails again. She has dug a bit out of your cheek!’

They all burst out laughing anew, while Jory, in his turn, reddened. In
fact, his face was scratched: there were even two deep gashes across it.
The son of a magistrate of Plassans, whom he had driven half-crazy by
his dissolute conduct, he had crowned everything by running away with
a music-hall singer under the pretext of going to Paris to follow the
literary profession. During the six months that they had been camping
together in a shady hotel of the Quartier Latin, the girl had almost
flayed him alive each time she caught him paying attention to anybody
else of her sex. And, as this often happened, he always had some fresh
scar to show--a bloody nose, a torn ear, or a damaged eye, swollen and
blackened.

At last they all began to talk, with the exception of Chaine, who went
on painting with the determined expression of an ox at the plough. Jory
had at once gone into ecstasies over the roughly indicated figure of
the vintaging girl. He worshipped a massive style of beauty. His first
writings in his native town had been some Parnassian sonnets celebrating
the copious charms of a handsome pork-butcheress. In Paris--where he
had fallen in with the whole band of Plassans--he had taken to art
criticism, and, for a livelihood, he wrote articles for twenty francs
apiece in a small, slashing paper called ‘The Drummer.’ Indeed, one
of these articles, a study on a picture by Claude exhibited at Papa
Malgras’s, had just caused a tremendous scandal; for Jory had therein
run down all the painters whom the public appreciated to extol his
friend, whom he set up as the leader of a new school, the school of the
‘open air.’ Very practical at heart, he did not care in reality a rap
about anything that did not conduce to his own pleasures; he simply
repeated the theories he heard enunciated by his friends. ‘I say,
Mahoudeau,’ he now exclaimed, ‘you shall have an article; I’ll launch
that woman of yours. What limbs, my boys! She’s magnificent!’

Then suddenly changing the conversation: ‘By the way,’ he said, ‘my
miserly father has apologised. He is afraid I shall drag his name
through the mud, so he sends me a hundred francs a month now. I am
paying my debts.’

‘Debts! you are too careful to have any,’ muttered Sandoz, with a smile.

In fact, Jory displayed a hereditary tightness of fist which much amused
his friends. He managed to lead a profligate life without money and
without incurring debts; and with the skill he thus displayed was
allied constant duplicity, a habit of incessantly lying, which he had
contracted in the devout sphere of his family, where his anxiety to
hide his vices had made him lie about everything at all hours, and even
without occasion. But he now gave a superb reply, the cry of a sage of
deep experience.

‘Oh, you fellows, you don’t know the worth of money!’

This time he was hooted. What a philistine! And the invectives
continued, when some light taps on one of the window-panes suddenly made
the din cease.

‘She is really becoming a nuisance,’ said Mahoudeau, with a gesture of
annoyance.

‘Eh? Who is it? The herbalist woman?’ asked Jory. ‘Let her come in; it
will be great fun.’

The door indeed had already been opened, and Mahoudeau’s neighbour,
Madame Jabouille, or Mathilde, as she was familiarly called, appeared
on the threshold. She was about thirty, with a flat face horribly
emaciated, and passionate eyes, the lids of which had a bluish tinge as
if they were bruised. It was said that some members of the clergy had
brought about her marriage with little Jabouille, at a time when the
latter’s business was still flourishing, thanks to the custom of all
the pious folk of the neighbourhood. The truth was, that one sometimes
espied black cassocks stealthily crossing that mysterious shop, where
all the aromatic herbs set a perfume of incense. A kind of cloistral
quietude pervaded the place; the devotees who came in spoke in low
voices, as if in a confessional, slipped their purchases into their bags
furtively, and went off with downcast eyes. Unfortunately, some very
horrid rumours had got abroad--slander invented by the wine-shop
keeper opposite, said pious folks. At any rate, since the widower had
re-married, the business had been going to the dogs. The glass jars
seemed to have lost all their brightness, and the dried herbs, suspended
from the ceiling, were tumbling to dust. Jabouille himself was coughing
his life out, reduced to a very skeleton. And although Mathilde
professed to be religious, the pious customers gradually deserted
her, being of opinion that she made herself too conspicuous with young
fellows of the neighbourhood now that Jabouille was almost eaten out of
house and home.

For a moment Mathilde remained motionless, blinking her eyes. A pungent
smell had spread through the shop, a smell of simples, which she brought
with her in her clothes and greasy, tumbled hair; the sickly sweetness
of mallow, the sharp odour of elderseed, the bitter effluvia of rhubarb,
but, above all, the hot whiff of peppermint, which seemed like her very
breath.

She made a gesture of feigned surprise. ‘Oh, dear me! you have
company--I did not know; I’ll drop in again.’

‘Yes, do,’ said Mahoudeau, looking very vexed. ‘Besides, I am going out;
you can give me a sitting on Sunday.’

At this Claude, stupefied, fairly stared at the emaciated Mathilde, and
then at the huge vintaging woman.

‘What?’ he cried, ‘is it madame who poses for that figure? The dickens,
you exaggerate!’

Then the laughter began again, while the sculptor stammered his
explanations. ‘Oh! she only poses for the head and the hands, and merely
just to give me a few indications.’

Mathilde, however, laughed with the others, with a sharp, brazen-faced
laughter, showing the while the gaping holes in her mouth, where several
teeth were wanting.

‘Yes,’ resumed Mahoudeau. ‘I have to go out on some business now. Isn’t
it so, you fellows, we are expected over yonder?’

He had winked at his friends, feeling eager for a good lounge. They all
answered that they were expected, and helped him to cover the figure of
the vintaging girl with some strips of old linen which were soaking in a
pail of water.

However, Mathilde, looking submissive but sad, did not stir. She merely
shifted from one place to another, when they pushed against her, while
Chaine, who was no longer painting, glanced at her over his picture. So
far, he had not opened his lips. But as Mahoudeau at last went off with
his three friends, he made up his mind to ask, in his husky voice:

‘Shall you come home to-night?’

‘Very late. Have your dinner and go to bed. Good-bye.’

Then Chaine remained alone with Mathilde in the damp shop, amidst the
heaps of clay and the puddles of water, while the chalky light from the
whitened windows glared crudely over all the wretched untidiness.

Meantime the four others, Claude and Mahoudeau, Jory and Sandoz,
strolled along, seeming to take up the whole width of the Boulevard des
Invalides. It was the usual thing, the band was gradually increased by
the accession of comrades picked up on the way, and then came the wild
march of a horde upon the war-path. With the bold assurance of their
twenty summers, these young fellows took possession of the foot
pavement. The moment they were together trumpets seemed to sound in
advance of them; they seized upon Paris and quietly dropped it into
their pockets. There was no longer the slightest doubt about their
victory; they freely displayed their threadbare coats and old shoes,
like destined conquerors of to-morrow who disdained bagatelles, and
had only to take the trouble to become the masters of all the luxury
surrounding them. And all this was attended by huge contempt for
everything that was not art--contempt for fortune, contempt for the
world at large, and, above all, contempt for politics. What was the good
of all such rubbish? Only a lot of incapables meddled with it. A warped
view of things, magnificent in its very injustice, exalted them; an
intentional ignorance of the necessities of social life, the crazy dream
of having none but artists upon earth. They seemed very stupid at times,
but, all the same, their passion made them strong and brave.

Claude became excited. Faith in himself revived amidst the glow of
common hopes. His worry of the morning had only left a vague numbness
behind, and he now once more began to discuss his picture with Sandoz
and Mahoudeau, swearing, it is true, that he would destroy it the next
day. Jory, who was very short-sighted, stared at all the elderly ladies
he met, and aired his theories on artistic work. A man ought to give his
full measure at once in the first spurt of inspiration; as for himself,
he never corrected anything. And, still discussing, the four friends
went on down the boulevard, which, with its comparative solitude, and
its endless rows of fine trees, seemed to have been expressly designed
as an arena for their disputations. When they reached the Esplanade,
the wrangling became so violent that they stopped in the middle of that
large open space. Beside himself, Claude called Jory a numskull; was it
not better to destroy one’s work than to launch a mediocre performance
upon the world? Truckling to trade was really disgusting. Mahoudeau
and Sandoz, on their side, shouted both together at the same time. Some
passers-by, feeling uneasy, turned round to look, and at last gathered
round these furious young fellows, who seemed bent on swallowing each
other. But they went off vexed, thinking that some practical joke had
been played upon them, when they suddenly saw the quartette, all good
friends again, go into raptures over a wet-nurse, dressed in light
colours, with long cherry-tinted ribbons streaming from her cap. There,
now! That was something like--what a tint, what a bright note it set
amid the surroundings! Delighted, blinking their eyes, they followed the
nurse under the trees, and then suddenly seemed roused and astonished
to find they had already come so far. The Esplanade, open on all
sides, save on the south, where rose the distant pile of the Hotel des
Invalides, delighted them--it was so vast, so quiet; they there had
plenty of room for their gestures; and they recovered breath there,
although they were always declaring that Paris was far too small for
them, and lacked sufficient air to inflate their ambitious lungs.

‘Are you going anywhere particular?’ asked Sandoz of Mahoudeau and Jory.

‘No,’ answered the latter, ‘we are going with you. Where are _you_
going?’

Claude, gazing carelessly about him, muttered: ‘I don’t know. That way,
if you like.’

They turned on to the Quai d’Orsay, and went as far as the Pont de la
Concorde. In front of the Corps Legislatif the painter remarked, with an
air of disgust: ‘What a hideous pile!’

‘Jules Favre made a fine speech the other day. How he did rile Rouher,’
said Jory.

However, the others left him no time to proceed, the disputes began
afresh. ‘Who was Jules Favre? Who was Rouher? Did they exist? A parcel
of idiots whom no one would remember ten years after their death.’ The
young men had now begun to cross the bridge, and they shrugged their
shoulders with compassion. Then, on reaching the Place de la Concorde,
they stopped short and relapsed into silence.

‘Well,’ opined Claude at last, ‘this isn’t bad, by any means.’

It was four o’clock, and the day was waning amidst a glorious powdery
shimmer. To the right and left, towards the Madeleine and towards the
Corps Legislatif, lines of buildings stretched away, showing against
the sky, while in the Tuileries Gardens rose gradients of lofty rounded
chestnut trees. And between the verdant borders of the pleasure walks,
the avenue of the Champs Elysees sloped upward as far as the eye could
reach, topped by the colossal Arc de Triomphe, agape in front of the
infinite. A double current, a twofold stream rolled along--horses
showing like living eddies, vehicles like retreating waves, which the
reflections of a panel or the sudden sparkle of the glass of a carriage
lamp seemed to tip with white foam. Lower down, the square--with its
vast footways, its roads as broad as lakes--was filled with a constant
ebb and flow, crossed in every direction by whirling wheels, and peopled
with black specks of men, while the two fountains plashed and streamed,
exhaling delicious coolness amid all the ardent life.

Claude, quivering with excitement, kept saying: ‘Ah! Paris! It’s ours.
We have only to take it.’

They all grew excited, their eyes opened wide with desire. Was it not
glory herself that swept from the summit of that avenue over the whole
capital? Paris was there, and they longed to make her theirs.

‘Well, we’ll take her one day,’ said Sandoz, with his obstinate air.

‘To be sure we shall,’ said Mahoudeau and Jory in the simplest manner.

They had resumed walking; they still roamed about, found themselves
behind the Madeleine, and went up the Rue Tronchet. At last, as they
reached the Place du Havre, Sandoz exclaimed, ‘So we are going to
Baudequin’s, eh?’

The others looked as if they had dropped from the sky; in fact, it did
seem as if they were going to Baudequin’s.

‘What day of the week is it?’ asked Claude. ‘Thursday, eh? Then
Fagerolles and Gagniere are sure to be there. Let’s go to Baudequin’s.’

And thereupon they went up the Rue d’Amsterdam. They had just crossed
Paris, one of their favourite rambles, but they took other routes at
times--from one end of the quays to the other; or from the Porte St.
Jacques to the Moulineaux, or else to Pere-la-Chaise, followed by a
roundabout return along the outer boulevards. They roamed the streets,
the open spaces, the crossways; they rambled on for whole days, as long
as their legs would carry them, as if intent on conquering one
district after another by hurling their revolutionary theories at the
house-fronts; and the pavement seemed to be their property--all the
pavement touched by their feet, all that old battleground whence arose
intoxicating fumes which made them forget their lassitude.

The Cafe Baudequin was situated on the Boulevard des Batignolles, at
the corner of the Rue Darcet. Without the least why or wherefore, it had
been selected by the band as their meeting-place, though Gagniere alone
lived in the neighbourhood. They met there regularly on Sunday nights;
and on Thursday afternoons, at about five o’clock, those who were then
at liberty had made it a habit to look in for a moment. That day, as the
weather was fine and bright, the little tables outside under the awning
were occupied by rows of customers, obstructing the footway. But the
band hated all elbowing and public exhibition, so they jostled the other
people in order to go inside, where all was deserted and cool.

‘Hallo, there’s Fagerolles by himself,’ exclaimed Claude.

He had gone straight to their usual table at the end of the cafe, on
the left, where he shook hands with a pale, thin, young man, whose pert
girlish face was lighted up by a pair of winning, satirical grey eyes,
which at times flashed like steel. They all sat down and ordered beer,
after which the painter resumed:

‘Do you know that I went to look for you at your father’s; and a nice
reception he gave me.’

Fagerolles, who affected a low devil-may-care style, slapped his thighs.
‘Oh, the old fellow plagues me! I hooked it this morning, after a row.
He wants me to draw some things for his beastly zinc stuff. As if I
hadn’t enough zinc stuff at the Art School.’

This slap at the professors delighted the young man’s friends. He amused
them and made himself their idol by dint of alternate flattery and
blame. His smile went from one to the other, while, by the aid of a few
drops of beer spilt on the table, his long nimble fingers began tracing
complicated sketches. His art evidently came very easily to him; it
seemed as if he could do anything with a turn of the hand.

‘And Gagniere?’ asked Mahoudeau; ‘haven’t you seen him?’

‘No; I have been here for the last hour.’

Just then Jory, who had remained silent, nudged Sandoz, and directed his
attention to a girl seated with a gentleman at a table at the back of
the room. There were only two other customers present, two sergeants,
who were playing cards. The girl was almost a child, one of those young
Parisian hussies who are as lank as ever at eighteen. She suggested a
frizzy poodle--with the shower of fair little locks that fell over
her dainty little nose, and her large smiling mouth, set between rosy
cheeks. She was turning over the leaves of an illustrated paper, while
the gentleman accompanying her gravely sipped a glass of Madeira;
but every other minute she darted gay glances from over the newspaper
towards the band of artists.

‘Pretty, isn’t she?’ whispered Jory. ‘Who is she staring at? Why, she’s
looking at me.’

But Fagerolles suddenly broke in: ‘I say, no nonsense. Don’t imagine
that I have been here for the last hour merely waiting for you.’

The others laughed; and lowering his voice he told them about the girl,
who was named Irma Becot. She was the daughter of a grocer in the Rue
Montorgueil, and had been to school in the neighbourhood till she
was sixteen, writing her exercises between two bags of lentils, and
finishing off her education on her father’s doorstep, lolling about on
the pavement, amidst the jostling of the throng, and learning all about
life from the everlasting tittle-tattle of the cooks, who retailed all
the scandal of the neighbourhood while waiting for five sous’ worth of
Gruyere cheese to be served them. Her mother having died, her father
himself had begun to lead rather a gay life, in such wise that the
whole of the grocery stores--tea, coffee, dried vegetables, and jars and
drawers of sweetstuff--were gradually devoured. Irma was still going to
school, when, one day, the place was sold up. Her father died of a fit
of apoplexy, and Irma sought refuge with a poor aunt, who gave her more
kicks than halfpence, with the result that she ended by running away,
and taking her flight through all the dancing-places of Montmartre and
Batignolles.

Claude listened to the story with his usual air of contempt for women.
Suddenly, however, as the gentleman rose and went out after whispering
in her ear, Irma Becot, after watching him disappear, bounded from
her seat with the impulsiveness of a school girl, in order to join
Fagerolles, beside whom she made herself quite at home, giving him a
smacking kiss, and drinking out of his glass. And she smiled at the
others in a very engaging manner, for she was partial to artists,
and regretted that they were generally so miserably poor. As Jory was
smoking, she took his cigarette out of his mouth and set it in her own,
but without pausing in her chatter, which suggested that of a saucy
magpie.

‘You are all painters, aren’t you? How amusing! But why do those three
look as if they were sulking. Just laugh a bit, or I shall make you,
you’ll see!’

As a matter of fact, Sandoz, Claude, and Mahoudeau, quite taken aback,
were watching her most gravely. She herself remained listening, and,
on hearing her companion come back, she hastily gave Fagerolles an
appointment for the morrow. Then, after replacing the cigarette between
Jory’s lips, she strode off with her arms raised, and making a very
comical grimace; in such wise that when the gentleman reappeared,
looking sedate and somewhat pale, he found her in her former seat, still
looking at the same engraving in the newspaper. The whole scene had been
acted so quickly, and with such jaunty drollery, that the two sergeants
who sat nearby, good-natured fellows both of them, almost died of
laughter as they shuffled their cards afresh.

In fact, Irma had taken them all by storm. Sandoz declared that her
name of Becot was very well suited for a novel; Claude asked whether she
would consent to pose for a sketch; while Mahoudeau already pictured her
as a Paris gamin, a statuette that would be sure to sell. She soon went
off, however, and behind the gentleman’s back she wafted kisses to the
whole party, a shower of kisses which quite upset the impressionable
Jory.

It was five o’clock, and the band ordered some more beer. Some of the
usual customers had taken possession of the adjacent tables, and these
philistines cast sidelong glances at the artists’ corner, glances in
which contempt was curiously mingled with a kind of uneasy deference.
The artists were indeed well known; a legend was becoming current
respecting them. They themselves were now talking on common-place
subjects: about the heat, the difficulty of finding room in the omnibus
to the Odeon, and the discovery of a wine-shop where real meat was
obtainable. One of them wanted to start a discussion about a number of
idiotic pictures that had lately been hung in the Luxembourg Museum; but
there was only one opinion on the subject, that the pictures were not
worth their frames. Thereupon they left off conversing; they smoked,
merely exchanging a word or a significant smile now and then.

‘Well,’ asked Claude at last, ‘are we going to wait for Gagniere?’

At this there was a protest. Gagniere was a bore. Besides, he would turn
up as soon as he smelt the soup.

‘Let’s be off, then,’ said Sandoz. ‘There’s a leg of mutton this
evening, so let’s try to be punctual.’

Each paid his score, and they all went out. Their departure threw the
cafe into a state of emotion. Some young fellows, painters, no doubt,
whispered together as they pointed at Claude, much in the same manner
as if he were the redoubtable chieftain of a horde of savages. Jory’s
famous article was producing its effect; the very public was becoming
his accomplice, and of itself was soon to found that school of the open
air, which the band had so far only joked about. As they gaily said, the
Cafe Baudequin was not aware of the honour they had done it on the day
when they selected it to be the cradle of a revolution.

Fagerolles having reinforced the group, they now numbered five, and
slowly they took their way across Paris, with their tranquil look of
victory. The more numerous they were, the more did they stretch across
the pavement, and carry away on their heels the burning life of the
streets. When they had gone down the Rue de Clichy, they went straight
along the Rue de la Chaussee d’Antin, turned towards the Rue de
Richelieu, crossed the Seine by the Pont des Arts, so as to fling their
gibes at the Institute, and finally reached the Luxembourg by way of
the Rue de Seine, where a poster, printed in three colours, the
garish announcement of a travelling circus, made them all shout with
admiration. Evening was coming on; the stream of wayfarers flowed more
slowly; the tired city was awaiting the shadows of night, ready to yield
to the first comer who might be strong enough to take her.

On reaching the Rue d’Enfer, when Sandoz had ushered his four friends
into his own apartments, he once more vanished into his mother’s room.
He remained there for a few moments, and then came out without saying
a word, but with the tender, gentle smile habitual to him on such
occasions. And immediately afterwards a terrible hubbub, of laughter,
argument, and mere shouting, arose in his little flat. Sandoz himself
set the example, all the while assisting the charwoman, who burst into
bitter language because it was half-past seven, and her leg of mutton
was drying up. The five companions, seated at table, were already
swallowing their soup, a very good onion soup, when a new comer suddenly
appeared.

‘Hallo! here’s Gagniere,’ was the vociferous chorus.

Gagniere, short, slight, and vague looking, with a doll-like startled
face, set off by a fair curly beard, stood for a moment on the threshold
blinking his green eyes. He belonged to Melun, where his well-to-do
parents, who were both dead, had left him two houses; and he had learnt
painting, unassisted, in the forest of Fontainebleau. His landscapes
were at least conscientiously painted, excellent in intention; but his
real passion was music, a madness for music, a cerebral bonfire which
set him on a level with the wildest of the band.

‘Am I in the way?’ he gently asked.

‘Not at all; come in!’ shouted Sandoz.

The charwoman was already laying an extra knife and fork.

‘Suppose she lays a place for Dubuche, while she is about it,’ said
Claude. ‘He told me he would perhaps come.’

But they were all down upon Dubuche, who frequented women in society.
Jory said that he had seen him in a carriage with an old lady and her
daughter, whose parasols he was holding on his knees.

‘Where have you come from to be so late?’ asked Fagerolles of Gagniere.

The latter, who was about to swallow his first spoonful of soup, set it
in his plate again.

‘I was in the Rue de Lancry--you know, where they have chamber music.
Oh! my boy, some of Schumann’s machines! You haven’t an idea of them!
They clutch hold of you at the back of your head just as if somebody
were breathing down your back. Yes, yes, it’s something much more
immaterial than a kiss, just a whiff of breath. ‘Pon my honour, a fellow
feels as if he were going to die.’

His eyes were moistening and he turned pale, as if experiencing some
over-acute enjoyment.

‘Eat your soup,’ said Mahoudeau; ‘you’ll tell us all about it
afterwards.’

The skate was served, and they had the vinegar bottle put on the table
to improve the flavour of the black butter, which seemed rather insipid.
They ate with a will, and the hunks of bread swiftly disappeared. There
was nothing refined about the repast, and the wine was mere common
stuff, which they watered considerably from a feeling of delicacy, in
order to lessen their host’s expenses. They had just saluted the leg of
mutton with a hurrah, and the host had begun to carve it, when the door
opened anew. But this time there were furious protests.

‘No, no, not another soul! Turn him out, turn him out.’

Dubuche, out of breath with having run, bewildered at finding himself
amidst such howling, thrust his fat, pallid face forward, whilst
stammering explanations.

‘Really, now, I assure you it was the fault of the omnibuses. I had to
wait for five of them in the Champs Elysees.’

‘No, no, he’s lying!--Let him go, he sha’n’t have any of that mutton.
Turn him out, turn him out!’

All the same, he ended by coming in, and it was then noticed that he
was stylishly attired, all in black, trousers and frock-coat alike, and
cravated and booted in the stiff ceremonious fashion of some respectable
member of the middle classes going out to dinner.

‘Hallo! he has missed his invitation,’ chaffed Fagerolles. ‘Don’t you
see that his fine ladies didn’t ask him to stay to dinner, and so now
he’s come to gobble up our leg of mutton, as he doesn’t know where else
to go?’

At this Dubuche turned red, and stammered: ‘Oh! what an idea! How
ill-natured you are! And, besides, just attend to your own business.’

Sandoz and Claude, seated next to each other, smiled, and the former,
beckoning to Dubuche, said to him: ‘Lay your own place, bring a plate
and a glass, and sit between us--like that, they’ll leave you alone.’

However, the chaff continued all the time that the mutton was being
eaten. When the charwoman had brought Dubuche a plate of soup and a
piece of skate, he himself fell in with the jokes good-naturedly. He
pretended to be famished, greedily mopped out his plate, and related a
story about a mother having refused him her daughter because he was an
architect. The end of the dinner thus became very boisterous; they all
rattled on together. The only dessert, a piece of Brie cheese, met with
enormous success. Not a scrap of it was left, and the bread almost ran
short. The wine did run short, so they each swallowed a clear draught
of water, smacking their lips the while amidst great laughter. And, with
faces beaming, and well-filled paunches, they passed into the bedroom
with the supreme content of folks who have fared very sumptuously
indeed.

Those were Sandoz’s jolly evenings. Even at the times when he was
hard up he had always had some boiled beef and broth to share with his
comrades. He felt delighted at having a number of them around him, all
friends, inspired by the same ideas. Though he was of their own age, he
beamed with fatherly feelings and satisfied good-nature when he saw them
in his rooms, around him, hand in hand, and intoxicated with hope. As he
had but two rooms, the bedroom did duty as a drawing-room, and became as
much theirs as his. For lack of sufficient chairs, two or three had to
seat themselves on the bed. And on those warm summer evenings the window
remained wide open to let in the air. From it two black silhouettes were
to be seen rising above the houses, against the clear sky--the tower of
St. Jacques du Haut-Pas and the tree of the Deaf and Dumb Asylum. When
money was plentiful there was beer. Every one brought his own tobacco,
the room soon became full of smoke, and without seeing each other they
ended by conversing far into the night, amidst the deep mournful silence
of that deserted district.

On that particular evening, at about nine o’clock, the charwoman came
in.

‘Monsieur, I have done. Can I go?’

‘Yes, go to bed. You have left the kettle on the fire, haven’t you? I’ll
make the tea myself.’

Sandoz had risen. He went off at the heels of the charwoman, and only
returned a quarter of an hour afterwards. He had no doubt been to kiss
his mother, whom he tucked up every night before she dozed off.

Meanwhile the voices had risen to a high pitch again. Fagerolles was
telling a story.

‘Yes, old fellow; at the School they even correct Nature herself.
The other day Mazel comes up to me and says: “Those two arms don’t
correspond”; whereupon I reply: “Look for yourself, monsieur--the
model’s are like that.” It was little Flore Beauchamp, you know. “Well,”
 Mazel furiously replies, “if she has them like that, it’s very wrong of
her.”’

They almost all shrieked, especially Claude, to whom Fagerolles told
the story by way of paying court. For some time previously the younger
artist had yielded to the elder’s influence; and although he continued
to paint with purely tricky skill, he no longer talked of anything
but substantial, thickly-painted work, of bits of nature thrown on to
canvas, palpitating with life, such as they really were. This did not
prevent him, though, from elsewhere chaffing the adepts of the open-air
school, whom he accused of impasting with a kitchen ladle.

Dubuche, who had not laughed, his sense of rectitude being offended,
made so bold as to reply:

‘Why do you stop at the School if you think you are being brutified
there? It’s simple enough, one goes away--Oh, I know you are all against
me, because I defend the School. But, you see, my idea is that, when a
fellow wants to carry on a trade, it is not a bad thing for him to begin
by learning it.’

Ferocious shouts arose at this, and Claude had need of all his authority
to secure a hearing.

‘He is right. One must learn one’s trade. But it won’t do to learn it
under the ferule of professors who want to cram their own views forcibly
into your nut. That Mazel is a perfect idiot!’

He flung himself backward on the bed, on which he had been sitting, and
with his eyes raised to the ceiling, he went on, in an excited tone:

‘Ah! life! life! to feel it and portray it in its reality, to love it
for itself, to behold in it the only real, lasting, and changing beauty,
without any idiotic idea of ennobling it by mutilation. To understand
that all so-called ugliness is nothing but the mark of individual
character, to create real men and endow them with life--yes, that’s the
only way to become a god!’

His faith was coming back to him, the march across Paris had spurred him
on once more; he was again seized by his passion for living flesh. They
listened to him in silence. He made a wild gesture, then calmed down.

‘No doubt every one has his own ideas; but the annoyance is that at
the Institute they are even more intolerant than we are. The hanging
committee of the Salon is in their hands. I am sure that that idiot
Mazel will refuse my picture.’

Thereupon they all broke out into imprecations, for this question of
the hanging committee was the everlasting subject of their wrath. They
demanded reforms; every one had a solution of the problem ready--from
universal suffrage, applied to the election of a hanging committee,
liberal in the widest sense of the word, down to unrestricted liberty, a
Salon open to all exhibitors.*

  * The reader will bear in mind that all these complaints made by
    Claude and his friends apply to the old Salons, as organized
    under Government control, at the time of the Second Empire.--ED.

While the others went on discussing the subject, Gagniere drew Mahoudeau
to the open window, where, in a low voice, his eyes the while staring
into space, he murmured:

‘Oh, it’s nothing at all, only four bars; a simple impression jotted
down there and then. But what a deal there is in it! To me it’s first
of all a landscape, dwindling away in the distance; a bit of melancholy
road, with the shadow of a tree that one cannot see; and then a woman
passes along, scarcely a silhouette; on she goes and you never meet her
again, no, never more again.’

Just at that moment, however, Fagerolles exclaimed, ‘I say, Gagniere,
what are you going to send to the Salon this year?’

Gagniere did not hear, but continued talking, enraptured, as it were.

‘In Schumann one finds everything--the infinite. And Wagner, too, whom
they hissed again last Sunday!’

But a fresh call from Fagerolles made him start.

‘Eh! what? What am I going to send to the Salon? A small landscape,
perhaps; a little bit of the Seine. It is so difficult to decide; first
of all I must feel pleased with it myself.’

He had suddenly become timid and anxious again. His artistic scruples,
his conscientiousness, kept him working for months on a canvas the size
of one’s hand. Following the track of the French landscape painters,
those masters who were the first to conquer nature, he worried about
correctness of tone, pondering and pondering over the precise value of
tints, till theoretical scruples ended by making his touch heavy. And he
often did not dare to chance a bright dash of colour, but painted in
a greyish gloomy key which was astonishing, when one remembered his
revolutionary passions.

‘For my part,’ said Mahoudeau, ‘I feel delighted at the prospect of
making them squint with my woman.’

Claude shrugged his shoulders. ‘Oh! you’ll get in, the sculptors have
broader minds than the painters. And, besides, you know very well what
you are about; you have something at your fingers’ ends that pleases.
There will be plenty of pretty bits about your vintaging girl.’

The compliment made Mahoudeau feel serious. He posed above all for
vigour of execution; he was unconscious of his real vein of talent, and
despised gracefulness, though it ever invincibly sprung from his big,
coarse fingers--the fingers of an untaught working-man--like a flower
that obstinately sprouts from the hard soil where the wind has flung its
seed.

Fagerolles, who was very cunning, had decided to send nothing, for fear
of displeasing his masters; and he chaffed the Salon, calling it ‘a foul
bazaar, where all the bad painting made even the good turn musty.’ In
his inmost heart he was dreaming of one day securing the Rome prize,
though he ridiculed it, as he did everything else.

However, Jory stationed himself in the middle of the room, holding up
his glass of beer. Sipping every now and then, he declared: ‘Well, your
hanging committee quite disgusts me! I say, shall I demolish it? I’ll
begin bombarding it in our very next number. You’ll give me some notes,
eh? and we’ll knock it to pieces. That will be fine fun.’

Claude was at last fully wound up, and general enthusiasm prevailed.
Yes, yes, they must start a campaign. They would all be in it, and,
pressing shoulder to shoulder, march to the battle together. At that
moment there was not one of them who reserved his share of fame, for
nothing divided them as yet; neither the profound dissemblance of their
various natures, of which they themselves were ignorant, nor their
rivalries, which would some day bring them into collision. Was not
the success of one the success of all the others? Their youth was
fermenting, they were brimming over with mutual devotion; they indulged
anew in their everlasting dream of gathering into a phalanx to conquer
the world, each contributing his individual effort; this one helping
that one forward, and the whole band reaching fame at once in one row.
Claude, as the acknowledged chief, was already sounding the victory,
distributing laurels with such lyrical abundance that he overlooked
himself. Fagerolles himself, gibing Parisian though he might be,
believed in the necessity of forming an army; while even Jory, although
he had a coarser appetite, with a deal of the provincial still about
him, displayed much useful comradeship, catching various artistic
phrases as they fell from his companions’ lips, and already preparing in
his mind the articles which would herald the advent of the band and
make them known. And Mahoudeau purposely exaggerated his intentional
roughness, and clasped his hands like an ogre kneading human flesh;
while Gagniere, in ecstasy, as if freed from the everlasting greyishness
of his art, sought to refine sensation to the utmost limits of
intelligence; and Dubuche, with his matter-of-fact convictions, threw in
but a word here and there; words, however, which were like club-blows
in the very midst of the fray. Then Sandoz, happy and smiling at seeing
them so united, ‘all in one shirt,’ as he put it, opened another bottle
of beer. He would have emptied every one in the house.

‘Eh?’ he cried, ‘we’re agreed, let’s stick to it. It’s really pleasant
to come to an understanding among fellows who have something in their
nuts, so may the thunderbolts of heaven sweep all idiots away!’

At that same moment a ring at the bell stupefied him. Amidst the sudden
silence of the others, he inquired--‘Who, to the deuce, can that be--at
eleven o’clock?’

He ran to open the door, and they heard him utter a cry of delight.
He was already coming back again, throwing the door wide open as he
said--‘Ah! it’s very kind indeed to think of us and surprise us like
this! Bongrand, gentlemen.’

The great painter, whom the master of the house announced in this
respectfully familiar way, entered, holding out both hands. They all
eagerly rose, full of emotion, delighted with that manly, cordial
handshake so willingly bestowed. Bongrand was then forty-five years
old, stout, and with a very expressive face and long grey hair. He had
recently become a member of the Institute, and wore the rosette of
an officer of the Legion of Honour in the top button-hole of his
unpretentious alpaca jacket. He was fond of young people; he liked
nothing so much as to drop in from time to time and smoke a pipe among
these beginners, whose enthusiasm warmed his heart.

‘I am going to make the tea,’ exclaimed Sandoz.

When he came back from the kitchen, carrying the teapot and cups, he
found Bongrand installed astride a chair, smoking his short cutty,
amidst the din which had again arisen. Bongrand himself was holding
forth in a stentorian voice. The grandson of a farmer of the Beauce
region, the son of a man risen to the middle classes, with peasant blood
in his veins, indebted for his culture to a mother of very artistic
tastes, he was rich, had no need to sell his pictures, and retained many
tastes and opinions of Bohemian life.

‘The hanging committee? Well, I’d sooner hang myself than belong to
it!’ said he, with sweeping gestures. ‘Am I an executioner to kick poor
devils, who often have to earn their bread, out of doors?’

‘Still, you might render us great service by defending our pictures
before the committee,’ observed Claude.

‘Oh, dear, no! I should only make matters worse for you--I don’t count;
I’m nobody.’

There was a chorus of protestations; Fagerolles objected, in a shrill
voice:

‘Well, if the painter of “The Village Wedding” does not count--’

But Bongrand was getting angry; he had risen, his cheeks afire.

‘Eh? Don’t pester me with “The Wedding”; I warn you I am getting sick of
that picture. It is becoming a perfect nightmare to me ever since it has
been hung in the Luxembourg Museum.’

This ‘Village Wedding’--a party of wedding guests roaming through a
corn-field, peasants studied from life, with an epic look of the heroes
of Homer about them--had so far remained his masterpiece. The picture
had brought about an evolution in art, for it had inaugurated a new
formula. Coming after Delacroix, and parallel with Courbet, it was
a piece of romanticism tempered by logic, with more correctness of
observation, more perfection in the handling. And though it did not
squarely tackle nature amidst the crudity of the open air, the new
school claimed connection with it.

‘There can be nothing more beautiful,’ said Claude, ‘than the two first
groups, the fiddler, and then the bride with the old peasant.’

‘And the strapping peasant girl, too,’ added Mahoudeau; the one who
is turning round and beckoning! I had a great mind to take her for the
model of a statue.’

‘And that gust of wind among the corn,’ added Gagniere, ‘and the pretty
bit of the boy and girl skylarking in the distance.’

Bongrand sat listening with an embarrassed air, and a smile of inward
suffering; and when Fagerolles asked him what he was doing just then, he
answered, with a shrug of his shoulders:

‘Well, nothing; some little things. But I sha’n’t exhibit this time.
I should like to find a telling subject. Ah, you fellows are happy at
still being at the bottom of the hill. A man has good legs then, he
feels so plucky when it’s a question of getting up. But when once he is
a-top, the deuce take it! the worries begin. A real torture, fisticuffs,
efforts which must be constantly renewed, lest one should slip down too
quickly. Really now, one would prefer being below, for the pleasure of
still having everything to do--Ah, you may laugh, but you’ll see it all
for yourselves some day!’

They were indeed laughing, thinking it a paradox, or a little piece of
affectation, which they excused. To be hailed, like Bongrand, with the
name of master--was that not the height of bliss? He, with his arms
resting on the back of his chair, listened to them in silence, leisurely
puffing his pipe, and renouncing the idea of trying to make them
understand him.

Meanwhile, Dubuche, who had rather domesticated tastes, helped Sandoz
to hand the tea round, and the din continued. Fagerolles related a story
about Daddy Malgras and a female cousin by marriage, whom the dealer
offered as a model on conditions that he was given a presentment of her
in oils. Then they began to talk of models. Mahoudeau waxed furious,
because the really well-built female models were disappearing. It was
impossible to find one with a decent figure now. Then suddenly the
tumult increased again; Gagniere was being congratulated about a
connoisseur whose acquaintance he had made in the Palais Royal one
afternoon, while the band played, an eccentric gentleman living on a
small income, who never indulged in any other extravagance than that of
buying pictures. The other artists laughed and asked for the gentleman’s
address. Then they fell foul of the picture dealers, dirty black-guards,
who preyed on artists and starved them. It was really a pity that
connoisseurs mistrusted painters to such a degree as to insist upon
a middleman under the impression that they would thus make a better
bargain. This question of bread and butter excited them yet more, though
Claude showed magnificent contempt for it all. The artist was robbed,
no doubt, but what did that matter, if he had painted a masterpiece,
and had some water to drink? Jory, having again expressed some low ideas
about lucre, aroused general indignation. Out with the journalist!
He was asked stringent questions. Would he sell his pen? Would he not
sooner chop off his wrist than write anything against his convictions?
But they scarcely waited for his answer, for the excitement was on the
increase; it became the superb madness of early manhood, contempt for
the whole world, an absorbing passion for good work, freed from all
human weaknesses, soaring in the sky like a very sun. Ah! how strenuous
was their desire to lose themselves, consume themselves, in that brazier
of their own kindling!

Bongrand, who had not stirred the while, made a vague gesture of
suffering at the sight of that boundless confidence, that boisterous
joy at the prospect of attack. He forgot the hundred paintings which
had brought him his glory, he was thinking of the work which he had left
roughed out on his easel now. Taking his cutty from between his lips, he
murmured, his eyes glistening with kindliness, ‘Oh, youth, youth!’

Until two in the morning, Sandoz, who seemed ubiquitous, kept on pouring
fresh supplies of hot water into the teapot. From the neighbourhood,
now asleep, one now only heard the miawing of an amorous tabby. They all
talked at random, intoxicated by their own words, hoarse with shouting,
their eyes scorched, and when at last they made up their minds to go,
Sandoz took the lamp to show them a light over the banisters, saying
very softly:

‘Don’t make a noise, my mother is asleep.’

The hushed tread of their boots on the stairs died away at last, and
deep silence fell upon the house.

It struck four. Claude, who had accompanied Bongrand, still went on
talking to him in the deserted streets. He did not want to go to bed; he
was waiting for daylight, with impatient fury, so that he might set
to work at his picture again. This time he felt certain of painting a
masterpiece, exalted as he was by that happy day of good-fellowship,
his mind pregnant with a world of things. He had discovered at last what
painting meant, and he pictured himself re-entering his studio as one
returns into the presence of a woman one adores, his heart throbbing
violently, regretting even this one day’s absence, which seemed to him
endless desertion. And he would go straight to his canvas, and realise
his dream in one sitting. However, at every dozen steps or so, amidst
the flickering light of the gaslamps, Bongrand caught him by a button
of his coat, to repeat to him that, after all, painting was an accursed
trade. Sharp as he, Bongrand, was supposed to be, he did not understand
it yet. At each new work he undertook, he felt as if he were making a
debut; it was enough to make one smash one’s head against the wall. The
sky was now brightening, some market gardeners’ carts began rolling down
towards the central markets; and the pair continued chattering, each
talking for himself, in a loud voice, beneath the paling stars.



IV

SIX weeks later, Claude was painting one morning amidst a flood of
sunshine that streamed through the large window of his studio. Constant
rain had made the middle of August very dull, but his courage for
work returned with the blue sky. His great picture did not make much
progress, albeit he worked at it throughout long, silent mornings, like
the obstinate, pugnacious fellow he was.

All at once there came a knock at his door. He thought that Madame
Joseph, the doorkeeper, was bringing up his lunch, and as the key was
always in the door, he simply called: ‘Come in!’

The door had opened; there was a slight rustle, and then all became
still. He went on painting without even turning his head. But the
quivering silence, and the consciousness of some vague gentle breathing
near him, at last made him fidgety. He looked up, and felt amazed; a
woman stood there clad in a light gown, her features half-hidden by a
white veil, and he did not know her, and she was carrying a bunch of
roses, which completed his bewilderment.

All at once he recognised her.

‘You, mademoiselle? Well, I certainly didn’t expect you!’

It was Christine. He had been unable to restrain that somewhat unamiable
exclamation, which was a cry from the heart itself. At first he had
certainly thought of her; then, as the days went by for nearly a couple
of months without sign of life from her, she had become for him merely a
fleeting, regretted vision, a charming silhouette which had melted away
in space, and would never be seen again.

‘Yes, monsieur, it’s I. I wished to come. I thought it was wrong not to
come and thank you--’

She blushed and stammered, at a loss for words. She was out of breath,
no doubt through climbing the stairs, for her heart was beating fast.
What! was this long-debated visit out of place after all? It had ended
by seeming quite natural to her. The worst was that, in passing along
the quay, she had bought that bunch of roses with the delicate intention
of thereby showing her gratitude to the young fellow, and the flowers
now dreadfully embarrassed her. How was she to give them to him? What
would he think of her? The impropriety of the whole proceeding had only
struck her as she opened the door.

But Claude, more embarrassed still, resorted to exaggerated politeness.
He had thrown aside his palette and was turning the studio upside down
in order to clear a chair.

‘Pray be seated, mademoiselle. This is really a surprise. You are too
kind.’

Once seated, Christine recovered her equanimity. He looked so droll with
his wild sweeping gestures, and she felt so conscious of his shyness
that she began to smile, and bravely held out the bunch of roses.

‘Look here; I wished to show you that I am not ungrateful.’

At first he said nothing, but stood staring at her, thunderstruck. When
he saw, though, that she was not making fun of him, he shook both her
hands, with almost sufficient energy to dislocate them. Then he at once
put the flowers in his water-jug, repeating:

‘Ah! now you are a good fellow, you really are. This is the first time I
pay that compliment to a woman, honour bright.’

He came back to her, and, looking straight into her eyes, he asked:

‘Then you have not altogether forgotten me?’

‘You see that I have not,’ she replied, laughing.

‘Why, then, did you wait two months before coming to see me?’

Again she blushed. The falsehood she was about to tell revived her
embarrassment for a moment.

‘But you know that I am not my own mistress,’ she said. ‘Oh, Madame
Vanzade is very kind to me, only she is a great invalid, and never
leaves the house. But she grew anxious as to my health and compelled me
to go out to breathe a little fresh air.’

She did not allude to the shame which she had felt during the first
few days after her adventure on the Quai de Bourbon. Finding herself in
safety, beneath the old lady’s roof, the recollection of the night she
had spent in Claude’s room had filled her with remorse; but she fancied
at last that she had succeeded in dismissing the matter from her mind.
It was no longer anything but a bad dream, which grew more indistinct
each day. Then, how it was she could not tell, but amidst the profound
quietude of her existence, the image of that young man who had
befriended her had returned to her once more, becoming more and more
precise, till at last it occupied her daily thoughts. Why should she
forget him? She had nothing to reproach him with; on the contrary, she
felt she was his debtor. The thought of seeing him again, dismissed
at first, struggled against later on, at last became an all-absorbing
craving. Each evening the temptation to go and see him came strong upon
her in the solitude of her own room. She experienced an uncomfortable
irritating feeling, a vague desire which she could not define, and only
calmed down somewhat on ascribing this troubled state of mind to a wish
to evince her gratitude. She was so utterly alone, she felt so stifled
in that sleepy abode, the exuberance of youth seethed so strongly within
her, her heart craved so desperately for friendship!

‘So I took advantage of my first day out,’ she continued. ‘And besides,
the weather was so nice this morning after all the dull rain.’

Claude, feeling very happy and standing before her, also confessed
himself, but _he_ had nothing to hide.

‘For my part,’ said he, ‘I dared not think of you any more. You are like
one of the fairies of the story-books, who spring from the floor and
disappear into the walls at the very moment one least expects it; aren’t
you now? I said to myself, “It’s all over: it was perhaps only in my
fancy that I saw her come to this studio.” Yet here you are. Well, I am
pleased at it, very pleased indeed.’

Smiling, but embarrassed, Christine averted her head, pretending to
look around her. But her smile soon died away. The ferocious-looking
paintings which she again beheld, the glaring sketches of the South, the
terrible anatomical accuracy of the studies from the nude, all chilled
her as on the first occasion. She became really afraid again, and she
said gravely, in an altered voice:

‘I am disturbing you; I am going.’

‘Oh! not at all, not at all,’ exclaimed Claude, preventing her from
rising. ‘It does me good to have a talk with you, for I was working
myself to death. Oh! that confounded picture; it’s killing me as it is.’

Thereupon Christine, lifting her eyes, looked at the large picture, the
canvas that had been turned to the wall on the previous occasion, and
which she had vainly wished to see.

The background--the dark glade pierced by a flood of sunlight--was still
only broadly brushed in. But the two little wrestlers--the fair one and
the dark--almost finished by now, showed clearly in the light. In the
foreground, the gentleman in the velveteen jacket, three times begun
afresh, had now been left in distress. The painter was more particularly
working at the principal figure, the woman lying on the grass. He had
not touched the head again. He was battling with the body, changing his
model every week, so despondent at being unable to satisfy himself
that for a couple of days he had been trying to improve the figure from
imagination, without recourse to nature, although he boasted that he
never invented.

Christine at once recognised herself. Yes, that nude girl sprawling on
the grass, one arm behind her head, smiling with lowered eyelids, was
herself, for she had her features. The idea absolutely revolted her, and
she was wounded too by the wildness of the painting, so brutal indeed
that she considered herself abominably insulted. She did not understand
that kind of art; she thought it execrable, and felt a hatred against
it, the instinctive hatred of an enemy. She rose at last, and curtly
repeated, ‘I must be going.’

Claude watched her attentively, both grieved and surprised by her sudden
change of manner.

‘Going already?’

‘Yes, they are waiting for me. Good-bye.’

And she had already reached the door before he could take her hand, and
venture to ask her:

‘When shall I see you again?’

She allowed her hand to remain in his. For a moment she seemed to
hesitate.

‘I don’t know. I am so busy.’

Then she withdrew her hand and went off, hastily, saying: ‘One of these
days, when I can. Good-bye.’

Claude remained stock-still on the threshold. He wondered what had come
over her again to cause her sudden coolness, her covert irritation.
He closed the door, and walked about, with dangling arms, and without
understanding, seeking vainly for the phrase, the gesture that could
have offended her. And he in his turn became angry, and launched an oath
into space, with a terrific shrug of the shoulders, as if to rid himself
of this silly worry. Did a man ever understand women? However, the sight
of the roses, overlapping the water-jug, pacified him; they smelt so
sweet. Their scent pervaded the whole studio, and silently he resumed
his work amidst the perfume.

Two more months passed by. During the earlier days Claude, at the
slightest stir of a morning, when Madame Joseph brought him up his
breakfast or his letters, quickly turned his head, and could not control
a gesture of disappointment. He no longer went out until after four, and
the doorkeeper having told him one evening, on his return home, that a
young person had called to see him at about five, he had only grown calm
on ascertaining that the visitor was merely a model, Zoe Piedefer. Then,
as the days went by, he was seized with a furious fit of work, becoming
unapproachable to every one, indulging in such violent theories that
even his friends did not venture to contradict him. He swept the world
from his path with one gesture; there was no longer to be anything
but painting left. One might murder one’s parents, comrades, and women
especially, and it would all be a good riddance. After this terrible
fever he fell into abominable despondency, spending a week of impotence
and doubt, a whole week of torture, during which he fancied himself
struck silly. But he was getting over it, he had resumed his usual life,
his resigned solitary struggle with his great picture, when one foggy
morning, towards the end of October, he started and hastily set his
palette aside. There had been no knock, but he had just recognised the
footfall coming up the stairs. He opened the door and she walked in. She
had come at last.

Christine that day wore a large cloak of grey material which enveloped
her from head to foot. Her little velvet hat was dark, and the fog
outside had pearled her black lace veil. But he thought her looking very
cheerful, with the first slight shiver of winter upon her. She at once
began to make excuses for having so long delayed her return. She smiled
at him in her pretty candid manner, confessed that she had hesitated,
and that she had almost made up her mind to come no more. Yes, she had
her own opinions about things, which she felt sure he understood. As it
happened, he did not understand at all--he had no wish to understand,
seeing that she was there. It was quite sufficient that she was not
vexed with him, that she would consent to look in now and then like a
chum. There were no explanations; they kept their respective torments
and the struggles of recent times to themselves. For nearly an hour they
chatted together right pleasantly, with nothing hidden nor antagonistic
remaining between them; it was as if an understanding had been arrived
at, unknown to themselves, and while they were far apart. She did not
even appear to notice the sketches and studies on the walls. For a
moment she looked fixedly at the large picture, at the figure of the
woman lying on the grass under the blazing golden sun. No, it was not
like herself, that girl had neither her face nor her body. How silly
to have fancied that such a horrid mess of colour was herself! And her
friendship for the young fellow was heightened by a touch of pity; he
could not even convey a likeness. When she went off, it was she who on
the threshold cordially held out her hand.

‘You know, I shall come back again--’

‘Yes, in two months’ time.’

‘No, next week. You’ll see, next Thursday.’

On the Thursday she punctually returned, and after that she did not miss
a week. At first she had no particular day for calling, simply taking
advantage of her opportunities; but subsequently she selected Monday,
the day allowed her by Madame Vanzade in order that she might have a
walk in the fresh, open air of the Bois de Boulogne. She had to be back
home by eleven, and she walked the whole way very quickly, coming in all
aglow from the run, for it was a long stretch from Passy to the Quai de
Bourbon. During four winter months, from October to February, she came
in this fashion, now in drenching rain, now among the mists from the
Seine, now in the pale sunlight that threw a little warmth over the
quays. Indeed, after the first month, she at times arrived unexpectedly,
taking advantage of some errand in town to look in, and then she could
only stay for a couple of minutes; they had barely had time enough to
say ‘How do you do?’ when she was already scampering down the stairs
again, exclaiming ‘Good-bye.’

And now Claude learned to know Christine. With his everlasting mistrust
of woman a suspicion had remained to him, the suspicion of some love
adventure in the provinces; but the girl’s soft eyes and bright laughter
had carried all before them; he felt that she was as innocent as a big
child. As soon as she arrived, quite unembarrassed, feeling fully at
her ease, as with a friend, she began to indulge in a ceaseless flow
of chatter. She had told him a score of times about her childhood at
Clermont, and she constantly reverted to it. On the evening that her
father, Captain Hallegrain, had suddenly died, she and her mother had
been to church. She perfectly remembered their return home and the
horrible night that had followed; the captain, very stout and muscular,
lying stretched on a mattress, with his lower jaw protruding to such a
degree that in her girlish memory she could not picture him otherwise.
She also had that same jaw, and when her mother had not known how to
master her, she had often cried: ‘Ah, my girl, you’ll eat your heart’s
blood out like your father.’ Poor mother! how she, Christine, had
worried her with her love of horseplay, with her mad turbulent fits. As
far back as she could remember, she pictured her mother ever seated at
the same window, quietly painting fans, a slim little woman with very
soft eyes, the only thing she had inherited of her. When people wanted
to please her mother they told her, ‘she has got your eyes.’ And then
she smiled, happy in the thought of having contributed at least that
touch of sweetness to her daughter’s features. After the death of her
husband, she had worked so late as to endanger her eyesight. But how
else could she have lived? Her widow’s pension--five hundred francs
per annum--barely sufficed for the needs of her child. For five years
Christine had seen her mother grow thinner and paler, wasting away a
little bit each day until she became a mere shadow. And now she felt
remorseful at not having been more obedient, at having driven her
mother to despair by lack of application. She had begun each week with
magnificent intentions, promising that she would soon help her to earn
money; but her arms and legs got the fidgets, in spite of her efforts;
the moment she became quiet she fell ill. Then one morning her mother
had been unable to get up, and had died; her voice too weak to make
itself heard, her eyes full of big tears. Ever did Christine behold her
thus dead, with her weeping eyes wide open and fixed on her.

At other times, Christine, when questioned by Claude about Clermont,
forgot those sorrows to recall more cheerful memories. She laughed
gaily at the idea of their encampment, as she called it, in the Rue
de l’Eclache; she born in Strasburg, her father a Gascon, her mother a
Parisian, and all three thrown into that nook of Auvergne, which they
detested. The Rue de l’Eclache, sloping down to the Botanical Gardens,
was narrow and dank, gloomy, like a vault. Not a shop, never a
passer-by--nothing but melancholy frontages, with shutters always
closed. At the back, however, their windows, overlooking some
courtyards, were turned to the full sunlight. The dining-room opened
even on to a spacious balcony, a kind of wooden gallery, whose arcades
were hung with a giant wistaria which almost smothered them with
foliage. And the girl had grown up there, at first near her invalid
father, then cloistered, as it were, with her mother, whom the least
exertion exhausted. She had remained so complete a stranger to the town
and its neighbourhood, that Claude and herself burst into laughter when
she met his inquiries with the constant answer, ‘I don’t know.’ The
mountains? Yes, there were mountains on one side, they could be seen
at the end of the streets; while on the other side of the town, after
passing along other streets, there were flat fields stretching far away;
but she never went there, the distance was too great. The only height
she remembered was the Puy de Dome, rounded off at the summit like a
hump. In the town itself she could have found her way to the cathedral
blindfold; one had to turn round by the Place de Jaude and take the Rue
des Gras; but more than that she could not tell him; the rest of the
town was an entanglement, a maze of sloping lanes and boulevards; a town
of black lava ever dipping downward, where the rain of the thunderstorms
swept by torrentially amidst formidable flashes of lightning. Oh! those
storms; she still shuddered to think of them. Just opposite her room,
above the roofs, the lightning conductor of the museum was always on
fire. In the sitting-room she had her own window--a deep recess as big
as a room itself--where her work-table and personal nick-nacks stood.
It was there that her mother had taught her to read; it was there that,
later on, she had fallen asleep while listening to her masters, so
greatly did the fatigue of learning daze her. And now she made fun of
her own ignorance; she was a well-educated young lady, and no mistake,
unable even to repeat the names of the Kings of France, with the dates
of their accessions; a famous musician too, who had never got further
than that elementary pianoforte exercise, ‘The little boats’; a prodigy
in water-colour painting, who scamped her trees because foliage was too
difficult to imitate. Then she skipped, without any transition, to the
fifteen months she had spent at the Convent of the Visitation after
her mother’s death--a large convent, outside the town, with magnificent
gardens. There was no end to her stories about the good sisters, their
jealousies, their foolish doings, their simplicity, that made one start.
She was to have taken the veil, but she felt stifled the moment she
entered a church. It had seemed to be all over with her, when the
Superior, by whom she was treated with great affection, diverted her
from the cloister by procuring her that situation at Madame Vanzade’s.
She had not yet got over the surprise. How had Mother des Saints Anges
been able to read her mind so clearly? For, in fact, since she had
been living in Paris she had dropped into complete indifference about
religion.

When all the reminiscences of Clermont were exhausted, Claude wanted
to hear about her life at Madame Vanzade’s, and each week she gave him
fresh particulars. The life led in the little house at Passy, silent
and shut off from the outer world, was a very regular one, with no more
noise about it than the faint tic-tac of an old-fashioned timepiece.
Two antiquated domestics, a cook and a manservant, who had been with
the family for forty years, alone glided in their slippers about the
deserted rooms, like a couple of ghosts. Now and then, at very
long intervals, there came a visitor: some octogenarian general, so
desiccated, so slight of build that he scarcely pressed on the carpet.
The house was also the home of shadows; the sun filtered with the mere
gleam of a night light through the Venetian blinds. Since madame had
become paralysed in the knees and stone blind, so that she no longer
left her room, she had had no other recreation than that of listening
to the reading of religious books. Ah! those endless readings, how
they weighed upon the girl at times! If she had only known a trade, how
gladly she would have cut out dresses, concocted bonnets, or goffered
the petals of artificial flowers. And to think that she was capable of
nothing, when she had been taught everything, and that there was only
enough stuff in her to make a salaried drudge, a semi-domestic! She
suffered horribly, too, in that stiff, lonely dwelling which smelt of
the tomb. She was seized once more with the vertigo of her childhood, as
when she had striven to compel herself to work, in order to please
her mother; her blood rebelled; she would have liked to shout and jump
about, in her desire for life. But madame treated her so gently, sending
her away from her room, and ordering her to take long walks, that she
felt full of remoras when, on her return to the Quai de Bourbon, she was
obliged to tell a falsehood; to talk of the Bois de Boulogne or invent
some ceremony at church where she now never set foot. Madame seemed to
take to her more and more every day; there were constant presents, now a
silk dress, now a tiny gold watch, even some underlinen. She herself was
very fond of Madame Vanzade; she had wept one day when the latter had
called her daughter; she had sworn never to leave her, such was her
heart-felt pity at seeing her so old and helpless.

‘Well,’ said Claude one morning, ‘you’ll be rewarded; she’ll leave you
her money.’

Christine looked astonished. ‘Do you think so? It is said that she is
worth three millions of francs. No, no, I have never dreamt of such a
thing, and I won’t. What would become of me?’

Claude had averted his head, and hastily replied, ‘Well, you’d become
rich, that’s all. But no doubt she’ll first of all marry you off--’

On hearing this, Christine could hold out no longer, but burst into
laughter. ‘To one of her old friends, eh? perhaps the general who has a
silver chin. What a good joke!’

So far they had gone no further than chumming like old friends. He was
almost as new to life as she, having had nothing but chance adventures,
and living in an ideal world of his own, fanciful amid romantic amours.
To see each other in secret like this, from pure friendship, without
anything more tender passing between them than a cordial shake of the
hand at her arrival, and another one when she left, seemed to them quite
natural. Still for her part she scented that he was shy, and at
times she looked at him fixedly, with the wondering perturbation of
unconscious passion. But as yet nothing ardent or agitating spoilt the
pleasure they felt in being together. Their hands remained cool; they
spoke cheerfully on all subjects; they sometimes argued like friends,
who feel sure they will not fall out. Only, this friendship grew so keen
that they could no longer live without seeing one another.

The moment Christine came, Claude took the key from outside the door.
She herself insisted upon this, lest somebody might disturb them. After
a few visits she had taken absolute possession of the studio. She seemed
to be at home there. She was tormented by a desire to make the place
a little more tidy, for such disorder worried her and made her
uncomfortable. But it was not an easy matter. The painter had strictly
forbidden Madame Joseph to sweep up things, lest the dust should get on
the fresh paint. So, on the first occasions when his companion attempted
to clean up a bit, he watched her with anxious entreating eyes. What was
the good of changing the place of things? Didn’t it suffice to have them
at hand? However, she exhibited such gay determination, she seemed so
happy at playing the housewife, that he let her have her own way at
last. And now, the moment she had arrived and taken off her gloves, she
pinned up her dress to avoid soiling it, and set the big studio in order
in the twinkling of an eye. There was no longer a pile of cinders before
the stove; the screen hid the bedstead and the washstand; the couch
was brushed, the wardrobe polished; the deal table was cleared of the
crockery, and had not a stain of paint; and above the chairs, which
were symmetrically arranged, and the spanned easels propped against the
walls, the big cuckoo clock, with full-blown pink flowers on its dial,
seemed to tick more sonorously. Altogether it was magnificent; one would
not have recognised the place. He, stupefied, watched her trotting
to and fro, twisting about and singing as she went. Was this then the
lazybones who had such dreadful headaches at the least bit of work? But
she laughed; at headwork, yes; but exertion with her hands and feet did
her good, seemed to straighten her like a young sapling. She confessed,
even as she would have confessed some depraved taste, her liking for
lowly household cares; a liking which had greatly worried her mother,
whose educational ideal consisted of accomplishments, and who would
have made her a governess with soft hands, touching nothing vulgar. How
Christine had been chided indeed whenever she was caught, as a little
girl, sweeping, dusting, and playing delightedly at being cook! Even
nowadays, if she had been able to indulge in a bout with the dust at
Madame Vanzade’s, she would have felt less bored. But what would they
have said to that? She would no longer have been considered a lady. And
so she came to satisfy her longings at the Quai de Bourbon, panting with
the exercise, all aglow, her eyes glistening with a woman’s delight at
biting into forbidden fruit.

Claude by this time grew conscious of having a woman’s care around him.
In order to make her sit down and chat quietly, he would ask her now and
then to sew a torn cuff or coat-tail. She herself had offered to look
over his linen; but it was no longer with the ardour of a housewife,
eager to be up and doing. First of all, she hardly knew how to work; she
held her needle like a girl brought up in contempt of sewing. Besides,
the enforced quiescence and the attention that had to be given to
such work, the small stitches which had to be looked to one by one,
exasperated her. Thus the studio was bright with cleanliness like a
drawing-room, but Claude himself remained in rags, and they both joked
about it, thinking it great fun.

How happy were those months that they spent together, those four months
of frost and rain whiled away in the studio, where the red-hot stove
roared like an organ-pipe! The winter seemed to isolate them from the
world still more. When the snow covered the adjacent roofs, when the
sparrows fluttered against the window, they smiled at feeling warm and
cosy, at being lost, as it were, amidst the great silent city. But
they did not always confine themselves to that one little nook, for she
allowed him at last to see her home. For a long while she had insisted
upon going away by herself, feeling ashamed of being seen in the streets
on a man’s arm. Then, one day when the rain fell all of a sudden, she
was obliged to let him come downstairs with an umbrella. The rain having
ceased almost immediately, she sent him back when they reached the other
side of the Pont Louis-Philippe. They only remained a few moments beside
the parapet, looking at the Mail, and happy at being together in the
open air. Down below, large barges, moored against the quay, and full
of apples, were ranged four rows deep, so close together that the planks
thrown across them made a continuous path for the women and children
running to and fro. They were amused by the sight of all that fruit,
those enormous piles littering the banks, the round baskets which were
carried hither and thither, while a strong odour, suggestive of cider in
fermentation, mingled with the moist gusts from the river.

A week later, when the sun again showed itself, and Claude extolled the
solitude of the quays round the Isle Saint Louis, Christine consented to
take a walk. They strolled up the Quai de Bourbon and the Quai d’Anjou,
pausing at every few steps and growing interested in the various scenes
of river life; the dredger whose buckets grated against their chains,
the floating wash-house, which resounded with the hubbub of a quarrel,
and the steam cranes busy unloading the lighters. She did not cease to
wonder at one thought which came to her. Was it possible that yonder
Quai des Ormes, so full of life across the stream, that this Quai Henri
IV., with its broad embankment and lower shore, where bands of children
and dogs rolled over in the sand, that this panorama of an active,
densely-populated capital was the same accursed scene that had appeared
to her for a moment in a gory flash on the night of her arrival? They
went round the point of the island, strolling more leisurely still to
enjoy the solitude and tranquillity which the old historic mansions seem
to have implanted there. They watched the water seething between the
wooden piles of the Estacade, and returned by way of the Quai de Bethune
and the Quai d’Orleans, instinctively drawn closer to each other by
the widening of the stream, keeping elbow to elbow at sight of the vast
flow, with their eyes fixed on the distant Halle aux Vins and the
Jardin des Plantes. In the pale sky, the cupolas of the public buildings
assumed a bluish hue. When they reached the Pont St. Louis, Claude had
to point out Notre-Dame by name, for Christine did not recognise
the edifice from the rear, where it looked like a colossal creature
crouching down between its flying buttresses, which suggested sprawling
paws, while above its long leviathan spine its towers rose like a double
head. Their real find that day, however, was at the western point of
the island, that point like the prow of a ship always riding at anchor,
afloat between two swift currents, in sight of Paris, but ever unable
to get into port. They went down some very steep steps there, and
discovered a solitary bank planted with lofty trees. It was a charming
refuge--a hermitage in the midst of a crowd. Paris was rumbling around
them, on the quays, on the bridges, while they at the water’s edge
tasted the delight of being alone, ignored by the whole world. From that
day forth that bank became a little rustic coign of theirs, a favourite
open-air resort, where they took advantage of the sunny hours, when
the great heat of the studio, where the red-hot stove kept roaring,
oppressed them too much, filling their hands with a fever of which they
were afraid.

Nevertheless, Christine had so far objected to be accompanied farther
than the Mail. At the Quai des Ormes she always bade Claude go back,
as if Paris, with her crowds and possible encounters, began at the long
stretch of quays which she had to traverse on her way home. But Passy
was so far off, and she felt so dull at having to go such a distance
alone, that gradually she gave way. She began by allowing Claude to see
her as far as the Hotel de Ville; then as far as the Pont-Neuf; at last
as far as the Tuileries. She forgot the danger; they walked arm in arm
like a young married couple; and that constantly repeated promenade,
that leisurely journey over the self-same ground by the river side,
acquired an infinite charm, full of a happiness such as could scarcely
be surpassed in after-times. They truly belonged to each other, though
they had not erred. It seemed as if the very soul of the great city,
rising from the river, wrapped them around with all the love that had
throbbed behind the grey stone walls through the long lapse of ages.

Since the nipping colds of December, Christine only came in the
afternoon, and it was about four o’clock, when the sun was sinking, that
Claude escorted her back on his arm. On days when the sky was clear,
they could see the long line of quays stretching away into space
directly they had crossed the Pont Louis-Philippe. From one end to the
other the slanting sun powdered the houses on the right bank with golden
dust, while, on the left, the islets, the buildings, stood out in a
black line against the blazing glory of the sunset. Between the sombre
and the brilliant margin, the spangled river sparkled, cut in twain
every now and then by the long bars of its bridges; the five arches of
the Pont Notre-Dame showing under the single span of the Pont d’Arcole;
then the Pont-au-Change and the Pont-Neuf, beyond each of whose shadows
appeared a luminous patch, a sheet of bluish satiny water, growing
paler here and there with a mirror-like reflection. And while the dusky
outlines on the left terminated in the silhouettes of the pointed towers
of the Palais de Justice, sharply and darkly defined against the sky,
a gentle curve undulated on the right, stretching away so far that the
Pavillon de Flore, who stood forth like a citadel at the curve’s extreme
end, seemed a fairy castle, bluey, dreamlike and vague, amidst the
rosy mist on the horizon. But Claude and Christine, with the sunlight
streaming on them, athwart the leafless plane trees, turned away from
the dazzlement, preferring to gaze at certain spots, one above all--a
block of old houses just above the Mail. Below, there was a series of
one-storied tenements, little huckster and fishing-tackle shops, with
flat terrace roofs, ornamented with laurel and Virginia creeper. And in
the rear rose loftier, but decrepit, dwellings, with linen hung out to
dry at their windows, a collection of fantastic structures, a confused
mass of woodwork and masonry, overtoppling walls, and hanging gardens,
in which coloured glass balls shone out like stars. They walked on,
leaving behind them the big barracks and the Hotel de Ville, and feeling
much more interest in the Cite which appeared across the river, pent
between lofty smooth embankments rising from the water. Above the
darkened houses rose the towers of Notre-Dame, as resplendent as if they
had been newly gilt. Then the second-hand bookstalls began to invade
the quays. Down below a lighter full of charcoal struggled against the
strong current beneath an arch of the Pont Notre-Dame. And then, on
the days when the flower market was held, they stopped, despite the
inclement weather, to inhale the scent of the first violets and the
early gillyflowers. On their left a long stretch of bank now became
visible; beyond the pepper-caster turrets of the Palais de Justice, the
small, murky tenements of the Quai de l’Horloge showed as far as the
clump of trees midway across the Pont-Neuf; then, as they went farther
on, other quays emerged from the mist, in the far distance: the Quai
Voltaire, the Quai Malaquais, the dome of the Institute of France, the
square pile of the Mint, a long grey line of frontages of which they
could not even distinguish the windows, a promontory of roofs, which,
with their stacks of chimney-pots, looked like some rugged cliff,
dipping down into a phosphorescent sea. In front, however, the Pavillon
de Flore lost its dreamy aspect, and became solidified in the final sun
blaze. Then right and left, on either bank of the river, came the long
vistas of the Boulevard de Sebastopol and the Boulevard du Palais;
the handsome new buildings of the Quai de la Megisserie, with the new
Prefecture of Police across the water; and the old Pont-Neuf, with
its statue of Henri IV. looking like a splash of ink. The Louvre, the
Tuileries followed, and beyond Grenelle there was a far-stretching
panorama of the slopes of Sevres, the country steeped in a stream of
sun rays. Claude never went farther. Christine always made him stop just
before they reached the Pont Royal, near the fine trees beside Vigier’s
swimming baths; and when they turned round to shake hands once more in
the golden sunset now flushing into crimson, they looked back and, on
the horizon, espied the Isle Saint Louis, whence they had come, the
indistinct distance of the city upon which night was already descending
from the slate-hued eastern sky.

Ah! what splendid sunsets they beheld during those weekly strolls.
The sun accompanied them, as it were, amid the throbbing gaiety of the
quays, the river life, the dancing ripples of the currents; amid the
attractions of the shops, as warm as conservatories, the flowers sold by
the seed merchants, and the noisy cages of the bird fanciers; amid all
the din of sound and wealth of colour which ever make a city’s waterside
its youthful part. As they proceeded, the ardent blaze of the western
sky turned to purple on their left, above the dark line of houses, and
the orb of day seemed to wait for them, falling gradually lower, slowly
rolling towards the distant roofs when once they had passed the Pont
Notre-Dame in front of the widening stream. In no ancient forest, on no
mountain road, beyond no grassy plain will there ever be such triumphal
sunsets as behind the cupola of the Institute. It is there one sees
Paris retiring to rest in all her glory. At each of their walks the
aspect of the conflagration changed; fresh furnaces added their glow to
the crown of flames. One evening, when a shower had surprised them, the
sun, showing behind the downpour, lit up the whole rain cloud, and upon
their heads there fell a spray of glowing water, irisated with pink
and azure. On the days when the sky was clear, however, the sun, like a
fiery ball, descended majestically in an unruffled sapphire lake; for a
moment the black cupola of the Institute seemed to cut away part of it
and make it look like the waning moon; then the globe assumed a violet
tinge and at last became submerged in the lake, which had turned
blood-red. Already, in February, the planet described a wider curve, and
fell straight into the Seine, which seemed to seethe on the horizon as
at the contact of red-hot iron. However, the grander scenes, the vast
fairy pictures of space only blazed on cloudy evenings. Then, according
to the whim of the wind, there were seas of sulphur splashing against
coral reefs; there were palaces and towers, marvels of architecture,
piled upon one another, burning and crumbling, and throwing torrents of
lava from their many gaps; or else the orb which had disappeared, hidden
by a veil of clouds, suddenly transpierced that veil with such a press
of light that shafts of sparks shot forth from one horizon to the other,
showing as plainly as a volley of golden arrows. And then the twilight
fell, and they said good-bye to each other, while their eyes were still
full of the final dazzlement. They felt that triumphal Paris was the
accomplice of the joy which they could not exhaust, the joy of ever
resuming together that walk beside the old stone parapets.

One day, however, there happened what Claude had always secretly feared.
Christine no longer seemed to believe in the possibility of meeting
anybody who knew her. In fact, was there such a person? She would always
pass along like this, remaining altogether unknown. He, however, thought
of his own friends, and at times felt a kind of tremor when he fancied
he recognised in the distance the back of some acquaintance. He was
troubled by a feeling of delicacy; the idea that somebody might stare at
the girl, approach them, and perhaps begin to joke, gave him intolerable
worry. And that very evening, as she was close beside him on his arm,
and they were approaching the Pont des Arts, he fell upon Sandoz and
Dubuche, who were coming down the steps of the bridge. It was impossible
to avoid them, they were almost face to face; besides, his friends must
have seen him, for they smiled. Claude, very pale, kept advancing, and
he thought it all up on seeing Dubuche take a step towards him; but
Sandoz was already holding the architect back, and leading him away.
They passed on with an indifferent air and disappeared into the
courtyard of the Louvre without as much as turning round. They had both
just recognised the original of the crayon sketch, which the painter hid
away with all the jealousy of a lover. Christine, who was chattering,
had noticed nothing. Claude, with his heart throbbing, answered her in
monosyllables, moved to tears, brimming over with gratitude to his old
chums for their discreet behaviour.

A few days later, however, he had another shock. He did not expect
Christine, and had therefore made an appointment with Sandoz. Then,
as she had run up to spend an hour--it was one of those surprises that
delighted them--they had just withdrawn the key, as usual, when
there came a familiar knock with the fist on the door. Claude at once
recognised the rap, and felt so upset at the mishap that he overturned a
chair. After that it was impossible to pretend to be out. But Christine
turned so pale, and implored him with such a wild gesture, that he
remained rooted to the spot, holding his breath. The knocks continued,
and a voice called, ‘Claude, Claude!’ He still remained quite still,
debating with himself, however, with ashen lips and downcast eyes. Deep
silence reigned, and then footsteps were heard, making the stairs creak
as they went down. Claude’s breast heaved with intense sadness; he felt
it bursting with remorse at the sound of each retreating step, as if he
had denied the friendship of his whole youth.

However, one afternoon there came another knock, and Claude had only
just time to whisper despairingly, ‘The key has been left in the door.’

In fact, Christine had forgotten to take it out. She became quite scared
and darted behind the screen, with her handkerchief over her mouth to
stifle the sound of her breathing.

The knocks became louder, there was a burst of laughter, and the painter
had to reply, ‘Come in.’

He felt more uncomfortable still when he saw Jory, who gallantly ushered
in Irma Becot, whose acquaintance he had made through Fagerolles, and
who was flinging her youth about the Paris studios.

‘She insisted upon seeing your studio, so I brought her,’ explained the
journalist.

The girl, however, without waiting, was already walking about and making
remarks, with perfect freedom of manner. ‘Oh! how funny it is here. And
what funny painting. Come, there’s a good fellow, show me everything. I
want to see everything.’

Claude, apprehensively anxious, was afraid that she might push the
screen aside. He pictured Christine behind it, and felt distracted
already at what she might hear.

‘You know what she has come to ask of you?’ resumed Jory cheerfully.
‘What, don’t you remember? You promised that she might pose for
something. And she’ll do so if you like.’

‘Of course I will,’ said Irma.

‘The fact is,’ replied Claude, in an embarrassed tone, ‘my picture here
will take up all my time till the Salon. I have a figure in it that
gives me a deal of trouble. It’s impossible to perfect it with those
confounded models.’

Irma had stationed herself in front of the picture, and looked at it
with a knowing air. ‘Oh! I see,’ she said, ‘that woman in the grass, eh?
Do you think I could be of any use to you?’

Jory flared up in a moment, warmly approving the idea, but Claude with
the greatest energy replied, ‘No, no madame wouldn’t suit. She is not at
all what I want for this picture; not at all.’

Then he went on stammering excuses. He would be only too pleased later
on, but just now he was afraid that another model would quite complete
his confusion over that picture; and Irma responded by shrugging her
shoulders, and looking at him with an air of smiling contempt.

Jory, however, now began to chat about their friends. Why had not
Claude come to Sandoz’s on the previous Thursday? One never saw him now.
Dubuche asserted all sorts of things about him. There had been a row
between Fagerolles and Mahoudeau on the subject whether evening dress
was a thing to be reproduced in sculpture. Then on the previous Sunday
Gagniere had returned home from a Wagner concert with a black eye. He,
Jory, had nearly had a duel at the Cafe Baudequin on account of one of
his last articles in ‘The Drummer.’ The fact was he was giving it hot to
the twopenny-halfpenny painters, the men with the usurped reputations!
The campaign against the hanging committee of the Salon was making a
deuce of a row; not a shred would be left of those guardians of the
ideal, who wanted to prevent nature from entering their show.

Claude listened to him with impatient irritation. He had taken up his
palette and was shuffling about in front of his picture. The other one
understood at last.

‘You want to work, I see; all right, we’ll leave you.’

Irma, however, still stared at the painter, with her vague smile,
astonished at the stupidity of this simpleton, who did not seem to
appreciate her, and seized despite herself with a whim to please him.
His studio was ugly, and he himself wasn’t handsome; but why should he
put on such bugbear airs? She chaffed him for a moment, and on going off
again offered to sit for him, emphasising her offer by warmly pressing
his hand.

‘Whenever you like,’ were her parting words.

They had gone at last, and Claude was obliged to pull the screen aside,
for Christine, looking very white, remained seated behind it, as if she
lacked the strength to rise. She did not say a word about the girl, but
simply declared that she had felt very frightened; and--trembling lest
there should come another knock--she wanted to go at once, carrying away
with her, as her startled looks testified, the disturbing thought of
many things which she did not mention.

In fact, for a long time that sphere of brutal art, that studio full of
glaring pictures, had caused her a feeling of discomfort. Wounded in all
her feelings, full of repugnance, she could not get used to it all. She
had grown up full of affectionate admiration for a very different style
of art--her mother’s fine water-colours, those fans of dreamy delicacy,
in which lilac-tinted couples floated about in bluish gardens--and she
quite failed to understand Claude’s work. Even now she often amused
herself by painting tiny girlish landscapes, two or three subjects
repeated over and over again--a lake with a ruin, a water-mill beating
a stream, a chalet and some pine trees, white with snow. And she felt
surprised that an intelligent young fellow should paint in such an
unreasonable manner, so ugly and so untruthful besides. For she not
only thought Claude’s realism monstrously ugly, but considered it beyond
every permissible truth. In fact, she thought at times that he must be
mad.

One day Claude absolutely insisted upon seeing a small sketch-book which
she had brought away from Clermont, and which she had spoken about.
After objecting for a long while, she brought it with her, flattered at
heart and feeling very curious to know what he would say. He turned over
the leaves, smiling all the while, and as he did not speak, she was the
first to ask:

‘You think it very bad, don’t you?’

‘Not at all,’ he replied. ‘It’s innocent.’

The reply hurt her, despite Claude’s indulgent tone, which aimed at
making it amiable.

‘Well, you see I had so few lessons from mamma. I like painting to be
well done, and pleasing.’

Thereupon he burst into frank laughter.

‘Confess now that my painting makes you feel ill! I have noticed it. You
purse your lips and open your eyes wide with fright. Certainly it is
not the style of painting for ladies, least of all for young girls. But
you’ll get used to it; it’s only a question of educating your eyes and
you’ll end by seeing that what I am doing is very honest and healthy.’

Indeed, Christine slowly became used to it. But, at first, artistic
conviction had nothing to do with the change, especially as Claude,
with his contempt for female opinion, did not take the trouble to
indoctrinate her. On the contrary, in her company he avoided conversing
about art, as if he wished to retain for himself that passion of his
life, apart from the new passion which was gradually taking possession
of him. Still, Christine glided into the habit of the thing, and became
familiarised with it; she began to feel interested in those abominable
pictures, on noticing the important place they held in the artist’s
existence. This was the first stage on the road to conversion; she
felt greatly moved by his rageful eagerness to be up and doing, the
whole-heartedness with which he devoted himself to his work. Was it not
very touching? Was there not something very creditable in it? Then, on
noticing his joy or suffering, according to the success or the failure
of the day’s work, she began to associate herself with his efforts. She
felt saddened when she found him sad, she grew cheerful when he received
her cheerfully; and from that moment her worry was--had he done a lot
of work? was he satisfied with what he had done since they had last seen
each other? At the end of the second month she had been gained over;
she stationed herself before his pictures to judge whether they were
progressing or not. She no longer felt afraid of them. She still did not
approve particularly of that style of painting, but she began to repeat
the artistic expressions which she had heard him use; declared this
bit to be ‘vigorous in tone,’ ‘well built up,’ or ‘just in the light
it should be.’ He seemed to her so good-natured, and she was so fond of
him, that after finding excuses for him for daubing those horrors, she
ended by discovering qualities in them in order that she might like them
a little also.

Nevertheless, there was one picture, the large one, the one intended for
the Salon, to which for a long while she was quite unable to reconcile
herself. She already looked without dislike at the studies made at the
Boutin studio and the sketches of Plassans, but she was still irritated
by the sight of the woman lying in the grass. It was like a personal
grudge, the shame of having momentarily thought that she could detect
in it a likeness of herself, and silent embarrassment, too, for that big
figure continued to wound her feelings, although she now found less and
less of a resemblance in it. At first she had protested by averting her
eyes. Now she remained for several minutes looking at it fixedly,
in mute contemplation. How was it that the likeness to herself had
disappeared? The more vigorously that Claude struggled on, never
satisfied, touching up the same bit a hundred times over, the more did
that likeness to herself gradually fade away. And, without being able
to account for it, without daring to admit as much to herself, she, whom
the painting had so greatly offended when she had first seen it, now
felt a growing sorrow at noticing that nothing of herself remained.

Indeed it seemed to her as if their friendship suffered from this
obliteration; she felt herself further away from him as trait after
trait vanished. Didn’t he care for her that he thus allowed her to be
effaced from his work? And who was the new woman, whose was the unknown
indistinct face that appeared from beneath hers?

Claude, in despair at having spoilt the figure’s head, did not know
exactly how to ask her for a few hours’ sitting. She would merely have
had to sit down, and he would only have taken some hints. But he had
previously seen her so pained that he felt afraid of irritating her
again. Moreover, after resolving in his own mind to ask her this favour
in a gay, off-hand way, he had been at a loss for words, feeling all at
once ashamed at the notion.

One afternoon he quite upset her by one of those bursts of anger which
he found it impossible to control, even in her presence. Everything had
gone wrong that week; he talked of scraping his canvas again, and he
paced up and down, beside himself, and kicking the furniture about. Then
all of a sudden he caught her by the shoulders, and made her sit down on
the couch.

‘I beg of you, do me this favour, or it’ll kill me, I swear it will.’

She did not understand him.

‘What--what is it you want?’

Then as soon as she saw him take up his brushes, she added, without
heeding what she said, ‘Ah, yes! Why did not you ask me before?’

And of her own accord she threw herself back on a cushion and slipped
her arm under her neck. But surprise and confusion at having yielded so
quickly made her grave, for she did not know that she was prepared for
this kind of thing; indeed, she could have sworn that she would never
serve him as a model again. Her compliance already filled her with
remorse, as if she were lending herself to something wrong by letting
him impart her own countenance to that big creature, lying refulgent
under the sun.

However, in two sittings, Claude worked in the head all right. He
exulted with delight, and exclaimed that it was the best bit of painting
he had ever done; and he was right, never had he thrown such a play of
real light over such a life-like face. Happy at seeing him so pleased,
Christine also became gay, going as far as to express approval of her
head, which, though not extremely like her, had a wonderful expression.
They stood for a long while before the picture, blinking at it, and
drawing back as far as the wall.

‘And now,’ he said at last, ‘I’ll finish her off with a model. Ah! so
I’ve got her at last.’

In a burst of childish glee, he took the girl round the waist, and they
performed ‘a triumphant war dance,’ as he called it. She laughed very
heartily, fond of romping as she was, and no longer feeling aught of her
scruples and discomfort.

But the very next week Claude became gloomy again. He had chosen Zoe
Piedefer as a model, but she did not satisfy him. Christine’s delicate
head, as he expressed it, did not set well on the other’s shoulders. He,
nevertheless, persisted, scratched out, began anew, and worked so
hard that he lived in a constant state of fever. Towards the middle of
January, seized with despair, he abandoned his picture and turned it
against the wall, swearing that he would not finish it. But a fortnight
later, he began to work at it again with another model, and then found
himself obliged to change the whole tone of it. Thus matters got still
worse; so he sent for Zoe again; became altogether at sea, and quite ill
with uncertainty and anguish. And the pity of it was, that the central
figure alone worried him, for he was well satisfied with the rest of
the painting, the trees of the background, the two little women and the
gentleman in the velvet coat, all finished and vigorous. February was
drawing to a close; he had only a few days left to send his picture to
the Salon; it was quite a disaster.

One evening, in Christine’s presence, he began swearing, and all at once
a cry of fury escaped him: ‘After all, by the thunder of heaven, is it
possible to stick one woman’s head on another’s shoulders? I ought to
chop my hand off.’

From the depths of his heart a single idea now rose to his brain: to
obtain her consent to pose for the whole figure. It had slowly sprouted,
first as a simple wish, quickly discarded as absurd; then had come a
silent, constantly-renewed debate with himself; and at last, under the
spur of necessity, keen and definite desire. The recollection of the
morning after the storm, when she had accepted his hospitality, haunted
and tortured him. It was she whom he needed; she alone could enable
him to realise his dream, and he beheld her again in all her youthful
freshness, beaming and indispensable. If he could not get her to pose,
he might as well give up his picture, for no one else would ever satisfy
him. At times, while he remained seated for hours, distracted in front
of the unfinished canvas, so utterly powerless that he no longer knew
where to give a stroke of the brush, he formed heroic resolutions. The
moment she came in he would throw himself at her feet; he would tell her
of his distress in such touching words that she would perhaps consent.
But as soon as he beheld her, he lost all courage, he averted his eyes,
lest she might decipher his thoughts in his instinctive glances. Such
a request would be madness. One could not expect such a service from a
friend; he would never have the audacity to ask.

Nevertheless, one evening as he was getting ready to accompany her, and
as she was putting on her bonnet, with her arms uplifted, they remained
for a moment looking into each other’s eyes, he quivering, and she
suddenly becoming so grave, so pale, that he felt himself detected. All
along the quays they scarcely spoke; the matter remained unmentioned
between them while the sun set in the coppery sky. Twice afterwards he
again read in her looks that she was aware of his all-absorbing thought.
In fact, since he had dreamt about it, she had began to do the same,
in spite of herself, her attention roused by his involuntary allusions.
They scarcely affected her at first, though she was obliged at last to
notice them; still the question seemed to her to be beyond the range
of possibility, to be one of those unavowable ideas which people do not
even speak of. The fear that he would dare to ask her did not even occur
to her; she knew him well by now; she could have silenced him with a
gesture, before he had stammered the first words, and in spite of his
sudden bursts of anger. It was simple madness. Never, never!

Days went by, and between them that fixed idea grew in intensity. The
moment they were together they could not help thinking of it. Not a word
was spoken on the subject, but their very silence was eloquent; they no
longer made a movement, no longer exchanged a smile without stumbling
upon that thought, which they found impossible to put into words, though
it filled their minds. Soon nothing but that remained in their fraternal
intercourse. And the perturbation of heart and senses which they had
so far avoided in the course of their familiar intimacy, came at last,
under the influence of the all-besetting thought. And then the anguish
which they left unmentioned, but which they could not hide from one
another, racked and stifled them, left them heaving distressfully with
painful sighs.

Towards the middle of March, Christine, at one of her visits, found
Claude seated before his picture, overcome with sorrow. He had not
even heard her enter. He remained motionless, with vacant, haggard eyes
staring at his unfinished work. In another three days the delay for
sending in exhibits for the Salon would expire.

‘Well,’ she inquired gently, after standing for a long time behind him,
grief-stricken at seeing him in such despair.

He started and turned round.

‘Well, it’s all up. I sha’n’t exhibit anything this year. Ah! I who
relied so much upon this Salon!’

Both relapsed into despondency--a despondency and agitation full of
confused thoughts. Then she resumed, thinking aloud as it were:

‘There would still be time.’

‘Time? Oh! no indeed. A miracle would be needed. Where am I to find a
model so late in the day? Do you know, since this morning I have been
worrying, and for a moment I thought I had hit upon an idea: Yes, it
would be to go and fetch that girl, that Irma who came while you were
here. I know well enough that she is short and not at all such as I
thought of, and so I should perhaps have to change everything once more;
but all the same it might be possible to make her do. Decidedly, I’ll
try her--’

He stopped short. The glowing eyes with which he gazed at her clearly
said: ‘Ah! there’s you! ah! it would be the hoped-for miracle, and
triumph would be certain, if you were to make this supreme sacrifice
for me. I beseech you, I ask you devoutly, as a friend, the dearest, the
most beauteous, the most pure.’

She, erect, looking very pale, seemed to hear each of those words,
though all remained unspoken, and his ardently beseeching eyes overcame
her. She herself did not speak. She simply did as she was desired,
acting almost like one in a dream. Beneath it all there lurked the
thought that he must not ask elsewhere, for she was now conscious of
her earlier jealous disquietude and wished to share his affections with
none. Yet it was in silence and all chastity that she stretched herself
on the couch, and took up the pose, with one arm under her head, her
eyes closed.

And Claude? Startled, full of gratitude, he had at last found again the
sudden vision that he had so often evoked. But he himself did not speak;
he began to paint in the deep solemn silence that had fallen upon them
both. For two long hours he stood to his work with such manly energy
that he finished right off a superb roughing out of the whole figure.
Never before had he felt such enthusiasm in his art. It seemed to him
as if he were in the presence of some saint; and at times he wondered
at the transfiguration of Christine’s face, whose somewhat massive jaws
seemed to have receded beneath the gentle placidity which her brow and
cheeks displayed. During those two hours she did not stir, she did not
speak, but from time to time she opened her clear eyes, fixing them on
some vague, distant point, and remaining thus for a moment, then closing
them again, and relapsing into the lifelessness of fine marble, with the
mysterious fixed smile required by the pose.

It was by a gesture that Claude apprized her he had finished. He turned
away, and when they stood face to face again, she ready to depart, they
gazed at one another, overcome by emotion which still prevented them
from speaking. Was it sadness, then, unconscious, unnameable sadness?
For their eyes filled with tears, as if they had just spoilt their lives
and dived to the depths of human misery. Then, moved and grieved, unable
to find a word, even of thanks, he kissed her religiously upon the brow.



V

ON the 15th May, a Friday, Claude, who had returned at three o’clock in
the morning from Sandoz’s, was still asleep at nine, when Madame Joseph
brought him up a large bouquet of white lilac which a commissionaire had
just left downstairs. He understood at once. Christine had wished to be
beforehand in celebrating the success of his painting. For this was a
great day for him, the opening day of the ‘Salon of the Rejected,’ which
was first instituted that year,* and at which his picture--refused by
the hanging committee of the official Salon--was to be exhibited.

  * This was in 1863.--ED.

That delicate attention on Christine’s part, that fresh and fragrant
lilac, affected him greatly, as if presaging a happy day. Still in his
nightshirt, with his feet bare, he placed the flowers in his water-jug
on the table. Then, with his eyes still swollen with sleep, almost
bewildered, he dressed, scolding himself the while for having slept so
long. On the previous night he had promised Dubuche and Sandoz to call
for them at the latter’s place at eight o’clock, in order that they
might all three go together to the Palais de l’Industrie, where they
would find the rest of the band. And he was already an hour behind time.

Then, as luck would have it, he could not lay his hands upon anything in
his studio, which had been turned topsy-turvy since the despatch of the
big picture. For more than five minutes he hunted on his knees for his
shoes, among a quantity of old chases. Some particles of gold leaf flew
about, for, not knowing where to get the money for a proper frame, he
had employed a joiner of the neighbourhood to fit four strips of board
together, and had gilded them himself, with the assistance of his friend
Christine, who, by the way, had proved a very unskilful gilder. At last,
dressed and shod, and having his soft felt hat bespangled with yellow
sparks of the gold, he was about to go, when a superstitious thought
brought him back to the nosegay, which had remained alone on the centre
of the table. If he did not kiss the lilac he was sure to suffer an
affront. So he kissed it and felt perfumed by its strong springtide
aroma.

Under the archway, he gave his key as usual to the doorkeeper. ‘Madame
Joseph,’ he said, ‘I shall not be home all day.’

In less than twenty minutes he was in the Rue d’Enfer, at Sandoz’s. But
the latter, whom he feared would have already gone, was equally late in
consequence of a sudden indisposition which had come upon his mother. It
was nothing serious. She had merely passed a bad night, but it had for a
while quite upset him with anxiety. Now, easy in mind again, Sandoz told
Claude that Dubuche had written saying that they were not to wait for
him, and giving an appointment at the Palais. They therefore started
off, and as it was nearly eleven, they decided to lunch in a deserted
little _cremerie_ in the Rue St. Honore, which they did very leisurely,
seized with laziness amidst all their ardent desire to see and know;
and enjoying, as it were, a kind of sweet, tender sadness from lingering
awhile and recalling memories of their youth.

One o’clock was striking when they crossed the Champs Elysees. It was
a lovely day, with a limpid sky, to which the breeze, still somewhat
chilly, seemed to impart a brighter azure. Beneath the sun, of the
hue of ripe corn, the rows of chestnut trees showed new foliage of a
delicate and seemingly freshly varnished green; and the fountains with
their leaping sheafs of water, the well-kept lawns, the deep vistas of
the pathways, and the broad open spaces, all lent an air of luxurious
grandeur to the panorama. A few carriages, very few at that early
hour, were ascending the avenue, while a stream of bewildered, bustling
people, suggesting a swarm of ants, plunged into the huge archway of the
Palais de l’Industrie.

When they were inside, Claude shivered slightly while crossing the
gigantic vestibule, which was as cold as a cellar, with a damp pavement
which resounded beneath one’s feet, like the flagstones of a church.
He glanced right and left at the two monumental stairways, and asked
contemptuously: ‘I say, are we going through their dirty Salon?’

‘Oh! no, dash it!’ answered Sandoz. ‘Let’s cut through the garden. The
western staircase over there leads to “the Rejected.”’

Then they passed disdainfully between the two little tables of the
catalogue vendors. Between the huge red velvet curtains and beyond a
shady porch appeared the garden, roofed in with glass. At that time of
day it was almost deserted; there were only some people at the buffet
under the clock, a throng of people lunching. The crowd was in the
galleries on the first floor, and the white statues alone edged the
yellow-sanded pathways which with stretches of crude colour intersected
the green lawns. There was a whole nation of motionless marble there
steeped in the diffuse light falling from the glazed roof on high.
Looking southwards, some holland screens barred half of the nave, which
showed ambery in the sunlight and was speckled at both ends by the
dazzling blue and crimson of stained-glass windows. Just a few visitors,
tired already, occupied the brand-new chairs and seats, shiny with fresh
paint; while the flights of sparrows, who dwelt above, among the iron
girders, swooped down, quite at home, raking up the sand and twittering
as they pursued each other.

Claude and Sandoz made a show of walking very quickly without giving
a glance around them. A stiff classical bronze statue, a Minerva by a
member of the Institute, had exasperated them at the very door. But as
they hastened past a seemingly endless line of busts, they recognised
Bongrand, who, all alone, was going slowly round a colossal,
overflowing, recumbent figure, which had been placed in the middle of
the path. With his hands behind his back, quite absorbed, he bent his
wrinkled face every now and then over the plaster.

‘Hallo, it’s you?’ he said, as they held out their hands to him. ‘I was
just looking at our friend Mahoudeau’s figure, which they have at least
had the intelligence to admit, and to put in a good position.’ Then,
breaking off: ‘Have you been upstairs?’ he asked.

‘No, we have just come in,’ said Claude.

Thereupon Bongrand began to talk warmly about the Salon of the Rejected.
He, who belonged to the Institute, but who lived apart from his
colleagues, made very merry over the affair; the everlasting discontent
of painters; the campaign conducted by petty newspapers like ‘The
Drummer’; the protestations, the constant complaints that had at last
disturbed the Emperor, and the artistic _coup d’etat_ carried out by
that silent dreamer, for this Salon of the Rejected was entirely his
work. Then the great painter alluded to all the hubbub caused by the
flinging of such a paving-stone into that frog’s pond, the official art
world.

‘No,’ he continued, ‘you can have no idea of the rage and indignation
among the members of the hanging committee. And remember I’m distrusted,
they generally keep quiet when I’m there. But they are all furious with
the realists. It was to them that they systematically closed the doors
of the temple; it is on account of them that the Emperor has allowed the
public to revise their verdict; and finally it is they, the realists,
who triumph. Ah! I hear some nice things said; I wouldn’t give a high
price for your skins, youngsters.’

He laughed his big, joyous laugh, stretching out his arms the while as
if to embrace all the youthfulness that he divined rising around him.

‘Your disciples are growing,’ said Claude, simply.

But Bongrand, becoming embarrassed, silenced him with a wave of
his hand. He himself had not sent anything for exhibition, and the
prodigious mass of work amidst which he found himself--those pictures,
those statues, all those proofs of creative effort--filled him with
regret. It was not jealousy, for there lived not a more upright and
better soul; but as a result of self-examination, a gnawing fear of
impotence, an unavowed dread haunted him.

‘And at “the Rejected,”’ asked Sandoz; ‘how goes it there?’

‘Superb; you’ll see.’

Then turning towards Claude, and keeping both the young man’s hands in
his own, ‘You, my good fellow, you are a trump. Listen! they say I am
clever: well, I’d give ten years of my life to have painted that big
hussy of yours.’

Praise like that, coming from such lips, moved the young painter to
tears. Victory had come at last, then? He failed to find a word of
thanks, and abruptly changed the conversation, wishing to hide his
emotion.

‘That good fellow Mahoudeau!’ he said, ‘why his figure’s capital! He has
a deuced fine temperament, hasn’t he?’

Sandoz and Claude had begun to walk round the plaster figure. Bongrand
replied with a smile.

‘Yes, yes; there’s too much fulness and massiveness in parts. But just
look at the articulations, they are delicate and really pretty. Come,
good-bye, I must leave you. I’m going to sit down a while. My legs are
bending under me.’

Claude had raised his head to listen. A tremendous uproar, an incessant
crashing that had not struck him at first, careered through the air; it
was like the din of a tempest beating against a cliff, the rumbling of
an untiring assault, dashing forward from endless space.

‘Hallow, what’s that?’ he muttered.

‘That,’ said Bongrand, as he walked away, ‘that’s the crowd upstairs in
the galleries.’

And the two young fellows, having crossed the garden, then went up to
the Salon of the Rejected.

It had been installed in first-rate style. The officially received
pictures were not lodged more sumptuously: lofty hangings of old
tapestry at the doors; ‘the line’ set off with green baize; seats of
crimson velvet; white linen screens under the large skylights of the
roof. And all along the suite of galleries the first impression was the
same--there were the same gilt frames, the same bright colours on the
canvases. But there was a special kind of cheerfulness, a sparkle of
youth which one did not altogether realise at first. The crowd, already
compact, increased every minute, for the official Salon was being
deserted. People came stung by curiosity, impelled by a desire to judge
the judges, and, above all, full of the conviction that they were going
to see some very diverting things. It was very hot; a fine dust arose
from the flooring; and certainly, towards four o’clock people would
stifle there.

‘Hang it!’ said Sandoz, trying to elbow his way, ‘it will be no easy job
to move about and find your picture.’

A burst of fraternal feverishness made him eager to get to it. That day
he only lived for the work and glory of his old chum.

‘Don’t worry!’ exclaimed Claude; ‘we shall get to it all right. My
picture won’t fly off.’

And he affected to be in no hurry, in spite of the almost irresistible
desire that he felt to run. He raised his head and looked around him;
and soon, amidst the loud voices of the crowd that had bewildered him,
he distinguished some restrained laughter, which was almost drowned
by the tramp of feet and the hubbub of conversation. Before certain
pictures the public stood joking. This made him feel uneasy, for despite
all his revolutionary brutality he was as sensitive and as credulous
as a woman, and always looked forward to martyrdom, though he was ever
grieved and stupefied at being repulsed and railed at.

‘They seem gay here,’ he muttered.

‘Well, there’s good reason,’ remarked Sandoz. ‘Just look at those
extravagant jades!’

At the same moment, while still lingering in the first gallery,
Fagerolles ran up against them without seeing them. He started, being
no doubt annoyed by the meeting. However, he recovered his composure
immediately, and behaved very amiably.

‘Hallo! I was just thinking of you. I have been here for the last hour.’

‘Where have they put Claude’s picture?’ asked Sandoz. Fagerolles, who
had just remained for twenty minutes in front of that picture studying
it and studying the impression which it produced on the public, answered
without wincing, ‘I don’t know; I haven’t been able to find it. We’ll
look for it together if you like.’

And he joined them. Terrible wag as he was, he no longer affected
low-bred manners to the same degree as formerly; he already began to
dress well, and although with his mocking nature he was still disposed
to snap at everybody as of old, he pursed his lips into the serious
expression of a fellow who wants to make his way in the world. With an
air of conviction he added: ‘I must say that I now regret not having
sent anything this year! I should be here with all the rest of you, and
have my share of success. And there are really some astonishing things,
my boys! those horses, for instance.’

He pointed to a huge canvas in front of them, before which the crowd was
gathering and laughing. It was, so people said, the work of an erstwhile
veterinary surgeon, and showed a number of life-size horses in a meadow,
fantastic horses, blue, violet, and pink, whose astonishing anatomy
transpierced their sides.

‘I say, don’t you humbug us,’ exclaimed Claude, suspiciously.

But Fagerolles pretended to be enthusiastic. ‘What do you mean? The
picture’s full of talent. The fellow who painted it understands horses
devilish well. No doubt he paints like a brute. But what’s the odds if
he’s original, and contributes a document?’

As he spoke Fagerolles’ delicate girlish face remained perfectly grave,
and it was impossible to tell whether he was joking. There was but the
slightest yellow twinkle of spitefulness in the depths of his grey eyes.
And he finished with a sarcastic allusion, the drift of which was as yet
patent to him alone. ‘Ah, well! if you let yourself be influenced by the
fools who laugh, you’ll have enough to do by and by.’

The three friends had gone on again, only advancing, however, with
infinite difficulty amid that sea of surging shoulders. On entering the
second gallery they gave a glance round the walls, but the picture they
sought was not there. In lieu thereof they perceived Irma Becot on
the arm of Gagniere, both of them pressed against a hand-rail, he busy
examining a small canvas, while she, delighted at being hustled about,
raised her pink little mug and laughed at the crowd.

‘Hallo!’ said Sandoz, surprised, ‘here she is with Gagniere now!’

‘Oh, just a fancy of hers!’ exclaimed Fagerolles quietly. ‘She has a
very swell place now. Yes, it was given her by that young idiot of a
marquis, whom the papers are always talking about. She’s a girl who’ll
make her way; I’ve always said so! But she seems to retain a weakness
for painters, and every now and then drops into the Cafe Baudequin to
look up old friends!’

Irma had now seen them, and was making gestures from afar. They could
but go to her. When Gagniere, with his light hair and little beardless
face, turned round, looking more grotesque than over, he did not show
the least surprise at finding them there.

‘It’s wonderful,’ he muttered.

‘What’s wonderful?’ asked Fagerolles.

‘This little masterpiece--and withal honest and naif, and full of
conviction.’

He pointed to a tiny canvas before which he had stood absorbed, an
absolutely childish picture, such as an urchin of four might have
painted; a little cottage at the edge of a little road, with a little
tree beside it, the whole out of drawing, and girt round with black
lines. Not even a corkscrew imitation of smoke issuing from the roof was
forgotten.

Claude made a nervous gesture, while Fagerolles repeated phlegmatically:

‘Very delicate, very delicate. But your picture, Gagniere, where is it?’

‘My picture, it is there.’

In fact, the picture he had sent happened to be very near the little
masterpiece. It was a landscape of a pearly grey, a bit of the Seine
banks, painted carefully, pretty in tone, though somewhat heavy, and
perfectly ponderated without a sign of any revolutionary splash.

‘To think that they were idiotic enough to refuse that!’ said Claude,
who had approached with an air of interest. But why, I ask you, why?’

‘Because it’s realistic,’ said Fagerolles, in so sharp a voice that one
could not tell whether he was gibing at the jury or at the picture.

Meanwhile, Irma, of whom no one took any notice, was looking fixedly at
Claude with the unconscious smile which the savage loutishness of that
big fellow always brought to her lips. To think that he had not even
cared to see her again. She found him so much altered since the last
time she had seen him, so funny, and not at all prepossessing, with his
hair standing on end, and his face wan and sallow, as if he had had a
severe fever. Pained that he did not seem to notice her, she wanted to
attract his attention, and touched his arm with a familiar gesture.

‘I say, isn’t that one of your friends over there, looking for you?’

It was Dubuche, whom she knew from having seen him on one occasion at
the Cafe Baudequin. He was, with difficulty, elbowing his way through
the crowd, and staring vaguely at the sea of heads around him. But
all at once, when Claude was trying to attract his notice by dint of
gesticulations, the other turned his back to bow very low to a party of
three--the father short and fat, with a sanguine face; the mother very
thin, of the colour of wax, and devoured by anemia; and the daughter
so physically backward at eighteen, that she retained all the lank
scragginess of childhood.

‘All right!’ muttered the painter. ‘There he’s caught now. What ugly
acquaintances the brute has! Where can he have fished up such horrors?’

Gagniere quietly replied that he knew the strangers by sight. M.
Margaillan was a great masonry contractor, already a millionaire five or
six times over, and was making his fortune out of the great public
works of Paris, running up whole boulevards on his own account. No doubt
Dubuche had become acquainted with him through one of the architects he
worked for.

However, Sandoz, compassionating the scragginess of the girl, whom he
kept watching, judged her in one sentence.

‘Ah! the poor little flayed kitten. One feels sorry for her.’

‘Let them alone!’ exclaimed Claude, ferociously. ‘They have all the
crimes of the middle classes stamped on their faces; they reek of
scrofula and idiocy. It serves them right. But hallo! our runaway friend
is making off with them. What grovellers architects are! Good riddance.
He’ll have to look for us when he wants us!’

Dubuche, who had not seen his friends, had just offered his arm to the
mother, and was going off, explaining the pictures with gestures typical
of exaggerated politeness.

‘Well, let’s proceed then,’ said Fagerolles; and, addressing Gagniere,
he asked, ‘Do you know where they have put Claude’s picture?’

‘I? no, I was looking for it--I am going with you.’

He accompanied them, forgetting Irma Becot against the ‘line.’ It was
she who had wanted to visit the Salon on his arm, and he was so little
used to promenading a woman about, that he had constantly lost her on
the way, and was each time stupefied to find her again beside him, no
longer knowing how or why they were thus together. She ran after them,
and took his arm once more in order to follow Claude, who was already
passing into another gallery with Fagerolles and Sandoz.

Then the five roamed about in Indian file, with their noses in the
air, now separated by a sudden crush, now reunited by another, and
ever carried along by the stream. An abomination of Chaine’s, a ‘Christ
pardoning the Woman taken in Adultery,’ made them pause; it was a group
of dry figures that looked as if cut out of wood, very bony of build,
and seemingly painted with mud. But close by they admired a very fine
study of a woman, seen from behind, with her head turned sideways. The
whole show was a mixture of the best and the worst, all styles were
mingled together, the drivellers of the historical school elbowed the
young lunatics of realism, the pure simpletons were lumped together with
those who bragged about their originality. A dead Jezabel, that seemed
to have rotted in the cellars of the School of Arts, was exhibited near
a lady in white, the very curious conception of a future great artist*;
then a huge shepherd looking at the sea, a weak production, faced a
little painting of some Spaniards playing at rackets, a dash of light
of splendid intensity. Nothing execrable was wanting, neither military
scenes full of little leaden soldiers, nor wan antiquity, nor the middle
ages, smeared, as it were, with bitumen. But from amidst the incoherent
ensemble, and especially from the landscapes, all of which were painted
in a sincere, correct key, and also from the portraits, most of which
were very interesting in respect to workmanship, there came a good fresh
scent of youth, bravery and passion. If there were fewer bad pictures in
the official Salon, the average there was assuredly more commonplace and
mediocre. Here one found the smell of battle, of cheerful battle, given
jauntily at daybreak, when the bugle sounds, and when one marches to
meet the enemy with the certainty of beating him before sunset.

  * Edouard Manet.--ED.

Claude, whose spirits had revived amidst that martial odour, grew
animated and pugnacious as he listened to the laughter of the public. He
looked as defiant, indeed, as if he had heard bullets whizzing past him.
Sufficiently discreet at the entrance of the galleries, the laughter
became more boisterous, more unrestrained, as they advanced. In the
third room the women ceased concealing their smiles behind their
handkerchiefs, while the men openly held their sides the better to ease
themselves. It was the contagious hilarity of people who had come to
amuse themselves, and who were growing gradually excited, bursting out
at a mere trifle, diverted as much by the good things as by the bad.
Folks laughed less before Chaine’s Christ than before the back view of
the nude woman, who seemed to them very comical indeed. The ‘Lady in
White’ also stupefied people and drew them together; folks nudged each
other and went into hysterics almost; there was always a grinning group
in front of it. Each canvas thus had its particular kind of success;
people hailed each other from a distance to point out something funny,
and witticisms flew from mouth to mouth; to such a degree indeed that,
as Claude entered the fourth gallery, lashed into fury by the tempest of
laughter that was raging there as well, he all but slapped the face of
an old lady whose chuckles exasperated him.

‘What idiots!’ he said, turning towards his friends. ‘One feels inclined
to throw a lot of masterpieces at their heads.’

Sandoz had become fiery also, and Fagerolles continued praising the
most dreadful daubs, which only tended to increase the laughter, while
Gagniere, at sea amid the hubbub, dragged on the delighted Irma, whose
skirts somehow wound round the legs of all the men.

But of a sudden Jory stood before them. His fair handsome face
absolutely beamed. He cut his way through the crowd, gesticulated, and
exulted, as if over a personal victory. And the moment he perceived
Claude, he shouted:

‘Here you are at last! I have been looking for you this hour. A success,
old fellow, oh! a success--’

‘What success?’

‘Why, the success of your picture. Come, I must show it you. You’ll see,
it’s stunning.’

Claude grew pale. A great joy choked him, while he pretended to receive
the news with composure. Bongrand’s words came back to him. He began to
believe that he possessed genius.

‘Hallo, how are you?’ continued Jory, shaking hands with the others.

And, without more ado, he, Fagerolles and Gagniere surrounded Irma, who
smiled on them in a good-natured way.

‘Perhaps you’ll tell us where the picture is,’ said Sandoz, impatiently.
‘Take us to it.’

Jory assumed the lead, followed by the band. They had to fight their way
into the last gallery. But Claude, who brought up the rear, still heard
the laughter that rose on the air, a swelling clamour, the roll of a
tide near its full. And as he finally entered the room, he beheld a
vast, swarming, closely packed crowd pressing eagerly in front of his
picture. All the laughter arose, spread, and ended there. And it was his
picture that was being laughed at.

‘Eh!’ repeated Jory, triumphantly, ‘there’s a success for you.’

Gagniere, intimidated, as ashamed as if he himself had been slapped,
muttered: ‘Too much of a success--I should prefer something different.’

‘What a fool you are,’ replied Jory, in a burst of exalted conviction.
‘That’s what I call success. Does it matter a curse if they laugh? We
have made our mark; to-morrow every paper will talk about us.’

‘The idiots,’ was all that Sandoz could gasp, choking with grief.

Fagerolles, disinterested and dignified like a family friend following
a funeral procession, said nothing. Irma alone remained gay, thinking
it all very funny. And, with a caressing gesture, she leant against the
shoulder of the derided painter, and whispered softly in his ear: ‘Don’t
fret, my boy. It’s all humbug, be merry all the same.’

But Claude did not stir. An icy chill had come over him. For a
moment his heart had almost ceased to beat, so cruel had been the
disappointment And with his eyes enlarged, attracted and fixed by
a resistless force, he looked at his picture. He was surprised, and
scarcely recognised it; it certainly was not such as it had seemed to be
in his studio. It had grown yellow beneath the livid light of the linen
screens; it seemed, moreover, to have become smaller; coarser and more
laboured also; and whether it was the effect of the light in which it
now hung, or the contrast of the works beside it, at all events he now
at the first glance saw all its defects, after having remained blind
to them, as it were, for months. With a few strokes of the brush he, in
thought, altered the whole of it, deepened the distances, set a badly
drawn limb right, and modified a tone. Decidedly, the gentleman in the
velveteen jacket was worth nothing at all, he was altogether pasty and
badly seated; the only really good bit of work about him was his hand.
In the background the two little wrestlers--the fair and the dark
one--had remained too sketchy, and lacked substance; they were amusing
only to an artist’s eye. But he was pleased with the trees, with the
sunny glade; and the nude woman--the woman lying on the grass appeared
to him superior to his own powers, as if some one else had painted her,
and as if he had never yet beheld her in such resplendency of life.

He turned to Sandoz, and said simply:

‘They do right to laugh; it’s incomplete. Never mind, the woman is all
right! Bongrand was not hoaxing me.’

His friend wished to take him away, but he became obstinate, and drew
nearer instead. Now that he had judged his work, he listened and looked
at the crowd. The explosion continued--culminated in an ascending scale
of mad laughter. No sooner had visitors crossed the threshold than he
saw their jaws part, their eyes grow small, their entire faces expand;
and he heard the tempestuous puffing of the fat men, the rusty grating
jeers of the lean ones, amidst all the shrill, flute-like laughter of
the women. Opposite him, against the hand-rails, some young fellows went
into contortions, as if somebody had been tickling them. One lady had
flung herself on a seat, stifling and trying to regain breath with her
handkerchief over her mouth. Rumours of this picture, which was so very,
very funny, must have been spreading, for there was a rush from the four
corners of the Salon, bands of people arrived, jostling each other, and
all eagerness to share the fun. ‘Where is it?’ ‘Over there.’ ‘Oh, what a
joke!’ And the witticisms fell thicker than elsewhere. It was especially
the subject that caused merriment; people failed to understand it,
thought it insane, comical enough to make one ill with laughter. ‘You
see the lady feels too hot, while the gentleman has put on his velveteen
jacket for fear of catching cold.’ ‘Not at all; she is already blue; the
gentleman has pulled her out of a pond, and he is resting at a distance,
holding his nose.’ ‘I tell you it’s a young ladies’ school out for a
ramble. Look at the two playing at leap-frog.’ ‘Hallo! washing day;
the flesh is blue; the trees are blue; he’s dipped his picture in the
blueing tub!’

Those who did not laugh flew into a rage: that bluish tinge, that novel
rendering of light seemed an insult to them. Some old gentlemen shook
their sticks. Was art to be outraged like this? One grave individual
went away very wroth, saying to his wife that he did not like practical
jokes. But another, a punctilious little man, having looked in the
catalogue for the title of the work, in order to tell his daughter, read
out the words, ‘_In the Open Air_,’ whereupon there came a formidable
renewal of the clamour, hisses and shouts, and what not else besides.
The title sped about; it was repeated, commented on. ‘_In the Open Air_!
ah, yes, the open air, the nude woman in the air, everything in the air,
tra la la laire.’ The affair was becoming a scandal. The crowd still
increased. People’s faces grew red with congestion in the growing heat.
Each had the stupidly gaping mouth of the ignoramus who judges painting,
and between them they indulged in all the asinine ideas, all the
preposterous reflections, all the stupid spiteful jeers that the sight
of an original work can possibly elicit from bourgeois imbecility.

At that moment, as a last blow, Claude beheld Dubuche reappear, dragging
the Margaillans along. As soon as he came in front of the picture, the
architect, ill at ease, overtaken by cowardly shame, wished to quicken
his pace and lead his party further on, pretending that he saw neither
the canvas nor his friends. But the contractor had already drawn himself
up on his short, squat legs, and was staring at the picture, and asking
aloud in his thick hoarse voice:

‘I say, who’s the blockhead that painted this?’

That good-natured bluster, that cry of a millionaire parvenu resuming
the average opinion of the assembly, increased the general merriment;
and he, flattered by his success, and tickled by the strange style of
the painting, started laughing in his turn, so sonorously that he could
be heard above all the others. This was the hallelujah, a final outburst
of the great organ of opinion.

‘Take my daughter away,’ whispered pale-faced Madame Margaillan in
Dubuche’s ear.

He sprang forward and freed Regine, who had lowered her eyelids, from
the crowd; displaying in doing so as much muscular energy as if it had
been a question of saving the poor creature from imminent death. Then
having taken leave of the Margaillans at the door, with a deal of
handshaking and bows, he came towards his friends, and said straightway
to Sandoz, Fagerolles, and Gagniere:

‘What would you have? It isn’t my fault--I warned him that the public
would not understand him. It’s improper; yes, you may say what you like,
it’s improper.’

‘They hissed Delacroix,’ broke in Sandoz, white with rage, and clenching
his fists. ‘They hissed Courbet. Oh, the race of enemies! Oh, the born
idiots!’

Gagniere, who now shared this artistic vindictiveness, grew angry at the
recollection of his Sunday battles at the Pasdeloup Concerts in favour
of real music.

‘And they hiss Wagner too; they are the same crew. I recognise them. You
see that fat fellow over there--’

Jory had to hold him back. The journalist for his part would rather have
urged on the crowd. He kept on repeating that it was famous, that there
was a hundred thousand francs’ worth of advertisements in it. And Irma,
left to her own devices once more, went up to two of her friends, young
Bourse men who were among the most persistent scoffers, but whom she
began to indoctrinate, forcing them, as it were, into admiration, by
rapping them on the knuckles.

Fagerolles, however, had not opened his lips. He kept on examining the
picture, and glancing at the crowd. With his Parisian instinct and
the elastic conscience of a skilful fellow, he at once fathomed the
misunderstanding. He was already vaguely conscious of what was wanted
for that style of painting to make the conquest of everybody--a little
trickery perhaps, some attenuations, a different choice of subject, a
milder method of execution. In the main, the influence that Claude had
always had over him persisted in making itself felt; he remained imbued
with it; it had set its stamp upon him for ever. Only he considered
Claude to be an arch-idiot to have exhibited such a thing as that.
Wasn’t it stupid to believe in the intelligence of the public? What
was the meaning of that nude woman beside that gentleman who was fully
dressed? And what did those two little wrestlers in the background mean?
Yet the picture showed many of the qualities of a master. There wasn’t
another bit of painting like it in the Salon! And he felt a great
contempt for that artist, so admirably endowed, who through lack of tact
made all Paris roar as if he had been the worst of daubers.

This contempt became so strong that he was unable to hide it. In a
moment of irresistible frankness he exclaimed:

‘Look here, my dear fellow, it’s your own fault, you are too stupid.’

Claude, turning his eyes from the crowd, looked at him in silence. He
had not winced, he had only turned pale amidst the laughter, and if his
lips quivered it was merely with a slight nervous twitching; nobody knew
him, it was his work alone that was being buffeted. Then for a moment he
glanced again at his picture, and slowly inspected the other canvases in
the gallery. And amidst the collapse of his illusions, the bitter agony
of his pride, a breath of courage, a whiff of health and youth came to
him from all that gaily-brave painting which rushed with such headlong
passion to beat down classical conventionality. He was consoled and
inspirited by it all; he felt no remorse nor contrition, but, on the
contrary, was impelled to fight the popular taste still more. No doubt
there was some clumsiness and some puerility of effort in his work, but
on the other hand what a pretty general tone, what a play of light he
had thrown into it, a silvery grey light, fine and diffuse, brightened
by all the dancing sunbeams of the open air. It was as if a window
had been suddenly opened amidst all the old bituminous cookery of art,
amidst all the stewing sauces of tradition, and the sun came in and the
walls smiled under that invasion of springtide. The light note of his
picture, the bluish tinge that people had been railing at, flashed out
among the other paintings also. Was this not the expected dawn, a
new aurora rising on art? He perceived a critic who stopped without
laughing, some celebrated painters who looked surprised and grave, while
Papa Malgras, very dirty, went from picture to picture with the pout of
a wary connoisseur, and finally stopped short in front of his canvas,
motionless, absorbed. Then Claude turned round to Fagerolles, and
surprised him by this tardy reply:

‘A fellow can only be an idiot according to his own lights, my dear
chap, and it looks as if I am going to remain one. So much the better
for you if you are clever!’

Fagerolles at once patted him on the shoulder, like a chum who had only
been in fun, and Claude allowed Sandoz to take his arm. They led him off
at last. The whole band left the Salon of the Rejected, deciding that
they would pass on their way through the gallery of architecture; for
a design for a museum by Dubuche had been accepted, and for some few
minutes he had been fidgeting and begging them with so humble a look,
that it seemed difficult indeed to deny him this satisfaction.

‘Ah!’ said Jory, jocularly, on entering the gallery, ‘what an ice-well!
One can breathe here.’

They all took off their hats and wiped their foreheads, with a feeling
of relief, as if they had reached some big shady trees after a long
march in full sunlight. The gallery was empty. From the roof, shaded by
a white linen screen, there fell a soft, even, rather sad light, which
was reflected like quiescent water by the well-waxed, mirror-like floor.
On the four walls, of a faded red, hung the plans and designs in large
and small chases, edged with pale blue borders. Alone--absolutely
alone--amidst this desert stood a very hirsute gentleman, who was lost
in the contemplation of the plan of a charity home. Three ladies who
appeared became frightened and fled across the gallery with hasty steps.

Dubuche was already showing and explaining his work to his comrades. It
was only a drawing of a modest little museum gallery, which he had sent
in with ambitious haste, contrary to custom and against the wishes
of his master, who, nevertheless, had used his influence to have it
accepted, thinking himself pledged to do so.

‘Is your museum intended for the accommodation of the paintings of the
“open air” school?’ asked Fagerolles, very gravely.

Gagniere pretended to admire the plan, nodding his head, but thinking
of something else; while Claude and Sandoz examined it with sincere
interest.

‘Not bad, old boy,’ said the former. ‘The ornamentation is still
bastardly traditional; but never mind; it will do.’

Jory, becoming impatient at last, cut him short.

‘Come along, let’s go, eh? I’m catching my death of cold here.’

The band resumed its march. The worst was that to make a short cut they
had to go right through the official Salon, and they resigned themselves
to doing so, notwithstanding the oath they had taken not to set foot in
it, as a matter of protest. Cutting their way through the crowd, keeping
rigidly erect, they followed the suite of galleries, casting indignant
glances to right and left. There was none of the gay scandal of their
Salon, full of fresh tones and an exaggeration of sunlight, here. One
after the other came gilt frames full of shadows; black pretentious
things, nude figures showing yellowish in a cellar-like light, the
frippery of so-called classical art, historical, genre and landscape
painting, all showing the same conventional black grease. The works
reeked of uniform mediocrity, they were characterised by a muddy
dinginess of tone, despite their primness--the primness of impoverished,
degenerate blood. And the friends quickened their steps: they ran to
escape from that reign of bitumen, condemning everything in one lump
with their superb sectarian injustice, repeating that there was nothing
in the place worth looking at--nothing, nothing at all!

At last they emerged from the galleries, and were going down into the
garden when they met Mahoudeau and Chaine. The former threw himself into
Claude’s arms.

‘Ah, my dear fellow, your picture; what artistic temperament it shows!’

The painter at once began to praise the ‘Vintaging Girl.’

‘And you, I say, you have thrown a nice big lump at their heads!’

But the sight of Chaine, to whom no one spoke about the ‘Woman taken
in Adultery,’ and who went silently wandering around, awakened Claude’s
compassion. He thought there was something very sad about that execrable
painting, and the wasted life of that peasant who was a victim of
middle-class admiration. He always gave him the delight of a little
praise; so now he shook his hand cordially, exclaiming:

‘Your machine’s very good too. Ah, my fine fellow, draughtsmanship has
no terrors for you!’

‘No, indeed,’ declared Chaine, who had grown purple with vanity under
his black bushy beard.

He and Mahoudeau joined the band, and the latter asked the others
whether they had seen Chambouvard’s ‘Sower.’ It was marvellous; the
only piece of statuary worth looking at in the Salon. Thereupon they all
followed him into the garden, which the crowd was now invading.

‘There,’ said Mahoudeau, stopping in the middle of the central path:
‘Chambouvard is standing just in front of his “Sower.”’

In fact, a portly man stood there, solidly planted on his fat legs, and
admiring his handiwork. With his head sunk between his shoulders, he had
the heavy, handsome features of a Hindu idol. He was said to be the son
of a veterinary surgeon of the neighbourhood of Amiens. At forty-five
he had already produced twenty masterpieces: statues all simplicity
and life, flesh modern and palpitating, kneaded by a workman of
genius, without any pretension to refinement; and all this was chance
production, for he furnished work as a field bears harvest, good one
day, bad the next, in absolute ignorance of what he created. He carried
the lack of critical acumen to such a degree that he made no distinction
between the most glorious offspring of his hands and the detestably
grotesque figures which now and then he chanced to put together. Never
troubled by nervous feverishness, never doubting, always solid and
convinced, he had the pride of a god.

‘Wonderful, the “Sower”!’ whispered Claude. ‘What a figure! and what an
attitude!’

Fagerolles, who had not looked at the statue, was highly amused by the
great man, and the string of young, open-mouthed disciples whom as usual
he dragged at his tail.

‘Just look at them, one would think they are taking the sacrament, ‘pon
my word--and he himself, eh? What a fine brutish face he has!’

Isolated, and quite at his ease, amidst the general curiosity,
Chambouvard stood there wondering, with the stupefied air of a man who
is surprised at having produced such a masterpiece. He seemed to behold
it for the first time, and was unable to get over his astonishment. Then
an expression of delight gradually stole over his broad face, he nodded
his head, and burst into soft, irresistible laughter, repeating a dozen
times, ‘It’s comical, it’s really comical!’

His train of followers went into raptures, while he himself could find
nothing more forcible to express how much he worshipped himself. All at
once there was a slight stir. Bongrand, who had been walking about
with his hands behind his back, glancing vaguely around him, had just
stumbled on Chambouvard, and the public, drawing back, whispered, and
watched the two celebrated artists shaking hands; the one short and of
a sanguine temperament, the other tall and restless. Some expressions of
good-fellowship were overheard. ‘Always fresh marvels.’ ‘Of course! And
you, nothing this year?’ ‘No, nothing; I am resting, seeking--’
‘Come, you joker! There’s no need to seek, the thing comes by itself.’
‘Good-bye.’ ‘Good-bye.’ And Chambouvard, followed by his court, was
already moving slowly away among the crowd, with the glances of a king,
who enjoys life, while Bongrand, who had recognised Claude and his
friends, approached them with outstretched feverish hands, and called
attention to the sculptor with a nervous jerk of the chin, saying,
‘There’s a fellow I envy! Ah! to be confident of always producing
masterpieces!’

He complimented Mahoudeau on his ‘Vintaging Girl’; showed himself
paternal to all of them, with that broad-minded good-nature of his, the
free and easy manner of an old Bohemian of the romantic school, who had
settled down and was decorated. Then, turning to Claude:

‘Well, what did I tell you? Did you see upstairs? You have become the
chief of a school.’

‘Ah! yes,’ replied Claude. ‘They are giving it me nicely. You are the
master of us all.’

But Bongrand made his usual gesture of vague suffering and went off,
saying, ‘Hold your tongue! I am not even my own master.’

For a few moments longer the band wandered through the garden. They
had gone back to look at the ‘Vintaging Girl,’ when Jory noticed that
Gagniere no longer had Irma Becot on his arm. Gagniere was stupefied;
where the deuce could he have lost her? But when Fagerolles had told him
that she had gone off in the crowd with two gentlemen, he recovered his
composure, and followed the others, lighter of heart now that he was
relieved of that girl who had bewildered him.

People now only moved about with difficulty. All the seats were taken by
storm; groups blocked up the paths, where the promenaders paused every
now and then, flowing back around the successful bits of bronze and
marble. From the crowded buffet there arose a loud buzzing, a clatter
of saucers and spoons which mingled with the throb of life pervading
the vast nave. The sparrows had flown up to the forest of iron girders
again, and one could hear their sharp little chirps, the twittering with
which they serenaded the setting sun, under the warm panes of the glass
roof. The atmosphere, moreover, had become heavy, there was a damp
greenhouse-like warmth; the air, stationary as it was, had an odour as
of humus, freshly turned over. And rising above the garden throng,
the din of the first-floor galleries, the tramping of feet on their
iron-girdered flooring still rolled on with the clamour of a tempest
beating against a cliff.

Claude, who had a keen perception of that rumbling storm, ended by
hearing nothing else; it had been let loose and was howling in his
ears. It was the merriment of the crowd whose jeers and laughter swept
hurricane-like past his picture. With a weary gesture he exclaimed:

‘Come, what are we messing about here for? I sha’n’t take anything at
the refreshment bar, it reeks of the Institute. Let’s go and have a
glass of beer outside, eh?’

They all went out, with sinking legs and tired faces, expressive of
contempt. Once outside, on finding themselves again face to face with
healthy mother Nature in her springtide season, they breathed noisily
with an air of delight. It had barely struck four o’clock, the slanting
sun swept along the Champs Elysees and everything flared: the serried
rows of carriages, like the fresh foliage of the trees, and the
sheaf-like fountains which spouted up and whirled away in golden dust.
With a sauntering step they went hesitatingly down the central avenue,
and finally stranded in a little cafe, the Pavillon de la Concorde, on
the left, just before reaching the Place. The place was so small that
they sat down outside it at the edge of the footway, despite the chill
which fell from a vault of leaves, already fully grown and gloomy.
But beyond the four rows of chestnut-trees, beyond the belt of verdant
shade, they could see the sunlit roadway of the main avenue where Paris
passed before them as in a nimbus, the carriages with their wheels
radiating like stars, the big yellow omnibuses, looking even more
profusely gilded than triumphal chariots, the horsemen whose steeds
seemed to raise clouds of sparks, and the foot passengers whom the light
enveloped in splendour.

And during nearly three hours, with his beer untasted before him, Claude
went on talking and arguing amid a growing fever, broken down as he was
in body, and with his mind full of all the painting he had just seen. It
was the usual winding up of their visit to the Salon, though this year
they were more impassioned on account of the liberal measure of the
Emperor.

‘Well, and what of it, if the public does laugh?’ cried Claude. ‘We must
educate the public, that’s all. In reality it’s a victory. Take away two
hundred grotesque canvases, and our Salon beats theirs. We have courage
and audacity--we are the future. Yes, yes, you’ll see it later on; we
shall kill their Salon. We shall enter it as conquerors, by dint of
producing masterpieces. Laugh, laugh, you big stupid Paris--laugh until
you fall on your knees before us!’

And stopping short, he pointed prophetically to the triumphal avenue,
where the luxury and happiness of the city went rolling by in the
sunlight. His arms stretched out till they embraced even the Place de
la Concorde, which could be seen slantwise from where they sat under the
trees--the Place de la Concorde, with the plashing water of one of its
fountains, a strip of balustrade, and two of its statues--Rouen, with
the gigantic bosom, and Lille, thrusting forward her huge bare foot.

‘“In the open air”--it amuses them, eh?’ he resumed. ‘All right, since
they are bent on it, the “open air” then, the school of the “open air!”
 Eh! it was a thing strictly between us, it didn’t exist yesterday beyond
the circle of a few painters. But now they throw the word upon the
winds, and they found the school. Oh! I’m agreeable. Let it be the
school of the “open air!”’

Jory slapped his thighs.

‘Didn’t I tell you? I felt sure of making them bite with those articles
of mine, the idiots that they are. Ah! how we’ll plague them now.’

Mahoudeau also was singing victory, constantly dragging in his
‘Vintaging Girl,’ the daring points of which he explained to the silent
Chaine, the only one who listened to him; while Gagniere, with the
sternness of a timid man waxing wroth over questions of pure theory,
spoke of guillotining the Institute; and Sandoz, with the glowing
sympathy of a hard worker, and Dubuche, giving way to the contagion
of revolutionary friendship, became exasperated, and struck the table,
swallowing up Paris with each draught of beer. Fagerolles, very calm,
retained his usual smile. He had accompanied them for the sake of
amusement, for the singular pleasure which he found in urging his
comrades into farcical affairs that were bound to turn out badly. At
the very moment when he was lashing their spirit of revolt, he himself
formed the firm resolution to work in future for the Prix de Rome. That
day had decided him; he thought it idiotic to compromise his prospects
any further.

The sun was declining on the horizon, there was now only a returning
stream of carriages, coming back from the Bois in the pale golden
shimmer of the sunset. And the exodus from the Salon must have been
nearly over; a long string of pedestrians passed by, gentlemen who
looked like critics, each with a catalogue under his arm.

But all at once Gagniere became enthusiastic: ‘Ah! Courajod, there was
one who had his share in inventing landscape painting! Have you seen his
“Pond of Gagny” at the Luxembourg?’

‘A marvel!’ exclaimed Claude. ‘It was painted thirty years ago, and
nothing more substantial has been turned out since. Why is it left at
the Luxembourg? It ought to be in the Louvre.’

‘But Courajod isn’t dead,’ said Fagerolles.

‘What! Courajod isn’t dead! No one ever sees him or speaks of him now.’

There was general stupefaction when Fagerolles assured them that the
great landscape painter, now seventy years of age, lived somewhere in
the neighbourhood of Montmartre, in a little house among his fowls,
ducks, and dogs. So one might outlive one’s own glory! To think that
there were such melancholy instances of old artists disappearing before
their death! Silence fell upon them all; they began to shiver when they
perceived Bongrand pass by on a friend’s arm, with a congestive face
and a nervous air as he waved his hand to them; while almost immediately
behind him, surrounded by his disciples, came Chambouvard, laughing very
loudly, and tapping his heels on the pavement with the air of absolute
mastery that comes from confidence in immortality.

‘What! are you going?’ said Mahoudeau to Chaine, who was rising from his
chair.

The other mumbled some indistinct words in his beard, and went off after
distributing handshakes among the party.

‘I know,’ said Jory to Mahoudeau. ‘I believe he has a weakness for your
neighbour, the herbalist woman. I saw his eyes flash all at once; it
comes upon him like toothache. Look how he’s running over there.’

The sculptor shrugged his shoulders amidst the general laughter.

But Claude did not hear. He was now discussing architecture with
Dubuche. No doubt, that plan of a museum gallery which he exhibited
wasn’t bad; only there was nothing new in it. It was all so much patient
marquetry of the school formulas. Ought not all the arts to advance
in one line of battle? Ought not the evolution that was transforming
literature, painting, even music itself, to renovate architecture as
well? If ever the architecture of a period was to have a style of its
own, it was assuredly the architecture of the period they would soon be
entering, a new period when they would find the ground freshly swept,
ready for the rebuilding of everything. Down with the Greek temples!
there was no reason why they should continue to exist under our sky,
amid our society! down with the Gothic cathedrals, since faith in legend
was dead! down with the delicate colonnades, the lace-like work of
the Renaissance--that revival of the antique grafted on
mediaevalism--precious art-jewellery, no doubt, but in which democracy
could not dwell. And he demanded, he called with violent gestures for an
architectural formula suited to democracy; such work in stone as would
express its tenets; edifices where it would really be at home; something
vast and strong, great and simple at the same time; the something that
was already being indicated in the new railway stations and markets,
whose ironwork displayed such solid elegance, but purified and raised
to a standard of beauty, proclaiming the grandeur of the intellectual
conquests of the age.

‘Ah! yes, ah! yes,’ repeated Dubuche, catching Claude’s enthusiasm;
‘that’s what I want to accomplish, you’ll see some day. Give me time to
succeed, and when I’m my own master--ah! when I’m my own master.’

Night was coming on apace, and Claude was growing more and more animated
and passionate, displaying a fluency, an eloquence which his comrades
had not known him to possess. They all grew excited in listening to him,
and ended by becoming noisily gay over the extraordinary witticisms
he launched forth. He himself, having returned to the subject of his
picture, again discussed it with a deal of gaiety, caricaturing the
crowd he had seen looking at it, and imitating the imbecile laughter.
Along the avenue, now of an ashy hue, one only saw the shadows of
infrequent vehicles dart by. The side-walk was quite black; an icy chill
fell from the trees. Nothing broke the stillness but the sound of song
coming from a clump of verdure behind the cafe; there was some rehearsal
at the Concert de l’Horloge, for one heard the sentimental voice of a
girl trying a love-song.

‘Ah! how they amused me, the idiots!’ exclaimed Claude, in a last burst.
‘Do you know, I wouldn’t take a hundred thousand francs for my day’s
pleasure!’

Then he relapsed into silence, thoroughly exhausted. Nobody had any
saliva left; silence reigned; they all shivered in the icy gust that
swept by. And they separated in a sort of bewilderment, shaking hands
in a tired fashion. Dubuche was going to dine out; Fagerolles had an
appointment; in vain did Jory, Mahoudeau, and Gagniere try to drag
Claude to Foucart’s, a twenty-five sous’ restaurant; Sandoz was already
taking him away on his arm, feeling anxious at seeing him so excited.

‘Come along, I promised my mother to be back for dinner. You’ll take a
bit with us. It will be nice; we’ll finish the day together.’

They both went down the quay, past the Tuileries, walking side by side
in fraternal fashion. But at the Pont des Saints-Peres the painter
stopped short.

‘What, are you going to leave me?’ exclaimed Sandoz.

‘Why, I thought you were going to dine with me?’

‘No, thanks; I’ve too bad a headache--I’m going home to bed.’

And he obstinately clung to this excuse.

‘All right, old man,’ said Sandoz at last, with a smile. ‘One doesn’t
see much of you nowadays. You live in mystery. Go on, old boy, I don’t
want to be in your way.’

Claude restrained a gesture of impatience; and, letting his friend cross
the bridge, he went his way along the quays by himself. He walked on
with his arms hanging beside him, with his face turned towards the
ground, seeing nothing, but taking long strides like a somnambulist who
is guided by instinct. On the Quai de Bourbon, in front of his door, he
looked up, full of surprise on seeing a cab waiting at the edge of the
foot pavement, and barring his way. And it was with the same automatical
step that he entered the doorkeeper’s room to take his key.

‘I have given it to that lady,’ called Madame Joseph from the back of
the room. ‘She is upstairs.’

‘What lady?’ he asked in bewilderment.

‘That young person. Come, you know very well, the one who always comes.’

He had not the remotest idea whom she meant. Still, in his utter
confusion of mind, he decided to go upstairs. The key was in the door,
which he slowly opened and closed again.

For a moment Claude stood stock still. Darkness had invaded the studio;
a violet dimness, a melancholy gloom fell from the large window,
enveloping everything. He could no longer plainly distinguish either
the floor, or the furniture, or the sketches; everything that was lying
about seemed to be melting in the stagnant waters of a pool. But on
the edge of the couch there loomed a dark figure, stiff with waiting,
anxious and despairing amid the last gasp of daylight. It was Christine;
he recognised her.

She held out her hands, and murmured in a low, halting voice:

‘I have been here for three hours; yes, for three hours, all alone, and
listening. I took a cab on leaving there, and I only wanted to stay a
minute, and get back as soon as possible. But I should have stayed all
night; I could not go away without shaking hands with you.’

She continued, and told him of her mad desire to see the picture; her
prank of going to the Salon, and how she had tumbled into it amidst the
storm of laughter, amidst the jeers of all those people. It was she whom
they had hissed like that; it was on herself that they had spat. And
seized with wild terror, distracted with grief and shame, she had fled,
as if she could feel that laughter lashing her like a whip, until the
blood flowed. But she now forgot about herself in her concern for
him, upset by the thought of the grief he must feel, for her womanly
sensibility magnified the bitterness of the repulse, and she was eager
to console.

‘Oh, friend, don’t grieve! I wished to see and tell you that they are
jealous of it all, that I found the picture very nice, and that I feel
very proud and happy at having helped you--at being, if ever so little,
a part of it.’

Still, motionless, he listened to her as she stammered those tender
words in an ardent voice, and suddenly he sank down at her feet,
letting his head fall upon her knees, and bursting into tears. All his
excitement of the afternoon, all the bravery he had shown amidst the
jeering, all his gaiety and violence now collapsed, in a fit of sobs
which well nigh choked him. From the gallery where the laughter had
buffeted him, he heard it pursuing him through the Champs Elysees, then
along the banks of the Seine, and now in his very studio. His strength
was utterly spent; he felt weaker than a child; and rolling his head
from one side to another he repeated in a stifled voice:

‘My God! how I do suffer!’

Then she, with both hands, raised his face to her lips in a transport of
passion. She kissed him, and with her warm breath she blew to his very
heart the words: ‘Be quiet, be quiet, I love you!’

They adored each other; it was inevitable. Near them, on the centre of
the table, the lilac she had sent him that morning embalmed the night
air, and, alone shiny with lingering light, the scattered particles of
gold leaf, wafted from the frame of the big picture, twinkled like a
swarming of stars.



VI

THE very next morning, at seven o’clock, Christine was at the studio,
her face still flushed by the falsehood which she had told Madame
Vanzade about a young friend from Clermont whom she was to meet at the
station, and with whom she should spend the day.

Claude, overjoyed by the idea of spending a whole day with her, wanted
to take her into the country, far away under the glorious sunlight, so
as to have her entirely to himself. She was delighted; they scampered
off like lunatics, and reached the St. Lazare Station just in time to
catch the Havre train. He knew, beyond Mantes, a little village called
Bennecourt, where there was an artists’ inn which he had at times
invaded with some comrades; and careless as to the two hours’ rail, he
took her to lunch there, just as he would have taken her to Asnieres.
She made very merry over this journey, to which there seemed no end.
So much the better if it were to take them to the end of the world! It
seemed to them as if evening would never come.

At ten o’clock they alighted at Bonnieres; and there they took the
ferry--an old ferry-boat that creaked and grated against its chain--for
Bennecourt is situated on the opposite bank of the Seine. It was a
splendid May morning, the rippling waters were spangled with gold in
the sunlight, the young foliage showed delicately green against the
cloudless azure. And, beyond the islets situated at this point of the
river, how delightful it was to find the country inn, with its little
grocery business attached, its large common room smelling of soapsuds,
and its spacious yard full of manure, on which the ducks disported
themselves.

‘Hallo, Faucheur! we have come to lunch. An omelette, some sausages, and
some cheese, eh?’

‘Are you going to stay the night, Monsieur Claude?’

‘No, no; another time. And some white wine; eh? you know that pinky
wine, that grates a bit in the throat.’

Christine had already followed mother Faucheur to the barn-yard, and
when the latter came back with her eggs, she asked Claude with her
artful peasant’s laugh:

‘And so now you’re married?’

‘Well,’ replied the painter without hesitation, ‘it looks like it since
I’m with my wife.’

The lunch was exquisite: the omelette overdone, the sausages too greasy,
and the bread so hard that he had to cut it into fingers for Christine
lest she should hurt her wrist. They emptied two bottles of wine, and
began a third, becoming so gay and noisy that they ended by feeling
bewildered in the long room, where they partook of the meal all alone.
She, with her cheeks aflame, declared that she was tipsy; it had never
happened to her before, and she thought it very funny. Oh! so funny, and
she burst into uncontrollable laughter.

‘Let us get a breath of air,’ she said at last.

‘Yes, let’s take a stroll. We must start back at four o’clock; so we
have three hours before us.’

They went up the village of Bennecourt, whose yellow houses straggle
along the river bank for about a couple of thousand yards. All the
villagers were in the fields; they only met three cows, led by a little
girl. He, with an outstretched arm, told her all about the locality;
seemed to know whither he was going, and when they had reached the last
house--an old building, standing on the bank of the Seine, just opposite
the slopes of Jeufosse--turned round it, and entered a wood of oak
trees. It was like the end of the world, roofed in with foliage, through
which the sun alone penetrated in narrow tongues of flame. And there
they could stroll and talk and kiss in freedom.

When at last it became necessary for them to retrace their steps,
they found a peasant standing at the open doorway of the house by the
wood-side. Claude recognised the man and called to him:

‘Hallo, Porrette! Does that shanty belong to you?’

At this the old fellow, with tears in his eyes, related that it did,
and that his tenants had gone away without paying him, leaving their
furniture behind. And he invited them inside.

‘There’s no harm in looking; you may know somebody who would like to
take the place. There are many Parisians who’d be glad of it. Three
hundred francs a year, with the furniture; it’s for nothing, eh?’

They inquisitively followed him inside. It was a rambling old place that
seemed to have been cut out of a barn. Downstairs they found an immense
kitchen and a dining-room, in which one might have given a dance;
upstairs were two rooms also, so vast that one seemed lost in them.
As for the furniture, it consisted of a walnut bedstead in one of the
rooms, and of a table and some household utensils in the kitchen. But
in front of the house the neglected garden was planted with magnificent
apricot trees, and overgrown with large rose-bushes in full bloom; while
at the back there was a potato field reaching as far as the oak wood,
and surrounded by a quick-set hedge.

‘I’d leave the potatoes as they are,’ said old Porrette.

Claude and Christine looked at each other with one of those sudden
cravings for solitude and forgetfulness common to lovers. Ah! how sweet
it would be to love one another there in the depths of that nook, so
far away from everybody else! But they smiled. Was such a thing to be
thought of? They had barely time to catch the train that was to take
them back to Paris. And the old peasant, who was Madame Faucheur’s
father, accompanied them along the river bank, and as they were stepping
into the ferry-boat, shouted to them, after quite an inward struggle:

‘You know, I’ll make it two hundred and fifty francs--send me some
people.’

On reaching Paris, Claude accompanied Christine to Madame Vanzade’s
door. They had grown very sad. They exchanged a long handshake, silent
and despairing, not daring to kiss each other there.

A life of torment then began. In the course of a fortnight she was only
able to call on three occasions; and she arrived panting, having but a
few minutes at her disposal, for it so happened that the old lady had
just then become very exacting. Claude questioned her, feeling uneasy
at seeing her look so pale and out of sorts, with her eyes bright with
fever. Never had that pious house, that vault, without air or light,
where she died of boredom, caused her so much suffering. Her fits of
giddiness had come upon her again; the want of exercise made the blood
throb in her temples. She owned to him that she had fainted one evening
in her room, as if she had been suddenly strangled by a leaden hand.
Still she did not say a word against her employer; on the contrary, she
softened on speaking of her: the poor creature, so old and so infirm,
and so kind-hearted, who called her daughter! She felt as if she were
committing a wicked act each time that she forsook her to hurry to her
lover’s.

Two more weeks went by, and the falsehoods with which Christine had to
buy, as it were, each hour of liberty became intolerable to her. She
loved, she would have liked to proclaim it aloud, and her feelings
revolted at having to hide her love like a crime, at having to lie
basely, like a servant afraid of being sent away.

At last, one evening in the studio, at the moment when she was leaving,
she threw herself with a distracted gesture into Claude’s arms, sobbing
with suffering and passion. ‘Ah! I cannot, I cannot--keep me with you;
prevent me from going back.’

He had caught hold of her, and was almost smothering her with kisses.

‘You really love me, then! Oh, my darling! But I am so very poor, and
you would lose everything. Can I allow you to forego everything like
this?’

She sobbed more violently still; her halting words were choked by her
tears.

‘The money, eh? which she might leave me? Do you think I calculate? I
have never thought of it, I swear it to you! Ah! let her keep everything
and let me be free! I have no ties, no relatives; can’t I be allowed to
do as I like?’

Then, in a last sob of agony: ‘Ah, you are right; it’s wrong to desert
the poor woman. Ah! I despise myself. I wish I had the strength. But I
love you too much, I suffer too much; surely you won’t let me die?’

‘Oh!’ he cried in a passionate transport. ‘Let others die, there are but
we two on earth.’

It was all so much madness. Christine left Madame Vanzade in the most
brutal fashion. She took her trunk away the very next morning. She and
Claude had at once remembered the deserted old house at Bennecourt, the
giant rose-bushes, the immense rooms. Ah! to go away, to go away without
the loss of an hour, to live at the world’s end in all the bliss of
their passion! She clapped her hands for very joy. He, still smarting
from his defeat, at the Salon, and anxious to recover from it, longed
for complete rest in the country; yonder he would find the real ‘open
air,’ he would work away with grass up to his neck and bring back
masterpieces. In a couple of days everything was ready, the studio
relinquished, the few household chattels conveyed to the railway
station. Besides, they met with a slice of luck, for Papa Malgras gave
some five hundred francs for a score of sketches, selected from among
the waifs and strays of the removal. Thus they would be able to live
like princes. Claude still had his income of a thousand francs a year;
Christine, too, had saved some money, besides having her outfit and
dresses. And away they went; it was perfect flight, friends avoided and
not even warned by letter, Paris despised and forsaken amid laughter
expressive of relief.

June was drawing to a close, and the rain fell in torrents during the
week they spent in arranging their new home. They discovered that old
Porrette had taken away half the kitchen utensils before signing the
agreement. But that matter did not affect them. They took a delight
in dabbling about amidst the showers; they made journeys three leagues
long, as far as Vernon, to buy plates and saucepans, which they brought
back with them in triumph. At last they got shipshape, occupying one of
the upstairs rooms, abandoning the other to the mice, and transforming
the dining-room into a studio; and, above all, as happy as children
at taking their meals in the kitchen off a deal table, near the hearth
where the soup sang in the pot. To wait upon them they engaged a girl
from the village, who came every morning and went home at night. She
was called Melie, she was a niece of the Faucheurs, and her stupidity
delighted them. In fact, one could not have found a greater idiot in the
whole region.

The sun having shown itself again, some delightful days followed, the
months slipping away amid monotonous felicity. They never knew the date,
they were for ever mixing up the days of the week. Every day, after the
second breakfast, came endless strolls, long walks across the tableland
planted with apple trees, over the grassy country roads, along the banks
of the Seine through the meadows as far as La Roche-Guyon; and there
were still more distant explorations, perfect journeys on the opposite
side of the river, amid the cornfields of Bonnieres and Jeufosse. A
person who was obliged to leave the neighbourhood sold them an old boat
for thirty francs, so that they also had the river at their disposal,
and, like savages, became seized with a passion for it, living on its
waters for days together, rowing about, discovering new countries, and
lingering for hours under the willows on the banks, or in little creeks,
dark with shade. Betwixt the eyots scattered along the stream there was
a shifting and mysterious city, a network of passages along which, with
the lower branches of the trees caressingly brushing against them, they
softly glided, alone, as it were, in the world, with the ringdoves and
the kingfishers. He at times had to spring out upon the sand, with bare
legs, to push off the skiff. She bravely plied the oars, bent on forcing
her way against the strongest currents, and exulting in her strength.
And in the evening they ate cabbage soup in the kitchen, laughing at
Melie’s stupidity, as they had laughed at it the day before; to begin
the morrow just in the same fashion.

Every evening, however, Christine said to Claude:

‘Now, my dear, you must promise me one thing--that you’ll set to work
to-morrow.’

‘Yes, to-morrow; I give you my word.’

‘And you know if you don’t, I shall really get angry this time. Is it I
who prevent you?’

‘You! what an idea. Since I came here to work--dash it all! you’ll see
to-morrow.’

On the morrow they started off again in the skiff; she looked at him
with an embarrassed smile when she saw that he took neither canvas nor
colours. Then she kissed him, laughing, proud of her power, moved by
the constant sacrifice he made to her. And then came fresh affectionate
remonstrances: ‘To-morrow, ah! to-morrow she would tie him to his
easel!’

However, Claude did make some attempts at work. He began a study of
the slopes of Jeufosse, with the Seine in the foreground; but Christine
followed him to the islet where he had installed himself, and sat down
on the grass close to him with parted lips, her eyes watching the
blue sky. And she looked so pretty there amidst the verdure, in that
solitude, where nothing broke the silence but the rippling of the water,
that every minute he relinquished his palette to nestle by her side. On
another occasion, he was altogether charmed by an old farmhouse, shaded
by some antiquated apple trees which had grown to the size of oaks. He
came thither two days in succession, but on the third Christine took him
to the market at Bonnieres to buy some hens. The next day was also lost;
the canvas had dried; then he grew impatient in trying to work at it
again, and finally abandoned it altogether. Throughout the warm weather
he thus made but a pretence to work--barely roughing out little bits of
painting, which he laid aside on the first pretext, without an effort at
perseverance. His passion for toil, that fever of former days that had
made him rise at daybreak to battle with his rebellious art, seemed to
have gone; a reaction of indifference and laziness had set in, and he
vegetated delightfully, like one who is recovering from some severe
illness.

But Christine lived indeed. All the latent passion of her nature burst
into being. She was indeed an amorosa, a child of nature and of love.

Thus their days passed by and solitude did not prove irksome to them.
No desire for diversion, of paying or receiving visits, as yet made them
look beyond themselves. Such hours as she did not spend near him, she
employed in household cares, turning the house upside down with great
cleanings, which Melie executed under her supervision, and falling into
fits of reckless activity, which led her to engage in personal combats
with the few saucepans in the kitchen. The garden especially occupied
her; provided with pruning shears, careless of the thorns which
lacerated her hands, she reaped harvests of roses from the giant
rose-bushes; and she gave herself a thorough back-ache in gathering
the apricots, which she sold for two hundred francs to some of the
Englishmen who scoured the district every year. She was very proud of
her bargain, and seriously talked of living upon the garden produce.
Claude cared less for gardening; he had placed his couch in the large
dining-room, transformed into a studio; and he stretched himself upon
it, and through the open window watched her sow and plant. There was
profound peace, the certainty that nobody would come, that no ring at
the bell would disturb them at any moment of the day. Claude carried
this fear of coming into contact with people so far as to avoid passing
Faucheur’s inn, for he dreaded lest he might run against some party
of chums from Paris. Not a soul came, however, throughout the livelong
summer. And every night as they went upstairs, he repeated that, after
all, it was deuced lucky.

There was, however, a secret sore in the depths of his happiness.
After their flight from Paris, Sandoz had learnt their address, and had
written to ask whether he might go to see Claude, but the latter had
not answered the letter, and so coolness had followed, and the old
friendship seemed dead. Christine was grieved at this, for she realised
well enough that he had broken off all intercourse with his comrades for
her sake. She constantly reverted to the subject; she did not want to
estrange him from his friends, and indeed she insisted that he should
invite them. But, though he promised to set matters right, he did
nothing of the kind. It was all over; what was the use of raking up the
past?

However, money having become scarce towards the latter days of July, he
was obliged to go to Paris to sell Papa Malgras half a dozen of his old
studies, and Christine, on accompanying him to the station, made him
solemnly promise that he would go to see Sandoz. In the evening she was
there again, at the Bonnieres Station, waiting for him.

‘Well, did you see him? did you embrace each other?’

He began walking by her side in silent embarrassment. Then he answered
in a husky voice:

‘No; I hadn’t time.’

Thereupon, sorely distressed, with two big tears welling to her eyes,
she replied:

‘You grieve me very much indeed.’

Then, as they were walking under the trees, he kissed her, crying also,
and begging her not to make him sadder still. ‘Could people alter life?
Did it not suffice that they were happy together?’

During the earlier months they only once met some strangers. This
occurred a little above Bennecourt, in the direction of La Roche-Guyon.
They were strolling along a deserted, wooded lane, one of those
delightful dingle paths of the region, when, at a turning, they came
upon three middle-class people out for a walk--father, mother, and
daughter. It precisely happened that, believing themselves to be quite
alone, Claude and Christine had passed their arms round each other’s
waists; she, bending towards him, was offering her lips; while he
laughingly protruded his; and their surprise was so sudden that they did
not change their attitude, but, still clasped together, advanced at the
same slow pace. The amazed family remained transfixed against one of
the side banks, the father stout and apoplectic, the mother as thin as
a knife-blade, and the daughter, a mere shadow, looking like a sick bird
moulting--all three of them ugly, moreover, and but scantily provided
with the vitiated blood of their race. They looked disgraceful amidst
the throbbing life of nature, beneath the glorious sun. And all at once
the sorry girl, who with stupefied eyes thus watched love passing by,
was pushed off by her father, dragged along by her mother, both beside
themselves, exasperated by the sight of that embrace, and asking whether
there was no longer any country police, while, still without hurrying,
the lovers went off triumphantly in their glory.

Claude, however, was wondering and searching his memory. Where had he
previously seen those heads, so typical of bourgeois degeneracy, those
flattened, crabbed faces reeking of millions earned at the expense of
the poor? It was assuredly in some important circumstance of his life.
And all at once he remembered; they were the Margaillans, the man was
that building contractor whom Dubuche had promenaded through the Salon
of the Rejected, and who had laughed in front of his picture with the
roaring laugh of a fool. A couple of hundred steps further on, as he and
Christine emerged from the lane and found themselves in front of a large
estate, where a big white building stood, girt with fine trees, they
learnt from an old peasant woman that La Richaudiere, as it was called,
had belonged to the Margaillans for three years past. They had paid
fifteen hundred thousand francs for it, and had just spent more than a
million in improvements.

‘That part of the country won’t see much of us in future,’ said Claude,
as they returned to Bennecourt. ‘Those monsters spoil the landscape.’

Towards the end of the summer, an important event changed the current
of their lives. Christine was _enceinte_. At first, both she and Claude
felt amazed and worried. Now for the first time they seemed to dread
some terrible complications in their life. Later on, however, they
gradually grew accustomed to the thought of what lay before them and
made all necessary preparations. But the winter proved a terribly
inclement one, and Christine was compelled to remain indoors, whilst
Claude went walking all alone over the frost-bound, clanking roads.
And he, finding himself in solitude during these walks, after months of
constant companionship, wondered at the way his life had turned, against
his own will, as it were. He had never wished for home life even with
her; had he been consulted, he would have expressed his horror of it;
it had come about, however, and could not be undone, for--without
mentioning the child--he was one of those who lack the courage to break
off. This fate had evidently been in store for him, he felt; he had been
destined to succumb to the first woman who did not feel ashamed of him.
The hard ground resounded beneath his wooden-soled shoes, and the blast
froze the current of his reverie, which lingered on vague thoughts, on
his luck of having, at any rate, met with a good and honest girl, on how
cruelly he would have suffered had it been otherwise. And then his love
came back to him; he hurried home to take Christine in his trembling
arms as if he had been in danger of losing her.

The child, a boy, was born about the middle of February, and at once
began to revolutionise the home, for Christine, who had shown herself
such an active housewife, proved to be a very awkward nurse. She failed
to become motherly, despite her kind heart and her distress at the sight
of the slightest pimple. She soon grew weary, gave in, and called for
Melie, who only made matters worse by her gaping stupidity. The father
had to come to the rescue, and proved still more awkward than the two
women. The discomfort which needlework had caused Christine of old, her
want of aptitude as regards the usual occupations of her sex, revived
amid the cares that the baby required. The child was ill-kept, and grew
up anyhow in the garden, or in the large rooms left untidy in sheer
despair, amidst broken toys, uncleanliness and destruction. And when
matters became too bad altogether, Christine could only throw herself
upon the neck of the man she loved. She was pre-eminently an amorosa and
would have sacrificed her son for his father twenty times over.

It was at this period, however, that Claude resumed work a little. The
winter was drawing to a close; he did not know how to spend the bright
sunny mornings, since Christine could no longer go out before mid-day
on account of Jacques, whom they had named thus after his maternal
grandfather, though they neglected to have him christened. Claude worked
in the garden, at first, in a random way: made a rough sketch of the
lines of apricot trees, roughed out the giant rose-bushes, composed some
bits of ‘still life,’ out of four apples, a bottle, and a stoneware
jar, disposed on a table-napkin. This was only to pass his time. But
afterwards he warmed to his work; the idea of painting a figure in
the full sunlight ended by haunting him; and from that moment his wife
became his victim, she herself agreeable enough, offering herself,
feeling happy at affording him pleasure, without as yet understanding
what a terrible rival she was giving herself in art. He painted her a
score of times, dressed in white, in red, amidst the verdure, standing,
walking, or reclining on the grass, wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat,
or bare-headed, under a parasol, the cherry-tinted silk of which
steeped her features in a pinky glow. He never felt wholly satisfied;
he scratched out the canvases after two or three sittings, and at once
began them afresh, obstinately sticking to the same subject. Only a few
studies, incomplete, but charmingly indicated in a vigorous style,
were saved from the palette-knife, and hung against the walls of the
dining-room.

And after Christine it became Jacques’ turn to pose. They stripped
him to the skin, like a little St. John the Baptist, on warm days, and
stretched him on a blanket, where he was told not to stir. But devil a
bit could they make him keep still. Getting frisky, in the sunlight, he
crowed and kicked with his tiny pink feet in the air, rolling about and
turning somersaults. The father, after laughing, became angry, and swore
at the tiresome mite, who would not keep quiet for a minute. Who ever
heard of trifling with painting? Then the mother made big eyes at the
little one, and held him while the painter quickly sketched an arm or a
leg. Claude obstinately kept at it for weeks, tempted as he felt by the
pretty tones of that childish skin. It was not as a father, but as an
artist, that he gloated over the boy as the subject for a masterpiece,
blinking his eyes the while, and dreaming of some wonderful picture he
would paint. And he renewed the experiment again and again, watching the
lad for days, and feeling furious when the little scamp would not go to
sleep at times when he, Claude, might so well have painted him.

One day, when Jacques was sobbing, refusing to keep still, Christine
gently remarked:

‘My dear, you tire the poor pet.’

At this Claude burst forth, full of remorse:

‘After all! you are right; I’m a fool with this painting of mine.
Children are not intended for that sort of thing.’

The spring and summer sped by amidst great quietude. They went out less
often; they had almost given up the boat, which finished rotting against
the bank, for it was quite a job to take the little one with them
among the islets. But they often strolled along the banks of the Seine,
without, however, going farther afield than a thousand yards or so.
Claude, tired of the everlasting views in the garden, now attempted some
sketches by the river-side, and on such days Christine went to fetch him
with the child, sitting down to watch him paint, until they all three
returned home with flagging steps, beneath the ashen dusk of waning
daylight. One afternoon Claude was surprised to see Christine bring with
her the old album which she had used as a young girl. She joked about
it, and explained that to sit behind him like that had roused in her a
wish to work herself. Her voice was a little unsteady as she spoke; the
truth was that she felt a longing to share his labour, since this labour
took him away from her more and more each day. She drew and ventured
to wash in two or three water-colours in the careful style of a
school-girl. Then, discouraged by his smiles, feeling that no community
of ideas would be arrived at on that ground, she once more put her album
aside, making him promise to give her some lessons in painting whenever
he should have time.

Besides, she thought his more recent pictures very pretty. After that
year of rest in the open country, in the full sunlight, he painted
with fresh and clearer vision, as it were, with a more harmonious and
brighter colouring. He had never before been able to treat reflections
so skilfully, or possessed a more correct perception of men and things
steeped in diffuse light. And henceforth, won over by that feast of
colours, she would have declared it all capital if he would only have
condescended to finish his work a little more, and if she had not
remained nonplussed now and then before a mauve ground or a blue tree,
which upset all her preconceived notions of colour. One day when she
ventured upon a bit of criticism, precisely about an azure-tinted
poplar, he made her go to nature and note for herself the delicate
bluishness of the foliage. It was true enough, the tree was blue; but
in her inmost heart she did not surrender, and condemned reality; there
ought not to be any blue trees in nature.

She no longer spoke but gravely of the studies hanging in the
dining-room. Art was returning into their lives, and it made her muse.
When she saw him go off with his bag, his portable easel, and his
sunshade, it often happened that she flung herself upon his neck,
asking:

‘You love me, say?’

‘How silly you are! Why shouldn’t I love you?’

‘Then kiss me, since you love me, kiss me a great deal, a great deal.’

Then accompanying him as far as the road, she added:

‘And mind you work; you know that I have never prevented you from
working. Go, go; I am very pleased when you work.’

Anxiety seemed to seize hold of Claude, when the autumn of the second
year tinged the leaves yellow, and ushered in the cold weather. The
season happened to be abominable; a fortnight of pouring rain kept him
idle at home; and then fog came at every moment, hindering his work. He
sat in front of the fire, out of sorts; he never spoke of Paris, but
the city rose up over yonder, on the horizon, the winter city, with its
gaslamps flaring already at five o’clock, its gatherings of friends,
spurring each other on to emulation, and its life of ardent production,
which even the frosts of December could not slacken. He went there
thrice in one month, on the pretext of seeing Malgras, to whom he had,
again, sold a few small pictures. He no longer avoided passing in front
of Faucheur’s inn; he even allowed himself to be waylaid at times by old
Porrette, and to accept a glass of white wine at the inn, and his glance
scoured the room as if, despite the season, he had been looking for some
comrades of yore, who had arrived there, perchance, that morning. He
lingered as if awaiting them; then, in despair at his solitude, he
returned home, stifling with all that was fermenting within him, ill at
having nobody to whom he might shout the thoughts which made his brain
almost burst.

However, the winter went by, and Claude had the consolation of being
able to paint some lovely snow scenes. A third year was beginning, when,
towards the close of May, an unexpected meeting filled him with emotion.
He had that morning climbed up to the plateau to find a subject, having
at last grown tired of the banks of the Seine; and at the bend of a
road he stopped short in amazement on seeing Dubuche, in a silk hat, and
carefully-buttoned frock coat, coming towards him, between the double
row of elder hedges.

‘What! is it you?’

The architect stammered from sheer vexation:

‘Yes, I am going to pay a visit. It’s confoundedly idiotic in the
country, eh? But it can’t be helped. There are certain things one’s
obliged to do. And you live near here, eh? I knew--that is to say, I
didn’t. I had been told something about it, but I thought it was on the
opposite side, farther down.’

Claude, very much moved at seeing him, helped him out of his difficulty.

‘All right, all right, old man, there is no need to apologise. I am the
most guilty party. Ah! it’s a long while since we saw one another! If
you knew what a thump my heart gave when I saw your nose appear from
behind the leaves!’

Then he took his arm and accompanied him, giggling with pleasure, while
the other, in his constant worry about his future, which always made him
talk about himself, at once began speaking of his prospects. He had just
become a first-class pupil at the School, after securing the regulation
‘honourable mentions,’ with infinite trouble. But his success left
him as perplexed as ever. His parents no longer sent him a penny, they
wailed about their poverty so much that he might have to support them
in his turn. He had given up the idea of competing for the Prix de Rome,
feeling certain of being beaten in the effort, and anxious to earn his
living. And he was weary already; sick at scouring the town, at earning
twenty-five sous an hour from ignorant architects, who treated him
like a hodman. What course should he adopt? How was he to guess at the
shortest route? He might leave the School; he would get a lift from his
master, the influential Dequersonniere, who liked him for his docility
and diligence; only what a deal of trouble and uncertainty there would
still be before him! And he bitterly complained of the Government
schools, where one slaved away for years, and which did not even provide
a position for all those whom they cast upon the pavement.

Suddenly he stopped in the middle of the path. The elder hedges were
leading to an open plain, and La Richaudiere appeared amid its lofty
trees.

‘Hold hard! of course,’ exclaimed Claude, ‘I hadn’t thought about
it--you’re going to that shanty. Oh! the baboons; there’s a lot of ugly
mugs, if you like!’

Dubuche, looking vexed at this outburst of artistic feeling, protested
stiffly. ‘All the same, Papa Margaillan, idiot as he seems to you, is
a first-rate man of business. You should see him in his building-yards,
among the houses he runs up, as active as the very fiend, showing
marvellous good management, and a wonderful scent as to the right
streets to build and what materials to buy! Besides, one does not earn
millions without becoming a gentleman. And then, too, it would be very
silly of me not to be polite to a man who can be useful to me.’

While talking, he barred the narrow path, preventing his friend from
advancing further--no doubt from a fear of being compromised by being
seen in his company, and in order to make him understand that they ought
to separate there.

Claude was on the point of inquiring about their comrades in Paris, but
he kept silent. Not even a word was said respecting Christine, and he
was reluctantly deciding to quit Dubuche, holding out his hand to take
leave, when, in spite of himself, this question fell from his quivering
lips:

‘And is Sandoz all right?’

‘Yes, he’s pretty well. I seldom see him. He spoke to me about you last
month. He is still grieved at your having shown us the door.’

‘But I didn’t show you the door,’ exclaimed Claude, beside himself.
‘Come and see me, I beg of you. I shall be so glad!’

‘All right, then, we’ll come. I’ll tell him to come, I give you my
word--good-bye, old man, good-bye; I’m in a hurry.’

And Dubuche went off towards La Richaudiere, whilst Claude watched
his figure dwindle as he crossed the cultivated plain, until nothing
remained but the shiny silk of his hat and the black spot of his coat.
The young man returned home slowly, his heart bursting with nameless
sadness. However, he said nothing about this meeting to Christine.

A week later she had gone to Faucheur’s to buy a pound of vermicelli,
and was lingering on her way back, gossiping with a neighbour, with
her child on her arm, when a gentleman who alighted from the ferry-boat
approached and asked her:

‘Does not Monsieur Claude Lantier live near here?’

She was taken aback, and simply answered:

‘Yes, monsieur; if you’ll kindly follow me--’

They walked on side by side for about a hundred yards. The stranger, who
seemed to know her, had glanced at her with a good-natured smile; but as
she hurried on, trying to hide her embarrassment by looking very grave,
he remained silent. She opened the door and showed the visitor into the
studio, exclaiming:

‘Claude, here is somebody for you.’

Then a loud cry rang out; the two men were already in each other’s arms.

‘Oh, my good old Pierre! how kind of you to come! And Dubuche?’

‘He was prevented at the last moment by some business, and he sent me a
telegram to go without him.’

‘All right, I half expected it; but you are here. By the thunder of
heaven, I am glad!’

And, turning towards Christine, who was smiling, sharing their delight:

‘It’s true, I didn’t tell you. But the other day I met Dubuche, who was
going up yonder, to the place where those monsters live--’

But he stopped short again, and then with a wild gesture shouted:

‘I’m losing my wits, upon my word. You have never spoken to each other,
and I leave you there like that. My dear, you see this gentleman? He’s
my old chum, Pierre Sandoz, whom I love like a brother. And you, my boy;
let me introduce my wife. And you have got to give each other a kiss.’

Christine began to laugh outright, and tendered her cheek heartily.
Sandoz had pleased her at once with his good-natured air, his sound
friendship, the fatherly sympathy with which he looked at her. Tears of
emotion came to her eyes as he kept both her hands in his, saying:

‘It is very good of you to love Claude, and you must love each other
always, for love is, after all, the best thing in life.’

Then, bending to kiss the little one, whom she had on her arm, he added:
‘So there’s one already!’

While Christine, preparing lunch, turned the house up-side down, Claude
retained Sandoz in the studio. In a few words he told him the whole of
the story, who she was, how they had met each other, and what had led
them to start housekeeping together, and he seemed to be surprised
when his friend asked him why they did not get married. In faith,
why? Because they had never even spoken about it, because they would
certainly be neither more nor less happy; in short it was a matter of no
consequence whatever.

‘Well,’ said the other, ‘it makes no difference to me; but, if she was a
good and honest girl when she came to you, you ought to marry her.’

‘Why, I’ll marry her whenever she likes, old man. Surely I don’t mean to
leave her in the lurch!’

Sandoz then began to marvel at the studies hanging on the walls. Ha, the
scamp had turned his time to good account! What accuracy of colouring!
What a dash of real sunlight! And Claude, who listened to him,
delighted, and laughing proudly, was just going to question him about
the comrades in Paris, about what they were all doing, when Christine
reappeared, exclaiming: ‘Make haste, the eggs are on the table.’

They lunched in the kitchen, and an extraordinary lunch it was; a dish
of fried gudgeons after the boiled eggs; then the beef from the soup of
the night before, arranged in salad fashion, with potatoes, and a red
herring. It was delicious; there was the pungent and appetising smell
of the herring which Melie had upset on the live embers, and the song
of the coffee, as it passed, drop by drop, into the pot standing on the
range; and when the dessert appeared--some strawberries just gathered,
and a cream cheese from a neighbour’s dairy--they gossiped and gossiped
with their elbows squarely set on the table. In Paris? Well, to tell the
truth, the comrades were doing nothing very original in Paris. And yet
they were fighting their way, jostling each other in order to get first
to the front. Of course, the absent ones missed their chance; it was as
well to be there if one did not want to be altogether forgotten. But
was not talent always talent? Wasn’t a man always certain to get on
with strength and will? Ah! yes, it was a splendid dream to live in the
country, to accumulate masterpieces, and then, one day, to crush Paris
by simply opening one’s trunks.

In the evening, when Claude accompanied Sandoz to the station, the
latter said to him:

‘That reminds me, I wanted to tell you something. I think I am going to
get married.’

The painter burst out laughing.

‘Ah, you wag, now I understand why you gave me a lecture this morning.’

While waiting for the train to arrive, they went on chatting. Sandoz
explained his ideas on marriage, which, in middle-class fashion, he
considered an indispensable condition for good work, substantial orderly
labour, among great modern producers. The theory of woman being a
destructive creature--one who killed an artist, pounded his heart, and
fed upon his brain--was a romantic idea against which facts protested.
Besides, as for himself, he needed an affection that would prove the
guardian of his tranquillity, a loving home, where he might shut himself
up, so as to devote his whole life to the huge work which he ever dreamt
of. And he added that everything depended upon a man’s choice--that
he believed he had found what he had been looking for, an orphan,
the daughter of petty tradespeople, without a penny, but handsome and
intelligent. For the last six months, after resigning his clerkship, he
had embraced journalism, by which he gained a larger income. He had just
moved his mother to a small house at Batignolles, where the three would
live together--two women to love him, and he strong enough to provide
for the household.

‘Get married, old man,’ said Claude. ‘One should act according to one’s
feelings. And good-bye, for here’s your train. Don’t forget your promise
to come and see us again.’

Sandoz returned very often. He dropped in at odd times whenever his
newspaper work allowed him, for he was still free, as he was not to
be married till the autumn. Those were happy days, whole afternoons
of mutual confidences when all their old determination to secure fame
revived.

One day, while Sandoz was alone with Claude on an island of the Seine,
both of them lying there with their eyes fixed on the sky, he told the
painter of his vast ambition, confessed himself aloud.

‘Journalism, let me tell you, is only a battle-ground. A man must live,
and he has to fight to do so. Then, again, that wanton, the Press,
despite the unpleasant phases of the profession, is after all a
tremendous power, a resistless weapon in the hands of a fellow with
convictions. But if I am obliged to avail myself of journalism, I don’t
mean to grow grey in it! Oh, dear no! And, besides, I’ve found what I
wanted, a machine that’ll crush one with work, something I’m going to
plunge into, perhaps never to come out of it.’

Silence reigned amid the foliage, motionless in the dense heat. He
resumed speaking more slowly and in jerky phrases:

‘To study man as he is, not man the metaphysical puppet but
physiological man, whose nature is determined by his surroundings,
and to show all his organism in full play. That’s my idea! Is it not
farcical that some should constantly and exclusively study the functions
of the brain on the pretext that the brain alone is the noble part of
our organism? Thought, thought, confound it all! thought is the product
of the whole body. Let them try to make a brain think by itself alone;
see what becomes of the nobleness of the brain when the stomach is
ailing! No, no, it’s idiotic; there is no philosophy nor science in
it! We are positivists, evolutionists, and yet we are to stick to the
literary lay-figures of classic times, and continue disentangling the
tangled locks of pure reason! He who says psychologist says traitor to
truth. Besides, psychology, physiology, it all signifies nothing. The
one has become blended with the other, and both are but one nowadays,
the mechanism of man leading to the sum total of his functions. Ah, the
formula is there, our modern revolution has no other basis; it means the
certain death of old society, the birth of a new one, and necessarily
the upspringing of a new art in a new soil. Yes, people will see what
literature will sprout forth for the coming century of science and
democracy.’

His cry uprose and was lost in the immense vault of heaven. Not a breath
stirred; there was nought but the silent ripple of the river past the
willows. And Sandoz turned abruptly towards his companion, and said to
him, face to face:

‘So I have found what I wanted for myself. Oh, it isn’t much, a little
corner of study only, but one that should be sufficient for a man’s
life, even when his ambition is over-vast. I am going to take a family,
and I shall study its members, one by one, whence they come, whither
they go, how they re-act one upon another--in short, I shall have
mankind in a small compass, the way in which mankind grows and behaves.
On the other hand, I shall set my men and women in some given period
of history, which will provide me with the necessary surroundings and
circumstances,--you understand, eh? a series of books, fifteen, twenty
books, episodes that will cling together, although each will have a
separate framework, a series of novels with which I shall be able to
build myself a house for my old days, if they don’t crush me!’

He fell on his back again, spread out his arms on the grass, as if he
wanted to sink into the earth, laughing and joking all the while.

‘Oh, beneficent earth, take me unto thee, thou who art our common
mother, our only source of life! thou the eternal, the immortal one, in
whom circulates the soul of the world, the sap that spreads even into
the stones, and makes the trees themselves our big, motionless brothers!
Yes, I wish to lose myself in thee; it is thou that I feel beneath my
limbs, clasping and inflaming me; thou alone shalt appear in my work
as the primary force, the means and the end, the immense ark in which
everything becomes animated with the breath of every being!’

Though begun as mere pleasantry, with all the bombast of lyrical
emphasis, the invocation terminated in a cry of ardent conviction,
quivering with profound poetical emotion, and Sandoz’s eyes grew moist;
and, to hide how much he felt moved, he added, roughly, with a sweeping
gesture that took in the whole scene around:

‘How idiotic it is! a soul for every one of us, when there is that big
soul there!’

Claude, who had disappeared amid the grass, had not stirred. After a
fresh spell of silence he summed up everything:

‘That’s it, old boy! Run them through, all of them. Only you’ll get
trounced.’

‘Oh,’ said Sandoz, rising up and stretching himself, ‘my bones are too
hard. They’ll smash their own wrists. Let’s go back; I don’t want to
miss the train.’

Christine had taken a great liking to him, seeing him so robust and
upright in his doings, and she plucked up courage at last to ask a
favour of him: that of standing godfather to Jacques. True, she never
set foot in church now, but why shouldn’t the lad be treated according
to custom? What influenced her above all was the idea of giving the boy
a protector in this godfather, whom she found so serious and sensible,
even amidst the exuberance of his strength. Claude expressed surprise,
but gave his consent with a shrug of the shoulders. And the christening
took place; they found a godmother, the daughter of a neighbour, and
they made a feast of it, eating a lobster, which was brought from Paris.

That very day, as they were saying good-bye, Christine took Sandoz
aside, and said, in an imploring voice:

‘Do come again soon, won’t you? He is bored.’

In fact, Claude had fits of profound melancholy. He abandoned his work,
went out alone, and prowled in spite of himself about Faucheur’s inn,
at the spot where the ferry-boat landed its passengers, as if ever
expecting to see all Paris come ashore there. He had Paris on the brain;
he went there every month and returned desolate, unable to work. Autumn
came, then winter, a very wet and muddy winter, and he spent it in
a state of morose torpidity, bitter even against Sandoz, who, having
married in October, could no longer come to Bennecourt so often. Claude
only seemed to wake up at each of the other’s visits; deriving a week’s
excitement from them, and never ceasing to comment feverishly about
the news brought from yonder. He, who formerly had hidden his regret of
Paris, nowadays bewildered Christine with the way in which he chatted
to her from morn till night about things she was quite ignorant of, and
people she had never seen. When Jacques fell asleep, there were endless
comments between the parents as they sat by the fireside. Claude grew
passionate, and Christine had to give her opinion and to pronounce
judgment on all sorts of matters.

Was not Gagniere an idiot for stultifying his brain with music, he who
might have developed so conscientious a talent as a landscape painter?
It was said that he was now taking lessons on the piano from a young
lady--the idea, at his age! What did she, Christine, think of it? And
Jory had been trying to get into the good graces of Irma Becot again,
ever since she had secured that little house in the Rue de Moscou!
Christine knew those two; two jades who well went together, weren’t
they? But the most cunning of the whole lot was Fagerolles, to whom he,
Claude, would tell a few plain truths and no mistake, when he met him.
What! the turn-coat had competed for the Prix de Rome, which, of course,
he had managed to miss. To think of it. That fellow did nothing but jeer
at the School, and talked about knocking everything down, yet took part
in official competitions! Ah, there was no doubt but that the itching to
succeed, the wish to pass over one’s comrades and be hailed by idiots,
impelled some people to very dirty tricks. Surely Christine did not mean
to stick up for him, eh? She was not sufficiently a philistine to defend
him. And when she had agreed with everything Claude said, he always
came back with nervous laughter to the same story--which he thought
exceedingly comical--the story of Mahoudeau and Chaine, who, between
them, had killed little Jabouille, the husband of Mathilde, that
dreadful herbalist woman. Yes, killed the poor consumptive fellow with
kindness one evening when he had had a fainting fit, and when, on being
called in by the woman, they had taken to rubbing him with so much
vigour that he had remained dead in their hands.

And if Christine failed to look amused at all this, Claude rose up and
said, in a churlish voice: ‘Oh, you; nothing will make you laugh--let’s
go to bed.’

He still adored her, but she no longer sufficed. Another torment had
invincibly seized hold of him--the passion for art, the thirst for fame.

In the spring, Claude, who, with an affectation of disdain, had sworn he
would never again exhibit, began to worry a great deal about the Salon.
Whenever he saw Sandoz he questioned him about what the comrades were
going to send. On the opening day he went to Paris and came back the
same evening, stern and trembling. There was only a bust by Mahoudeau,
said he, good enough, but of no importance. A small landscape by
Gagniere, admitted among the ruck, was also of a pretty sunny tone. Then
there was nothing else, nothing but Fagerolles’ picture--an actress in
front of her looking-glass painting her face. He had not mentioned it at
first; but he now spoke of it with indignant laughter. What a trickster
that Fagerolles was! Now that he had missed his prize he was no longer
afraid to exhibit--he threw the School overboard; but you should have
seen how skilfully he managed it, what compromises he effected, painting
in a style which aped the audacity of truth without possessing one
original merit. And it would be sure to meet with success, the bourgeois
were only too fond of being titillated while the artist pretended to
hustle them. Ah! it was time indeed for a true artist to appear in that
mournful desert of a Salon, amid all the knaves and the fools. And, by
heavens, what a place might be taken there!

Christine, who listened while he grew angry, ended by faltering:

‘If you liked, we might go back to Paris.’

‘Who was talking of that?’ he shouted. ‘One can never say a word to you
but you at once jump to false conclusions.’

Six weeks afterwards he heard some news that occupied his mind for
a week. His friend Dubuche was going to marry Mademoiselle Regine
Margaillan, the daughter of the owner of La Richaudiere. It was
an intricate story, the details of which surprised and amused him
exceedingly. First of all, that cur Dubuche had managed to hook a medal
for a design of a villa in a park, which he had exhibited; that of
itself was already sufficiently amusing, as it was said that the drawing
had been set on its legs by his master, Dequersonniere, who had quietly
obtained this medal for him from the jury over which he presided.
Then the best of it was that this long-awaited reward had decided the
marriage. Ah! it would be nice trafficking if medals were now awarded to
settle needy pupils in rich families! Old Margaillan, like all parvenus,
had set his heart upon having a son-in-law who could help him, by
bringing authentic diplomas and fashionable clothes into the business;
and for some time past he had had his eyes on that young man, that
pupil of the School of Arts, whose notes were excellent, who was so
persevering, and so highly recommended by his masters. The medal aroused
his enthusiasm; he at once gave the young fellow his daughter and took
him as a partner, who would soon increase his millions now lying idle,
since he knew all that was needful in order to build properly. Besides,
by this arrangement poor Regine, always low-spirited and ailing, would
at least have a husband in perfect health.

‘Well, a man must be fond of money to marry that wretched flayed
kitten,’ repeated Claude.

And as Christine compassionately took the girl’s part, he added:

‘But I am not down upon her. So much the better if the marriage does not
finish her off. She is certainly not to be blamed, if her father,
the ex-stonemason, had the stupid ambition to marry a girl of the
middle-classes. Her father, you know, has the vitiated blood of
generations of drunkards in his veins, and her mother comes of a stock
in the last stages of degeneracy. Ah! they may coin money, but that
doesn’t prevent them from being excrescences on the face of the earth!’

He was growing ferocious, and Christine had to clasp him in her arms and
kiss him, and laugh, to make him once more the good-natured fellow
of earlier days. Then, having calmed down, he professed to understand
things, saying that he approved of the marriages of his old chums. It
was true enough, all three had taken wives unto themselves. How funny
life was!

Once more the summer drew to an end; it was the fourth spent at
Bennecourt. In reality they could never be happier than now; life was
peaceful and cheap in the depths of that village. Since they had been
there they had never lacked money. Claude’s thousand francs a year and
the proceeds of the few pictures he had sold had sufficed for their
wants; they had even put something by, and had bought some house linen.
On the other hand, little Jacques, by now two years and a half old, got
on admirably in the country. From morning till night he rolled about
the garden, ragged and dirt-begrimed, but growing as he listed in robust
ruddy health. His mother often did not know where to take hold of him
when she wished to wash him a bit. However, when she saw him eat and
sleep well she did not trouble much; she reserved her anxious affection
for her big child of an artist, whose despondency filled her with
anguish. The situation grew worse each day, and although they lived on
peacefully without any cause for grief, they, nevertheless, drifted to
melancholy, to a discomfort that showed itself in constant irritation.

It was all over with their first delights of country life. Their rotten
boat, staved in, had gone to the bottom of the Seine. Besides, they did
not even think of availing themselves of the skiff that the Faucheurs
had placed at their disposal. The river bored them; they had grown too
lazy to row. They repeated their exclamations of former times respecting
certain delightful nooks in the islets, but without ever being tempted
to return and gaze upon them. Even the walks by the river-side had lost
their charm--one was broiled there in summer, and one caught cold there
in winter. And as for the plateau, the vast stretch of land planted
with apple trees that overlooked the village, it became like a distant
country, something too far off for one to be silly enough to risk one’s
legs there. Their house also annoyed them--that barracks where they had
to take their meals amid the greasy refuse of the kitchen, where their
room seemed a meeting-place for the winds from every point of the
compass. As a finishing stroke of bad luck, the apricots had failed that
year, and the finest of the giant rose-bushes, which were very old, had
been smitten with some canker or other and died. How sorely time and
habit wore everything away! How eternal nature herself seemed to age
amidst that satiated weariness. But the worst was that the painter
himself was getting disgusted with the country, no longer finding a
single subject to arouse his enthusiasm, but scouring the fields with
a mournful tramp, as if the whole place were a void, whose life he had
exhausted without leaving as much as an overlooked tree, an unforeseen
effect of light to interest him. No, it was over, frozen, he should
never again be able to paint anything worth looking at in that
confounded country!

October came with its rain-laden sky. On one of the first wet evenings
Claude flew into a passion because dinner was not ready. He turned that
goose of a Melie out of the house and clouted Jacques, who got between
his legs. Whereupon, Christine, crying, kissed him and said:

‘Let’s go, oh, let us go back to Paris.’

He disengaged himself, and cried in an angry voice: ‘What, again! Never!
do you hear me?’

‘Do it for my sake,’ she said, warmly. ‘It’s I who ask it of you, it’s I
that you’ll please.’

‘Why, are you tired of being here, then?’

‘Yes, I shall die if we stay here much longer; and, besides I want you
to work. I feel quite certain that your place is there. It would be a
crime for you to bury yourself here any longer.’

‘No, leave me!’

He was quivering. On the horizon Paris was calling him, the Paris of
winter-tide which was being lighted up once more. He thought he could
hear from where he stood the great efforts that his comrades were
making, and, in fancy, he returned thither in order that they might not
triumph without him, in order that he might become their chief again,
since not one of them had strength or pride enough to be such. And amid
this hallucination, amid the desire he felt to hasten to Paris, he
yet persisted in refusing to do so, from a spirit of involuntary
contradiction, which arose, though he could not account for it, from his
very entrails. Was it the fear with which the bravest quivers, the mute
struggle of happiness seeking to resist the fatality of destiny?

‘Listen,’ said Christine, excitedly. ‘I shall get our boxes ready, and
take you away.’

Five days later, after packing and sending their chattels to the
railway, they started for Paris.

Claude was already on the road with little Jacques, when Christine
fancied that she had forgotten something. She returned alone to the
house; and finding it quite bare and empty, she burst out crying. It
seemed as if something were being torn from her, as if she were leaving
something of herself behind--what, she could not say. How willingly
would she have remained! how ardent was her wish to live there
always--she who had just insisted on that departure, that return to the
city of passion where she scented the presence of a rival. However, she
continued searching for what she lacked, and in front of the kitchen she
ended by plucking a rose, a last rose, which the cold was turning brown.
And then she slowly closed the gate upon the deserted garden.



VII

WHEN Claude found himself once more on the pavement of Paris he was
seized with a feverish longing for hubbub and motion, a desire to gad
about, scour the whole city, and see his chums. He was off the moment
he awoke, leaving Christine to get things shipshape by herself in the
studio which they had taken in the Rue de Douai, near the Boulevard de
Clichy. In this way, on the second day of his arrival, he dropped in at
Mahoudeau’s at eight o’clock in the morning, in the chill, grey November
dawn which had barely risen.

However, the shop in the Rue du Cherche-Midi, which the sculptor still
occupied, was open, and Mahoudeau himself, half asleep, with a white
face, was shivering as he took down the shutters.

Ah! it’s you. The devil! you’ve got into early habits in the country. So
it’s settled--you are back for good?’

‘Yes; since the day before yesterday.’

‘That’s all right. Then we shall see something of each other. Come in;
it’s sharp this morning.’

But Claude felt colder in the shop than outside. He kept the collar
of his coat turned up, and plunged his hands deep into his pockets;
shivering before the dripping moisture of the bare walls, the muddy
heaps of clay, and the pools of water soddening the floor. A blast of
poverty had swept into the place, emptying the shelves of the casts
from the antique, and smashing stands and buckets, which were now held
together with bits of rope. It was an abode of dirt and disorder,
a mason’s cellar going to rack and ruin. On the window of the door,
besmeared with whitewash, there appeared in mockery, as it were, a large
beaming sun, roughly drawn with thumb-strokes, and ornamented in the
centre with a face, the mouth of which, describing a semicircle, seemed
likely to burst with laughter.

‘Just wait,’ said Mahoudeau, ‘a fire’s being lighted. These confounded
workshops get chilly directly, with the water from the covering cloths.’

At that moment, Claude, on turning round, noticed Chaine on his knees
near the stove, pulling the straw from the seat of an old stool to light
the coals with. He bade him good-morning, but only elicited a muttered
growl, without succeeding in making him look up.

‘And what are you doing just now, old man?’ he asked the sculptor.

‘Oh! nothing of much account. It’s been a bad year--worse than the last
one, which wasn’t worth a rap. There’s a crisis in the church-statue
business. Yes, the market for holy wares is bad, and, dash it, I’ve had
to tighten my belt! Look, in the meanwhile, I’m reduced to this.’

He thereupon took the linen wraps off a bust, showing a long face still
further elongated by whiskers, a face full of conceit and infinite
imbecility.

‘It’s an advocate who lives near by. Doesn’t he look repugnant, eh? And
the way he worries me about being very careful with his mouth. However,
a fellow must eat, mustn’t he?’

He certainly had an idea for the Salon; an upright figure, a girl about
to bathe, dipping her foot in the water, and shivering at its freshness
with that slight shiver that renders a woman so adorable. He showed
Claude a little model of it, which was already cracking, and the painter
looked at it in silence, surprised and displeased at certain concessions
he noticed in it: a sprouting of prettiness from beneath a persistent
exaggeration of form, a natural desire to please, blended with a
lingering tendency to the colossal. However, Mahoudeau began lamenting;
an upright figure was no end of a job. He would want iron braces that
cost money, and a modelling frame, which he had not got; in fact, a lot
of appliances. So he would, no doubt, decide to model the figure in a
recumbent attitude beside the water.

‘Well, what do you say--what do you think of it?’ he asked.

‘Not bad,’ answered the painter at last. ‘A little bit sentimental, in
spite of the strapping limbs; but it’ll all depend upon the execution.
And put her upright, old man; upright, for there would be nothing in it
otherwise.’

The stove was roaring, and Chaine, still mute, rose up. He prowled about
for a minute, entered the dark back shop, where stood the bed that he
shared with Mahoudeau, and then reappeared, his hat on his head, but
more silent, it seemed, than ever. With his awkward peasant fingers he
leisurely took up a stick of charcoal and then wrote on the wall: ‘I
am going to buy some tobacco; put some more coals in the stove.’ And
forthwith he went out.

Claude, who had watched him writing, turned to the other in amazement.

‘What’s up?’

‘We no longer speak to one another; we write,’ said the sculptor,
quietly.

‘Since when?’

‘Since three months ago.’

‘And you sleep together?’

‘Yes.’

Claude burst out laughing. Ah! dash it all! they must have hard nuts.
But what was the reason of this falling-out? Then Mahoudeau vented his
rage against that brute of a Chaine! Hadn’t he, one night on coming home
unexpectedly, found him treating Mathilde, the herbalist woman, to a
pot of jam? No, he would never forgive him for treating himself in that
dirty fashion to delicacies on the sly, while he, Mahoudeau, was half
starving, and eating dry bread. The deuce! one ought to share and share
alike.

And the grudge had now lasted for nearly three months without a break,
without an explanation. They had arranged their lives accordingly; they
had reduced their strictly necessary intercourse to a series of short
phrases charcoaled on the walls. As for the rest, they lived as before,
sharing the same bed in the back shop. After all, there was no need for
so much talk in life, people managed to understand one another all the
same.

While filling the stove, Mahoudeau continued to relieve his mind.

‘Well, you may believe me if you like, but when a fellow’s almost
starving it isn’t disagreeable to keep quiet. Yes, one gets numb amidst
silence; it’s like an inside coating that stills the gnawing of the
stomach a bit. Ah, that Chaine! You haven’t a notion of his peasant
nature. When he had spent his last copper without earning the fortune
he expected by painting, he went into trade, a petty trade, which was to
enable him to finish his studies. Isn’t the fellow a sharp ‘un, eh?
And just listen to his plan. He had some olive oil sent to him from
Saint-Firmin, his village, and then he tramped the streets and found
a market for the oil among well-to-do families from Provence living in
Paris. Unfortunately, it did not last. He is such a clod-hopper that
they showed him the door on all sides. And as there was a jar of oil
left which nobody would buy, well, old man, we live upon it. Yes, on the
days when we happen to have some bread we dip our bread into it.’

Thereupon he pointed to the jar standing in a corner of the shop. Some
of the oil having been spilt, the wall and the floor were darkened by
large greasy stains.

Claude left off laughing. Ah! misery, how discouraging it was! how
could he show himself hard on those whom it crushed? He walked about
the studio, no longer vexed at finding models weakened by concessions
to middle-class taste; he even felt tolerant with regard to that hideous
bust. But, all at once, he came across a copy that Chaine had made at
the Louvre, a Mantegna, which was marvellously exact in its dryness.

‘Oh, the brute,’ he muttered, ‘it’s almost the original; he’s never done
anything better than that. Perhaps his only fault is that he was born
four centuries too late.’

Then, as the heat became too great, he took off his over-coat, adding:

‘He’s a long while fetching his tobacco.’

‘Oh! his tobacco! I know what that means,’ said Mahoudeau, who had set
to work at his bust, finishing the whiskers; ‘he has simply gone next
door.’

‘Oh! so you still see the herbalist?’

‘Yes, she comes in and out.’

He spoke of Mathilde and Chaine without the least show of anger, simply
saying that he thought the woman crazy. Since little Jabouille’s death
she had become devout again, though this did not prevent her from
scandalising the neighbourhood. Her business was going to wreck, and
bankruptcy seemed impending. One night, the gas company having cut off
the gas in default of payment, she had come to borrow some of their
olive oil, which, after all, would not burn in the lamps. In short, it
was quite a disaster; that mysterious shop, with its fleeting shadows of
priests’ gowns, its discreet confessional-like whispers, and its odour
of sacristy incense, was gliding to the abandonment of ruin. And the
wretchedness had reached such a point that the dried herbs suspended
from the ceiling swarmed with spiders, while defunct leeches, which had
already turned green, floated on the tops of the glass jars.

‘Hallo, here he comes!’ resumed the sculptor. ‘You’ll see her arrive at
his heels.’

In fact, Chaine came in. He made a great show of drawing a screw of
tobacco from his pocket, then filled his pipe, and began to smoke in
front of the stove, remaining obstinately silent, as if there were
nobody present. And immediately afterwards Mathilde made her appearance
like a neighbour who comes in to say ‘Good morning.’ Claude thought that
she had grown still thinner, but her eyes were all afire, and her mouth
was seemingly enlarged by the loss of two more teeth. The smell of
aromatic herbs which she always carried in her uncombed hair seemed to
have become rancid. There was no longer the sweetness of camomile,
the freshness of aniseed; she filled the place with a horrid odour of
peppermint that seemed to be her very breath.

‘Already at work!’ she exclaimed. ‘Good morning.’ And, without minding
Claude, she kissed Mahoudeau. Then, after going to shake hands with the
painter in her brazen way, she continued:

‘What do you think? I’ve found a box of mallow root, and we will treat
ourselves to it for breakfast. Isn’t that nice of me now! We’ll share.’

‘Thanks,’ said the sculptor, ‘it makes my mouth sticky. I prefer to
smoke a pipe.’

And, seeing that Claude was putting on his overcoat again, he asked:
‘Are you going?’

‘Yes. I want to get the rust off, and breathe the air of Paris a bit.’

All the same, he stopped for another few minutes watching Chaine and
Mathilde, who stuffed themselves with mallow root, each taking a piece
by turns. And though he had been warned, he was again amazed when he saw
Mahoudeau take up the stick of charcoal and write on the wall: ‘Give me
the tobacco you have shoved into your pocket.’

Without a word, Chaine took out the screw and handed it to the sculptor,
who filled his pipe.

‘Well, I’ll see you again soon,’ said Claude.

‘Yes, soon--at any rate, next Thursday, at Sandoz’s.’

Outside, Claude gave an exclamation of surprise on jostling a gentleman,
who stood in front of the herbalist’s peering into the shop.

‘What, Jory! What are you doing there?’

Jory’s big pink nose gave a sniff.

‘I? Nothing. I was passing and looked in,’ said he in dismay.

Then he decided to laugh, and, as if there were any one to overhear him,
lowered his voice to ask:

‘She is next door with our friends, isn’t she? All right; let’s be off,
quick!’

And he took the painter with him, telling him all manner of strange
stories of that creature Mathilde.

‘But you used to say that she was frightful,’ said Claude, laughing.

Jory made a careless gesture. Frightful? No, he had not gone as far as
that. Besides, there might be something attractive about a woman even
though she had a plain face. Then he expressed his surprise at seeing
Claude in Paris, and, when he had been fully posted, and learned that
the painter meant to remain there for good, he all at once exclaimed:

‘Listen, I am going to take you with me. You must come to lunch with me
at Irma’s.’

The painter, taken aback, refused energetically, and gave as a reason
that he wasn’t even wearing a frock-coat.

‘What does that matter? On the contrary, it makes it more droll. She’ll
be delighted. I believe she has a secret partiality for you. She is
always talking about you to us. Come, don’t be a fool. I tell you she
expects me this morning, and we shall be received like princes.’

He did not relax his hold on Claude’s arm, and they both continued their
way towards the Madeleine, talking all the while. As a rule, Jory kept
silent about his many love adventures, just as a drunkard keeps silent
about his potations. But that morning he brimmed over with revelations,
chaffed himself and owned to all sorts of scandalous things. After all
he was delighted with existence, his affairs went apace. His miserly
father had certainly cut off the supplies once more, cursing him for
obstinately pursuing a scandalous career, but he did not care a rap for
that now; he earned between seven and eight thousand francs a year by
journalism, in which he was making his way as a gossipy leader writer
and art critic. The noisy days of ‘The Drummer,’ the articles at a louis
apiece, had been left far behind. He was getting steady, wrote for two
widely circulated papers, and although, in his inmost heart he remained
a sceptical voluptuary, a worshipper of success at any price, he was
acquiring importance, and readers began to look upon his opinions as
fiats. Swayed by hereditary meanness, he already invested money every
month in petty speculations, which were only known to himself, for never
had his vices cost him less than nowadays.

As he and Claude reached the Rue de Moscou, he told the painter that
it was there that Irma Becot now lived. ‘Oh! she is rolling in wealth,’
said he, ‘paying twenty thousand francs a year rent and talking of
building a house which would cost half a million.’ Then suddenly pulling
up he exclaimed: ‘Come, here we are! In with you, quick!’

But Claude still objected. His wife was waiting for him to lunch; he
really couldn’t. And Jory was obliged to ring the bell, and then push
him inside the hall, repeating that his excuse would not do; for they
would send the valet to the Rue de Douai to tell his wife. A door opened
and they found themselves face to face with Irma Becot, who uttered a
cry of surprise as soon as she perceived the painter.

‘What! is it you, savage?’ she said.

She made him feel at home at once by treating him like an old chum,
and, in fact, he saw well enough that she did not even notice his old
clothes. He himself was astonished, for he barely recognised her. In
the course of four years she had become a different being; her head was
‘made up’ with all an actress’s skill, her brow hidden beneath a mass of
curly hair, and her face elongated, by a sheer effort of will, no doubt.
And from a pale blonde she had become flaringly carrotty; so that a
Titianesque creature seemed to have sprung from the little urchin-like
girl of former days. Her house, with all its show of luxury, still had
its bald spots. What struck the painter were some good pictures on the
walls, a Courbet, and, above all, an unfinished study by Delacroix. So
this wild, wilful creature was not altogether a fool, although there
was a frightful cat in coloured _biscuit_ standing on a console in the
drawing-room.

When Jory spoke of sending the valet to his friend’s place, she
exclaimed in great surprise:

‘What! you are married?’

‘Why, yes,’ said Claude, simply.

She glanced at Jory, who smiled; then she understood, and added:

‘Ah! But why did people tell me that you were a woman-hater? I’m awfully
vexed, you know. I frightened you, don’t you remember, eh? You still
think me very ugly, don’t you? Well, well, we’ll talk about it all some
other day.’

It was the coachman who went to the Rue de Douai with a note from
Claude, for the valet had opened the door of the dining-room, to
announce that lunch was served. The repast, a very delicate one, was
partaken of in all propriety, under the icy stare of the servant. They
talked about the great building works that were revolutionising Paris;
and then discussed the price of land, like middle-class people with
money to invest. But at dessert, when they were all three alone with the
coffee and liqueurs, which they had decided upon taking there, without
leaving the table, they gradually became animated, and dropped into
their old familiar ways, as if they had met each other at the Cafe
Baudequin.

‘Ah, my lads,’ said Irma, ‘this is the only real enjoyment, to be jolly
together and to snap one’s fingers at other people.’

She was twisting cigarettes; she had just placed the bottle of
chartreuse near her, and had begun to empty it, looking the while very
flushed, and lapsing once more to her low street drollery.

‘So,’ continued Jory, who was apologising for not having sent her that
morning a book she wanted, ‘I was going to buy it last night at about
ten o’clock, when I met Fagerolles--’

‘You are telling a lie,’ said she, interrupting him in a clear voice.
And to cut short his protestations--‘Fagerolles was here,’ she added,
‘so you see that you are telling a lie.’

Then, turning to Claude, ‘No, it’s too disgusting. You can’t conceive
what a liar he is. He tells lies like a woman, for the pleasure of it,
for the merest trifle. Now, the whole of his story amounts simply to
this: that he didn’t want to spend three francs to buy me that book.
Each time he was to have sent me a bouquet, he had dropped it under the
wheels of a carriage, or there were no flowers to be had in all Paris.
Ah! there’s a fellow who only cares for himself, and no mistake.’

Jory, without getting in the least angry, tilted back his chair and
sucked his cigar, merely saying with a sneer:

‘Oh! if you see Fagerolles now--’

‘Well, what of it?’ she cried, becoming furious. ‘It’s no business of
yours. I snap my fingers at your Fagerolles, do you hear? He knows very
well that people don’t quarrel with me. We know each other; we sprouted
in the same crack between the paving-stones. Look here, whenever I like,
I have only to hold up my finger, and your Fagerolles will be there on
the floor, licking my feet.’

She was growing animated, and Jory thought it prudent to beat a retreat.

‘_My_ Fagerolles,’ he muttered; ‘_my_ Fagerolles.’

‘Yes, _your_ Fagerolles. Do you think that I don’t see through you both?
He is always patting you on the back, as he hopes to get articles out of
you, and you affect generosity and calculate the advantage you’ll derive
if you write up an artist liked by the public.’

This time Jory stuttered, feeling very much annoyed on account of Claude
being there. He did not attempt to defend himself, however, preferring
to turn the quarrel into a joke. Wasn’t she amusing, eh? when she blazed
up like that, with her lustrous wicked eyes, and her twitching mouth,
eager to indulge in vituperation?

‘But remember, my dear, this sort of thing cracks your Titianesque
“make-up,”’ he added.

She began to laugh, mollified at once.

Claude, basking in physical comfort, kept on sipping small glasses of
cognac one after another, without noticing it. During the two hours
they had been there a kind of intoxication had stolen over them, the
hallucinatory intoxication produced by liqueurs and tobacco smoke. They
changed the conversation; the high prices that pictures were
fetching came into question. Irma, who no longer spoke, kept a bit
of extinguished cigarette between her lips, and fixed her eyes on the
painter. At last she abruptly began to question him about his wife.

Her questions did not appear to surprise him; his ideas were going
astray: ‘She had just come from the provinces,’ he said. ‘She was in a
situation with a lady, and was a very good and honest girl.’

‘Pretty?’

‘Why, yes, pretty.’

For a moment Irma relapsed into her reverie, then she said, smiling:
‘Dash it all! How lucky you are!’

Then she shook herself, and exclaimed, rising from the table: ‘Nearly
three o’clock! Ah! my children, I must turn you out of the house. Yes,
I have an appointment with an architect; I am going to see some ground
near the Parc Monceau, you know, in the new quarter which is being
built. I have scented a stroke of business in that direction.’

They had returned to the drawing-room. She stopped before a
looking-glass, annoyed at seeing herself so flushed.

‘It’s about that house, isn’t it?’ asked Jory. ‘You have found the
money, then?’

She brought her hair down over her brow again, then with her hands
seemed to efface the flush on her cheeks; elongated the oval of her
face, and rearranged her tawny head, which had all the charm of a work
of art; and finally, turning round, she merely threw Jory these words by
way of reply: Look! there’s my Titianesque effect back again.’

She was already, amidst their laughter, edging them towards the hall,
where once more, without speaking, she took Claude’s hands in her own,
her glance yet again diving into the depths of his eyes. When he
reached the street he felt uncomfortable. The cold air dissipated his
intoxication; he remorsefully reproached himself for having spoken of
Christine in that house, and swore to himself that he would never set
foot there again.

Indeed, a kind of shame deterred Claude from going home, and when his
companion, excited by the luncheon and feeling inclined to loaf about,
spoke of going to shake hands with Bongrand, he was delighted with the
idea, and both made their way to the Boulevard de Clichy.

For the last twenty years Bongrand had there occupied a very large
studio, in which he had in no wise sacrificed to the tastes of the
day, to that magnificence of hangings and nick-nacks with which young
painters were then beginning to surround themselves. It was the bare,
greyish studio of the old style, exclusively ornamented with sketches
by the master, which hung there unframed, and in close array like the
votive offerings in a chapel. The only tokens of elegance consisted of
a cheval glass, of the First Empire style, a large Norman wardrobe, and
two arm-chairs upholstered in Utrecht velvet, and threadbare with
usage. In one corner, too, a bearskin which had lost nearly all its
hair covered a large couch. However, the artist had retained since his
youthful days, which had been spent in the camp of the Romanticists, the
habit of wearing a special costume, and it was in flowing trousers, in
a dressing-gown secured at the waist by a silken cord, and with his head
covered with a priest’s skull-cap, that he received his visitors.

He came to open the door himself, holding his palette and brushes.

‘So here you are! It was a good idea of yours to come! I was thinking
about you, my dear fellow. Yes, I don’t know who it was that told me of
your return, but I said to myself that it wouldn’t be long before I saw
you.’

The hand that he had free grasped Claude’s in a burst of sincere
affection. He then shook Jory’s, adding:

‘And you, young pontiff; I read your last article, and thank you for
your kind mention of myself. Come in, come in, both of you! You don’t
disturb me; I’m taking advantage of the daylight to the very last
minute, for there’s hardly time to do anything in this confounded month
of November.’

He had resumed his work, standing before his easel, on which there was
a small canvas, which showed two women, mother and daughter, sitting
sewing in the embrasure of a sunlit window. The young fellows stood
looking behind him.

‘Exquisite,’ murmured Claude, at last.

Bongrand shrugged his shoulders without turning round.

‘Pooh! A mere nothing at all. A fellow must occupy his time, eh? I did
this from life at a friend’s house, and I am cleaning it a bit.’

‘But it’s perfect--it is a little gem of truth and light,’ replied
Claude, warming up. ‘And do you know, what overcomes me is its
simplicity, its very simplicity.’

On hearing this the painter stepped back and blinked his eyes, looking
very much surprised.

‘You think so? It really pleases you? Well, when you came in I was just
thinking it was a foul bit of work. I give you my word, I was in the
dumps, and felt convinced that I hadn’t a scrap of talent left.’

His hands shook, his stalwart frame trembled as with the agony of
travail. He rid himself of his palette, and came back towards them,
his arms sawing the air, as it were; and this artist, who had grown old
amidst success, who was assured of ranking in the French School, cried
to them:

‘It surprises you, eh? but there are days when I ask myself whether
I shall be able to draw a nose correctly. Yes, with every one of my
pictures I still feel the emotion of a beginner; my heart beats, anguish
parches my mouth--in fact, I funk abominably. Ah! you youngsters, you
think you know what funk means; but you haven’t as much as a notion
of it, for if you fail with one work, you get quits by trying to do
something better. Nobody is down upon you; whereas we, the veterans,
who have given our measure, who are obliged to keep up to the level
previously attained, if not to surpass it, we mustn’t weaken under
penalty of rolling down into the common grave. And so, Mr. Celebrity,
Mr. Great Artist, wear out your brains, consume yourself in striving to
climb higher, still higher, ever higher, and if you happen to kick
your heels on the summit, think yourself lucky! Wear your heels out
in kicking them up as long as possible, and if you feel that you are
declining, why, make an end of yourself by rolling down amid the death
rattle of your talent, which is no longer suited to the period; roll
down forgetful of such of your works as are destined to immortality, and
in despair at your powerless efforts to create still further!’

His full voice had risen to a final outburst like thunder, and his
broad flushed face wore an expression of anguish. He strode about,
and continued, as if carried away, in spite of himself, by a violent
whirlwind:

‘I have told you a score of times that one was for ever beginning one’s
career afresh, that joy did not consist in having reached the summit,
but in the climbing, in the gaiety of scaling the heights. Only, you
don’t understand, you cannot understand; a man must have passed through
it. Just remember! You hope for everything, you dream of everything; it
is the hour of boundless illusions, and your legs are so strong that the
most fatiguing roads seem short; you are consumed with such an appetite
for glory, that the first petty successes fill your mouth with a
delicious taste. What a feast it will be when you are able to gratify
ambition to satiety! You have nearly reached that point, and you look
right cheerfully on your scratches! Well, the thing is accomplished; the
summit has been gained; it is now a question of remaining there. Then
a life of abomination begins; you have exhausted intoxication, and you
have discovered that it does not last long enough, that it is not worth
the struggle it has cost, and that the dregs of the cup taste bitter.
There is nothing left to be learnt, no new sensation to be felt; pride
has had its allowance of fame; you know that you have produced your
greatest works; and you are surprised that they did not bring keener
enjoyment with them. From that moment the horizon becomes void; no fresh
hope inflames you; there is nothing left but to die. And yet you still
cling on, you won’t admit that it’s all up with you, you obstinately
persist in trying to produce--just as old men cling to love with
painful, ignoble efforts. Ah! a man ought to have the courage and the
pride to strangle himself before his last masterpiece!’

While he spoke he seemed to have increased in stature, reaching to the
elevated ceiling of the studio, and shaken by such keen emotion that
the tears started to his eyes. And he dropped into a chair before his
picture, asking with the anxious look of a beginner who has need of
encouragement:

‘Then this really seems to you all right? I myself no longer dare to
believe anything. My unhappiness springs from the possession of both too
much and not enough critical acumen. The moment I begin a sketch I exalt
it, then, if it’s not successful, I torture myself. It would be better
not to know anything at all about it, like that brute Chambouvard, or
else to see very clearly into the business and then give up painting....
Really now, you like this little canvas?’

Claude and Jory remained motionless, astonished and embarrassed by those
tokens of the intense anguish of art in its travail. Had they come at a
moment of crisis, that this master thus groaned with pain, and consulted
them like comrades? The worst was that they had been unable to disguise
some hesitation when they found themselves under the gaze of the ardent,
dilated eyes with which he implored them--eyes in which one could read
the hidden fear of decline. They knew current rumours well enough; they
agreed with the opinion that since his ‘Village Wedding’ the painter had
produced nothing equal to that famous picture. Indeed, after maintaining
something of that standard of excellence in a few works, he was now
gliding into a more scientific, drier manner. Brightness of colour
was vanishing; each work seemed to show a decline. However, these were
things not to be said; so Claude, when he had recovered his composure,
exclaimed:

‘You never painted anything so powerful!’

Bongrand looked at him again, straight in the eyes. Then he turned
to his work, in which he became absorbed, making a movement with his
herculean arms, as if he were breaking every bone of them to lift that
little canvas which was so very light. And he muttered to himself:
‘Confound it! how heavy it is! Never mind, I’ll die at it rather than
show a falling-off.’

He took up his palette and grew calm at the first stroke of the brush,
while bending his manly shoulders and broad neck, about which one
noticed traces of peasant build remaining amid the bourgeois refinement
contributed by the crossing of classes of which he was the outcome.

Silence had ensued, but Jory, his eyes still fixed on the picture,
asked:

‘Is it sold?’

Bongrand replied leisurely, like the artist who works when he likes
without care of profit:

‘No; I feel paralysed when I’ve a dealer at my back.’ And, without
pausing in his work, he went on talking, growing waggish.

‘Ah! people are beginning to make a trade of painting now. Really and
truly I have never seen such a thing before, old as I am getting. For
instance, you, Mr. Amiable Journalist, what a quantity of flowers you
fling to the young ones in that article in which you mentioned me! There
were two or three youngsters spoken of who were simply geniuses, nothing
less.’

Jory burst out laughing.

‘Well, when a fellow has a paper, he must make use of it. Besides, the
public likes to have great men discovered for it.’

‘No doubt, public stupidity is boundless, and I am quite willing that
you should trade on it. Only I remember the first starts that we old
fellows had. Dash it! We were not spoiled like that, I can tell you.
We had ten years’ labour and struggle before us ere we could impose
on people a picture the size of your hand; whereas nowadays the first
hobbledehoy who can stick a figure on its legs makes all the trumpets of
publicity blare. And what kind of publicity is it? A hullabaloo from one
end of France to the other, sudden reputations that shoot up of a night,
and burst upon one like thunderbolts, amid the gaping of the throng.
And I say nothing of the works themselves, those works announced with
salvoes of artillery, awaited amid a delirium of impatience, maddening
Paris for a week, and then falling into everlasting oblivion!’

‘This is an indictment against journalism,’ said Jory, who had stretched
himself on the couch and lighted another cigar. ‘There is a great deal
to be said for and against it, but devil a bit, a man must keep pace
with the times.’

Bongrand shook his head, and then started off again, amid a tremendous
burst of mirth:

‘No! no! one can no longer throw off the merest daub without being
hailed as a young “master.” Well, if you only knew how your young
masters amuse me!’

But as if these words had led to some other ideas, he cooled down, and
turned towards Claude to ask this question: ‘By the way, have you seen
Fagerolles’ picture?’

‘Yes,’ said the young fellow, quietly.

They both remained looking at each other: a restless smile had risen to
their lips, and Bongrand eventually added:

‘There’s a fellow who pillages you right and left.’

Jory, becoming embarrassed, had lowered his eyes, asking himself whether
he should defend Fagerolles. He, no doubt, concluded that it would be
profitable to do so, for he began to praise the picture of the actress
in her dressing-room, an engraving of which was then attracting a great
deal of notice in the print-shops. Was not the subject a really modern
one? Was it not well painted, in the bright clear tone of the new
school? A little more vigour might, perhaps, have been desirable;
but every one ought to be left to his own temperament. And besides,
refinement and charm were not so common by any means, nowadays.

Bending over his canvas, Bongrand, who, as a rule, had nothing but
paternal praise for the young ones, shook and made a visible effort
to avoid an outburst. The explosion took place, however, in spite of
himself.

‘Just shut up, eh? about your Fagerolles! Do you think us greater fools
than we really are? There! you see the great painter here present.
Yes; I mean the young gentleman in front of you. Well, the whole trick
consists in pilfering his originality, and dishing it up with the
wishy-washy sauce of the School of Arts! Quite so! you select a modern
subject, and you paint in the clear bright style, only you adhere to
correctly commonplace drawing, to all the habitual pleasing style of
composition--in short, to the formula which is taught over yonder
for the pleasure of the middle-classes. And you souse all that with
deftness, that execrable deftness of the fingers which would just
as well carve cocoanuts, the flowing, pleasant deftness that begets
success, and which ought to be punished with penal servitude, do you
hear?’

He brandished his palette and brushes aloft, in his clenched fists.

‘You are severe,’ said Claude, feeling embarrassed. ‘Fagerolles shows
delicacy in his work.’

‘I have been told,’ muttered Jory, mildly, ‘that he has just signed a
very profitable agreement with Naudet.’

That name, thrown haphazard into the conversation, had the effect of
once more soothing Bongrand, who repeated, shrugging his shoulders:

‘Ah! Naudet--ah! Naudet.’

And he greatly amused the young fellows by telling them about Naudet,
with whom he was well acquainted. He was a dealer, who, for some few
years, had been revolutionising the picture trade. There was nothing of
the old fashion about his style--the greasy coat and keen taste of
Papa Malgras, the watching for the pictures of beginners, bought at ten
francs, to be resold at fifteen, all the little humdrum comedy of
the connoisseur, turning up his nose at a coveted canvas in order to
depreciate it, worshipping painting in his inmost heart, and earning a
meagre living by quickly and prudently turning over his petty capital.
No, no; the famous Naudet had the appearance of a nobleman, with a
fancy-pattern jacket, a diamond pin in his scarf, and patent-leather
boots; he was well pomaded and brushed, and lived in fine style, with
a livery-stable carriage by the month, a stall at the opera, and his
particular table at Bignon’s. And he showed himself wherever it was the
correct thing to be seen. For the rest, he was a speculator, a
Stock Exchange gambler, not caring one single rap about art. But he
unfailingly scented success, he guessed what artist ought to be properly
started, not the one who seemed likely to develop the genius of a great
painter, furnishing food for discussion, but the one whose deceptive
talent, set off by a pretended display of audacity, would command a
premium in the market. And that was the way in which he revolutionised
that market, giving the amateur of taste the cold shoulder, and only
treating with the moneyed amateur, who knew nothing about art, but who
bought a picture as he might buy a share at the Stock Exchange, either
from vanity or with the hope that it would rise in value.

At this stage of the conversation Bongrand, very jocular by nature,
and with a good deal of the mummer about him, began to enact the scene.
Enter Naudet in Fagerolles’ studio.

‘“You’ve real genius, my dear fellow. Your last picture is sold, then?
For how much?”

‘“For five hundred francs.”

‘“But you must be mad; it was worth twelve hundred. And this one which
you have by you--how much?”

‘“Well, my faith, I don’t know. Suppose we say twelve hundred?”

‘“What are you talking about? Twelve hundred francs! You don’t
understand me, then, my boy; it’s worth two thousand. I take it at
two thousand. And from this day forward you must work for no one but
myself--for me, Naudet. Good-bye, good-bye, my dear fellow; don’t
overwork yourself--your fortune is made. I have taken it in hand.”
 Wherewith he goes off, taking the picture with him in his carriage. He
trots it round among his amateurs, among whom he has spread the rumour
that he has just discovered an extraordinary painter. One of the
amateurs bites at last, and asks the price.

“‘Five thousand.”

‘“What, five thousand francs for the picture of a man whose name hasn’t
the least notoriety? Are you playing the fool with me?”

‘“Look here, I’ll make you a proposal; I’ll sell it you for five
thousand francs, and I’ll sign an agreement to take it back in a
twelvemonth at six thousand, if you no longer care for it.”

Of course the amateur is tempted. What does he risk after all? In
reality it’s a good speculation, and so he buys. After that Naudet loses
no time, but disposes in a similar manner of nine or ten paintings by
the same man during the course of the year. Vanity gets mingled with the
hope of gain, the prices go up, the pictures get regularly quoted, so
that when Naudet returns to see his amateur, the latter, instead of
returning the picture, buys another one for eight thousand francs. And
the prices continue to go up, and painting degenerates into something
shady, a kind of gold mine situated on the heights of Montmartre,
promoted by a number of bankers, and around which there is a constant
battle of bank-notes.’

Claude was growing indignant, but Jory thought it all very clever, when
there came a knock at the door. Bongrand, who went to open it, uttered a
cry of surprise.

‘Naudet, as I live! We were just talking about you.’

Naudet, very correctly dressed, without a speck of mud on him, despite
the horrible weather, bowed and came in with the reverential politeness
of a man of society entering a church.

‘Very pleased--feel flattered, indeed, dear master. And you only spoke
well of me, I’m sure of it.’

‘Not at all, Naudet, not at all,’ said Bongrand, in a quiet tone. ‘We
were saying that your manner of trading was giving us a nice generation
of artists--tricksters crossed with dishonest business men.’

Naudet smiled, without losing his composure.

‘The remark is harsh, but so charming! Never mind, never mind, dear
master, nothing that you say offends me.’

And, dropping into ecstasy before the picture of the two little women at
needlework:

‘Ah! Good heavens, I didn’t know this, it’s a little marvel! Ah! that
light, that broad substantial treatment! One has to go back to Rembrandt
for anything like it; yes, to Rembrandt! Look here, I only came in to
pay my respects, but I thank my lucky star for having brought me here.
Let us do a little bit of business. Let me have this gem. Anything you
like to ask for it--I’ll cover it with gold.’

One could see Bongrand’s back shake, as if his irritation were
increasing at each sentence. He curtly interrupted the dealer.

‘Too late; it’s sold.’

‘Sold, you say. And you cannot annul your bargain? Tell me, at any rate,
to whom it’s sold? I’ll do everything, I’ll give anything. Ah! What a
horrible blow! Sold, are you quite sure of it? Suppose you were offered
double the sum?’

‘It’s sold, Naudet. That’s enough, isn’t it?’

However, the dealer went on lamenting. He remained for a few minutes
longer, going into raptures before other sketches, while making the tour
of the studio with the keen glances of a speculator in search of luck.
When he realised that his time was badly chosen, and that he would be
able to take nothing away with him, he went off, bowing with an air of
gratitude, and repeating remarks of admiration as far as the landing.

As soon as he had gone, Jory, who had listened to the conversation with
surprise, ventured to ask a question:

‘But you told us, I thought--It isn’t sold, is it?’

Without immediately answering, Bongrand went back to his picture. Then,
in his thundering voice, resuming in one cry all his hidden suffering,
the whole of the nascent struggle within him which he dared not avow, he
said:

‘He plagues me. He shall never have anything of mine! Let him go and buy
of Fagerolles!’

A quarter of an hour later, Claude and Jory also said good-bye, leaving
Bongrand struggling with his work in the waning daylight. Once outside,
when the young painter had left his companion, he did not at once return
home to the Rue de Douai, in spite of his long absence. He still felt
the want of walking about, of surrendering himself up to that great
city of Paris, where the meetings of one single day sufficed to fill
his brain; and this need of motion made him wander about till the black
night had fallen, through the frozen mud of the streets, beneath the
gas-lamps, which, lighted up one by one, showed like nebulous stars
amidst the fog.

Claude impatiently awaited the Thursday when he was to dine at Sandoz’s,
for the latter, immutable in his habits, still invited his cronies to
dinner once a week. All those who chose could come, their covers were
laid. His marriage, his change of life, the ardent literary struggle
into which he had thrown himself, made no difference; he kept to his day
‘at home,’ that Thursday which dated from the time he had left college,
from the time they had all smoked their first pipes. As he himself
expressed it, alluding to his wife, there was only one chum more.

‘I say, old man,’ he had frankly said to Claude, ‘I’m greatly worried--’

‘What about?’

‘Why, about inviting Madame Christine. There are a lot of idiots, a lot
of philistines watching me, who would say all manner of things--’

‘You are quite right, old man. But Christine herself would decline to
come. Oh! we understand the position very well. I’ll come alone, depend
upon it.’

At six o’clock, Claude started for Sandoz’s place in the Rue Nollet, in
the depths of Batignolles, and he had no end of trouble in finding the
small pavilion which his friend had rented. First of all he entered a
large house facing the street, and applied to the doorkeeper, who made
him cross three successive courtyards; then he went down a passage,
between two other buildings, descended some steps, and tumbled upon the
iron gate of a small garden. That was the spot, the pavilion was there
at the end of a path. But it was so dark, and he had nearly broken his
legs coming down the steps, that he dared not venture any further, the
more so as a huge dog was barking furiously. At last he heard the voice
of Sandoz, who was coming forward and trying to quiet the dog.

‘Ah, it’s you! We are quite in the country, aren’t we? We are going to
set up a lantern, so that our company may not break their necks. Come
in, come in! Will you hold your noise, you brute of a Bertrand? Don’t
you see that it’s a friend, fool?’

Thereupon the dog accompanied them as far as the pavilion, wagging his
tail and barking joyously. A young servant-girl had come out with
a lantern, which she fastened to the gate, in order to light up the
breakneck steps. In the garden there was simply a small central lawn,
on which there stood a large plum tree, diffusing a shade around that
rotted the grass; and just in front of the low house, which showed only
three windows, there stretched an arbour of Virginia creeper, with a
brand-new seat shining there as an ornament amid the winter showers,
pending the advent of the summer sun.

‘Come in,’ repeated Sandoz.

On the right-hand side of the hall he ushered Claude into the parlour,
which he had turned into a study. The dining-room and kitchen were
on the left. Upstairs, his mother, who was now altogether bedridden,
occupied the larger room, while he and his wife contented themselves
with the other one, and a dressing-room that parted the two. That was
the whole place, a real cardboard box, with rooms like little drawers
separated by partitions as thin as paper. Withal, it was the abode of
work and hope, vast in comparison with the ordinary garrets of youth,
and already made bright by a beginning of comfort and luxury.

‘There’s room here, eh?’ he exclaimed. ‘Ah! it’s a jolly sight more
comfortable than the Rue d’Enfer. You see that I’ve a room to myself.
And I have bought myself an oaken writing-table, and my wife made me
a present of that dwarf palm in that pot of old Rouen ware. Isn’t it
swell, eh?’

His wife came in at that very moment. Tall, with a pleasant, tranquil
face and beautiful brown hair, she wore a large white apron over her
plainly made dress of black poplin; for although they had a regular
servant, she saw to the cooking, for she was proud of certain of
her dishes, and she put the household on a footing of middle-class
cleanliness and love of cheer.

She and Claude became old chums at once.

‘Call him Claude, my darling. And you, old man, call her Henriette. No
madame nor monsieur, or I shall fine you five sous each time.’

They laughed, and she scampered away, being wanted in the kitchen to
look after a southern dish, a _bouillabaisse_, with which she wished
to surprise the Plassans friend. She had obtained the recipe from her
husband himself, and had become marvellously deft at it, so he said.

‘Your wife is charming,’ said Claude, ‘and I see she spoils you.’

But Sandoz, seated at his table, with his elbows among such pages of the
book he was working at as he had written that morning, began to talk of
the first novel of his series, which he had published in October. Ah!
they had treated his poor book nicely! It had been a throttling,
a butchering, all the critics yelling at his heels, a broadside of
imprecations, as if he had murdered people in a wood. He himself laughed
at it, excited rather than otherwise, for he had sturdy shoulders and
the quiet bearing of a toiler who knows what he’s after. Mere surprise
remained to him at the profound lack of intelligence shown by those
fellows the critics, whose articles, knocked off on the corner of some
table, bespattered him with mud, without appearing as much as to guess
at the least of his intentions. Everything was flung into the same
slop-pail of abuse: his studies of physiological man; the important part
he assigned to circumstances and surroundings; his allusions to nature,
ever and ever creating; in short, life--entire, universal life--existent
through all the animal world without there really being either high
or low, beauty or ugliness; he was insulted, too, for his boldness of
language for the conviction he expressed that all things ought to be
said, that there are abominable expressions which become necessary,
like branding irons, and that a language emerges enriched from such
strength-giving baths. He easily granted their anger, but he would at
least have liked them to do him the honour of understanding him and
getting angry at his audacity, not at the idiotic, filthy designs of
which he was accused.

‘Really,’ he continued, ‘I believe that the world still contains more
idiots than downright spiteful people. They are enraged with me on
account of the form I give to my productions, the written sentences, the
similes, the very life of my style. Yes, the middle-classes fairly split
with hatred of literature!’

Then he became silent, having grown sad.

‘Never mind,’ said Claude, after an interval, ‘you are happy, you at
least work, you produce--’

Sandoz had risen from his seat with a gesture of sudden pain.

‘True, I work. I work out my books to their last pages--But if you only
knew, if I told you amidst what discouragement, amidst what torture!
Won’t those idiots take it into their heads to accuse me of pride! I,
whom the imperfection of my work pursues even in my sleep--I, who
never look over the pages of the day before, lest I should find them so
execrable that I might afterwards lack the courage to continue. Oh, I
work, no doubt, I work! I go on working, as I go on living, because I
am born to it, but I am none the gayer on account of it. I am never
satisfied; there is always a great collapse at the end.’

He was interrupted by a loud exclamation outside, and Jory appeared,
delighted with life, and relating that he had just touched up an old
article in order to have the evening to himself. Almost immediately
afterwards Gagniere and Mahoudeau, who had met at the door, came in
conversing together. The former, who had been absorbed for some months
in a theory of colours, was explaining his system to the other.

‘I paint my shade in,’ he continued, as if in a dream. ‘The red of the
flag loses its brightness and becomes yellowish because it stands
out against the blue of the sky, the complementary shade of
which--orange--blends with red--’

Claude, interested at once, was already questioning him when the servant
brought in a telegram.

‘All right,’ said Sandoz, ‘it’s from Dubuche, who apologises; he
promises to come and surprise us at about eleven o’clock.’

At this moment Henriette threw the door wide open, and personally
announced that dinner was ready. She had doffed her white apron, and
cordially shook hands, as hostess, with all of them. ‘Take your seats!
take your seats!’ was her cry. It was half-past seven already, the
_bouillabaisse_ could not wait. Jory, having observed that Fagerolles
had sworn to him that he would come, they would not believe it.
Fagerolles was getting ridiculous with his habit of aping the great
artist overwhelmed with work!

The dining-room into which they passed was so small that, in order to
make room for a piano, a kind of alcove had been made out of a dark
closet which had formerly served for the accommodation of crockery.
However, on grand occasions half a score of people still gathered round
the table, under the white porcelain hanging lamp, but this was only
accomplished by blocking up the sideboard, so that the servant could not
even pass to take a plate from it. However, it was the mistress of the
house who carved, while the master took his place facing her, against
the blockaded sideboard, in order to hand round whatever things might be
required.

Henriette had placed Claude on her right hand, Mahoudeau on her left,
while Gagniere and Jory were seated next to Sandoz.

‘Francoise,’ she called, ‘give me the slices of toast. They are on the
range.’

And the girl having brought the toast, she distributed two slices to
each of them, and was beginning to ladle the _bouillabaisse_ into the
plates, when the door opened once more.

‘Fagerolles at last!’ she said. ‘I have given your seat to Mahoudeau.
Sit down there, next to Claude.’

He apologised with an air of courtly politeness, by alleging a business
appointment. Very elegantly dressed, tightly buttoned up in clothes of
an English cut, he had the carriage of a man about town, relieved by
the retention of a touch of artistic free-and-easiness. Immediately on
sitting down he grasped his neighbour’s hand, affecting great delight.

‘Ah, my old Claude! I have for such a long time wanted to see you. A
score of times I intended going after you into the country; but then,
you know, circumstances--’

Claude, feeling uncomfortable at these protestations, endeavoured to
meet them with a like cordiality. But Henriette, who was still serving,
saved the situation by growing impatient.

‘Come, Fagerolles, just answer me. Do you wish two slices of toast?’

‘Certainly, madame, two, if you please. I am very fond of
_bouillabaisse_. Besides, yours is delicious, a marvel!’

In fact, they all went into raptures over it, especially Jory and
Mahoudeau, who declared they had never tasted anything better at
Marseilles; so much so, that the young wife, delighted and still flushed
with the heat of the kitchen, her ladle in her hand, had all she could
do to refill the plates held out to her; and, indeed, she rose up and
ran in person to the kitchen to fetch the remains of the soup, for the
servant-girl was losing her wits.

‘Come, eat something,’ said Sandoz to her. ‘We’ll wait well enough till
you have done.’

But she was obstinate and remained standing.

‘Never mind me. You had better pass the bread--yes, there, behind you on
the sideboard. Jory prefers crumb, which he can soak in the soup.’

Sandoz rose in his turn and assisted his wife, while the others chaffed
Jory on his love for sops. And Claude, moved by the pleasant cordiality
of his hosts, and awaking, as it were, from a long sleep, looked at them
all, asking himself whether he had only left them on the previous night,
or whether four years had really elapsed since he had dined with them
one Thursday. They were different, however; he felt them to be changed:
Mahoudeau soured by misery, Jory wrapt up in his own pleasures, Gagniere
more distant, with his thoughts elsewhere. And it especially seemed to
him that Fagerolles was chilly, in spite of his exaggerated cordiality
of manner. No doubt their features had aged somewhat amid the wear and
tear of life; but it was not only that which he noticed, it seemed to
him also as if there was a void between them; he beheld them isolated
and estranged from each other, although they were seated elbow to elbow
in close array round the table. Then the surroundings were different;
nowadays, a woman brought her charm to bear on them, and calmed them by
her presence. Then why did he, face to face with the irrevocable current
of things, which die and are renewed, experience that sensation of
beginning something over again--why was it that he could have sworn that
he had been seated at that same place only last Thursday? At last he
thought he understood. It was Sandoz who had not changed, who remained
as obstinate as regards his habits of friendship, as regards his habits
of work, as radiant at being able to receive his friends at the board of
his new home as he had formerly been, when sharing his frugal bachelor
fare with them. A dream of eternal friendship made him changeless.
Thursdays similar one to another followed and followed on until the
furthest stages of their lives. All of them were eternally together, all
started at the self-same hour, and participated in the same triumph!

Sandoz must have guessed the thought that kept Claude mute, for he said
to him across the table, with his frank, youthful smile:

‘Well, old man, here you are again! Ah, confound it! we missed you
sorely. But, you see, nothing is changed; we are all the same--aren’t
we, all of you?’

They answered by nodding their heads--no doubt, no doubt!

‘With this difference,’ he went on, beaming--‘with this difference, that
the cookery is somewhat better than in the Rue d’Enfer! What a lot of
messes I did make you swallow!’

After the _bouillabaisse_ there came a _civet_ of hare; and a roast fowl
and salad terminated the dinner. But they sat for a long time at table,
and the dessert proved a protracted affair, although the conversation
lacked the fever and violence of yore. Every one spoke of himself and
ended by relapsing into silence on perceiving that the others did not
listen to him. With the cheese, however, when they had tasted some
burgundy, a sharp little growth, of which the young couple had ordered a
cask out of the profits of Sandoz’s first novel, their voices rose to a
higher key, and they all grew animated.

‘So you have made an arrangement with Naudet, eh?’ asked Mahoudeau,
whose bony cheeks seemed to have grown yet more hollow. ‘Is it true that
he guarantees you fifty thousand francs for the first year?’

Fagerolles replied, with affected carelessness, ‘Yes, fifty thousand
francs. But nothing is settled; I’m thinking it over. It is hard to
engage oneself like that. I am not going to do anything precipitately.’

‘The deuce!’ muttered the sculptor; ‘you are hard to please. For twenty
francs a day I’d sign whatever you like.’

They all now listened to Fagerolles, who posed as being wearied by
his budding success. He still had the same good-looking, disturbing
hussy-like face, but the fashion in which he wore his hair and the cut
of his beard lent him an appearance of gravity. Although he still came
at long intervals to Sandoz’s, he was separating from the band; he
showed himself on the boulevards, frequented the cafes and newspaper
offices--all the places where a man can advertise himself and make
useful acquaintances. These were tactics of his own, a determination to
carve his own victory apart from the others; the smart idea that if he
wished to triumph he ought to have nothing more in common with those
revolutionists, neither dealer, nor connections, nor habits. It was
even said that he had interested the female element of two or three
drawing-rooms in his success, not in Jory’s style, but like a vicious
fellow who rises superior to his passions, and is content to adulate
superannuated baronesses.

Just then Jory, in view of lending importance to himself, called
Fagerolles’ attention to a recently published article; he pretended that
he had made Fagerolles just as he pretended that he had made Claude.
‘I say, have you read that article of Vernier’s about yourself? There’s
another fellow who repeats my ideas!’

‘Ah, he does get articles, and no mistake!’ sighed Mahoudeau.

Fagerolles made a careless gesture, but he smiled with secret contempt
for all those poor beggars who were so utterly deficient in shrewdness
that they clung, like simpletons, to their crude style, when it was so
easy to conquer the crowd. Had it not sufficed for him to break with
them, after pillaging them, to make his own fortune? He benefited by
all the hatred that folks had against them; his pictures, of a softened,
attenuated style, were held up in praise, so as to deal the death-blow
to their ever obstinately violent works.

‘Have you read Vernier’s article?’ asked Jory of Gagniere. ‘Doesn’t he
say exactly what I said?’

For the last few moments Gagniere had been absorbed in contemplating
his glass, the wine in which cast a ruddy reflection on the white
tablecloth. He started:

‘Eh, what, Vernier’s article?’

‘Why, yes; in fact, all those articles which appear about Fagerolles.’

Gagniere in amazement turned to the painter.

‘What, are they writing articles about you? I know nothing about them, I
haven’t seen them. Ah! they are writing articles about you, but whatever
for?’

There was a mad roar of laughter. Fagerolles alone grinned with an
ill grace, for he fancied himself the butt of some spiteful joke. But
Gagniere spoke in absolute good faith. He felt surprised at the success
of a painter who did not even observe the laws regulating the value of
tints. Success for that trickster! Never! For in that case what would
become of conscientiousness?

This boisterous hilarity enlivened the end of the dinner. They all left
off eating, though the mistress of the house still insisted upon filling
their plates.

‘My dear, do attend to them,’ she kept saying to Sandoz, who had
grown greatly excited amidst the din. ‘Just stretch out your hand; the
biscuits are on the side-board.’

They all declined anything more, and rose up. As the rest of the evening
was to be spent there, round the table, drinking tea, they leaned back
against the walls and continued chatting while the servant cleared
away. The young couple assisted, Henriette putting the salt-cellars in a
drawer, and Sandoz helping to fold the cloth.

‘You can smoke,’ said Henriette. ‘You know that it doesn’t inconvenience
me in the least.’

Fagerolles, who had drawn Claude into the window recess, offered him a
cigar, which was declined.

‘True, I forgot; you don’t smoke. Ah! I say, I must go to see what you
have brought back with you. Some very interesting things, no doubt. You
know what I think of your talent. You are the cleverest of us all.’

He showed himself very humble, sincere at heart, and allowing his
admiration of former days to rise once more to the surface; indeed,
he for ever bore the imprint of another’s genius, which he admitted,
despite the complex calculations of his cunning mind. But his humility
was mingled with a certain embarrassment very rare with him--the
concern he felt at the silence which the master of his youth preserved
respecting his last picture. At last he ventured to ask, with quivering
lips:

‘Did you see my actress at the Salon? Do you like it? Tell me candidly.’

Claude hesitated for a moment; then, like the good-natured fellow he
was, said:

‘Yes; there are some very good bits in it.’

Fagerolles already repented having asked that stupid question, and he
ended by altogether floundering; he tried to excuse himself for his
plagiarisms and his compromises. When with great difficulty he had
got out of the mess, enraged with himself for his clumsiness, he for a
moment became the joker of yore again, made even Claude laugh till he
cried, and amused them all. At last he held out his hand to take leave
of Henriette.

‘What, going so soon?’

‘Alas! yes, dear madame. This evening my father is entertaining the head
of a department at one of the ministries, an official whom he’s trying
to influence in view of obtaining a decoration; and, as I am one of his
titles to that distinction, I had to promise that I would look in.’

When he was gone, Henriette, who had exchanged a few words in a low
voice with Sandoz, disappeared; and her light footfall was heard on the
first floor. Since her marriage it was she who tended the old, infirm
mother, absenting herself in this fashion several times during the
evening, just as the son had done formerly.

Not one of the guests, however, had noticed her leave the room.
Mahoudeau and Gagniere were now talking about Fagerolles; showing
themselves covertly bitter, without openly attacking him. As yet
they contented themselves with ironical glances and shrugs of the
shoulders--all the silent contempt of fellows who don’t wish to slash a
chum. Then they fell back on Claude; they prostrated themselves before
him, overwhelmed him with the hopes they set in him. Ah! it was high
time for him to come back, for he alone, with his great gifts, his
vigorous touch, could become the master, the recognised chief. Since
the Salon of the Rejected the ‘school of the open air’ had increased in
numbers; a growing influence was making itself felt; but unfortunately,
the efforts were frittered away; the new recruits contented themselves
with producing sketches, impressions thrown off with a few strokes of
the brush; they were awaiting the necessary man of genius, the one who
would incarnate the new formula in masterpieces. What a position to
take! to master the multitude, to open up a century, to create a new
art! Claude listened to them, with his eyes turned to the floor and his
face very pale. Yes, that indeed was his unavowed dream, the ambition he
dared not confess to himself. Only, with the delight that the flattery
caused him, there was mingled a strange anguish, a dread of the future,
as he heard them raising him to the position of dictator, as if he had
already triumphed.

‘Don’t,’ he exclaimed at last; ‘there are others as good as myself. I am
still seeking my real line.’

Jory, who felt annoyed, was smoking in silence. Suddenly, as the others
obstinately kept at it, he could not refrain from remarking:

‘All this, my boys, is because you are vexed at Fagerolles’ success.’

They energetically denied it; they burst out in protestations.
Fagerolles, the young master! What a good joke!

‘Oh, you are turning your back upon us, we know it,’ said Mahoudeau.
‘There’s no fear of your writing a line about us nowadays.’

‘Well, my dear fellow,’ answered Jory, vexed, ‘everything I write about
you is cut out. You make yourselves hated everywhere. Ah! if I had a
paper of my own!’

Henriette came back, and Sandoz’s eyes having sought hers, she answered
him with a glance and the same affectionate, quiet smile that he had
shown when leaving his mother’s room in former times. Then she summoned
them all. They sat down again round the table while she made the tea and
poured it out. But the gathering grew sad, benumbed, as it were, with
lassitude. Sandoz vainly tried a diversion by admitting Bertrand, the
big dog, who grovelled at sight of the sugar-basin, and ended by
going to sleep near the stove, where he snored like a man. Since the
discussion on Fagerolles there had been intervals of silence, a kind of
bored irritation, which fell heavily upon them amidst the dense tobacco
smoke. And, in fact, Gagniere felt so out of sorts that he left the
table for a moment to seat himself at the piano, murdering some passages
from Wagner in a subdued key, with the stiff fingers of an amateur who
tries his first scale at thirty.

Towards eleven o’clock Dubuche, arriving at last, contributed the
finishing touch to the general frost. He had made his escape from a ball
to fulfil what he considered a remaining duty towards his old comrades;
and his dress-coat, his white necktie, his fat, pale face, all
proclaimed his vexation at having come, the importance he attached to
the sacrifice, and the fear he felt of compromising his new position. He
avoided mentioning his wife, so that he might not have to bring her to
Sandoz’s. When he had shaken hands with Claude, without showing more
emotion than if he had met him the day before, he declined a cup of
tea and spoke slowly--puffing out his cheeks the while--of his worry in
settling in a brand-new house, and of the work that had overwhelmed
him since he had attended to the business of his father-in-law, who was
building a whole street near the Parc Monceau.

Then Claude distinctly felt that something had snapped. Had life then
already carried away the evenings of former days, those evenings so
fraternal in their very violence, when nothing had as yet separated
them, when not one of them had thought of keeping his part of glory to
himself? Nowadays the battle was beginning. Each hungry one was eagerly
biting. And a fissure was there, a scarcely perceptible crack that had
rent the old, sworn friendships, and some day would make them crumble
into a thousand pieces.

However, Sandoz, with his craving for perpetuity, had so far noticed
nothing; he still beheld them as they had been in the Rue d’Enfer, all
arm in arm, starting off to victory. Why change what was well? Did not
happiness consist in one pleasure selected from among all, and then
enjoyed for ever afterwards? And when, an hour later, the others made up
their minds to go off, wearied by the dull egotism of Dubuche, who
had not left off talking about his own affairs; when they had dragged
Gagniere, in a trance, away from the piano, Sandoz, followed by his
wife, absolutely insisted, despite the coldness of the night, on
accompanying them all to the gate at the end of the garden. He shook
hands all round, and shouted after them:

‘Till Thursday, Claude; till next Thursday, all of you, eh? Mind you all
come!’

‘Till Thursday!’ repeated Henriette, who had taken the lantern and was
holding it aloft so as to light the steps.

And, amid the laughter, Gagniere and Mahoudeau replied, jokingly: ‘Till
Thursday, young master! Good-night, young master!’

Once in the Rue Nollet, Dubuche immediately hailed a cab, in which
he drove away. The other four walked together as far as the outer
boulevards, scarcely exchanging a word, looking dazed, as it were, at
having been in each other’s company so long. At last Jory decamped,
pretending that some proofs were waiting for him at the office of his
newspaper. Then Gagniere mechanically stopped Claude in front of the
Cafe Baudequin, the gas of which was still blazing away. Mahoudeau
refused to go in, and went off alone, sadly ruminating, towards the Rue
du Cherche-Midi.

Without knowing how, Claude found himself seated at their old table,
opposite Gagniere, who was silent. The cafe had not changed. The friends
still met there of a Sunday, showing a deal of fervour, in fact, since
Sandoz had lived in the neighbourhood; but the band was now lost amid
a flood of new-comers; it was slowly being submerged by the increasing
triteness of the young disciples of the ‘open air.’ At that hour
of night, however, the establishment was getting empty. Three young
painters, whom Claude did not know, came to shake hands with him as they
went off; and then there merely remained a petty retired tradesman of
the neighbourhood, asleep in front of a saucer.

Gagniere, quite at his ease, as if he had been at home, absolutely
indifferent to the yawns of the solitary waiter, who was stretching his
arms, glanced towards Claude, but without seeing him, for his eyes were
dim.

‘By the way,’ said the latter, ‘what were you explaining to Mahoudeau
this evening? Yes, about the red of a flag turning yellowish amid
the blue of the sky. That was it, eh? You are studying the theory of
complementary colours.’

But the other did not answer. He took up his glass of beer, set it down
again without tasting its contents, and with an ecstatic smile ended by
muttering:

‘Haydn has all the gracefulness of a rhetorician--his is a gentle
music, quivering like the voice of a great-grandmother in powdered hair.
Mozart, he’s the precursory genius--the first who endowed an orchestra
with an individual voice; and those two will live mostly because they
created Beethoven. Ah, Beethoven! power and strength amidst serene
suffering, Michael Angelo at the tomb of the Medici! A heroic logician,
a kneader of human brains; for the symphony, with choral accompaniments,
was the starting-point of all the great ones of to-day!’

The waiter, tired of waiting, began to turn off the gas, wearily
dragging his feet along as he did so. Mournfulness pervaded the deserted
room, dirty with saliva and cigar ends, and reeking of spilt drink;
while from the hushed boulevard the only sound that came was the distant
blubbering of some drunkard.

Gagniere, still in the clouds, however, continued to ride his
hobby-horse.

‘Weber passes by us amid a romantic landscape, conducting the ballads of
the dead amidst weeping willows and oaks with twisted branches. Schumann
follows him, beneath the pale moonlight, along the shores of silvery
lakes. And behold, here comes Rossini, incarnation of the musical gift,
so gay, so natural, without the least concern for expression, caring
nothing for the public, and who isn’t my man by a long way--ah!
certainly not--but then, all the same, he astonishes one by his wealth
of production, and the huge effects he derives from an accumulation of
voices and an ever-swelling repetition of the same strain. These
three led to Meyerbeer, a cunning fellow who profited by everything,
introducing symphony into opera after Weber, and giving dramatic
expression to the unconscious formulas of Rossini. Oh! the superb bursts
of sound, the feudal pomp, the martial mysticism, the quivering of
fantastic legends, the cry of passion ringing out through history! And
such finds!--each instrument endowed with a personality, the dramatic
_recitatives_ accompanied symphoniously by the orchestra--the typical
musical phrase on which an entire work is built! Ah! he was a great
fellow--a very great fellow indeed!’

‘I am going to shut up, sir,’ said the waiter, drawing near.

And, seeing that Gagniere did not as much as look round, he went to
awaken the petty retired tradesman, who was still dozing in front of his
saucer.

‘I am going to shut up, sir.’

The belated customer rose up, shivering, fumbled in the dark corner
where he was seated for his walking-stick, and when the waiter had
picked it up for him from under the seats he went away.

And Gagniere rambled on:

‘Berlioz has mingled literature with his work. He is the musical
illustrator of Shakespeare, Virgil, and Goethe. But what a painter!--the
Delacroix of music, who makes sound blaze forth amidst effulgent
contrasts of colour. And withal he has romanticism in his brain, a
religious mysticism that carries him away, an ecstasy that soars higher
than mountain summits. A bad builder of operas, but marvellous in
detached pieces, asking too much at times of the orchestra which he
tortures, having pushed the personality of instruments to its furthest
limits; for each instrument represents a character to him. Ah! that
remark of his about clarionets: “They typify beloved women.” Ah! it has
always made a shiver run down my back. And Chopin, so dandified in
his Byronism; the dreamy poet of those who suffer from neurosis! And
Mendelssohn, that faultless chiseller! a Shakespeare in dancing pumps,
whose “songs without words” are gems for women of intellect! And after
that--after that--a man should go down on his knees.’

There was now only one gas-lamp alight just above his head, and the
waiter standing behind him stood waiting amid the gloomy, chilly void of
the room. Gagniere’s voice had come to a reverential _tremolo_. He was
reaching devotional fervour as he approached the inner tabernacle, the
holy of holies.

‘Oh! Schumann, typical of despair, the voluptuousness of despair! Yes,
the end of everything, the last song of saddened purity hovering above
the ruins of the world! Oh! Wagner, the god in whom centuries of music
are incarnated! His work is the immense ark, all the arts blended
in one; the real humanity of the personages at last expressed, the
orchestra itself living apart the life of the drama. And what a massacre
of conventionality, of inept formulas! what a revolutionary emancipation
amid the infinite! The overture of “Tannhauser,” ah! that’s the sublime
hallelujah of the new era. First of all comes the chant of the pilgrims,
the religious strain, calm, deep and slowly throbbing; then the voices
of the sirens gradually drown it; the voluptuous pleasures of Venus,
full of enervating delight and languor, grow more and more imperious and
disorderly; and soon the sacred air gradually returns, like the aspiring
voice of space, and seizes hold of all other strains and blends them
in one supreme harmony, to waft them away on the wings of a triumphal
hymn!’

‘I am going to shut up, sir,’ repeated the waiter.

Claude, who no longer listened, he also being absorbed in his own
passion, emptied his glass of beer and cried: ‘Eh, old man, they are
going to shut up.’

Then Gagniere trembled. A painful twitch came over his ecstatic face,
and he shivered as if he had dropped from the stars. He gulped down his
beer, and once on the pavement outside, after pressing his companion’s
hand in silence, he walked off into the gloom.

It was nearly two o’clock in the morning when Claude returned to the Rue
de Douai. During the week that he had been scouring Paris anew, he had
each time brought back with him the feverish excitement of the day. But
he had never before returned so late, with his brain so hot and smoky.
Christine, overcome with fatigue, was asleep under the lamp, which had
gone out, her brow resting on the edge of the table.



VIII

AT last Christine gave a final stroke with her feather-broom, and they
were settled. The studio in the Rue de Douai, small and inconvenient,
had only one little room, and a kitchen, as big as a cupboard, attached
to it. They were obliged to take their meals in the studio; they had
to live in it, with the child always tumbling about their legs. And
Christine had a deal of trouble in making their few sticks suffice, as
she wished to do, in order to save expense. After all, she was obliged
to buy a second-hand bedstead; and yielded to the temptation of having
some white muslin curtains, which cost her seven sous the metre. The
den then seemed charming to her, and she began to keep it scrupulously
clean, resolving to do everything herself, and to dispense with a
servant, as living would be a difficult matter.

During the first months Claude lived in ever-increasing excitement. His
peregrinations through the noisy streets; his feverish discussions on
the occasion of his visits to friends; all the rage and all the burning
ideas he thus brought home from out of doors, made him hold forth aloud
even in his sleep. Paris had seized hold of him again; and in the full
blaze of that furnace, a second youth, enthusiastic ambition to see,
do, and conquer, had come upon him. Never had he felt such a passion for
work, such hope, as if it sufficed for him to stretch out his hand in
order to create masterpieces that should set him in the right rank,
which was the first. While crossing Paris he discovered subjects for
pictures everywhere; the whole city, with its streets, squares, bridges,
and panoramas of life, suggested immense frescoes, which he, however,
always found too small, for he was intoxicated with the thought of doing
something colossal. Thus he returned home quivering, his brain seething
with projects; and of an evening threw off sketches on bits of paper, in
the lamp-light, without being able to decide by what he ought to begin
the series of grand productions that he dreamt about.

One serious obstacle was the smallness of his studio. If he had only had
the old garret of the Quai de Bourbon, or even the huge dining-room of
Bennecourt! But what could he do in that oblong strip of space, that
kind of passage, which the landlord of the house impudently let to
painters for four hundred francs a year, after roofing it in with glass?
The worst was that the sloping glazed roof looked to the north, between
two high walls, and only admitted a greenish cellar-like light. He was
therefore obliged to postpone his ambitious projects, and he decided
to begin with average-sized canvases, wisely saying to himself that the
dimensions of a picture are not a proper test of an artist’s genius.

The moment seemed to him favourable for the success of a courageous
artist who, amidst the breaking up of the old schools, would at length
bring some originality and sincerity into his work. The formulas of
recent times were already shaken. Delacroix had died without leaving any
disciples. Courbet had barely a few clumsy imitators behind him; their
best pieces would merely become so many museum pictures, blackened
by age, tokens only of the art of a certain period. It seemed easy to
foresee the new formula that would spring from theirs, that rush of
sunshine, that limpid dawn which was rising in new works under the
nascent influence of the ‘open air’ school. It was undeniable; those
light-toned paintings over which people had laughed so much at the Salon
of the Rejected were secretly influencing many painters, and gradually
brightening every palette. Nobody, as yet, admitted it, but the first
blow had been dealt, and an evolution was beginning, which became more
perceptible at each succeeding Salon. And what a stroke it would be if,
amidst the unconscious copies of impotent essayists, amidst the timid
artful attempts of tricksters, a master were suddenly to reveal himself,
giving body to the new formula by dint of audacity and power, without
compromise, showing it such as it should be, substantial, entire, so
that it might become the truth of the end of the century!

In that first hour of passion and hope, Claude, usually so harassed by
doubts, believed in his genius. He no longer experienced any of those
crises, the anguish of which had driven him for days into the streets in
quest of his vanished courage. A fever stiffened him, he worked on with
the blind obstinacy of an artist who dives into his entrails, to drag
therefrom the fruit that tortures him. His long rest in the country had
endowed him with singular freshness of visual perception, and joyous
delight in execution; he seemed to have been born anew to his art,
and endowed with a facility and balance of power he had never hitherto
possessed. He also felt certain of progress, and experienced great
satisfaction at some successful bits of work, in which his former
sterile efforts at last culminated. As he had said at Bennecourt, he
had got hold of his ‘open air,’ that carolling gaiety of tints which
astonished his comrades when they came to see him. They all admired,
convinced that he would only have to show his work to take a very high
place with it, such was its individuality of style, for the first time
showing nature flooded with real light, amid all the play of reflections
and the constant variations of colours.

Thus, for three years, Claude struggled on, without weakening, spurred
to further efforts by each rebuff, abandoning nought of his ideas, but
marching straight before him, with all the vigour of faith.

During the first year he went forth amid the December snows to place
himself for four hours a day behind the heights of Montmartre, at the
corner of a patch of waste land whence as a background he painted some
miserable, low, tumble-down buildings, overtopped by factory chimneys,
whilst in the foreground, amidst the snow, he set a girl and a ragged
street rough devouring stolen apples. His obstinacy in painting from
nature greatly complicated his work, and gave rise to almost insuperable
difficulties. However, he finished this picture out of doors; he merely
cleaned and touched it up a bit in his studio. When the canvas was
placed beneath the wan daylight of the glazed roof, he himself was
startled by its brutality. It showed like a scene beheld through a
doorway open on the street. The snow blinded one. The two figures, of a
muddy grey in tint, stood out, lamentable. He at once felt that such a
picture would not be accepted, but he did not try to soften it; he sent
it to the Salon, all the same. After swearing that he would never again
try to exhibit, he now held the view that one should always present
something to the hanging committee if merely to accentuate its
wrong-doing. Besides, he admitted the utility of the Salon, the only
battlefield on which an artist might come to the fore at one stroke. The
hanging committee refused his picture.

The second year Claude sought a contrast. He selected a bit of the
public garden of Batignolles in May; in the background were some large
chestnut trees casting their shade around a corner of greensward and
several six-storied houses; while in front, on a seat of a crude green
hue, some nurses and petty cits of the neighbourhood sat in a line
watching three little girls making sand pies. When permission to paint
there had been obtained, he had needed some heroism to bring his work to
a successful issue amid the bantering crowd. At last he made up his mind
to go there at five in the morning, in order to paint in the background;
reserving the figures, he contented himself with making mere sketches
of them from nature, and finishing them in his studio. This time his
picture seemed to him less crude; it had acquired some of the wan,
softened light which descended through the glass roof. He thought his
picture accepted, for all his friends pronounced it to be a masterpiece,
and went about saying that it would revolutionise the Salon. There
was stupefaction and indignation when a fresh refusal of the hanging
committee was rumoured. The committee’s intentions could not be denied:
it was a question of systematically strangling an original artist. He,
after his first burst of passion, vented all his anger upon his work,
which he stigmatised as false, dishonest, and execrable. It was a
well-deserved lesson, which he should remember: ought he to have
relapsed into that cellar-like studio light? Was he going to revert to
the filthy cooking of imaginary figures? When the picture came back, he
took a knife and ripped it from top to bottom.

And so during the third year he obstinately toiled on a work of revolt.
He wanted the blazing sun, that Paris sun which, on certain days, turns
the pavement to a white heat in the dazzling reflection from the house
frontages. Nowhere is it hotter; even people from burning climes mop
their faces; you would say you were in some region of Africa beneath the
heavily raining glow of a sky on fire. The subject Claude chose was a
corner of the Place du Carrousel, at one o’clock in the afternoon, when
the sunrays fall vertically. A cab was jolting along, its driver half
asleep, its horse steaming, with drooping head, vague amid the throbbing
heat. The passers-by seemed, as it were, intoxicated, with the one
exception of a young woman, who, rosy and gay under her parasol, walked
on with an easy queen-like step, as if the fiery element were her proper
sphere. But what especially rendered this picture terrible was a new
interpretation of the effects of light, a very accurate decomposition
of the sunrays, which ran counter to all the habits of eyesight, by
emphasising blues, yellows and reds, where nobody had been accustomed to
see any. In the background the Tuileries vanished in a golden shimmer;
the paving-stones bled, so to say; the figures were only so many
indications, sombre patches eaten into by the vivid glare. This time his
comrades, while still praising, looked embarrassed, all seized with
the same apprehensions. Such painting could only lead to martyrdom. He,
amidst their praises, understood well enough the rupture that was taking
place, and when the hanging committee had once more closed the Salon
against him, he dolorously exclaimed, in a moment of lucidity:

‘All right; it’s an understood thing--I’ll die at the task.’

However, although his obstinate courage seemed to increase, he now and
then gradually relapsed into his former doubts, consumed by the struggle
he was waging with nature. Every canvas that came back to him seemed bad
to him--above all incomplete, not realising what he had aimed at. It was
this idea of impotence that exasperated him even more than the refusals
of the hanging committee. No doubt he did not forgive the latter; his
works, even in an embryo state, were a hundred times better than all
the trash which was accepted. But what suffering he felt at being ever
unable to show himself in all his strength, in such a master-piece as he
could not bring his genius to yield! There were always some superb bits
in his paintings. He felt satisfied with this, that, and the other. Why,
then, were there sudden voids? Why were there inferior bits, which he
did not perceive while he was at work, but which afterwards utterly
killed the picture like ineffaceable defects? And he felt quite
unable to make any corrections; at certain moments a wall rose up, an
insuperable obstacle, beyond which he was forbidden to venture. If he
touched up the part that displeased him a score of times, so a score of
times did he aggravate the evil, till everything became quite muddled
and messy.

He grew anxious, and failed to see things clearly; his brush refused to
obey him, and his will was paralysed. Was it his hands or his eyes that
ceased to belong to him amid those progressive attacks of the hereditary
disorder that had already made him anxious? Those attacks became more
frequent; he once more lapsed into horrible weeks, wearing himself out,
oscillating betwixt uncertainty and hope; and his only support during
those terrible hours, which he spent in a desperate hand-to-hand
struggle with his rebellious work, was the consoling dream of his future
masterpiece, the one with which he would at last be fully satisfied, in
painting which his hands would show all the energy and deftness of true
creative skill. By some ever-recurring phenomenon, his longing to create
outstripped the quickness of his fingers; he never worked at one picture
without planning the one that was to follow. Then all that remained
to him was an eager desire to rid himself of the work on which he was
engaged, for it brought him torture; no doubt it would be good for
nothing; he was still making fatal concessions, having recourse to
trickery, to everything that a true artist should banish from his
conscience. But what he meant to do after that--ah! what he meant to
do--he beheld it superb and heroic, above attack and indestructible. All
this was the everlasting mirage that goads on the condemned disciples
of art, a falsehood that comes in a spirit of tenderness and compassion,
and without which production would become impossible to those who die of
their failure to create life.

In addition to those constantly renewed struggles with himself, Claude’s
material difficulties now increased. Was it not enough that he could not
give birth to what he felt existing within him? Must he also battle with
every-day cares? Though he refused to admit it, painting from nature in
the open air became impossible when a picture was beyond a certain size.
How could he settle himself in the streets amidst the crowd?--how obtain
from each person the necessary number of sittings? That sort of painting
must evidently be confined to certain determined subjects, landscapes,
small corners of the city, in which the figures would be but so many
silhouettes, painted in afterwards. There were also a thousand and one
difficulties connected with the weather; the wind which threatened to
carry off the easel, the rain which obliged one to interrupt one’s work.
On such days Claude came home in a rage, shaking his fist at the sky
and accusing nature of resisting him in order that he might not take and
vanquish her. He also complained bitterly of being poor; for his dream
was to have a movable studio, a vehicle in Paris, a boat on the Seine,
in both of which he would have lived like an artistic gipsy. But nothing
came to his aid, everything conspired against his work.

And Christine suffered with Claude. She had shared his hopes very
bravely, brightening the studio with her housewifely activity; but now
she sat down, discouraged, when she saw him powerless. At each picture
which was refused she displayed still deeper grief, hurt in her womanly
self-love, taking that pride in success which all women have. The
painter’s bitterness soured her also; she entered into his feelings and
passions, identified herself with his tastes, defended his painting,
which had become, as it were, part of herself, the one great concern of
their lives--indeed, the only important one henceforth, since it was the
one whence she expected all her happiness. She understood well enough
that art robbed her more and more of her lover each day, but the real
struggle between herself and art had not yet begun. For the time she
yielded, and let herself be carried away with Claude, so that they
might be but one--one only in the self-same effort. From that partial
abdication of self there sprang, however, a sadness, a dread of what
might be in store for her later on. Every now and then a shudder chilled
her to the very heart. She felt herself growing old, while intense
melancholy upset her, an unreasoning longing to weep, which she
satisfied in the gloomy studio for hours together, when she was alone
there.

At that period her heart expanded, as it were, and a mother sprang from
the loving woman. That motherly feeling for her big artist child was
made up of all the vague infinite pity which filled her with tenderness,
of the illogical fits of weakness into which she saw him fall each
hour, of the constant pardons which she was obliged to grant him. He was
beginning to make her unhappy, his caresses were few and far between, a
look of weariness constantly overspread his features. How could she love
him then if not with that other affection of every moment, remaining in
adoration before him, and unceasingly sacrificing herself? In her inmost
being insatiable passion still lingered; she was still the sensuous
woman with thick lips set in obstinately prominent jaws. Yet there was
a gentle melancholy, in being merely a mother to him, in trying to make
him happy amid that life of theirs which now was spoilt.

Little Jacques was the only one to suffer from that transfer of
tenderness. She neglected him more; the man, his father, became her
child, and the poor little fellow remained as mere testimony of their
great passion of yore. As she saw him grow up, and no longer require so
much care, she began to sacrifice him, without intentional harshness,
but merely because she felt like that. At meal-times she only gave
him the inferior bits; the cosiest nook near the stove was not for his
little chair; if ever the fear of an accident made her tremble now
and then, her first cry, her first protecting movement was not for her
helpless child. She ever relegated him to the background, suppressed
him, as it were: ‘Jacques, be quiet; you tire your father. Jacques, keep
still; don’t you see that your father is at work?’

The urchin suffered from being cooped up in Paris. He, who had had the
whole country-side to roll about in, felt stifled in the narrow space
where he now had to keep quiet. His rosy cheeks became pale, he grew up
puny, serious, like a little man, with eyes which stared at things in
wonder. He was five by now, and his head by a singular phenomenon had
become disproportionately large, in such wise as to make his father say,
‘He has a great man’s nut!’ But the child’s intelligence seemed, on the
contrary, to decrease in proportion as his skull became larger. Very
gentle and timid, he became absorbed in thought for hours, incapable of
answering a question. And when he emerged from that state of immobility
he had mad fits of shouting and jumping, like a young animal giving rein
to instinct. At such times warnings ‘to keep quiet’ rained upon him, for
his mother failed to understand his sudden outbursts, and became uneasy
at seeing the father grow irritated as he sat before his easel. Getting
cross herself, she would then hastily seat the little fellow in his
corner again. Quieted all at once, giving the startled shudder of one
who has been too abruptly awakened, the child would after a time doze
off with his eyes wide open, so careless of enjoying life that his toys,
corks, pictures, and empty colour-tubes dropped listlessly from his
hands. Christine had already tried to teach him his alphabet, but he
had cried and struggled, so they had decided to wait another year or two
before sending him to school, where his masters would know how to make
him learn.

Christine at last began to grow frightened at the prospect of impending
misery. In Paris, with that growing child beside them, living proved
expensive, and the end of each month became terrible, despite her
efforts to save in every direction. They had nothing certain but
Claude’s thousand francs a year; and how could they live on fifty
francs a month, which was all that was left to them after deducting four
hundred francs for the rent? At first they had got out of embarrassment,
thanks to the sale of a few pictures, Claude having found Gagniere’s old
amateur, one of those detested bourgeois who possess the ardent souls
of artists, despite the monomaniacal habits in which they are confined.
This one, M. Hue, a retired chief clerk in a public department, was
unfortunately not rich enough to be always buying, and he could only
bewail the purblindness of the public, which once more allowed a genius
to die of starvation; for he himself, convinced, struck by grace at the
first glance, had selected Claude’s crudest works, which he hung by the
side of his Delacroix, predicting equal fortune for them. The worst was
that Papa Malgras had just retired after making his fortune. It was but
a modest competence after all, an income of about ten thousand francs,
upon which he had decided to live in a little house at Bois Colombes,
like the careful man he was.

It was highly amusing to hear him speak of the famous Naudet, full of
disdain for the millions turned over by that speculator, ‘millions
that would some day fall upon his nose,’ said Malgras. Claude, having
casually met him, only succeeded in selling him a last picture, one of
his sketches from the nude made at the Boutin studio, that superb study
of a woman’s trunk which the erstwhile dealer had not been able to see
afresh without feeling a revival of his old passion for it. So misery
was imminent; outlets were closing instead of new ones opening;
disquieting rumours were beginning to circulate concerning the young
painter’s works, so constantly rejected at the Salon; and besides,
Claude’s style of art, so revolutionary and imperfect, in which the
startled eye found nought of admitted conventionality, would of itself
have sufficed to drive away wealthy buyers. One evening, being unable
to settle his bill at his colour shop, the painter had exclaimed that he
would live upon the capital of his income rather than lower himself to
the degrading production of trade pictures. But Christine had violently
opposed such an extreme measure; she would retrench still further;
in short, she preferred anything to such madness, which would end by
throwing them into the streets without even bread to eat.

After the rejection of Claude’s third picture, the summer proved so
wonderfully fine that the painter seemed to derive new strength from
it. There was not a cloud; limpid light streamed day after day upon the
giant activity of Paris. Claude had resumed his peregrinations through
the city, determined to find a masterstroke, as he expressed it,
something huge, something decisive, he did not exactly know what.
September came, and still he had found nothing that satisfied him;
he simply went mad for a week about one or another subject, and then
declared that it was not the thing after all. His life was spent in
constant excitement; he was ever on the watch, on the point of setting
his hand on the realisation of his dream, which always flew away. In
reality, beneath his intractable realism lay the superstition of a
nervous woman; he believed in occult and complex influences; everything,
luck or ill-luck, must depend upon the view selected.

One afternoon--it was one of the last fine days of the season--Claude
took Christine out with him, leaving little Jacques in the charge of the
doorkeeper, a kind old woman, as was their wont when they wanted to go
out together. That day the young painter was possessed by a sudden whim
to ramble about and revisit in Christine’s company the nooks beloved in
other days; and behind this desire of his there lurked a vague hope
that she would bring him luck. And thus they went as far as the Pont
Louis-Philippe, and remained for a quarter of an hour on the Quai des
Ormes, silent, leaning against the parapet, and looking at the old Hotel
du Martoy, across the Seine, where they had first loved each other.
Then, still without saying a word, they went their former round; they
started along the quays, under the plane trees, seeing the past rise up
before them at every step. Everything spread out again: the bridges
with their arches opening upon the sheeny water; the Cite, enveloped in
shade, above which rose the flavescent towers of Notre-Dame; the
great curve of the right bank flooded with sunlight, and ending in the
indistinct silhouette of the Pavillon de Flore, together with the broad
avenues, the monuments and edifices on both banks, and all the life of
the river, the floating wash-houses, the baths, and the lighters.

As of old, the orb in its decline followed them, seemingly rolling along
the distant housetops, and assuming a crescent shape, as it appeared
from behind the dome of the Institute. There was a dazzling sunset, they
had never beheld a more magnificent one, such a majestic descent amidst
tiny cloudlets that changed into purple network, between the meshes of
which a shower of gold escaped. But of the past that thus rose up before
their eyes there came to them nought but invincible sadness--a sensation
that things escaped them, and that it was impossible for them to retrace
their way up stream and live their life over again. All those old stones
remained cold. The constant current beneath the bridges, the water that
had ever flowed onward and onward, seemed to have borne away something
of their own selves, the delight of early desire and the joyfulness of
hope. Now that they belonged to one another, they no longer tasted the
simple happiness born of feeling the warm pressure of their arms as they
strolled on slowly, enveloped by the mighty vitality of Paris.

On reaching the Pont des Saints-Peres, Claude, in sheer despair, stopped
short. He had relinquished Christine’s arm, and had turned his face
towards the point of the Cite. She no doubt felt the severance that
was taking place and became very sad. Seeing that he lingered there
obliviously, she wished to regain her hold upon him.

‘My dear,’ said she, ‘let us go home; it’s time. Jacques will be waiting
for us, you know.’

But he went half way across the bridge, and she had to follow him. Then
once more he remained motionless, with his eyes still fixed on the Cite,
on that island which ever rode at anchor, the cradle and heart of Paris,
where for centuries all the blood of her arteries had converged amid the
constant growth of faubourgs invading the plain. And a glow came
over Claude’s face, his eyes sparkled, and at last he made a sweeping
gesture:

‘Look! Look!’

In the immediate foreground beneath them was the port of St. Nicolas,
with the low shanties serving as offices for the inspectors of
navigation, and the large paved river-bank sloping down, littered with
piles of sand, barrels, and sacks, and edged with a row of lighters,
still full, in which busy lumpers swarmed beneath the gigantic arm of
an iron crane. Then on the other side of the river, above a cold
swimming-bath, resounding with the shouts of the last bathers of the
season, the strips of grey linen that served as a roofing flapped in
the wind. In the middle, the open stream flowed on in rippling, greenish
wavelets tipped here and there with white, blue, and pink. And then
there came the Pont des Arts, standing back, high above the water on
its iron girders, like black lace-work, and animated by a ceaseless
procession of foot-passengers, who looked like ants careering over the
narrow line of the horizontal plane. Below, the Seine flowed away to
the far distance; you saw the old arches of the Pont-Neuf, browny
with stone-rust; on the left, as far as the Isle of St. Louis, came a
mirror-like gap; and the other arm of the river curved sharply, the lock
gates of the Mint shutting out the view with a bar of foam. Along the
Pont-Neuf passed big yellow omnibuses, motley vehicles of all kinds,
with the mechanical regularity of so many children’s toys. The whole of
the background was inframed within the perspective of the two banks; on
the right were houses on the quays, partly hidden by a cluster of lofty
trees, from behind which on the horizon there emerged a corner of the
Hotel de Villa, together with the square clock tower of St. Gervais,
both looking as indistinct as if they had stood far away in the suburbs.
And on the left bank there was a wing of the Institute, the flat
frontage of the Mint, and yet another enfilade of trees.

But the centre of the immense picture, that which rose most prominently
from the stream and soared to the sky, was the Cite, showing like the
prow of an antique vessel, ever burnished by the setting sun. Down
below, the poplars on the strip of ground that joins the two sections
of the Pont-Neuf hid the statue of Henri IV. with a dense mass of green
foliage. Higher up, the sun set the two lines of frontages in contrast,
wrapping the grey buildings of the Quai de l’Horloge in shade, and
illumining with a blaze those of the Quai des Orfevres, rows of
irregular houses which stood out so clearly that one distinguished the
smallest details, the shops, the signboards, even the curtains at the
windows. Higher up, amid the jagged outlines of chimney stacks, behind a
slanting chess-board of smaller roofs, the pepper-caster turrets of the
Palais de Justice and the garrets of the Prefecture of Police displayed
sheets of slate, intersected by a colossal advertisement painted in blue
upon a wall, with gigantic letters which, visible to all Paris, seemed
like some efflorescence of the feverish life of modern times sprouting
on the city’s brow. Higher, higher still, betwixt the twin towers of
Notre-Dame, of the colour of old gold, two arrows darted upwards,
the spire of the cathedral itself, and to the left that of the
Sainte-Chapelle, both so elegantly slim that they seemed to quiver in
the breeze, as if they had been the proud topmasts of the ancient vessel
rising into the brightness of the open sky.

‘Are you coming, dear?’ asked Christine, gently.

Claude did not listen to her; this, the heart of Paris, had taken full
possession of him. The splendid evening seemed to widen the horizon.
There were patches of vivid light, and of clearly defined shadow; there
was a brightness in the precision of each detail, a transparency in the
air, which throbbed with gladness. And the river life, the turmoil of
the quays, all the people, streaming along the streets, rolling over the
bridges, arriving from every side of that huge cauldron, Paris, steamed
there in visible billows, with a quiver that was apparent in the
sunlight. There was a light breeze, high aloft a flight of small
cloudlets crossed the paling azure sky, and one could hear a slow
but mighty palpitation, as if the soul of Paris here dwelt around its
cradle.

But Christine, frightened at seeing Claude so absorbed, and seized
herself with a kind of religious awe, took hold of his arm and dragged
him away, as if she had felt that some great danger was threatening him.

‘Let us go home. You are doing yourself harm. I want to get back.’

At her touch he started like a man disturbed in sleep. Then, turning his
head to take a last look, he muttered: ‘Ah! heavens! Ah! heavens, how
beautiful!’

He allowed himself to be led away. But throughout the evening, first
at dinner, afterwards beside the stove, and until he went to bed, he
remained like one dazed, so deep in his cogitations that he did not
utter half a dozen sentences. And Christine, failing to draw from him
any answer to her questions, at last became silent also. She looked
at him anxiously; was it the approach of some serious illness, had he
inhaled some bad air whilst standing midway across the bridge yonder?
His eyes stared vaguely into space, his face flushed as if with
some inner straining. One would have thought it the mute travail of
germination, as if something were springing into life within him.

The next morning, immediately after breakfast, he set off, and Christine
spent a very sorrowful day, for although she had become more easy in
mind on hearing him whistle some of his old southern tunes as he got up,
she was worried by another matter, which she had not mentioned to him
for fear of damping his spirits again. That day they would for the first
time lack everything; a whole week separated them from the date when
their little income would fall due, and she had spent her last copper
that morning. She had nothing left for the evening, not even the
wherewithal to buy a loaf. To whom could she apply? How could she manage
to hide the truth any longer from him when he came home hungry? She
made up her mind to pledge the black silk dress which Madame Vanzade
had formerly given her, but it was with a heavy heart; she trembled with
fear and shame at the idea of the pawnshop, that familiar resort of the
poor which she had never as yet entered. And she was tortured by such
apprehension about the future, that from the ten francs which were lent
her she only took enough to make a sorrel soup and a stew of potatoes.
On coming out of the pawn-office, a meeting with somebody she knew had
given her the finishing stroke.

As it happened, Claude came home very late, gesticulating merrily, and
his eyes very bright, as if he were excited by some secret joy; he was
very hungry, and grumbled because the cloth was not laid. Then, having
sat down between Christine and little Jacques, he swallowed his soup and
devoured a plateful of potatoes.

‘Is that all?’ he asked, when he had finished. ‘You might as well have
added a scrap of meat. Did you have to buy some boots again?’

She stammered, not daring to tell him the truth, but hurt at heart by
this injustice. He, however, went on chaffing her about the coppers
she juggled away to buy herself things with; and getting more and more
excited, amid the egotism of feelings which he seemingly wished to keep
to himself, he suddenly flew out at Jacques.

‘Hold your noise, you brat!--you drive one mad.’

The child, forgetting all about his dinner, had been tapping the edge
of his plate with his spoon, his eyes full of mirthful delight at this
music.

‘Jacques, be quiet,’ scoldingly said his mother, in her turn. ‘Let your
father have his dinner in peace.’

Then the little one, abashed, at once became very quiet, and relapsed
into gloomy stillness, with his lustreless eyes fixed on his potatoes,
which, however, he did not eat.

Claude made a show of stuffing himself with cheese, while Christine,
quite grieved, offered to fetch some cold meat from a ham and beef shop;
but he declined, and prevented her going by words that pained her still
more. Then, the table having been cleared, they all sat round the lamp
for the evening, she sewing, the little one turning over a picture-book
in silence, and Claude drumming on the table with his fingers, his mind
the while wandering back to the spot whence he had come. Suddenly he
rose, sat down again with a sheet of paper and a pencil, and began
sketching rapidly, in the vivid circle of light that fell from under the
lamp-shade. And such was his longing to give outward expression to the
tumultuous ideas beating in his skull, that soon this sketch did not
suffice for his relief. On the contrary, it goaded him on, and he
finished by unburthening his mind in a flood of words. He would have
shouted to the walls; and if he addressed himself to his wife it was
because she happened to be there.

‘Look, that’s what we saw yesterday. It’s magnificent. I spent three
hours there to-day. I’ve got hold of what I want--something wonderful,
something that’ll knock everything else to pieces. Just look! I station
myself under the bridge; in the immediate foreground I have the Port of
St. Nicolas, with its crane, its lighters which are being unloaded, and
its crowd of labourers. Do you see the idea--it’s Paris at work--all
those brawny fellows displaying their bare arms and chests? Then on
the other side I have the swimming-baths--Paris at play--and some skiff
there, no doubt, to occupy the centre of the composition; but of that
I am not as yet certain. I must feel my way. As a matter of course, the
Seine will be in the middle, broad, immense.’

While talking, he kept on indicating outlines with his pencil,
thickening his strokes over and over again, and tearing the paper in
his very energy. She, in order to please him, bent over the sketch,
pretending to grow very interested in his explanations. But there was
such a labyrinth of lines, such a confusion of summary details, that she
failed to distinguish anything.

‘You are following me, aren’t you?’

‘Yes, yes, very beautiful indeed.’

‘Then I have the background, the two arms of the rivet with their quays,
the Cite, rising up triumphantly in the centre, and standing out against
the sky. Ah! that background, what a marvel! People see it every day,
pass before it without stopping; but it takes hold of one all the same;
one’s admiration accumulates, and one fine afternoon it bursts forth.
Nothing in the world can be grander; it is Paris herself, glorious in
the sunlight. Ah! what a fool I was not to think of it before! How many
times I have looked at it without seeing! However, I stumbled on it
after that ramble along the quays! And, do you remember, there’s a dash
of shadow on that side; while here the sunrays fall quite straight. The
towers are yonder; the spire of the Sainte-Chapelle tapers upward, as
slim as a needle pointing to the sky. But no, it’s more to the right.
Wait, I’ll show you.’

He began again, never wearying, but constantly retouching the sketch,
and adding innumerable little characteristic details which his painter’s
eye had noticed; here the red signboard of a distant shop vibrated in
the light; closer by was a greenish bit of the Seine, on whose surface
large patches of oil seemed to be floating; and then there was the
delicate tone of a tree, the gamut of greys supplied by the house
frontages, and the luminous cast of the sky. She complaisantly approved
of all he said and tried to look delighted.

But Jacques once again forgot what he had been told. After long
remaining silent before his book, absorbed in the contemplation of a
wood-cut depicting a black cat, he began to hum some words of his own
composition: ‘Oh, you pretty cat; oh, you ugly cat; oh, you pretty, ugly
cat,’ and so on, _ad infinitum_, ever in the same lugubrious manner.

Claude, who was made fidgety by the buzzing noise, did not at first
understand what was upsetting him. But after a time the child’s
harassing phrase fell clearly upon his ear.

‘Haven’t you done worrying us with your cat?’ he shouted furiously.

‘Hold your tongue, Jacques, when your father is talking!’ repeated
Christine.

Upon my word, I do believe he is becoming an idiot. Just look at his
head, if it isn’t like an idiot’s. It’s dreadful. Just say; what do you
mean by your pretty and ugly cat?’

The little fellow, turning pale and wagging his big head, looked stupid,
and replied: ‘Don’t know.’

Then, as his father and mother gazed at each other with a discouraged
air, he rested his cheek on the open picture-book, and remained like
that, neither stirring nor speaking, but with his eyes wide open.

It was getting late; Christine wanted to put him to bed, but Claude had
already resumed his explanations. He now told her that, the very next
morning, he should go and make a sketch on the spot, just in order to
fix his ideas. And, as he rattled on, he began to talk of buying a small
camp easel, a thing upon which he had set his heart for months. He kept
harping on the subject, and spoke of money matters till she at last
became embarrassed, and ended by telling him of everything--the last
copper she had spent that morning, and the silk dress she had pledged
in order to dine that evening. Thereupon he became very remorseful
and affectionate; he kissed her and asked her forgiveness for having
complained about the dinner. She would excuse him, surely; he would have
killed father and mother, as he kept on repeating, when that confounded
painting got hold of him. As for the pawn-shop, it made him laugh; he
defied misery.

‘I tell you that we are all right,’ he exclaimed. ‘That picture means
success.’

She kept silent, thinking about her meeting of the morning, which she
wished to hide from him; but without apparent cause or transition, in
the kind of torpor that had come over her, the words she would have kept
back rose invincibly to her lips.

‘Madame Vanzade is dead,’ she said.

He looked surprised. Ah! really? How did she, Christine, know it?

‘I met the old man-servant. Oh, he’s a gentleman by now, looking very
sprightly, in spite of his seventy years. I did not know him again. It
was he who spoke to me. Yes, she died six weeks ago. Her millions have
gone to various charities, with the exception of an annuity to the
old servants, upon which they are living snugly like people of the
middle-classes.’

He looked at her, and at last murmured, in a saddened voice: ‘My poor
Christine, you are regretting things now, aren’t you? She would have
given you a marriage portion, have found you a husband! I told you so in
days gone by. She would, perhaps, have left you all her money, and you
wouldn’t now be starving with a crazy fellow like myself.’

She then seemed to wake from her dream. She drew her chair to his,
caught hold of one of his arms and nestled against him, as if her whole
being protested against his words:

‘What are you saying? Oh! no; oh! no. It would have been shameful to
have thought of her money. I would confess it to you if it were the
case, and you know that I never tell lies; but I myself don’t know what
came over me when I heard the news. I felt upset and saddened, so sad
that I imagined everything was over for me. It was no doubt remorse;
yes, remorse at having deserted her so brutally, poor invalid that she
was, the good old soul who called me her daughter! I behaved very badly,
and it won’t bring me luck. Ah! don’t say “No,” I feel it well enough;
henceforth there’s an end to everything for me.’

Then she wept, choked by those confused regrets, the significance of
which she failed to understand, regrets mingling with the one feeling
that her life was spoilt, and that she now had nothing but unhappiness
before her.

‘Come, wipe your eyes,’ said Claude, becoming affectionate once more.
‘Is it possible that you, who were never nervous, can conjure up
chimeras and worry yourself in this way? Dash it all, we shall get out
of our difficulties! First of all, you know that it was through you that
I found the subject for my picture. There cannot be much of a curse upon
you, since you bring me luck.’

He laughed, and she shook her head, seeing well enough that he wanted to
make her smile. She was suffering on account of his picture already; for
on the bridge he had completely forgotten her, as if she had ceased to
belong to him! And, since the previous night, she had realised that he
was farther and farther removed from her, alone in a world to which she
could not ascend. But she allowed him to soothe her, and they exchanged
one of their kisses of yore, before rising from the table to retire to
rest.

Little Jacques had heard nothing. Benumbed by his stillness, he had
fallen asleep, with his cheek on his picture-book; and his big head, so
heavy at times that it bent his neck, looked pale in the lamplight.
Poor little offspring of genius, which, when it begets at all, so often
begets idiocy or physical imperfection! When his mother put him to bed
Jacques did not even open his eyes.

It was only at this period that the idea of marrying Christine came
to Claude. Though yielding to the advice of Sandoz, who expressed
his surprise at the prolongation of an irregular situation which no
circumstances justified, he more particularly gave way to a feeling
of pity, to a desire to show himself kind to his mistress, and to win
forgiveness for his delinquencies. He had seen her so sad of late, so
uneasy with respect to the future, that he did not know how to revive
her spirits. He himself was growing soured, and relapsing into his
former fits of anger, treating her, at times, like a servant, to whom
one flings a week’s notice. Being his lawful wife, she would, no doubt,
feel herself more in her rightful home, and would suffer less from his
rough behaviour. She herself, for that matter, had never again spoken
of marriage. She seemed to care nothing for earthly things, but entirely
reposed upon him; however, he understood well enough that it grieved
her that she was not able to visit at Sandoz’s. Besides, they no longer
lived amid the freedom and solitude of the country; they were in Paris,
with its thousand and one petty spites, everything that is calculated
to wound a woman in an irregular position. In reality, he had nothing
against marriage save his old prejudices, those of an artist who takes
life as he lists. Since he was never to leave her, why not afford her
that pleasure? And, in fact, when he spoke to her about it, she gave a
loud cry and threw her arms round his neck, surprised at experiencing
such great emotion. During a whole week it made her feel thoroughly
happy. But her joy subsided long before the ceremony.

Moreover, Claude did not hurry over any of the formalities, and they had
to wait a long while for the necessary papers. He continued getting the
sketches for his picture together, and she, like himself, did not seem
in the least impatient. What was the good? It would assuredly make no
difference in their life. They had decided to be married merely at the
municipal offices, not in view of displaying any contempt for religion,
but to get the affair over quickly and simply. That would suffice.
The question of witnesses embarrassed them for a moment. As she was
absolutely unacquainted with anybody, he selected Sandoz and Mahoudeau
to act for her. For a moment he had thought of replacing the latter by
Dubuche, but he never saw the architect now, and he feared to compromise
him. He, Claude, would be content with Jory and Gagniere. In that way
the affair would pass off among friends, and nobody would talk of it.

Several weeks had gone by; they were in December, and the weather proved
terribly cold. On the day before the wedding, although they barely had
thirty-five francs left them, they agreed that they could not send their
witnesses away with a mere shake of the hand; and, rather than have
a lot of trouble in the studio, they decided to offer them lunch at a
small restaurant on the Boulevard de Clichy, after which they would all
go home.

In the morning, while Christine was tacking a collar to a grey linsey
gown which, with the coquetry of woman, she had made for the occasion,
it occurred to Claude, who was already wearing his frock-coat and
kicking his heels impatiently, to go and fetch Mahoudeau, for the
latter, he asserted, was quite capable of forgetting all about the
appointment. Since autumn, the sculptor had been living at Montmartre,
in a small studio in the Rue des Tilleuls. He had moved thither in
consequence of a series of affairs that had quite upset him. First
of all, he had been turned out of the fruiterer’s shop in the Rue du
Cherche-Midi for not paying his rent; then had come a definite rupture
with Chaine, who, despairing of being able to live by his brush, had
rushed into commercial enterprise, betaking himself to all the fairs
around Paris as the manager of a kind of ‘fortune’s wheel’ belonging to
a widow; while last of all had come the sudden flight of Mathilde, her
herbalist’s business sold up, and she herself disappearing, it seemed,
with some mysterious admirer. At present Mahoudeau lived all by himself
in greater misery than ever, only eating when he secured a job at
scraping some architectural ornaments, or preparing work for some more
prosperous fellow-sculptor.

‘I am going to fetch him, do you hear?’ Claude repeated to Christine.
‘We still have a couple of hours before us. And, if the others come,
make them wait. We’ll go to the municipal offices all together.’

Once outside, Claude hurried along in the nipping cold which loaded
his moustache with icicles. Mahoudeau’s studio was at the end of a
conglomeration of tenements--‘rents,’ so to say--and he had to cross a
number of small gardens, white with rime, and showing the bleak, stiff
melancholy of cemeteries. He could distinguish his friend’s place from
afar on account of the colossal plaster statue of the ‘Vintaging Girl,’
the once successful exhibit of the Salon, for which there had not been
sufficient space in the narrow ground-floor studio. Thus it was rotting
out in the open like so much rubbish shot from a cart, a lamentable
spectacle, weather-bitten, riddled by the rain’s big, grimy tears. The
key was in the door, so Claude went in.

‘Hallo! have you come to fetch me?’ said Mahoudeau, in surprise. ‘I’ve
only got my hat to put on. But wait a bit, I was asking myself whether
it wouldn’t be better to light a little fire. I am uneasy about my woman
there.’

Some water in a bucket was ice-bound. So cold was the studio that it
froze inside as hard as it did out of doors, for, having been penniless
for a whole week, Mahoudeau had gingerly eked out the little coal
remaining to him, only lighting the stove for an hour or two of a
morning. His studio was a kind of tragic cavern, compared with which the
shop of former days evoked reminiscences of snug comfort, such was the
tomb-like chill that fell on one’s shoulders from the creviced ceiling
and the bare walls. In the various corners some statues, of less bulky
dimensions than the ‘Vintaging Girl,’ plaster figures which had been
modelled with passion and exhibited, and which had then come back for
want of buyers, seemed to be shivering with their noses turned to the
wall, forming a melancholy row of cripples, some already badly damaged,
showing mere stumps of arms, and all dust-begrimed and clay-bespattered.
Under the eyes of their artist creator, who had given them his heart’s
blood, those wretched nudities dragged out years of agony. At first, no
doubt, they were preserved with jealous care, despite the lack of room,
but then they lapsed into the grotesque honor of all lifeless things,
until a day came when, taking up a mallet, he himself finished them off,
breaking them into mere lumps of plaster, so as to be rid of them.

‘You say we have got two hours, eh?’ resumed Mahoudeau. ‘Well, I’ll just
light a bit of fire; it will be the wiser perhaps.’

Then, while lighting the stove, he began bewailing his fate in an angry
voice. What a dog’s life a sculptor’s was! The most bungling stonemason
was better off. A figure which the Government bought for three thousand
francs cost well nigh two thousand, what with its model, clay, marble
or bronze, all sorts of expenses, indeed, and for all that it remained
buried in some official cellar on the pretext that there was no room
for it elsewhere. The niches of the public buildings remained empty,
pedestals were awaiting statues in the public gardens. No matter, there
was never any room! And there were no possible commissions from private
people; at best one received an order for a few busts, and at very rare
intervals one for a memorial statue, subscribed for by the public and
hurriedly executed at reduced terms. Sculpture was the noblest of arts,
the most manly, yes, but the one which led the most surely to death by
starvation!

‘Is your machine progressing?’ asked Claude.

‘Without this confounded cold, it would be finished,’ answered
Mahoudeau. ‘I’ll show it you.’

He rose from his knees after listening to the snorting of the stove.
In the middle of the studio, on a packing-case, strengthened by
cross-pieces, stood a statue swathed is linen wraps which were quite
rigid, hard frozen, draping the figure with the whiteness of a shroud.
This statue embodied Mahoudeau’s old dream, unrealised until now from
lack of means--it was an upright figure of that bathing girl of whom
more than a dozen small models had been knocking about his place for
years. In a moment of impatient revolt he himself had manufactured
trusses and stays out of broom-handles, dispensing with the necessary
iron work in the hope that the wood would prove sufficiently solid.
From time to time he shook the figure to try it, but as yet it had not
budged.

‘The devil!’ he muttered; ‘some warmth will do her good. These wraps
seem glued to her--they form quite a breastplate.’

The linen was crackling between his fingers, and splinters of ice were
breaking off. He was obliged to wait until the heat produced a slight
thaw, and then with great care he stripped the figure, baring the
head first, then the bosom, and then the hips, well pleased at finding
everything intact, and smiling like a lover at a woman fondly adored.

‘Well, what do you think of it?’

Claude, who had only previously seen a little rough model of the statue,
nodded his head, in order that he might not have to answer immediately.
Decidedly, that good fellow Mahoudeau was turning traitor, and drifting
towards gracefulness, in spite of himself, for pretty things ever sprang
from under his big fingers, former stonecutter though he was. Since
his colossal ‘Vintaging Girl,’ he had gone on reducing and reducing the
proportions of his figures without appearing to be aware of it himself,
always ready to stick out ferociously for the gigantic, which agreed
with his temperament, but yielding to the partiality of his eyes for
sweetness and gracefulness. And indeed real nature broke at last through
inflated ambition. Exaggerated still, his ‘Bathing Girl’ was already
possessed of great charm, with her quivering shoulders and her
tightly-crossed arms that supported her breast.

‘Well, you don’t like her?’ he asked, looking annoyed.

‘Oh, yes, I do! I think you are right to tone things down a bit, seeing
that you feel like that. You’ll have a great success with this. Yes,
it’s evident it will please people very much.’

Mahoudeau, whom such praises would once have thrown into consternation,
seemed delighted. He explained that he wished to conquer public opinion
without relinquishing a tithe of his convictions.

‘Ah! dash it! it takes a weight off my mind to find you pleased,’ said
he, ‘for I should have destroyed it if you had told me to do so, I
give you my word! Another fortnight’s work, and I’ll sell my skin to no
matter whom in order to pay the moulder. I say, I shall have a fine show
at the Salon, perhaps get a medal.’

He laughed, waved his arms about, and then, breaking off:

‘As we are not in a hurry, sit down a bit. I want to get the wraps quite
thawed.’

The stove, which was becoming red hot, diffused great heat. The figure,
placed close by, seemed to revive under the warm air that now crept up
her from her shins to her neck. And the two friends, who had sat down,
continued looking the statue full in the face, chatting about it and
noting each detail. The sculptor especially grew excited in his delight,
and indulged in caressing gestures.

All at once, however, Claude fancied he was the victim of some
hallucination. To him the figure seemed to be moving; a quiver like
the ripple of a wavelet crossed her stomach, and her left hip became
straightened, as if the right leg were about to step out.

‘Have you noticed the smooth surface just about the loins?’ Mahoudeau
went on, without noticing anything. ‘Ah, my boy, I took great pains over
that!’

But by degrees the whole statue was becoming animated. The loins swayed
and the bosom swelled, as with a deep sigh, between the parted arms. And
suddenly the head drooped, the thighs bent, and the figure came forward
like a living being, with all the wild anguish, the grief-inspired
spring of a woman who is flinging herself down.

Claude at last understood things, when Mahoudeau uttered a terrible cry.
‘By heavens, she’s breaking to pieces!--she is coming down!’

The clay, in thawing, had snapped the weak wooden trusses. There came a
cracking noise, as if bones indeed were splitting; and Mahoudeau, with
the same passionate gesture with which he had caressed the figure from
afar, working himself into a fever, opened both arms, at the risk of
being killed by the fall. For a moment the bathing girl swayed to and
fro, and then with one crash came down on her face, broken in twain at
the ankles, and leaving her feet sticking to the boards.

Claude had jumped up to hold his friend back.

‘Dash it! you’ll be smashed!’ he cried.

But dreading to see her finish herself off on the floor, Mahoudeau
remained with hands outstretched. And the girl seemed to fling herself
on his neck. He caught her in his arms, winding them tightly around her.
Her bosom was flattened against his shoulder and her thighs beat against
his own, while her decapitated head rolled upon the floor. The shock was
so violent that Mahoudeau was carried off his legs and thrown over, as
far back as the wall; and there, without relaxing his hold on the girl’s
trunk, he remained as if stunned lying beside her.

‘Ah! confound it!’ repeated Claude, furiously, believing that his friend
was dead.

With great difficulty Mahoudeau rose to his knees, and burst into
violent sobs. He had only damaged his face in the fall. Some blood
dribbled down one of his cheeks, mingling with his tears.

‘Ah! curse poverty!’ he said. ‘It’s enough to make a fellow drown
himself not to be able to buy a couple of rods! And there she is, there
she is!’

His sobs grew louder; they became an agonising wail; the painful
shrieking of a lover before the mutilated corpse of his affections. With
unsteady hands he touched the limbs lying in confusion around him; the
head, the torso, the arms that had snapped in twain; above aught else
the bosom, now caved in. That bosom, flattened, as if it had been
operated upon for some terrible disease, suffocated him, and he
unceasingly returned to it, probing the sore, trying to find the gash by
which life had fled, while his tears, mingled with blood, flowed freely,
and stained the statue’s gaping wounds with red.

‘Do help me!’ he gasped. ‘One can’t leave her like this.’

Claude was overcome also, and his own eyes grew moist from a feeling
of artistic brotherliness. He hastened to his comrade’s aide, but the
sculptor, after claiming his assistance, persisted in picking up the
remains by himself, as if dreading the rough handling of anybody else.
He slowly crawled about on his knees, took up the fragments one by
one, and put them together on a board. The figure soon lay there in its
entirety, as if it had been one of those girls who, committing suicide
from love, throw themselves from some monument and are shattered
by their fall, and put together again, looking both grotesque and
lamentable, to be carried to the Morgue. Mahoudeau, seated on the floor
before his statue, did not take his eyes from it, but became absorbed in
heart-rending contemplation. However, his sobs subsided, and at last
he said with a long-drawn sigh: ‘I shall have to model her lying down!
There’s no other way! Ah, my poor old woman, I had such trouble to set
her on her legs, and I thought her so grand like that!’

But all at once Claude grew uneasy. What about his wedding? Mahoudeau
must change his clothes. As he had no other frock-coat than the one he
was wearing, he was obliged to make a jacket do. Then, the figure having
been covered with linen wraps once more, like a corpse over which a
sheet has been pulled, they both started off at a run. The stove was
roaring away, the thaw filled the whole studio with water, and slush
streamed from the old dust-begrimed plaster casts.

When they reached the Rue de Douai there was no one there except little
Jacques, in charge of the doorkeeper. Christine, tired of waiting, had
just started off with the three others, thinking that there had been
some mistake--that Claude might have told her that he would go straight
to the mayor’s offices with Mahoudeau. The pair fell into a sharp trot,
but only overtook Christine and their comrades in the Rue Drouot in
front of the municipal edifice. They all went upstairs together, and
as they were late they met with a very cool reception from the usher on
duty. The wedding was got over in a few minutes, in a perfectly empty
room. The mayor mumbled on, and the bride and bridegroom curtly uttered
the binding ‘Yes,’ while their witnesses were marvelling at the bad
taste of the appointments of the apartment. Once outside, Claude took
Christine’s arm again, and that was all.

It was pleasant walking in the clear frosty weather. Thus the party
quietly went back on foot, climbing the Rue des Martyrs to reach the
restaurant on the Boulevard de Clichy. A small private room had been
engaged; the lunch was a very friendly affair, and not a word was
said about the simple formality that had just been gone through; other
subjects were spoken of all the while, as at one of their customary
gatherings.

It was thus that Christine, who in reality was very affected despite
her pretended indifference, heard her husband and his friends excite
themselves for three mortal hours about Mahoudeau’s unfortunate statue.
Since the others had been made acquainted with the story, they kept
harping on every particular of it. Sandoz thought the whole thing
very wonderful; Jory and Gagniere discussed the strength of stays and
trusses; the former mainly concerned about the monetary loss involved,
and the other demonstrating with a chair that the statue might have
been kept up. As for Mahoudeau, still very shaky and growing dazed; he
complained of a stiffness which he had not felt before; his limbs began
to hurt him, he had strained his muscles and bruised his skin as if he
had been caught in the embrace of a stone siren. Christine washed the
scratch on his cheek, which had begun to bleed again, and it seemed to
her as if the mutilated bathing girl had sat down to table with them,
as if she alone was of any importance that day; for she alone seemed to
interest Claude, whose narrative, repeated a score of times, was full of
endless particulars about the emotion he had felt on seeing that bosom
and those hips of clay shattered at his feet.

However, at dessert there came a diversion, for Gagniere all at once
remarked to Jory:

‘By the way, I saw you with Mathilde the day before yesterday. Yes, yes,
in the Rue Dauphine.’

Jory, who had turned very red, tried to deny it; ‘Oh, a mere accidental
meeting--honour bright!’ he stammered. ‘I don’t know where she hangs
out, or I would tell you.’

‘What! is it you who are hiding her?’ exclaimed Mahoudeau. ‘Well, nobody
wants to see her again!’

The truth was that Jory, throwing to the winds all his habits of
prudence and parsimony, was now secretly providing for Mathilde. She had
gained an ascendency over him by his vices.

They still lingered at table, and night was falling when they escorted
Mahoudeau to his own door. Claude and Christine, on reaching home, took
Jacques from the doorkeeper, and found the studio quite chilly, wrapped
in such dense gloom that they had to grope about for several minutes
before they were able to light the lamp. They also had to light the
stove again, and it struck seven o’clock before they were able to draw
breath at their ease. They were not hungry, so they merely finished the
remains of some boiled beef, mainly by way of encouraging the child to
eat his soup; and when they had put him to bed, they settled themselves
with the lamp betwixt them, as was their habit every evening.

However, Christine had not put out any work, she felt too much moved to
sew. She sat there with her hands resting idly on the table, looking at
Claude, who on his side had at once become absorbed in a sketch, a
bit of his picture, some workmen of the Port Saint Nicolas, unloading
plaster. Invincible dreaminess came over the young woman, all sorts of
recollections and regrets became apparent in the depths of her dim
eyes; and by degrees growing sadness, great mute grief took absolute
possession of her, amid the indifference, the boundless solitude into
which she seemed to be drifting, although she was so near to Claude. He
was, indeed, on the other side of the table, yet how far away she felt
him to be! He was yonder before that point of the Cite, he was even
farther still, in the infinite inaccessible regions of art; so far,
indeed, that she would now never more be able to join him! She several
times tried to start a conversation, but without eliciting any answer.
The hours went by, she grew weary and numb with doing nothing, and she
ended by taking out her purse and counting her money.

‘Do you know how much we have to begin our married life with?’

Claude did not even raise his head.

‘We’ve nine sous. Ah! talk of poverty--’

He shrugged his shoulders, and finally growled: ‘We shall be rich some
day; don’t fret.’

Then the silence fell again, and she did not even attempt to break it,
but gazed at her nine coppers laid in a row upon the table. At last, as
it struck midnight, she shivered, ill with waiting and chilled by the
cold.

‘Let’s go to bed, dear,’ she murmured; ‘I’m dead tired.’

He, however, was working frantically, and did not even hear her.

‘The fire’s gone out,’ she began again, ‘we shall make ourselves ill;
let’s go to bed.’

Her imploring voice reached him at last, and made him start with sudden
exasperation.

‘Oh! go if you like! You can see very well that I want to finish
something!’

She remained there for another minute, amazed by his sudden anger, her
face expressive of deep sorrow. Then, feeling that he would rather be
without her, that the very presence of a woman doing nothing upset him,
she rose from the table and went off, leaving the door wide open. Half
an hour, three-quarters went by, nothing stirred, not a sound came from
her room; but she was not asleep, her eyes were staring into the gloom;
and at last she timidly ventured upon a final appeal, from the depths of
the dark alcove.

An oath was the only reply she received. And nothing stirred after that.
She perhaps dozed off. The cold in the studio grew keener, and the wick
of the lamp began to carbonise and burn red, while Claude, still bending
over his sketch, did not seem conscious of the passing minutes.

At two o’clock, however, he rose up, furious to find the lamp going out
for lack of oil. He only had time to take it into the other room, so
that he might not have to undress in the dark. But his displeasure
increased on seeing that Christine’s eyes were wide open. He felt
inclined to complain of it. However, after some random remarks, he
suddenly exclaimed:

‘The most surprising thing is that her trunk wasn’t hurt!’

‘What do you mean?’ asked Christine, in amazement.

‘Why, Mahoudeau’s girl,’ he answered.

At this she shook nervously, turned and buried her face in the pillow;
and he was quite surprised on hearing her burst into sobs.

‘What! you are crying?’ he exclaimed.

She was choking, sobbing with heart-rending violence.

‘Come, what’s the matter with you?--I’ve said nothing to you. Come,
darling, what’s the matter?’

But, while he was speaking, the cause of her great grief dawned
upon him. No doubt, on a day like that, he ought to have shown more
affection; but his neglect was unintentional enough; he had not even
given the matter a thought. She surely knew him, said he; he became a
downright brute when he was at work. Then he bent over and embraced her.
But it was as if something irreparable had taken place, as if something
had for ever snapped, leaving a void between them. The formality of
marriage seemed to have killed love.



IX

AS Claude could not paint his huge picture in the small studio of
the Rue de Douai, he made up his mind to rent some shed that would be
spacious enough, elsewhere; and strolling one day on the heights of
Montmartre, he found what he wanted half way down the slope of the Rue
Tourlaque, a street that descends abruptly behind the cemetery, and
whence one overlooks Clichy as far as the marshes of Gennevilliers. It
had been a dyer’s drying shed, and was nearly fifty feet long and more
than thirty broad, with walls of board and plaster admitting the wind
from every point of the compass. The place was let to him for three
hundred francs. Summer was at hand; he would soon work off his picture
and then quit.

This settled, feverish with hope, Claude decided to go to all the
necessary expenses; as fortune was certain to come in the end, why
trammel its advent by unnecessary scruples? Taking advantage of his
right, he broke in upon the principal of his income, and soon grew
accustomed to spend money without counting. At first he kept the matter
from Christine, for she had already twice stopped him from doing so;
and when he was at last obliged to tell her, she also, after a week of
reproaches and apprehension, fell in with it, happy at the comfort in
which she lived, and yielding to the pleasure of always having a little
money in her purse. Thus there came a few years of easy unconcern.

Claude soon became altogether absorbed in his picture. He had furnished
the huge studio in a very summary style: a few chairs, the old couch
from the Quai de Bourbon, and a deal table bought second-hand for five
francs sufficed him. In the practice of his art he was entirely devoid
of that vanity which delights in luxurious surroundings. The only real
expense to which he went was that of buying some steps on castors, with
a platform and a movable footboard. Next he busied himself about his
canvas, which he wished to be six and twenty feet in length and sixteen
in height. He insisted upon preparing it himself; ordered a framework
and bought the necessary seamless canvas, which he and a couple of
friends had all the work in the world to stretch properly by the aid
of pincers. Then he just coated the canvas with ceruse, laid on with a
palette-knife, refusing to size it previously, in order that it might
remain absorbent, by which method he declared that the painting would be
bright and solid. An easel was not to be thought of. It would not have
been possible to move a canvas of such dimensions on it. So he invented
a system of ropes and beams, which held it slightly slanting against the
wall in a cheerful light. And backwards and forwards in front of the
big white surface rolled the steps, looking like an edifice, like the
scaffolding by means of which a cathedral is to be reared.

But when everything was ready, Claude once more experienced misgivings.
An idea that he had perhaps not chosen the proper light in which to
paint his picture fidgeted him. Perhaps an early morning effect would
have been better? Perhaps, too, he ought to have chosen a dull day, and
so he went back to the Pont des Saint-Peres, and lived there for another
three months.

The Cite rose up before him, between the two arms of the river, at all
hours and in all weather. After a late fall of snow he beheld it wrapped
in ermine, standing above mud-coloured water, against a light slatey
sky. On the first sunshiny days he saw it cleanse itself of everything
that was wintry and put on an aspect of youth, when verdure sprouted
from the lofty trees which rose from the ground below the bridge. He
saw it, too, on a somewhat misty day recede to a distance and almost
evaporate, delicate and quivering, like a fairy palace. Then, again,
there were pelting rains, which submerged it, hid it as with a huge
curtain drawn from the sky to the earth; storms, with lightning flashes
which lent it a tawny hue, the opaque light of some cut-throat place
half destroyed by the fall of the huge copper-coloured clouds; and there
were winds that swept over it tempestuously, sharpening its angles and
making it look hard, bare, and beaten against the pale blue sky. Then,
again, when the sunbeams broke into dust amidst the vapours of the
Seine, it appeared steeped in diffused brightness, without a shadow
about it, lighted up equally on every side, and looking as charmingly
delicate as a cut gem set in fine gold. He insisted on beholding it when
the sun was rising and transpiercing the morning mists, when the Quai
de l’Horloge flushes and the Quai des Orfevres remains wrapt in gloom;
when, up in the pink sky, it is already full of life, with the bright
awakening of its towers and spires, while night, similar to a falling
cloak, slides slowly from its lower buildings. He beheld it also at
noon, when the sunrays fall on it vertically, when a crude glare bites
into it, and it becomes discoloured and mute like a dead city, retaining
nought but the life of heat, the quiver that darts over its distant
housetops. He beheld it, moreover, beneath the setting sun, surrendering
itself to the night which was slowly rising from the river, with the
salient edges of its buildings still fringed with a glow as of embers,
and with final conflagrations rekindling in its windows, from whose
panes leapt tongue-like flashes. But in presence of those twenty
different aspects of the Cite, no matter what the hour or the weather
might be, he ever came back to the Cite that he had seen the first time,
at about four o’clock one fine September afternoon, a Cite all serenity
under a gentle breeze, a Cite which typified the heart of Paris beating
in the limpid atmosphere, and seemingly enlarged by the vast stretch of
sky which a flight of cloudlets crossed.

Claude spent his time under the Pont des Saints-Peres, which he had
made his shelter, his home, his roof. The constant din of the vehicles
overhead, similar to the distant rumbling of thunder, no longer
disturbed him. Settling himself against the first abutment, beneath the
huge iron arches, he took sketches and painted studies. The _employes_
of the river navigation service, whose offices were hard by, got to
know him, and, indeed, the wife of an inspector, who lived in a sort
of tarred cabin with her husband, two children, and a cat, kept his
canvases for him, to save him the trouble of carrying them to and fro
each day. It became his joy to remain in that secluded nook beneath
Paris, which rumbled in the air above him, whose ardent life he ever
felt rolling overhead. He at first became passionately interested in
Port St. Nicolas, with its ceaseless bustle suggesting that of a distant
genuine seaport. The steam crane, _The Sophia_, worked regularly,
hauling up blocks of stone; tumbrels arrived to fetch loads of sand; men
and horses pulled, panting for breath on the big paving-stones, which
sloped down as far as the water, to a granite margin, alongside which
two rows of lighters and barges were moored. For weeks Claude worked
hard at a study of some lightermen unloading a cargo of plaster,
carrying white sacks on their shoulders, leaving a white pathway behind
them, and bepowdered with white themselves, whilst hard by the coal
removed from another barge had stained the waterside with a huge inky
smear. Then he sketched the silhouette of a swimming-bath on the left
bank, together with a floating wash-house somewhat in the rear, showing
the windows open and the washerwomen kneeling in a row, on a level with
the stream, and beating their dirty linen. In the middle of the river,
he studied a boat which a waterman sculled over the stern; then,
farther behind, a steamer of the towing service straining its chain, and
dragging a series of rafts loaded with barrels and boards up stream. The
principal backgrounds had been sketched a long while ago, still he did
several bits over again--the two arms of the Seine, and a sky all by
itself, into which rose only towers and spires gilded by the sun. And
under the hospitable bridge, in that nook as secluded as some far-off
cleft in a rock, he was rarely disturbed by anybody. Anglers passed
by with contemptuous unconcern. His only companion was virtually the
overseer’s cat, who cleaned herself in the sunlight, ever placid beneath
the tumult of the world overhead.

At last Claude had all his materials ready. In a few days he threw off
an outline sketch of the whole, and the great work was begun. However,
the first battle between himself and his huge canvas raged in the
Rue Tourlaque throughout the summer; for he obstinately insisted
upon personally attending to all the technical calculations of his
composition, and he failed to manage them, getting into constant muddles
about the slightest deviation from mathematical accuracy, of which he
had no experience. It made him indignant with himself. So he let it
go, deciding to make what corrections might be necessary afterwards. He
covered his canvas with a rush--in such a fever as to live all day on
his steps, brandishing huge brushes, and expending as much muscular
force as if he were anxious to move mountains. And when evening came
he reeled about like a drunken man, and fell asleep as soon as he had
swallowed his last mouthful of food. His wife even had to put him to
bed like a child. From those heroic efforts, however, sprang a masterly
first draught in which genius blazed forth amidst the somewhat chaotic
masses of colour. Bongrand, who came to look at it, caught the painter
in his big arms, and stifled him with embraces, his eyes full of tears.
Sandoz, in his enthusiasm, gave a dinner; the others, Jory, Mahoudeau
and Gagniere, again went about announcing a masterpiece. As for
Fagerolles, he remained motionless before the painting for a moment,
then burst into congratulations, pronouncing it too beautiful.

And, in fact, subsequently, as if the irony of that successful trickster
had brought him bad luck, Claude only spoilt his original draught.
It was the old story over again. He spent himself in one effort, one
magnificent dash; he failed to bring out all the rest; he did not know
how to finish. He fell into his former impotence; for two years he lived
before that picture only, having no feeling for anything else. At times
he was in a seventh heaven of exuberant joy; at others flung to earth,
so wretched, so distracted by doubt, that dying men gasping in their
beds in a hospital were happier than himself. Twice already had he
failed to be ready for the Salon, for invariably, at the last moment,
when he hoped to have finished in a few sittings, he found some void,
felt his composition crack and crumble beneath his fingers. When the
third Salon drew nigh, there came a terrible crisis; he remained for a
fortnight without going to his studio in the Rue Tourlaque, and when
he did so, it was as to a house desolated by death. He turned the huge
canvas to the wall and rolled his steps into a corner; he would have
smashed and burned everything if his faltering hands had found strength
enough. Nothing more existed; amid a blast of anger he swept the floor
clean, and spoke of setting to work at little things, since he was
incapable of perfecting paintings of any size.

In spite of himself, his first idea of a picture on a smaller scale
took him back to the Cite. Why should not he paint a simple view, on
a moderate sized canvas? But a kind of shame, mingled with strange
jealousy, prevented him from settling himself in his old spot under the
Pont des Saints-Peres. It seemed to him as if that spot were sacred now;
that he ought not to offer any outrage to his great work, dead as it
was. So he stationed himself at the end of the bank, above the bridge.
This time, at any rate, he would work directly from nature; and he felt
happy at not having to resort to any trickery, as was unavoidable with
works of a large size. The small picture, very carefully painted, more
highly finished than usual, met, however, with the same fate as the
others before the hanging committee, who were indignant with this style
of painting, executed with a tipsy brush, as was said at the time in
the studios. The slap in the face which Claude thus received was all the
more severe, as a report had spread of concessions, of advances made by
him to the School of Arts, in order that his work might be received.
And when the picture came back to him, he, deeply wounded, weeping with
rage, tore it into narrow shreds, which he burned in his stove. It was
not sufficient that he should kill that one with a knife-thrust, it must
be annihilated.

Another year went by for Claude in desultory toil. He worked from force
of habit, but finished nothing; he himself saying, with a dolorous
laugh, that he had lost himself, and was trying to find himself again.
In reality, tenacious consciousness of his genius left him a hope which
nothing could destroy, even during his longest crises of despondency. He
suffered like some one damned, for ever rolling the rock which slipped
back and crushed him; but the future remained, with the certainty of one
day seizing that rock in his powerful arms and flinging it upward to the
stars. His friends at last beheld his eyes light up with passion once
more. It was known that he again secluded himself in the Rue Tourlaque.
He who formerly had always been carried beyond the work on which he was
engaged, by some dream of a picture to come, now stood at bay before
that subject of the Cite. It had become his fixed idea--the bar that
closed up his life. And soon he began to speak freely of it again in a
new blaze of enthusiasm, exclaiming, with childish delight, that he had
found his way and that he felt certain of victory.

One day Claude, who, so far, had not opened his door to his friends,
condescended to admit Sandoz. The latter tumbled upon a study with a
deal of dash in it, thrown off without a model, and again admirable in
colour. The subject had remained the same--the Port St. Nicolas on
the left, the swimming-baths on the right, the Seine and Cite in the
background. But Sandoz was amazed at perceiving, instead of the boat
sculled by a waterman, another large skiff taking up the whole centre
of the composition--a skiff occupied by three women. One, in a bathing
costume, was rowing; another sat over the edge with her legs dangling in
the water, her costume partially unfastened, showing her bare shoulder;
while the third stood erect and nude at the prow, so bright in tone that
she seemed effulgent, like the sun.

‘Why, what an idea!’ muttered Sandoz. ‘What are those women doing
there?’

‘Why, they are bathing,’ Claude quietly answered. ‘Don’t you see that
they have come out of the swimming-baths? It supplies me with a motive
for the nude; it’s a real find, eh? Does it shock you?’

His old friend, who knew him well by now, dreaded lest he should give
him cause for discouragement.

‘I? Oh, no! Only I am afraid that the public will again fail
to understand. That nude woman in the very midst of Paris--it’s
improbable.’

Claude looked naively surprised.

‘Ah! you think so? Well, so much the worse. What’s the odds, as long as
the woman is well painted? Besides, I need something like that to get my
courage up.’

On the following occasions, Sandoz gently reverted to the strangeness
of the composition, pleading, as was his nature, the cause of outraged
logic. How could a modern painter who prided himself on painting merely
what was real--how could he so bastardise his work as to introduce
fanciful things into it? It would have been so easy to choose another
subject, in which the nude would have been necessary. But Claude became
obstinate, and resorted to lame and violent explanations, for he would
not avow his real motive: an idea which had come to him and which he
would have been at a loss to express clearly. It was, however, a longing
for some secret symbolism. A recrudescence of romanticism made him see
an incarnation of Paris in that nude figure; he pictured the city bare
and impassioned, resplendent with the beauty of woman.

Before the pressing objections of his friend he pretended to be shaken
in his resolutions.

‘Well, I’ll see; I’ll dress my old woman later on, since she worries
you,’ he said. ‘But meanwhile I shall do her like that. You understand,
she amuses me.’

He never reverted to the subject again, remaining silently obstinate,
merely shrugging his shoulders and smiling with embarrassment whenever
any allusion betrayed the general astonishment which was felt at the
sight of that Venus emerging triumphantly from the froth of the Seine
amidst all the omnibuses on the quays and the lightermen working at the
Port of St. Nicolas.

Spring had come round again, and Claude had once more resolved to work
at his large picture, when in a spirit of prudence he and Christine
modified their daily life. She, at times, could not help feeling uneasy
at seeing all their money so quickly spent. Since the supply had seemed
inexhaustible, they had ceased counting. But, at the end of four years,
they had woke up one morning quite frightened, when, on asking for
accounts, they found that barely three thousand francs were left out
of the twenty thousand. They immediately reverted to severe economy,
stinting themselves as to bread, planning the cutting down of the most
elementary expenses; and it was thus that, in the first impulse of
self-sacrifice, they left the Rue de Douai. What was the use of paying
two rents? There was room enough in the old drying-shed in the Rue
Tourlaque--still stained with the dyes of former days--to afford
accommodation for three people. Settling there was, nevertheless, a
difficult affair; for however big the place was, it provided them, after
all, with but one room. It was like a gipsy’s shed, where everything had
to be done in common. As the landlord was unwilling, the painter himself
had to divide it at one end by a partition of boards, behind which
he devised a kitchen and a bedroom. They were then delighted with the
place, despite the chinks through which the wind blew, and although
on rainy days they had to set basins beneath the broader cracks in the
roof. The whole looked mournfully bare; their few poor sticks seemed to
dance alongside the naked walls. They themselves pretended to be proud
at being lodged so spaciously; they told their friends that Jacques
would at least have a little room to run about. Poor Jacques, in spite
of his nine years, did not seem to be growing; his head alone became
larger and larger. They could not send him to school for more than a
week at a stretch, for he came back absolutely dazed, ill from having
tried to learn, in such wise that they nearly always allowed him to live
on all fours around them, crawling from one corner to another.

Christine, who for quite a long while had not shared Claude’s daily
work, now once more found herself beside him throughout his long hours
of toil. She helped him to scrape and pumice the old canvas of the big
picture, and gave him advice about attaching it more securely to the
wall. But they found that another disaster had befallen them--the steps
had become warped by the water constantly trickling through the roof,
and, for fear of an accident, Claude had to strengthen them with an oak
cross-piece, she handing him the necessary nails one by one. Then once
more, and for the second time, everything was ready. She watched him
again outlining the work, standing behind him the while, till she
felt faint with fatigue, and finally dropping to the floor, where she
remained squatting, and still looking at him.

Ah! how she would have liked to snatch him from that painting which had
seized hold of him! It was for that purpose that she made herself his
servant, only too happy to lower herself to a labourer’s toil. Since she
shared his work again, since the three of them, he, she, and the canvas,
were side by side, her hope revived. If he had escaped her when she, all
alone, cried her eyes out in the Rue de Douai, if he lingered till late
in the Rue Tourlaque, fascinated as by a mistress, perhaps now that she
was present she might regain her hold over him. Ah, painting, painting!
in what jealous hatred she held it! Hers was no longer the revolt of a
girl of the bourgeoisie, who painted neatly in water-colours, against
independent, brutal, magnificent art. No, little by little she had come
to understand it, drawn towards it at first by her love for the painter,
and gained over afterwards by the feast of light, by the original charm
of the bright tints which Claude’s works displayed. And now she had
accepted everything, even lilac-tinted soil and blue trees. Indeed, a
kind of respect made her quiver before those works which had at first
seemed so horrid to her. She recognised their power well enough, and
treated them like rivals about whom one could no longer joke. But her
vindictiveness grew in proportion to her admiration; she revolted at
having to stand by and witness, as it were, a diminution of herself, the
blow of another love beneath her own roof.

At first there was a silent struggle of every minute. She thrust herself
forward, interposed whatever she could, a hand, a shoulder, between the
painter and his picture. She was always there, encompassing him with her
breath, reminding him that he was hers. Then her old idea revived--she
also would paint; she would seek and join him in the depths of his art
fever. Every day for a whole month she put on a blouse, and worked like
a pupil by the side of a master, diligently copying one of his sketches,
and she only gave in when she found the effort turn against her
object; for, deceived, as it were, by their joint work, he finished by
forgetting that she was a woman, and lived with her on a footing of mere
comradeship as between man and man. Accordingly she resorted to what was
her only strength.

To perfect some of the small figures of his latter pictures, Claude had
many a time already taken the hint of a head, the pose of an arm, the
attitude of a body from Christine. He threw a cloak over her shoulders,
and caught her in the posture he wanted, shouting to her not to stir.
These were little services which she showed herself only too pleased to
render him, but she had not hitherto cared to go further, for she was
hurt by the idea of being a model now that she was his wife. However,
since Claude had broadly outlined the large upright female figure which
was to occupy the centre of his picture, Christine had looked at the
vague silhouette in a dreamy way, worried by an ever-pursuing thought
before which all scruples vanished. And so, when he spoke of taking a
model, she offered herself, reminding him that she had posed for the
figure in the ‘Open Air’ subject, long ago. ‘A model,’ she added, ‘would
cost you seven francs a sitting. We are not so rich, we may as well save
the money.’

The question of economy decided him at once.

‘I’m agreeable, and it’s even very good of you to show such courage, for
you know that it is not a bit of pastime to sit for me. Never mind, you
had better confess to it, you big silly, you are afraid of another woman
coming here; you are jealous.’

Jealous! Yes, indeed she was jealous, so she suffered agony. But she
snapped her fingers at other women; all the models in Paris might have
sat to him for what she cared. She had but one rival, that painting,
that art which robbed her of him.

Claude, who was delighted, at first made a study, a simple academic
study, in the attitude required for his picture. They waited until
Jacques had gone to school, and the sitting lasted for hours. During
the earlier days Christine suffered a great deal from being obliged to
remain in the same position; then she grew used to it, not daring to
complain, lest she might vex him, and even restraining her tears when
he roughly pushed her about. And he soon acquired the habit of doing so,
treating her like a mere model; more exacting with her, however, than if
he had paid her, never afraid of unduly taxing her strength, since she
was his wife. He employed her for every purpose, at every minute, for an
arm, a foot, the most trifling detail that he stood in need of. And thus
in a way he lowered her to the level of a ‘living lay figure,’ which he
stuck in front of him and copied as he might have copied a pitcher or a
stew-pan for a bit of still life.

This time Claude proceeded leisurely, and before roughing in the large
figure he tired Christine for months by making her pose in twenty
different ways. At last, one day, he began the roughing in. It was an
autumnal morning, the north wind was already sharp, and it was by no
means warm even in the big studio, although the stove was roaring. As
little Jacques was poorly again and unable to go to school, they had
decided to lock him up in the room at the back, telling him to be very
good. And then the mother settled herself near the stove, motionless, in
the attitude required.

During the first hour, the painter, perched upon his steps, kept
glancing at her, but did not speak a word. Unutterable sadness stole
over her, and she felt afraid of fainting, no longer knowing whether she
was suffering from the cold or from a despair that had come from afar,
and the bitterness of which she felt to be rising within her. Her
fatigue became so great that she staggered and hobbled about on her
numbed legs.

‘What, already?’ cried Claude. ‘Why, you haven’t been at it more than a
quarter of an hour. You don’t want to earn your seven francs, then?’

He was joking in a gruff voice, delighted with his work. And she had
scarcely recovered the use of her limbs, beneath the dressing-gown she
had wrapped round her, when he went on shouting: ‘Come on, come on, no
idling! It’s a grand day to-day is! I must either show some genius or
else kick the bucket.’

Then, in a weary way, she at last resumed the pose.

The misfortune was that before long, both by his glances and the
language he used, she fully realised that she herself was as nothing to
him. If ever he praised a limb, a tint, a contour, it was solely from
the artistic point of view. Great enthusiasm and passion he often
showed, but it was not passion for herself as in the old days. She felt
confused and deeply mortified. Ah! this was the end; in her he no longer
loved aught but his art, the example of nature and life! And then,
with her eyes gazing into space, she would remain rigid, like a statue,
keeping back the tears which made her heart swell, lacking even the
wretched consolation of being able to cry. And day by day the same sorry
life began afresh for her. To stand there as his model had become her
profession. She could not refuse, however bitter her grief. Their once
happy life was all over, there now seemed to be three people in the
place; it was as if Claude had introduced a mistress into it--that woman
he was painting. The huge picture rose up between them, parted them as
with a wall, beyond which he lived with the other. That duplication of
herself well nigh drove Christine mad with jealousy, and yet she was
conscious of the pettiness of her sufferings, and did not dare to
confess them lest he should laugh at her. However, she did not deceive
herself; she fully realised that he preferred her counterfeit to
herself, that her image was the worshipped one, the sole thought, the
affection of his every hour. He almost killed her with long sittings in
that cold draughty studio, in order to enhance the beauty of the other;
upon whom depended all his joys and sorrows according as to whether he
beheld her live or languish beneath his brush. Was not this love?
And what suffering to have to lend herself so that the other might be
created, so that she might be haunted by a nightmare of that rival, so
that the latter might for ever rise between them, more powerful than
reality! To think of it! So much dust, the veriest trifle, a patch
of colour on a canvas, a mere semblance destroying all their
happiness!--he, silent, indifferent, brutal at times, and she, tortured
by his desertion, in despair at being unable to drive away that creature
who ever encroached more and more upon their daily life!

And it was then that Christine, finding herself altogether beaten in her
efforts to regain Claude’s love, felt all the sovereignty of art weigh
down upon her. That painting, which she had already accepted without
restriction, she raised still higher in her estimation, placed inside an
awesome tabernacle before which she remained overcome, as before those
powerful divinities of wrath which one honours from the very hatred
and fear that they inspire. Hers was a holy awe, a conviction that
struggling was henceforth useless, that she would be crushed like a
bit of straw if she persisted in her obstinacy. Each of her husband’s
canvases became magnified in her eyes, the smallest assumed triumphal
dimensions, even the worst painted of them overwhelmed her with victory,
and she no longer judged them, but grovelled, trembling, thinking them
all formidable, and invariably replying to Claude’s questions:

‘Oh, yes; very good! Oh, superb! Oh, very, very extraordinary that one!’

Nevertheless, she harboured no anger against him; she still worshipped
him with tearful tenderness, as she saw him thus consume himself with
efforts. After a few weeks of successful work, everything got spoilt
again; he could not finish his large female figure. At times he almost
killed his model with fatigue, keeping hard at work for days and days
together, then leaving the picture untouched for a whole month. The
figure was begun anew, relinquished, painted all over again at least a
dozen times. One year, two years went by without the picture reaching
completion. Though sometimes it was almost finished, it was scratched
out the next morning and painted entirely over again.

Ah! what an effort of creation it was, an effort of blood and tears,
filling Claude with agony in his attempt to beget flesh and instil life!
Ever battling with reality, and ever beaten, it was a struggle with the
Angel. He was wearing himself out with this impossible task of making a
canvas hold all nature; he became exhausted at last with the pains
which racked his muscles without ever being able to bring his genius
to fruition. What others were satisfied with, a more or less faithful
rendering, the various necessary bits of trickery, filled him with
remorse, made him as indignant as if in resorting to such practices one
were guilty of ignoble cowardice; and thus he began his work over and
over again, spoiling what was good through his craving to do better.
He would always be dissatisfied with his women--so his friends jokingly
declared--until they flung their arms round his neck. What was lacking
in his power that he could not endow them with life? Very little, no
doubt. Sometimes he went beyond the right point, sometimes he stopped
short of it. One day the words, ‘an incomplete genius,’ which he
overheard, both flattered and frightened him. Yes, it must be that; he
jumped too far or not far enough; he suffered from a want of nervous
balance; he was afflicted with some hereditary derangement which,
because there were a few grains the more or the less of some substance
in his brain, was making him a lunatic instead of a great man. Whenever
a fit of despair drove him from his studio, whenever he fled from his
work, he now carried about with him that idea of fatal impotence, and
he heard it beating against his skull like the obstinate tolling of a
funeral bell.

His life became wretched. Never had doubt of himself pursued him in that
way before. He disappeared for whole days together; he even stopped out
a whole night, coming back the next morning stupefied, without being
able to say where he had gone. It was thought that he had been tramping
through the outskirts of Paris rather than find himself face to face
with his spoilt work. His sole relief was to flee the moment that work
filled him with shame and hatred, and to remain away until he felt
sufficient courage to face it once more. And not even his wife dared to
question him on his return--indeed, she was only too happy to see him
back again after her anxious waiting. At such times he madly scoured
Paris, especially the outlying quarters, from a longing to debase
himself and hob-nob with labourers. He expressed at each recurring
crisis his old regret at not being some mason’s hodman. Did not
happiness consist in having solid limbs, and in performing the work one
was built for well and quickly? He had wrecked his life; he ought to
have got himself engaged in the building line in the old times when he
had lunched at the ‘Dog of Montargis,’ Gomard’s tavern, where he had
known a Limousin, a big, strapping, merry fellow, whose brawny arms he
envied. Then, on coming back to the Rue Tourlaque, with his legs faint
and his head empty, he gave his picture much the same distressful,
frightened glance as one casts at a corpse in a mortuary, until fresh
hope of resuscitating it, of endowing it with life, brought a flush to
his face once more.

One day Christine was posing, and the figure of the woman was again
well nigh finished. For the last hour, however, Claude had been growing
gloomy, losing the childish delight that he had displayed at the
beginning of the sitting. So his wife scarcely dared to breathe, feeling
by her own discomfort that everything must be going wrong once more, and
afraid that she might accelerate the catastrophe if she moved as much
as a finger. And, surely enough, he suddenly gave a cry of anguish, and
launched forth an oath in a thunderous voice.

‘Oh, curse it! curse it!’

He had flung his handful of brushes from the top of the steps. Then,
blinded with rage, with one blow of his fist he transpierced the canvas.

Christine held out her trembling hands.

‘My dear, my dear!’

But when she had flung a dressing-gown over her shoulders, and
approached the picture, she experienced keen delight, a burst of
satisfied hatred. Claude’s fist had struck ‘the other one’ full in the
bosom, and there was a gaping hole! At last, then, that other one was
killed!

Motionless, horror-struck by that murder, Claude stared at the
perforated bosom. Poignant grief came upon him at the sight of the wound
whence the blood of his work seemed to flow. Was it possible? Was it
he who had thus murdered what he loved best of all on earth? His anger
changed into stupor; his fingers wandered over the canvas, drawing the
ragged edges of the rent together, as if he had wished to close the
bleeding gash. He was choking; he stammered, distracted with boundless
grief:

‘She is killed, she is killed!’

Then Christine, in her maternal love for that big child of an artist,
felt moved to her very entrails. She forgave him as usual. She saw well
enough that he now had but one thought--to mend the rent, to repair
the evil at once; and she helped him; it was she who held the shreds
together, whilst he from behind glued a strip of canvas against them.
When she dressed herself, ‘the other one’ was there again, immortal,
simply retaining near her heart a slight scar, which seemed to make her
doubly dear to the painter.

As this unhinging of Claude’s faculties increased, he drifted into a
sort of superstition, into a devout belief in certain processes and
methods. He banished oil from his colours, and spoke of it as of a
personal enemy. On the other hand, he held that turpentine produced a
solid unpolished surface, and he had some secrets of his own which
he hid from everybody; solutions of amber, liquefied copal, and other
resinous compounds that made colours dry quickly, and prevented
them from cracking. But he experienced some terrible worries, as
the absorbent nature of the canvas at once sucked in the little oil
contained in the paint. Then the question of brushes had always worried
him greatly; he insisted on having them with special handles; and
objecting to sable, he used nothing but oven-dried badger hair.
More important, however, than everything else was the question of
palette-knives, which, like Courbet, he used for his backgrounds. He
had quite a collection of them, some long and flexible, others broad and
squat, and one which was triangular like a glazier’s, and which had been
expressly made for him. It was the real Delacroix knife. Besides, he
never made use of the scraper or razor, which he considered beneath an
artist’s dignity. But, on the other hand, he indulged in all sorts of
mysterious practices in applying his colours, concocted recipes and
changed them every month, and suddenly fancied that he had bit on the
right system of painting, when, after repudiating oil and its flow, he
began to lay on successive touches until he arrived at the exact tone
he required. One of his fads for a long while was to paint from right to
left; for, without confessing as much, he felt sure that it brought
him luck. But the terrible affair which unhinged him once more was an
all-invading theory respecting the complementary colours. Gagniere had
been the first to speak to him on the subject, being himself equally
inclined to technical speculation. After which Claude, impelled by
the exuberance of his passion, took to exaggerating the scientific
principles whereby, from the three primitive colours, yellow, red, and
blue, one derives the three secondary ones, orange, green, and violet,
and, further, a whole series of complementary and similar hues, whose
composites are obtained mathematically from one another. Thus science
entered into painting, there was a method for logical observation
already. One only had to take the predominating hue of a picture, and
note the complementary or similar colours, to establish experimentally
what variations would occur; for instance, red would turn yellowish if
it were near blue, and a whole landscape would change in tint by the
refractions and the very decomposition of light, according to the clouds
passing over it. Claude then accurately came to this conclusion:
That objects have no real fixed colour; that they assume various hues
according to ambient circumstances; but the misfortune was that when
he took to direct observation, with his brain throbbing with scientific
formulas, his prejudiced vision lent too much force to delicate shades,
and made him render what was theoretically correct in too vivid a
manner: thus his style, once so bright, so full of the palpitation
of sunlight, ended in a reversal of everything to which the eye
was accustomed, giving, for instance, flesh of a violet tinge under
tricoloured skies. Insanity seemed to be at the end of it all.

Poverty finished off Claude. It had gradually increased, while the
family spent money without counting; and, when the last copper of the
twenty thousand francs had gone, it swooped down upon them--horrible and
irreparable. Christine, who wanted to look for work, was incapable of
doing anything, even ordinary needlework. She bewailed her lot, twirling
her fingers and inveighing against the idiotic young lady’s education
that she had received, since it had given her no profession, and her
only resource would be to enter into domestic service, should life still
go against them. Claude, on his side, had become a subject of chaff with
the Parisians, and no longer sold a picture. An independent exhibition
at which he and some friends had shown some pictures, had finished him
off as regards amateurs--so merry had the public become at the sight of
his canvases, streaked with all the colours of the rainbow. The dealers
fled from him. M. Hue alone now and then made a pilgrimage to the Rue
Tourlaque, and remained in ecstasy before the exaggerated bits, those
which blazed in unexpected pyrotechnical fashion, in despair at being
unable to cover them with gold. And though the painter wanted to make
him a present of them, implored him to accept them, the old fellow
displayed extraordinary delicacy of feeling. He pinched himself to amass
a small sum of money from time to time, and then religiously took away
the seemingly delirious picture, to hang it beside his masterpieces.
Such windfalls came too seldom, and Claude was obliged to descend to
‘trade art,’ repugnant as it was to him. Such, indeed, was his despair
at having fallen into that poison house, where he had sworn never to set
foot, that he would have preferred starving to death, but for the two
poor beings who were dependent on him and who suffered like himself. He
became familiar with ‘viae dolorosae’ painted at reduced prices, with
male and female saints at so much per gross, even with ‘pounced’ shop
blinds--in short, all the ignoble jobs that degrade painting and make it
so much idiotic delineation, lacking even the charm of naivete. He even
suffered the humiliation of having portraits at five-and-twenty francs
a-piece refused, because he failed to produce a likeness; and he reached
the lowest degree of distress--he worked according to size for the petty
dealers who sell daubs on the bridges, and export them to semi-civilised
countries. They bought his pictures at two and three francs a-piece,
according to the regulation dimensions. This was like physical decay, it
made him waste away; he rose from such tasks feeling ill, incapable of
serious work, looking at his large picture in distress, and leaving it
sometimes untouched for a week, as if he had felt his hands befouled and
unworthy of working at it.

They scarcely had bread to eat, and the huge shanty, which Christine had
shown herself so proud of, on settling in it, became uninhabitable in
the winter. She, once such an active housewife, now dragged herself
about the place, without courage even to sweep the floor, and thus
everything lapsed into abandonment. In the disaster little Jacques was
sadly weakened by unwholesome and insufficient food, for their meals
often consisted of a mere crust, eaten standing. With their lives thus
ill-regulated, uncared for, they were drifting to the filth of the poor
who lose even all self-pride.

At the close of another year, Claude, on one of those days of defeat,
when he fled from his miscarried picture, met an old acquaintance. This
time he had sworn he would never go home again, and he had been tramping
across Paris since noon, as if at his heels he had heard the wan spectre
of the big, nude figure of his picture--ravaged by constant retouching,
and always left incomplete--pursuing him with a passionate craving for
birth. The mist was melting into a yellowish drizzle, befouling the
muddy streets. It was about five o’clock, and he was crossing the Rue
Royale like one walking in his sleep, at the risk of being run over,
his clothes in rags and mud-bespattered up to his neck, when a brougham
suddenly drew up.

‘Claude, eh? Claude!--is that how you pass your friends?’

It was Irma Becot who spoke, Irma in a charming grey silk dress, covered
with Chantilly lace. She had hastily let down the window, and she sat
smiling, beaming in the frame-work of the carriage door.

‘Where are you going?’

He, staring at her open-mouthed, replied that he was going nowhere. At
which she merrily expressed surprise in a loud voice, looking at him
with her saucy eyes.

‘Get in, then; it’s such a long while since we met,’ said she. ‘Get in,
or you’ll be knocked down.’

And, in fact, the other drivers were getting impatient, and urging their
horses on, amidst a terrible din, so he did as he was bidden, feeling
quite dazed; and she drove him away, dripping, with the unmistakable
signs of his poverty upon him, in the brougham lined with blue satin,
where he sat partly on the lace of her skirt, while the cabdrivers
jeered at the elopement before falling into line again.

When Claude came back to the Rue Tourlaque he was in a dazed condition,
and for a couple of days remained musing whether after all he might not
have taken the wrong course in life. He seemed so strange that Christine
questioned him, whereupon he at first stuttered and stammered, and
finally confessed everything. There was a scene; she wept for a long
while, then pardoned him once more, full of infinite indulgence for him.
And, indeed, amidst all her bitter grief there sprang up a hope that he
might yet return to her, for if he could deceive her thus he could not
care as much as she had imagined for that hateful painted creature who
stared down from the big canvas.

The days went by, and towards the middle of the winter Claude’s courage
revived once more. One day, while putting some old frames in order, he
came upon a roll of canvas which had fallen behind the other pictures.
On opening the roll he found on it the nude figure, the reclining woman
of his old painting, ‘In the Open Air,’ which he had cut out when the
picture had come back to him from the Salon of the Rejected. And, as he
gazed at it, he uttered a cry of admiration:

‘By the gods, how beautiful it is!’

He at once secured it to the wall with four nails, and remained for
hours in contemplation before it. His hands shook, the blood rushed to
his face. Was it possible that he had painted such a masterly thing?
He had possessed genius in those days then. So his skull, his eyes, his
fingers had been changed. He became so feverishly excited and felt such
a need of unburthening himself to somebody, that at last he called his
wife.

‘Just come and have a look. Isn’t her attitude good, eh? How delicately
her muscles are articulated! Just look at that bit there, full of
sunlight. And at the shoulder here. Ah, heavens! it’s full of life; I
can feel it throb as I touch it.’

Christine, standing by, kept looking and answering in monosyllables.
This resurrection of herself, after so many years, had at first
flattered and surprised her. But on seeing him become so excited, she
gradually felt uncomfortable and irritated, without knowing why.

‘Tell me,’ he continued, ‘don’t you think her beautiful enough for one
to go on one’s knees to her?’

‘Yes, yes. But she has become rather blackish--’

Claude protested vehemently. Become blackish, what an idea! That woman
would never grow black; she possessed immortal youth! Veritable passion
had seized hold of him; he spoke of the figure as of a living being; he
had sudden longings to look at her that made him leave everything else,
as if he were hurrying to an appointment.

Then, one morning, he was taken with a fit of work.

‘But, confound it all, as I did that, I can surely do it again,’ he
said. ‘Ah, this time, unless I’m a downright brute, we’ll see about it.’

And Christine had to give him a sitting there and then. For eight hours
a day, indeed, during a whole month he kept her before him, without
compassion for her increasing exhaustion or for the fatigue he felt
himself. He obstinately insisted upon producing a masterpiece; he was
determined that the upright figure of his big picture should equal that
reclining one which he saw on the wall, beaming with life. He constantly
referred to it, compared it with the one he was painting, distracted by
the fear of being unable to equal it. He cast one glance at it, another
at Christine, and a third at his canvas, and burst into oaths whenever
he felt dissatisfied. He ended by abusing his wife.

She was no longer young. Age had spoilt her figure, and that it was
which spoilt his work. She listened, and staggered in her very grief.
Those sittings, from which she had already suffered so much, were
becoming unbearable torture now. What was this new freak of crushing
her with her own girlhood, of fanning her jealousy by filling her with
regret for vanished beauty? She was becoming her own rival, she could
no longer look at that old picture of herself without being stung at the
heart by hateful envy. Ah, how heavily had that picture, that study
she had sat for long ago, weighed upon her existence! The whole of her
misfortunes sprang from it. It had changed the current of her existence.
And it had come to life again, it rose from the dead, endowed with
greater vitality than herself, to finish killing her, for there was no
longer aught but one woman for Claude--she who was shown reclining on
the old canvas, and who now arose and became the upright figure of his
new picture.

Then Christine felt herself growing older and older at each successive
sitting. And she experienced the infinite despair which comes upon
passionate women when love, like beauty, abandons them. Was it because
of this that Claude no longer cared for her, that he sought refuge in
an unnatural passion for his work? She soon lost all clear perception
of things; she fell into a state of utter neglect, going about in a
dressing jacket and dirty petticoats, devoid of all coquettish feeling,
discouraged by the idea that it was useless for her to continue
struggling, since she had become old.

There were occasionally abominable scenes between her and Claude, who
this time, however, obstinately stuck to his work and finished his
picture, swearing that, come what might, he would send it to the Salon.
He lived on his steps, cleaning up his backgrounds until dark. At last,
thoroughly exhausted, he declared that he would touch the canvas no
more; and Sandoz, on coming to see him one day, at four o’clock, did not
find him at home. Christine declared that he had just gone out to take a
breath of air on the height of Montmartre.

The breach between Claude and his old friends had gradually widened.
With time the latters’ visits had become brief and far between, for they
felt uncomfortable when they found themselves face to face with that
disturbing style of painting; and they were more and more upset by the
unhinging of a mind which had been the admiration of their youth. Now
all had fled; none excepting Sandoz ever came. Gagniere had even left
Paris, to settle down in one of the two houses he owned at Melun, where
he lived frugally upon the proceeds of the other one, after suddenly
marrying, to every one’s surprise, an old maid, his music mistress, who
played Wagner to him of an evening. As for Mahoudeau, he alleged work
as an excuse for not coming, and indeed he was beginning to earn some
money, thanks to a bronze manufacturer, who employed him to touch up
his models. Matters were different with Jory, whom no one saw, since
Mathilde despotically kept him sequestrated. She had conquered him,
and he had fallen into a kind of domesticity comparable to that of a
faithful dog, yielding up the keys of his cashbox, and only carrying
enough money about him to buy a cigar at a time. It was even said that
Mathilde, like the devotee she had once been, had thrown him into the
arms of the Church, in order to consolidate her conquest, and that she
was constantly talking to him about death, of which he was horribly
afraid. Fagerolles alone affected a lively, cordial feeling towards
his old friend Claude whenever he happened to meet him. He then always
promised to go and see him, but never did so. He was so busy since his
great success, in such request, advertised, celebrated, on the road to
every imaginable honour and form of fortune! And Claude regretted
nobody save Dubuche, to whom he still felt attached, from a feeling
of affection for the old reminiscences of boyhood, notwithstanding the
disagreements which difference of disposition had provoked later on. But
Dubuche, it appeared, was not very happy either. No doubt he was gorged
with millions, but he led a wretched life, constantly at logger-heads
with his father-in-law (who complained of having been deceived with
regard to his capabilities as an architect), and obliged to pass
his life amidst the medicine bottles of his ailing wife and his two
children, who, having been prematurely born, had to be reared virtually
in cotton wool.

Of all the old friends, therefore, there only remained Sandoz, who still
found his way to the Rue Tourlaque. He came thither for little Jacques,
his godson, and for the sorrowing woman also, that Christine whose
passionate features amidst all this distress moved him deeply, like a
vision of one of the ardently amorous creatures whom he would have
liked to embody in his books. But, above all, his feeling of artistic
brotherliness had increased since he had seen Claude losing ground,
foundering amidst the heroic folly of art. At first he had remained
utterly astonished at it, for he had believed in his friend more than in
himself. Since their college days, he had always placed himself second,
while setting Claude very high on fame’s ladder--on the same rung,
indeed, as the masters who revolutionise a period. Then he had been
grievously affected by that bankruptcy of genius; he had become full
of bitter, heartfelt pity at the sight of the horrible torture of
impotency. Did one ever know who was the madman in art? Every failure
touched him to the quick, and the more a picture or a book verged upon
aberration, sank to the grotesque and lamentable, the more did Sandoz
quiver with compassion, the more did he long to lull to sleep, in the
soothing extravagance of their dreams, those who were thus blasted by
their own work.

On the day when Sandoz called, and failed to find Claude at home, he did
not go away; but, seeing Christine’s eyelids red with crying, he said:

‘If you think that he’ll be in soon, I’ll wait for him.’

‘Oh! he surely won’t be long.’

‘In that case I’ll wait, unless I am in your way.’

Never had her demeanour, the crushed look of a neglected woman, her
listless movements, her slow speech, her indifference for everything but
the passion that was consuming her, moved him so deeply. For the last
week, perhaps, she had not put a chair in its place, or dusted a piece
of furniture; she left the place to go to wreck and ruin, scarcely
having the strength to drag herself about. And it was enough to break
one’s heart to behold that misery ending in filth beneath the glaring
light from the big window; to gaze on that ill-pargetted shanty, so bare
and disorderly, where one shivered with melancholy although it was a
bright February afternoon.

Christine had slowly sat down beside an iron bedstead, which Sandoz had
not noticed when he came in.

‘Hallo,’ he said, ‘is Jacques ill?’

She was covering up the child, who constantly flung off the bedclothes.

‘Yes, he hasn’t been up these three days. We brought his bed in here so
that he might be with us. He was never very strong. But he is getting
worse and worse, it’s distracting.’

She had a fixed stare in her eyes and spoke in a monotonous tone, and
Sandoz felt frightened when he drew up to the bedside. The child’s pale
head seemed to have grown bigger still, so heavy that he could no longer
support it. He lay perfectly still, and one might have thought he was
dead, but for the heavy breathing coming from between his discoloured
lips.

‘My poor little Jacques, it’s I, your godfather. Won’t you say how d’ye
do?’

The child made a fruitless, painful effort to lift his head; his eyelids
parted, showing his white eyeballs, then closed again.

‘Have you sent for a doctor?’

Christine shrugged her shoulders.

‘Oh! doctors, what do they know?’ she answered. ‘We sent for one; he
said that there was nothing to be done. Let us hope that it will pass
over again. He is close upon twelve years old now, and maybe he is
growing too fast.’

Sandoz, quite chilled, said nothing for fear of increasing her anxiety,
since she did not seem to realise the gravity of the disease. He walked
about in silence and stopped in front of the picture.

‘Ho, ho! it’s getting on; it’s on the right road this time.’

‘It’s finished.’

‘What! finished?’

And when she told him that the canvas was to be sent to the Salon that
next week, he looked embarrassed, and sat down on the couch, like a man
who wishes to judge the work leisurely. The background, the quays, the
Seine, whence arose the triumphal point of the Cite, still remained in a
sketchy state--masterly, however, but as if the painter had been afraid
of spoiling the Paris of his dream by giving it greater finish. There
was also an excellent group on the left, the lightermen unloading the
sacks of plaster being carefully and powerfully treated. But the boat
full of women in the centre transpierced the picture, as it were, with
a blaze of flesh-tints which were quite out of place; and the brilliancy
and hallucinatory proportions of the large nude figure which Claude had
painted in a fever seemed strangely, disconcertingly false amidst the
reality of all the rest.

Sandoz, silent, fell despair steal over him as he sat in front of that
magnificent failure. But he saw Christine’s eyes fixed upon him, and had
sufficient strength of mind to say:

‘Astounding!--the woman, astounding!’

At that moment Claude came in, and on seeing his old chum he uttered
a joyous exclamation and shook his hand vigorously. Then he approached
Christine, and kissed little Jacques, who had once more thrown off the
bedclothes.

‘How is he?’

‘Just the same.’

‘To be sure, to be sure; he is growing too fast. A few days’ rest will
set him all right. I told you not to be uneasy.’

And Claude thereupon sat down beside Sandoz on the couch. They both took
their ease, leaning back, with their eyes surveying the picture; while
Christine, seated by the bed, looked at nothing, and seemingly thought
of nothing, in the everlasting desolation of her heart. Night was slowly
coming on, the vivid light from the window paled already, losing its
sheen amidst the slowly-falling crepuscular dimness.

‘So it’s settled; your wife told me that you were going to send it in.’

‘Yes.’

‘You are right; you had better have done with it once for all. Oh, there
are some magnificent bits in it. The quay in perspective to the left,
the man who shoulders that sack below. But--’

He hesitated, then finally took the bull by the horns.

‘But, it’s odd that you have persisted in leaving those women nude. It
isn’t logical, I assure you; and, besides, you promised me you would
dress them--don’t you remember? You have set your heart upon them very
much then?’

‘Yes.’

Claude answered curtly, with the obstinacy of one mastered by a fixed
idea and unwilling to give any explanations. Then he crossed his arms
behind his head, and began talking of other things, without, however,
taking his eyes off his picture, over which the twilight began to cast a
slight shadow.

‘Do you know where I have just come from?’ he asked. ‘I have been to
Courajod’s. You know, the great landscape painter, whose “Pond of Gagny”
 is at the Luxembourg. You remember, I thought he was dead, and we were
told that he lived hereabouts, on the other side of the hill, in the Rue
de l’Abreuvoir. Well, old boy, he worried me, did Courajod. While taking
a breath of air now and then up there, I discovered his shanty, and I
could no longer pass in front of it without wanting to go inside. Just
think, a master, a man who invented our modern landscape school, and who
lives there, unknown, done for, like a mole in its hole! You can have no
idea of the street or the caboose: a village street, full of fowls, and
bordered by grassy banks; and a caboose like a child’s toy, with tiny
windows, a tiny door, a tiny garden. Oh! the garden--a mere patch of
soil, sloping down abruptly, with a bed where four pear trees stand,
and the rest taken up by a fowl-house, made out of green boards, old
plaster, and wire network, held together with bits of string.’

His words came slowly; he blinked while he spoke as if the thought of
his picture had returned to him and was gradually taking possession
of him, to such a degree as to hamper him in his speech about other
matters.

‘Well, as luck would have it, I found Courajod on his doorstep to-day.
An old man of more than eighty, wrinkled and shrunk to the size of a
boy. I should like you to see him, with his clogs, his peasant’s jersey
and his coloured handkerchief wound over his head as if he were an old
market-woman. I pluckily went up to him, saying, “Monsieur Courajod, I
know you very well; you have a picture in the Luxembourg Gallery which
is a masterpiece. Allow a painter to shake hands with you as he would
with his master.” And then you should have seen him take fright, draw
back and stutter, as if I were going to strike him. A regular flight!
However, I followed him, and gradually he recovered his composure, and
showed me his hens, his ducks, his rabbits and dogs--an extraordinary
collection of birds and beasts; there was even a raven among them. He
lives in the midst of them all; he speaks to no one but his animals.
As for the view, it’s simply magnificent; you see the whole of the
St. Denis plain for miles upon miles; rivers and towns, smoking
factory-chimneys, and puffing railway-engines; in short, the place is
a real hermitage on a hill, with its back turned to Paris and its eyes
fixed on the boundless country. As a matter of course, I came back to
his picture. “Oh, Monsieur Courajod,” said I, “what talent you showed!
If you only knew how much we all admire you. You are one of our
illustrious men; you’ll remain the ancestor of us all.” But his lips
began to tremble again; he looked at me with an air of terror-stricken
stupidity; I am sure he would not have waved me back with a more
imploring gesture if I had unearthed under his very eyes the corpse of
some forgotten comrade of his youth. He kept chewing disconnected words
between his toothless gums; it was the mumbling of an old man who had
sunk into second childhood, and whom it’s impossible to understand.
“Don’t know--so long ago--too old--don’t care a rap.” To make a long
story short, he showed me the door; I heard him hurriedly turn the
key in lock, barricading himself and his birds and animals against the
admiration of the outside world. Ah, my good fellow, the idea of it!
That great man ending his life like a retired grocer; that voluntary
relapse into “nothingness” even before death. Ah, the glory, the glory
for which we others are ready to die!’

Claude’s voice, which had sunk lower and lower, died away at last in
a melancholy sigh. Darkness was still coming on; after gradually
collecting in the corners, it rose like a slow, inexorable tide, first
submerging the legs of the chairs and the table, all the confusion of
things that littered the tiled floor. The lower part of the picture was
already growing dim, and Claude, with his eyes still desperately fixed
on it, seemed to be watching the ascent of the darkness as if he had at
last judged his work in the expiring light. And no sound was heard save
the stertorous breathing of the sick child, near whom there still loomed
the dark silhouette of the motionless mother.

Then Sandoz spoke in his turn, his hands also crossed behind his head,
and his back resting against one of the cushions of the couch.

‘Does one ever know? Would it not be better, perhaps, to live and die
unknown? What a sell it would be if artistic glory existed no more than
the Paradise which is talked about in catechisms and which even children
nowadays make fun of! We, who no longer believe in the Divinity, still
believe in our own immortality. What a farce it all is!’

Then, affected to melancholy himself by the mournfulness of the
twilight, and stirred by all the human suffering he beheld around him,
he began to speak of his own torments.

‘Look here, old man, I, whom you envy, perhaps--yes, I, who am beginning
to get on in the world, as middle-class people say--I, who publish books
and earn a little money--well, I am being killed by it all. I have often
already told you this, but you don’t believe me, because, as you only
turn out work with a deal of trouble and cannot bring yourself to public
notice, happiness in your eyes could naturally consist in producing a
great deal, in being seen, and praised or slated. Well, get admitted to
the next Salon, get into the thick of the battle, paint other pictures,
and then tell me whether that suffices, and whether you are happy at
last. Listen; work has taken up the whole of my existence. Little by
little, it has robbed me of my mother, of my wife, of everything I love.
It is like a germ thrown into the cranium, which feeds on the brain,
finds its way into the trunk and limbs, and gnaws up the whole of the
body. The moment I jump out of bed of a morning, work clutches hold
of me, rivets me to my desk without leaving me time to get a breath of
fresh air; then it pursues me at luncheon--I audibly chew my sentences
with my bread. Next it accompanies me when I go out, comes back with me
and dines off the same plate as myself; lies down with me on my pillow,
so utterly pitiless that I am never able to set the book in hand on one
side; indeed, its growth continues even in the depth of my sleep. And
nothing outside of it exists for me. True, I go upstairs to embrace my
mother, but in so absent-minded a way, that ten minutes after leaving
her I ask myself whether I have really been to wish her good-morning. My
poor wife has no husband; I am not with her even when our hands touch.
Sometimes I have an acute feeling that I am making their lives very
sad, and I feel very remorseful, for happiness is solely composed of
kindness, frankness and gaiety in one’s home; but how can I escape from
the claws of the monster? I at once relapse into the somnambulism of my
working hours, into the indifference and moroseness of my fixed idea.
If the pages I have written during the morning have been worked off all
right, so much the better; if one of them has remained in distress, so
much the worse. The household will laugh or cry according to the whim of
that all-devouring monster--Work. No, no! I have nothing that I can call
my own. In my days of poverty I dreamt of rest in the country, of travel
in distant lands; and now that I might make those dreams reality, the
work that has been begun keeps me shut up. There is no chance of a walk
in the morning’s sun, no chance of running round to a friend’s house, or
of a mad bout of idleness! My strength of will has gone with the rest;
all this has become a habit; I have locked the door of the world behind
me, and thrown the key out of the window. There is no longer anything in
my den but work and myself--and work will devour me, and then there will
be nothing left, nothing at all!’

He paused, and silence reigned once more in the deepening gloom. Then he
began again with an effort:

‘And if one were only satisfied, if one only got some enjoyment out of
such a nigger’s life! Ah! I should like to know how those fellows manage
who smoke cigarettes and complacently stroke their beards while they are
at work. Yes, it appears to me that there are some who find production
an easy pleasure, to be set aside or taken up without the least
excitement. They are delighted, they admire themselves, they
cannot write a couple of lines but they find those lines of a rare,
distinguished, matchless quality. Well, as for myself, I bring forth
in anguish, and my offspring seems a horror to me. How can a man
be sufficiently wanting in self-doubt as to believe in himself? It
absolutely amazes me to see men, who furiously deny talent to everybody
else, lose all critical acumen, all common-sense, when it becomes a
question of their own bastard creations. Why, a book is always very
ugly. To like it one mustn’t have had a hand in the cooking of it. I say
nothing of the jugsful of insults that are showered upon one. Instead of
annoying, they rather encourage me. I see men who are upset by attacks,
who feel a humiliating craving to win sympathy. It is a simple question
of temperament; some women would die if they failed to please. But, to
my thinking, insult is a very good medicine to take; unpopularity is a
very manly school to be brought up in. Nothing keeps one in such good
health and strength as the hooting of a crowd of imbeciles. It suffices
that a man can say that he has given his life’s blood to his work; that
he expects neither immediate justice nor serious attention; that he
works without hope of any kind, and simply because the love of work
beats beneath his skin like his heart, irrespective of any will of his
own. If he can do all this, he may die in the effort with the consoling
illusion that he will be appreciated one day or other. Ah! if the others
only knew how jauntily I bear the weight of their anger. Only there
is my own choler, which overwhelms me; I fret that I cannot live for a
moment happy. What hours of misery I spend, great heavens! from the
very day I begin a novel. During the first chapters there isn’t so much
trouble. I have plenty of room before me in which to display genius. But
afterwards I become distracted, and am never satisfied with the daily
task; I condemn the book before it is finished, judging it inferior
to its elders; and I torture myself about certain pages, about certain
sentences, certain words, so that at last the very commas assume an
ugly look, from which I suffer. And when it is finished--ah! when it is
finished, what a relief! Not the enjoyment of the gentleman who exalts
himself in the worship of his offspring, but the curse of the labourer
who throws down the burden that has been breaking his back. Then,
later on, with another book, it all begins afresh; it will always begin
afresh, and I shall die under it, furious with myself, exasperated
at not having had more talent, enraged at not leaving a “work” more
complete, of greater dimensions--books upon books, a pile of mountain
height! And at my death I shall feel horrible doubts about the task I
may have accomplished, asking myself whether I ought not to have gone to
the left when I went to the right, and my last word, my last gasp, will
be to recommence the whole over again--’

He was thoroughly moved; the words stuck in his throat; he was obliged
to draw breath for a moment before delivering himself of this passionate
cry in which all his impenitent lyricism took wing:

Ah, life! a second span of life, who shall give it to me, that work may
rob me of it again--that I may die of it once more?’

It had now become quite dark; the mother’s rigid silhouette was no
longer visible; the hoarse breathing of the child sounded amidst the
obscurity like a terrible and distant signal of distress, uprising from
the streets. In the whole studio, which had become lugubriously black,
the big canvas only showed a glimpse of pallidity, a last vestige of the
waning daylight. The nude figure, similar to an agonising vision, seemed
to be floating about, without definite shape, the legs having already
vanished, one arm being already submerged, and the only part at all
distinct being the trunk, which shone like a silvery moon.

After a protracted pause, Sandoz inquired:

‘Shall I go with you when you take your picture?’

Getting no answer from Claude, he fancied he could hear him crying. Was
it with the same infinite sadness, the despair by which he himself
had been stirred just now? He waited for a moment, then repeated his
question, and at last the painter, after choking down a sob, stammered:

‘Thanks, the picture will remain here; I sha’n’t send it.’

‘What? Why, you had made up your mind?’

‘Yes, yes, I had made up my mind; but I had not seen it as I saw it
just now in the waning daylight. I have failed with it, failed with it
again--it struck my eyes like a blow, it went to my very heart.’

His tears now flowed slow and scalding in the gloom that hid him from
sight. He had been restraining himself, and now the silent anguish which
had consumed him burst forth despite all his efforts.

‘My poor friend,’ said Sandoz, quite upset; ‘it is hard to tell you so,
but all the same you are right, perhaps, in delaying matters to finish
certain parts rather more. Still I am angry with myself, for I shall
imagine that it was I who discouraged you by my everlasting stupid
discontent with things.’

Claude simply answered:

‘You! what an idea! I was not even listening to you. No; I was looking,
and I saw everything go helter-skelter in that confounded canvas. The
light was dying away, and all at once, in the greyish dusk, the scales
suddenly dropped from my eyes. The background alone is pretty; the
nude woman is altogether too loud; what’s more, she’s out of the
perpendicular, and her legs are badly drawn. When I noticed that, ah!
it was enough to kill me there and then; I felt life departing from me.
Then the gloom kept rising and rising, bringing a whirling sensation, a
foundering of everything, the earth rolling into chaos, the end of the
world. And soon I only saw the trunk waning like a sickly moon. And
look, look! there now remains nothing of her, not a glimpse; she is
dead, quite black!’

In fact, the picture had at last entirely disappeared. But the painter
had risen and could be heard swearing in the dense obscurity.

‘D--n it all, it doesn’t matter, I’ll set to work at it again--’

Then Christine, who had also risen from her chair, against which he
stumbled, interrupted him, saying: ‘Take care, I’ll light the lamp.’

She lighted it and came back looking very pale, casting a glance of
hatred and fear at the picture. It was not to go then? The abomination
was to begin once more!

‘I’ll set to work at it again,’ repeated Claude, ‘and it shall kill me,
it shall kill my wife, my child, the whole lot; but, by heaven, it shall
be a masterpiece!’

Christine sat down again; they approached Jacques, who had thrown the
clothes off once more with his feverish little hands. He was still
breathing heavily, lying quite inert, his head buried in the pillow like
a weight, with which the bed seemed to creak. When Sandoz was on
the point of going, he expressed his uneasiness. The mother appeared
stupefied; while the father was already returning to his picture, the
masterpiece which awaited creation, and the thought of which filled him
with such passionate illusions that he gave less heed to the painful
reality of the sufferings of his child, the true living flesh of his
flesh.

On the following morning, Claude had just finished dressing, when he
heard Christine calling in a frightened voice. She also had just woke
with a start from the heavy sleep which had benumbed her while she sat
watching the sick child.

‘Claude! Claude! Oh, look! He is dead.’

The painter rushed forward, with heavy eyes, stumbling, and apparently
failing to understand, for he repeated with an air of profound
amazement, ‘What do you mean by saying he is dead?’

For a moment they remained staring wildly at the bed. The poor little
fellow, with his disproportionate head--the head of the progeny of
genius, exaggerated as to verge upon cretinism--did not appear to have
stirred since the previous night; but no breath came from his mouth,
which had widened and become discoloured, and his glassy eyes were open.
His father laid his hands upon him and found him icy cold.

‘It is true, he is dead.’

And their stupor was such that for yet another moment they remained with
their eyes dry, simply thunderstruck, as it were, by the abruptness of
that death which they considered incredible.

Then, her knees bending under her, Christine dropped down in front of
the bed, bursting into violent sobs which shook her from head to foot,
and wringing her hands, whilst her forehead remained pressed against
the mattress. In that first moment of horror her despair was aggravated
above all by poignant remorse--the remorse of not having sufficiently
cared for the poor child. Former days started up before her in a rapid
vision, each bringing with it regretfulness for unkind words, deferred
caresses, rough treatment even. And now it was all over; she would never
be able to compensate the lad for the affection she had withheld from
him. He whom she thought so disobedient had obeyed but too well at last.
She had so often told him when at play to be still, and not to disturb
his father at his work, that he was quiet at last, and for ever. The
idea suffocated her; each sob drew from her a dull moan.

Claude had begun walking up and down the studio, unable to remain still.
With his features convulsed, he shed a few big tears, which he brushed
away with the back of his hand. And whenever he passed in front of the
little corpse he could not help glancing at it. The glassy eyes, wide
open, seemed to exercise a spell over him. At first he resisted, but a
confused idea assumed shape within him, and would not be shaken off. He
yielded to it at last, took a small canvas, and began to paint a study
of the dead child. For the first few minutes his tears dimmed his
sight, wrapping everything in a mist; but he kept wiping them away, and
persevered with his work, even though his brush shook. Then the passion
for art dried his tears and steadied his hand, and in a little while it
was no longer his icy son that lay there, but merely a model, a subject,
the strange interest of which stirred him. That huge head, that waxy
flesh, those eyes which looked like holes staring into space--all
excited and thrilled him. He stepped back, seemed to take pleasure in
his work, and vaguely smiled at it.

When Christine rose from her knees, she found him thus occupied. Then,
bursting into tears again, she merely said:

‘Ah! you can paint him now, he’ll never stir again.’

For five hours Claude kept at it, and on the second day, when Sandoz
came back with him from the cemetery, after the funeral, he shuddered
with pity and admiration at the sight of the small canvas. It was one of
the fine bits of former days, a masterpiece of limpidity and power,
to which was added a note of boundless melancholy, the end of
everything--all life ebbing away with the death of that child.

But Sandoz, who had burst out into exclamations fall of praise, was
quite taken aback on hearing Claude say to him:

‘You are sure you like it? In that case, as the other machine isn’t
ready, I’ll send this to the Salon.’



X

ONE morning, as Claude, who had taken ‘The Dead Child’ to the Palais de
l’Industrie the previous day, was roaming round about the Parc Monceau,
he suddenly came upon Fagerolles.

‘What!’ said the latter, cordially, ‘is it you, old fellow? What’s
becoming of you? What are you doing? We see so little of each other
now.’

Then, Claude having mentioned what he had sent to the Salon--that little
canvas which his mind was full of--Fagerolles added:

‘Ah! you’ve sent something; then I’ll get it “hung” for you. You know
that I’m a candidate for the hanging committee this year.’

Indeed, amid the tumult and everlasting discontent of the artists, after
attempts at reform, repeated a score of times and then abandoned, the
authorities had just invested the exhibitors with the privilege of
electing the members of the hanging committee; and this had quite upset
the world of painters and sculptors, a perfect electoral fever had
set in, with all sorts of ambitious cabals and intrigues--all the low
jobbery, indeed, by which politics are dishonoured.

‘I’m going to take you with me,’ continued Fagerolles; you must come
and see how I’m settled in my little house, in which you haven’t yet set
foot, in spite of all your promises. It’s there, hard by, at the corner
of the Avenue de Villiers.’

Claude, whose arm he had gaily taken, was obliged to follow him. He was
seized with a fit of cowardice; the idea that his old chum might get
his picture ‘hung’ for him filled him with mingled shame and desire.
On reaching the avenue, he stopped in front of the house to look at its
frontage, a bit of coquettish, _precioso_ architectural tracery--the
exact copy of a Renaissance house at Bourges, with lattice windows, a
staircase tower, and a roof decked with leaden ornaments. It looked
like the abode of a harlot; and Claude was struck with surprise when,
on turning round, he recognised Irma Becot’s regal mansion just over
the way. Huge, substantial, almost severe of aspect, it had all the
importance of a palace compared to its neighbour, the dwelling of the
artist, who was obliged to limit himself to a fanciful nick-nack.

‘Ah! that Irma, eh?’ said Fagerolles with just a shade of respect in his
tone. ‘She has got a cathedral and no mistake! But come in.’

The interior of Fagerolles’ house was strangely and magnificently
luxurious. Old tapestry, old weapons, a heap of old furniture, Chinese
and Japanese curios were displayed even in the very hall. On the left
there was a dining-room, panelled with lacquer work and having its
ceiling draped with a design of a red dragon. Then there was a staircase
of carved wood above which banners drooped, whilst tropical plants rose
up like plumes. Overhead, the studio was a marvel, though rather small
and without a picture visible. The walls, indeed, were entirely covered
with Oriental hangings, while at one end rose up a huge chimney-piece
with chimerical monsters supporting the tablet, and at the other
extremity appeared a vast couch under a tent--the latter quite
a monument, with lances upholding the sumptuous drapery, above a
collection of carpets, furs and cushions heaped together almost on a
level with the flooring.

Claude looked at it all, and there came to his lips a question which
he held back--Was all this paid for? Fagerolles, who had been decorated
with the Legion of Honour the previous year, now asked, it was said,
ten thousand francs for painting a mere portrait. Naudet, who, after
launching him, duly turned his success to profit in a methodical
fashion, never let one of his pictures go for less than twenty, thirty,
forty thousand francs. Orders would have fallen on the painter’s
shoulders as thick as hail, if he had not affected the disdain, the
weariness of the man whose slightest sketches are fought for. And yet
all this display of luxury smacked of indebtedness, there was only so
much paid on account to the upholsterers; all the money--the money won
by lucky strokes as on ‘Change--slipped through the artist’s fingers,
and was spent without trace of it remaining. Moreover, Fagerolles,
still in the full flush of his sudden good fortune, did not calculate or
worry, being confident that he would always sell his works at higher
and higher prices, and feeling glorious at the high position he was
acquiring in contemporary art.

Eventually, Claude espied a little canvas on an ebony easel, draped with
red plush. Excepting a rosewood tube case and box of crayons, forgotten
on an article of furniture, nothing reminding one of the artistic
profession could be seen lying about.

‘Very finely treated,’ said Claude, wishing to be amiable, as he stood
in front of the little canvas. ‘And is your picture for the Salon sent?’

‘Ah! yes, thank heavens! What a number of people I had here! A perfect
procession which kept me on my legs from morning till evening during a
week. I didn’t want to exhibit it, as it lowers one to do so, and Naudet
also opposed it. But what would you have done? I was so begged and
prayed; all the young fellows want to set me on the committee, so that I
may defend them. Oh! my picture is simple enough--I call it “A
Picnic.” There are a couple of gentlemen and three ladies under some
trees--guests at some chateau, who have brought a collation with them
and are eating it in a glade. You’ll see, it’s rather original.’

He spoke in a hesitating manner, and when his eyes met those of Claude,
who was looking at him fixedly, he lost countenance altogether, and
joked about the little canvas on the easel.

‘That’s a daub Naudet asked me for. Oh! I’m not ignorant of what I
lack--a little of what you have too much of, old man. You know that
I’m still your friend; why, I defended you only yesterday with some
painters.’

He tapped Claude on the shoulders, for he had divined his old
master’s secret contempt, and wished to win him back by his old-time
caresses--all the wheedling practices of a hussy. Very sincerely and
with a sort of anxious deference he again promised Claude that he would
do everything in his power to further the hanging of his picture, ‘The
Dead Child.’

However, some people arrived; more than fifteen persons came in and
went off in less than an hour--fathers bringing young pupils, exhibitors
anxious to say a good word on their own behalf, friends who wanted
to barter influence, even women who placed their talents under the
protection of their charms. And one should have seen the painter play
his part as a candidate, shaking hands most lavishly, saying to one
visitor: ‘Your picture this year is so pretty, it pleases me so much!’
then feigning astonishment with another: ‘What! you haven’t had a medal
yet?’ and repeating to all of them: ‘Ah! If I belonged to the committee,
I’d make them walk straight.’ He sent every one away delighted, closed
the door behind each visitor with an air of extreme amiability, through
which, however, there pierced the secret sneer of an ex-lounger on the
pavement.

‘You see, eh?’ he said to Claude, at a moment when they happened to be
left alone. ‘What a lot of time I lose with those idiots!’

Then he approached the large window, and abruptly opened one of the
casements; and on one of the balconies of the house over the way a
woman clad in a lace dressing-gown could be distinguished waving her
handkerchief. Fagerolles on his side waved his hand three times in
succession. Then both windows were closed again.

Claude had recognised Irma; and amid the silence which fell Fagerolles
quietly explained matters:

‘It’s convenient, you see, one can correspond. We have a complete system
of telegraphy. She wants to speak to me, so I must go--’

Since he and Irma had resided in the avenue, they met, it was said,
on their old footing. It was even asserted that he, so ‘cute,’ so
well-acquainted with Parisian humbug, let himself be fleeced by her,
bled at every moment of some good round sum, which she sent her maid
to ask for--now to pay a tradesman, now to satisfy a whim, often for
nothing at all, or rather for the sole pleasure of emptying his
pockets; and this partly explained his embarrassed circumstances, his
indebtedness, which ever increased despite the continuous rise in the
quotations of his canvases.

Claude had put on his hat again. Fagerolles was shuffling about
impatiently, looking nervously at the house over the way.

‘I don’t send you off, but you see she’s waiting for me,’ he said,
‘Well, it’s understood, your affair’s settled--that is, unless I’m
not elected. Come to the Palais de l’Industrie on the evening the
voting-papers are counted. Oh! there will be a regular crush, quite a
rumpus! Still, you will always learn if you can rely on me.’

At first, Claude inwardly swore that he would not trouble about it.
Fagerolles’ protection weighed heavily upon him; and yet, in his heart
of hearts, he really had but one fear, that the shifty fellow would not
keep his promise, but would ultimately be taken with a fit of cowardice
at the idea of protecting a defeated man. However, on the day of the
vote Claude could not keep still, but went and roamed about the Champs
Elysees under the pretence of taking a long walk. He might as well go
there as elsewhere, for while waiting for the Salon he had altogether
ceased work. He himself could not vote, as to do so it was necessary to
have been ‘hung’ on at least one occasion. However, he repeatedly passed
before the Palais de l’Industrie,* the foot pavement in front of which
interested him with its bustling aspect, its procession of artist
electors, whom men in dirty blouses caught hold of, shouting to them
the titles of their lists of candidates--lists some thirty in number
emanating from every possible coterie, and representing every possible
opinion. There was the list of the studios of the School of Arts, the
liberal list, the list of the uncompromising radical painters, the
conciliatory list, the young painters’ list, even the ladies’ list,
and so forth. The scene suggested all the turmoil at the door of an
electoral polling booth on the morrow of a riot.

  * This palace, for many years the home of the ‘Salon,’ was built
    for the first Paris International Exhibition, that of 1855,
    and demolished in connection with that of 1900.--ED.

At four o’clock in the afternoon, when the voting was over, Claude could
not resist a fit of curiosity to go and have a look. The staircase was
now free, and whoever chose could enter. Upstairs, he came upon the huge
gallery, overlooking the Champs Elysees, which was set aside for the
hanging committee. A table, forty feet long, filled the centre of this
gallery, and entire trees were burning in the monumental fireplace at
one end of it. Some four or five hundred electors, who had remained to
see the votes counted, stood there, mingled with friends and inquisitive
strangers, talking, laughing, and setting quite a storm loose under the
lofty ceiling. Around the table, parties of people who had volunteered
to count the votes were already settled and at work; there were some
fifteen of these parties in all, each comprising a chairman and two
scrutineers. Three or four more remained to be organised, and nobody
else offered assistance; in fact, every one turned away in fear of the
crushing labour which would rivet the more zealous people to the spot
far into the night.

It precisely happened that Fagerolles, who had been in the thick of
it since the morning, was gesticulating and shouting, trying to make
himself heard above the hubbub.

‘Come, gentlemen, we need one more man here! Come, some willing person,
over here!’

And at that moment, perceiving Claude, he darted forward and forcibly
dragged him off.

‘Ah! as for you, you will just oblige me by sitting down there and
helping us! It’s for the good cause, dash it all!’

Claude abruptly found himself chairman of one of the counting
committees, and began to perform his functions with all the gravity of
a timid man, secretly experiencing a good deal of emotion, as if the
hanging of his canvas would depend upon the conscientiousness he showed
in his work. He called out the names inscribed upon the voting-papers,
which were passed to him in little packets, while the scrutineers, on
sheets of paper prepared for the purpose, noted each successive vote
that each candidate obtained. And all this went on amidst a most
frightful uproar, twenty and thirty names being called out at the same
time by different voices, above the continuous rumbling of the crowd.
As Claude could never do anything without throwing passion into it, he
waxed excited, became despondent whenever a voting-paper did not bear
Fagerolles’ name, and grew happy as soon as he had to shout out that
name once more. Moreover, he often tasted that delight, for his friend
had made himself popular, showing himself everywhere, frequenting the
cafes where influential groups of artists assembled, even venturing
to expound his opinions there, and binding himself to young artists,
without neglecting to bow very low to the members of the Institute. Thus
there was a general current of sympathy in his favour. Fagerolles was,
so to say, everybody’s spoilt child.

Night came on at about six o’clock that rainy March day. The assistants
brought lamps; and some mistrustful artists, who, gloomy and silent,
were watching the counting askance, drew nearer. Others began to play
jokes, imitated the cries of animals, or attempted a _tyrolienne_. But
it was only at eight o’clock, when a collation of cold meat and wine
was served, that the gaiety reached its climax. The bottles were hastily
emptied, the men stuffed themselves with whatever they were lucky enough
to get hold of, and there was a free-and-easy kind of Kermesse in that
huge hall which the logs in the fireplace lit up with a forge-like glow.
Then they all smoked, and the smoke set a kind of mist around the
yellow light from the lamps, whilst on the floor trailed all the spoilt
voting-papers thrown away during the polling; indeed, quite a layer of
dirty paper, together with corks, breadcrumbs, and a few broken plates.
The heels of those seated at the table disappeared amidst this litter.
Reserve was cast aside; a little sculptor with a pale face climbed upon
a chair to harangue the assembly, and a painter, with stiff moustaches
under a hook nose, bestrode a chair and galloped, bowing, round the
table, in mimicry of the Emperor.

Little by little, however, a good many grew tired and went off. At
eleven o’clock there were not more than a couple of hundred persons
present. Past midnight, however, some more people arrived, loungers in
dress-coats and white ties, who had come from some theatre or soiree
and wished to learn the result of the voting before all Paris knew it.
Reporters also appeared; and they could be seen darting one by one out
of the room as soon as a partial result was communicated to them.

Claude, hoarse by now, still went on calling names. The smoke and the
heat became intolerable, a smell like that of a cow-house rose from
the muddy litter on the floor. One o’clock, two o’clock in the morning
struck, and he was still unfolding voting-papers, the conscientiousness
which he displayed delaying him to such a point that the other parties
had long since finished their work, while his was still a maze of
figures. At last all the additions were centralised and the definite
result proclaimed. Fagerolles was elected, coming fifteenth among forty,
or five places ahead of Bongrand, who had been a candidate on the same
list, but whose name must have been frequently struck out. And daylight
was breaking when Claude reached home in the Rue Tourlaque, feeling both
worn out and delighted.

Then, for a couple of weeks he lived in a state of anxiety. A dozen
times he had the idea of going to Fagerolles’ for information, but a
feeling of shame restrained him. Besides, as the committee proceeded
in alphabetical order, nothing perhaps was yet decided. However, one
evening, on the Boulevard de Clichy, he felt his heart thump as he saw
two broad shoulders, with whose lolloping motion he was well acquainted,
coming towards him.

They were the shoulders of Bongrand, who seemed embarrassed. He was the
first to speak, and said:

‘You know matters aren’t progressing very well over yonder with those
brutes. But everything isn’t lost. Fagerolles and I are on the watch.
Still, you must rely on Fagerolles; as for me, my dear fellow, I am
awfully afraid of compromising your chances.’

To tell the truth, there was constant hostility between Bongrand and the
President of the hanging committee, Mazel, a famous master of the School
of Arts, and the last rampart of the elegant, buttery, conventional
style of art. Although they called each other ‘dear colleague’ and made
a great show of shaking hands, their hostility had burst forth the very
first day; one of them could never ask for the admission of a picture
without the other one voting for its rejection. Fagerolles, who had been
elected secretary, had, on the contrary, made himself Mazel’s amuser,
his vice, and Mazel forgave his old pupil’s defection, so skilfully
did the renegade flatter him. Moreover, the young master, a regular
turncoat, as his comrades said, showed even more severity than the
members of the Institute towards audacious beginners. He only became
lenient and sociable when he wanted to get a picture accepted, on those
occasions showing himself extremely fertile in devices, intriguing and
carrying the vote with all the supple deftness of a conjurer.

The committee work was really a hard task, and even Bongrand’s strong
legs grew tired of it. It was cut out every day by the assistants.
An endless row of large pictures rested on the ground against the
handrails, all along the first-floor galleries, right round the Palace;
and every afternoon, at one o’clock precisely, the forty committee-men,
headed by their president, who was equipped with a bell, started off
on a promenade, until all the letters in the alphabet, serving as
exhibitors’ initials, had been exhausted. They gave their decisions
standing, and the work was got through as fast as possible, the worst
canvases being rejected without going to the vote. At times, however,
discussions delayed the party, there came a ten minutes’ quarrel,
and some picture which caused a dispute was reserved for the evening
revision. Two men, holding a cord some thirty feet long, kept it
stretched at a distance of four paces from the line of pictures, so as
to restrain the committee-men, who kept on pushing each other in the
heat of their dispute, and whose stomachs, despite everything, were
ever pressing against the cord. Behind the committee marched seventy
museum-keepers in white blouses, executing evolutions under the
orders of a brigadier. At each decision communicated to them by the
secretaries, they sorted the pictures, the accepted paintings being
separated from the rejected ones, which were carried off like corpses
after a battle. And the round lasted during two long hours, without a
moment’s respite, and without there being a single chair to sit upon.
The committee-men had to remain on their legs, tramping on in a tired
way amid icy draughts, which compelled even the least chilly among them
to bury their noses in the depths of their fur-lined overcoats.

Then the three o’clock snack proved very welcome: there was half an
hour’s rest at a buffet, where claret, chocolate, and sandwiches could
be obtained. It was there that the market of mutual concessions was
held, that the bartering of influence and votes was carried on. In order
that nobody might be forgotten amid the hailstorm of applications which
fell upon the committee-men, most of them carried little note-books,
which they consulted; and they promised to vote for certain exhibitors
whom a colleague protected on condition that this colleague voted for
the ones in whom they were interested. Others, however, taking no part
in these intrigues, either from austerity or indifference, finished the
interval in smoking a cigarette and gazing vacantly about them.

Then the work began again, but more agreeably, in a gallery where
there were chairs, and even tables with pens and paper and ink. All the
pictures whose height did not reach four feet ten inches were judged
there--‘passed on the easel,’ as the expression goes--being ranged, ten
or twelve together, on a kind of trestle covered with green baize. A
good many committee-men then grew absent-minded, several wrote their
letters, and the president had to get angry to obtain presentable
majorities. Sometimes a gust of passion swept by; they all jostled each
other; the votes, usually given by raising the hand, took place amid
such feverish excitement that hats and walking-sticks were waved in the
air above the tumultuous surging of heads.

And it was there, ‘on the easel,’ that ‘The Dead Child’ at last made its
appearance. During the previous week Fagerolles, whose pocket-book was
full of memoranda, had resorted to all kinds of complicated bartering
in order to obtain votes in Claude’s favour; but it was a difficult
business, it did not tally with his other engagements, and he only met
with refusals as soon as he mentioned his friend’s name. He complained,
moreover, that he could get no help from Bongrand, who did not carry a
pocket-book, and who was so clumsy, too, that he spoilt the best causes
by his outbursts of unseasonable frankness. A score of times already
would Fagerolles have forsaken Claude, had it not been for his obstinate
desire to try his power over his colleagues by asking for the admittance
of a work by Lantier, which was a reputed impossibility. However, people
should see if he wasn’t yet strong enough to force the committee into
compliance with his wishes. Moreover, perhaps from the depths of his
conscience there came a cry for justice, an unconfessed feeling of
respect for the man whose ideas he had stolen.

As it happened, Mazel was in a frightfully bad humour that day. At the
outset of the sitting the brigadier had come to him, saying: ‘There
was a mistake yesterday, Monsieur Mazel. A _hors-concours_* picture was
rejected. You know, No. 2520, a nude woman under a tree.’

  * A painting by one of those artists who, from the fact that they
    had obtained medals at previous Salons, had the right to go on
    exhibiting at long as they lived, the committee being debarred
    from rejecting their work however bad it might be.--ED.

In fact, on the day before, this painting had been consigned to the
grave amid unanimous contempt, nobody having noticed that it was the
work of an old classical painter highly respected by the Institute; and
the brigadier’s fright, and the amusing circumstance of a picture having
thus been condemned by mistake, enlivened the younger members of the
committee and made them sneer in a provoking manner.

Mazel, who detested such mishaps, which he rightly felt were disastrous
for the authority of the School of Arts, made an angry gesture, and
drily said:

‘Well, fish it out again, and put it among the admitted pictures. It
isn’t so surprising, there was an intolerable noise yesterday. How can
one judge anything like that at a gallop, when one can’t even obtain
silence?’

He rang his bell furiously, and added:

‘Come, gentlemen, everything is ready--a little good will, if you
please.’

Unluckily, a fresh misfortune occurred as soon as the first paintings
were set on the trestle. One canvas among others attracted Mazel’s
attention, so bad did he consider it, so sharp in tone as to make one’s
very teeth grate. As his sight was failing him, he leant forward to look
at the signature, muttering the while: ‘Who’s the pig--’

But he quickly drew himself up, quite shocked at having read the name
of one of his friends, an artist who, like himself, was a rampart of
healthy principles. Hoping that he had not been overheard, he thereupon
called out:

‘Superb! No. 1, eh, gentlemen?’

No. 1 was granted--the formula of admission which entitled the picture
to be hung on the line. Only, some of the committee-men laughed and
nudged each other, at which Mazel felt very hurt, and became very
fierce.

Moreover, they all made such blunders at times. A great many of them
eased their feelings at the first glance, and then recalled their words
as soon as they had deciphered the signature. This ended by making them
cautious, and so with furtive glances they made sure of the artist’s
name before expressing any opinion. Besides, whenever a colleague’s
work, some fellow committee-man’s suspicious-looking canvas, was brought
forward, they took the precaution to warn each other by making signs
behind the painter’s back, as if to say, ‘Take care, no mistake, mind;
it’s his picture.’

Fagerolles, despite his colleagues’ fidgety nerves, carried the day on
a first occasion. It was a question of admitting a frightful portrait
painted by one of his pupils, whose family, a very wealthy one, received
him on a footing of intimacy. To achieve this he had taken Mazel on
one side in order to try to move him with a sentimental story about
an unfortunate father with three daughters, who were starving. But the
president let himself be entreated for a long while, saying that a man
shouldn’t waste his time painting when he was dying for lack of food,
and that he ought to have a little more consideration for his three
daughters! However, in the result, Mazel raised his hand, alone, with
Fagerolles. Some of the others then angrily protested, and even
two members of the Institute seemed disgusted, whereupon Fagerolles
whispered to them in a low key:

‘It’s for Mazel! He begged me to vote. The painter’s a relative of his,
I think; at all events, he greatly wants the picture to be accepted.’

At this the two academicians promptly raised their hands, and a large
majority declared itself in favour of the portrait.

But all at once laughter, witticisms, and indignant cries rang out: ‘The
Dead Child’ had just been placed on the trestle. Were they to have the
Morgue sent to them now? said some. And while the old men drew back
in alarm, the younger ones scoffed at the child’s big head, which was
plainly that of a monkey who had died from trying to swallow a gourd.

Fagerolles at once understood that the game was lost. At first he
tried to spirit the vote away by a joke, in accordance with his skilful
tactics:

‘Come, gentlemen, an old combatant--’

But furious exclamations cut him short. Oh, no! not that one. They
knew him, that old combatant! A madman who had been persevering in his
obstinacy for fifteen years past--a proud, stuck-up fellow who posed for
being a genius, and who had talked about demolishing the Salon, without
even sending a picture that it was possible to accept. All their hatred
of independent originality, of the competition of the ‘shop over the
way,’ which frightened them, of that invincible power which triumphs
even when it is seemingly defeated, resounded in their voices. No, no;
away with it!

Then Fagerolles himself made the mistake of getting irritated, yielding
to the anger he felt at finding what little real influence he possessed.

‘You are unjust; at least, be impartial,’ he said.

Thereupon the tumult reached a climax. He was surrounded and jostled,
arms waved about him in threatening fashion, and angry words were shot
out at him like bullets.

‘You dishonour the committee, monsieur!’

‘If you defend that thing, it’s simply to get your name in the
newspapers!’

‘You aren’t competent to speak on the subject!’

Then Fagerolles, beside himself, losing even the pliancy of his
bantering disposition, retorted:

‘I’m as competent as you are.’

‘Shut up!’ resumed a comrade, a very irascible little painter with a
fair complexion. ‘You surely don’t want to make us swallow such a turnip
as that?’

Yes, yes, a turnip! They all repeated the word in tones of
conviction--that word which they usually cast at the very worst smudges,
at the pale, cold, glairy painting of daubers.

‘All right,’ at last said Fagerolles, clenching his teeth. ‘I demand the
vote.’

Since the discussion had become envenomed, Mazel had been ringing his
bell, extremely flushed at finding his authority ignored.

‘Gentlemen--come, gentlemen; it’s extraordinary that one can’t settle
matters without shouting--I beg of you, gentlemen--’

At last he obtained a little silence. In reality, he was not a
bad-hearted man. Why should not they admit that little picture, although
he himself thought it execrable? They admitted so many others!

‘Come, gentlemen, the vote is asked for.’

He himself was, perhaps, about to raise his hand, when Bongrand, who
had hitherto remained silent, with the blood rising to his cheeks in the
anger he was trying to restrain, abruptly went off like a pop-gun,
most unseasonably giving vent to the protestations of his rebellious
conscience.

‘But, curse it all! there are not four among us capable of turning out
such a piece of work!’

Some grunts sped around; but the sledge-hammer blow had come upon them
with such force that nobody answered.

‘Gentlemen, the vote is asked for,’ curtly repeated Mazel, who had
turned pale.

His tone sufficed to explain everything: it expressed all his latent
hatred of Bongrand, the fierce rivalry that lay hidden under their
seemingly good-natured handshakes.

Things rarely came to such a pass as this. They almost always arranged
matters. But in the depths of their ravaged pride there were wounds
which always bled; they secretly waged duels which tortured them with
agony, despite the smile upon their lips.

Bongrand and Fagerolles alone raised their hands, and ‘The Dead Child,’
being rejected, could only perhaps be rescued at the general revision.

This general revision was the terrible part of the task. Although, after
twenty days’ continuous toil, the committee allowed itself forty-eight
hours’ rest, so as to enable the keepers to prepare the final work,
it could not help shuddering on the afternoon when it came upon the
assemblage of three thousand rejected paintings, from among which it
had to rescue as many canvases as were necessary for the then regulation
total of two thousand five hundred admitted works to be complete. Ah!
those three thousand pictures, placed one after the other alongside the
walls of all the galleries, including the outer one, deposited also even
on the floors, and lying there like stagnant pools, between which the
attendants devised little paths--they were like an inundation, a deluge,
which rose up, streamed over the whole Palais de l’Industrie, and
submerged it beneath the murky flow of all the mediocrity and madness
to be found in the river of Art. And but a single afternoon sitting was
held, from one till seven o’clock--six hours of wild galloping through
a maze! At first they held out against fatigue and strove to keep their
vision clear; but the forced march soon made their legs give way, their
eyesight was irritated by all the dancing colours, and yet it was still
necessary to march on, to look and judge, even until they broke down
with fatigue. By four o’clock the march was like a rout--the scattering
of a defeated army. Some committee-men, out of breath, dragged
themselves along very far in the rear; others, isolated, lost amid the
frames, followed the narrow paths, renouncing all prospect of emerging
from them, turning round and round without any hope of ever getting to
the end! How could they be just and impartial, good heavens? What
could they select from amid that heap of horrors? Without clearly
distinguishing a landscape from a portrait, they made up the number
they required in pot-luck fashion. Two hundred, two hundred and
forty--another eight, they still wanted eight more. That one? No, that
other. As you like! Seven, eight, it was over! At last they had got to
the end, and they hobbled away, saved--free!

In one gallery a fresh scene drew them once more round ‘The Dead Child,’
lying on the floor among other waifs. But this time they jested. A joker
pretended to stumble and set his foot in the middle of the canvas, while
others trotted along the surrounding little paths, as if trying to find
out which was the picture’s top and which its bottom, and declaring that
it looked much better topsy-turvy.

Fagerolles himself also began to joke.

‘Come, a little courage, gentlemen; go the round, examine it, you’ll be
repaid for your trouble. Really now, gentlemen, be kind, rescue it; pray
do that good action!’

They all grew merry in listening to him, but with cruel laughter they
refused more harshly than ever. ‘No, no, never!’

‘Will you take it for your “charity”?’ cried a comrade.

This was a custom; the committee-men had a right to a ‘charity’; each
of them could select a canvas among the lot, no matter how execrable it
might be, and it was thereupon admitted without examination. As a rule,
the bounty of this admission was bestowed upon poor artists. The forty
paintings thus rescued at the eleventh hour, were those of the beggars
at the door--those whom one allowed to glide with empty stomachs to the
far end of the table.

‘For my “charity,”’ repeated Fagerolles, feeling very much embarrassed;
‘the fact is, I meant to take another painting for my “charity.” Yes,
some flowers by a lady--’

He was interrupted by loud jeers. Was she pretty? In front of the
women’s paintings the gentlemen were particularly prone to sneer, never
displaying the least gallantry. And Fagerolles remained perplexed, for
the ‘lady’ in question was a person whom Irma took an interest in. He
trembled at the idea of the terrible scene which would ensue should he
fail to keep his promise. An expedient occurred to him.

‘Well, and you, Bongrand? You might very well take this funny little
dead child for your charity.’

Bongrand, wounded to the heart, indignant at all the bartering, waved
his long arms:

‘What! _I_? _I_ insult a real painter in that fashion? Let him be
prouder, dash it, and never send anything to the Salon!’

Then, as the others still went on sneering, Fagerolles, desirous that
victory should remain to him, made up his mind, with a proud air, like
a man who is conscious of his strength and does not fear being
compromised.

‘All right, I’ll take it for my “charity,”’ he said.

The others shouted bravo, and gave him a bantering ovation, with a
series of profound bows and numerous handshakes. All honour to the brave
fellow who had the courage of his opinions! And an attendant carried
away in his arms the poor derided, jolted, soiled canvas; and thus
it was that a picture by the painter of ‘In the Open Air’ was at last
accepted by the hanging committee of the Salon.

On the very next morning a note from Fagerolles apprised Claude, in
a couple of lines, that he had succeeded in getting ‘The Dead Child’
admitted, but that it had not been managed without trouble. Claude,
despite the gladness of the tidings, felt a pang at his heart; the note
was so brief, and was written in such a protecting, pitying style, that
all the humiliating features of the business were apparent to him. For
a moment he felt sorry over this victory, so much so that he would have
liked to take his work back and hide it. Then his delicacy of feeling,
his artistic pride again gave way, so much did protracted waiting for
success make his wretched heart bleed. Ah! to be seen, to make his
way despite everything! He had reached the point when conscience
capitulates; he once more began to long for the opening of the Salon
with all the feverish impatience of a beginner, again living in a state
of illusion which showed him a crowd, a press of moving heads acclaiming
his canvas.

By degrees Paris had made it the fashion to patronise ‘varnishing
day’--that day formerly set aside for painters only to come and finish
the toilets of their pictures. Now, however, it was like a feast of
early fruit, one of those solemnities which set the city agog and
attract a tremendous crowd. For a week past the newspaper press, the
streets, and the public had belonged to the artists. They held Paris in
their grasp; the only matters talked of were themselves, their exhibits,
their sayings or doings--in fact, everything connected with them. It
was one of those infatuations which at last draw bands of country
folk, common soldiers, and even nursemaids to the galleries on days
of gratuitous admission, in such wise that fifty thousand visitors are
recorded on some fine Sundays, an entire army, all the rear battalions
of the ignorant lower orders, following society, and marching, with
dilated eyes, through that vast picture shop.

That famous ‘varnishing day’ at first frightened Claude, who was
intimidated by the thought of all the fine people whom the newspapers
spoke about, and he resolved to wait for the more democratic day of
the real inauguration. He even refused to accompany Sandoz. But he was
consumed by such a fever, that after all he started off abruptly at
eight o’clock in the morning, barely taking time to eat a bit of bread
and cheese beforehand. Christine, who lacked the courage to go with him,
kissed him again and again, feeling anxious and moved.

‘Mind, my dear, don’t worry, whatever happens,’ said she.

Claude felt somewhat oppressed as he entered the Gallery of Honour. His
heart was beating fast from the swiftness with which he had climbed the
grand staircase. There was a limpid May sky out of doors, and through
the linen awnings, stretched under the glazed roof, there filtered a
bright white light, while the open doorways, communicating with the
garden gallery, admitted moist gusts of quivering freshness. For a
moment Claude drew breath in that atmosphere which was already tainted
with a vague smell of varnish and the odour of the musk with which the
women present perfumed themselves. At a glance he took stock of the
pictures on the walls: a huge massacre scene in front of him, streaming
with carmine; a colossal, pallid, religious picture on his left;
a Government order, the commonplace delineation of some official
festivity, on the right; and then a variety of portraits, landscapes,
and indoor scenes, all glaring sharply amid the fresh gilding of their
frames. However, the fear which he retained of the folks usually present
at this solemnity led him to direct his glances upon the gradually
increasing crowd. On a circular settee in the centre of the gallery,
from which sprang a sheaf of tropical foliage, there sat three ladies,
three monstrously fat creatures, attired in an abominable fashion, who
had settled there to indulge in a whole day’s backbiting. Behind him
he heard somebody crushing harsh syllables in a hoarse voice. It was an
Englishman in a check-pattern jacket, explaining the massacre scene to
a yellow woman buried in the depths of a travelling ulster. There were
some vacant spaces; groups of people formed, scattered, and formed again
further on; all heads were raised; the men carried walking-sticks and
had overcoats on their arms, the women strolled about slowly, showing
distant profiles as they stopped before the pictures; and Claude’s
artistic eye was caught by the flowers in their hats and bonnets, which
seemed very loud in tint amid the dark waves of the men’s silk hats.
He perceived three priests, two common soldiers who had found their
way there no one knew whence, some endless processions of gentlemen
decorated with the ribbon of the Legion of Honour, and troops of girls
and their mothers, who constantly impeded the circulation. However, a
good many of these people knew each other; there were smiles and bows
from afar, at times a rapid handshake in passing. And conversation was
carried on in a discreet tone of voice, above which rose the continuous
tramping of feet.

Then Claude began to look for his own picture. He tried to find his way
by means of the initial letters inscribed above the entrances of the
galleries, but made a mistake, and went through those on the left hand.
There was a succession of open entrances, a perspective of old tapestry
door-hangings, with glimpses of the distant pictures. He went as far
as the great western gallery, and came back by the parallel suite of
smaller galleries without finding that allotted to the letter L. And
when he reached the Gallery of Honour again, the crowd had greatly
increased. In fact, it was now scarcely possible for one to move about
there. Being unable to advance, he looked around, and recognised a
number of painters, that nation of painters which was at home there
that day, and was therefore doing the honours of its abode. Claude
particularly remarked an old friend of the Boutin Studio--a young fellow
consumed with the desire to advertise himself, who had been working for
a medal, and who was now pouncing upon all the visitors possessed of any
influence and forcibly taking them to see his pictures. Then there was a
celebrated and wealthy painter who received his visitors in front of his
work with a smile of triumph on his lips, showing himself compromisingly
gallant with the ladies, who formed quite a court around him. And there
were all the others: the rivals who execrated one another, although they
shouted words of praise in full voices; the savage fellows who covertly
watched their comrades’ success from the corner of a doorway; the timid
ones whom one could not for an empire induce to pass through the
gallery where their pictures were hung; the jokers who hid the bitter
mortification of their defeat under an amusing witticism; the sincere
ones who were absorbed in contemplation, trying to understand the
various works, and already in fancy distributing the medals. And
the painters’ families were also there. One charming young woman was
accompanied by a coquettishly bedecked child; a sour-looking, skinny
matron of middle-class birth was flanked by two ugly urchins in black;
a fat mother had foundered on a bench amid quite a tribe of dirty brats;
and a lady of mature charms, still very good-looking, stood beside her
grown-up daughter, quietly watching a hussy pass--this hussy being the
father’s mistress. And then there were also the models--women who pulled
one another by the sleeve, who showed one another their own forms in the
various pictorial nudities, talking very loudly the while and dressed
without taste, spoiling their superb figures by such wretched gowns
that they seemed to be hump-backed beside the well-dressed dolls--those
Parisiennes who owed their figures entirely to their dressmakers.

When Claude got free of the crowd, he enfiladed the line of doorways
on the right hand. His letter was on that side; but he searched the
galleries marked with an L without finding anything. Perhaps his canvas
had gone astray and served to fill up a vacancy elsewhere. So when he
had reached the large eastern gallery, he set off along a number of
other little ones, a secluded suite visited by very few people, where
the pictures seemed to frown with boredom. And there again he found
nothing. Bewildered, distracted, he roamed about, went on to the garden
gallery, searching among the superabundant exhibits which overflowed
there, pallid and shivering in the crude light; and eventually, after
other distant excursions, he tumbled into the Gallery of Honour for the
third time.

There was now quite a crush there. All those who in any way create a
stir in Paris were assembled together--the celebrities, the wealthy, the
adored, talent, money and grace, the masters of romance, of the drama
and of journalism, clubmen, racing men and speculators, women of every
category, hussies, actresses and society belles. And Claude, angered by
his vain search, grew amazed at the vulgarity of the faces thus massed
together, at the incongruity of the toilets--but a few of which were
elegant, while so many were common looking--at the lack of majesty which
that vaunted ‘society’ displayed, to such a point, indeed, that the fear
which had made him tremble was changed into contempt. Were these the
people, then, who were going to jeer at his picture, provided it were
found again? Two little reporters with fair complexions were completing
a list of persons whose names they intended to mention. A critic
pretended to take some notes on the margin of his catalogue; another
was holding forth in professor’s style in the centre of a party of
beginners; a third, all by himself, with his hands behind his back,
seemed rooted to one spot, crushing each work beneath his august
impassibility. And what especially struck Claude was the jostling
flock-like behaviour of the people, their banded curiosity in which
there was nothing youthful or passionate, the bitterness of their
voices, the weariness to be read on their faces, their general
appearance of suffering. Envy was already at work; there was the
gentleman who makes himself witty with the ladies; the one who, without
a word, looks, gives a terrible shrug of the shoulders, and then goes
off; and there were the two who remain for a quarter of an hour leaning
over the handrail, with their noses close to a little canvas, whispering
very low and exchanging the knowing glances of conspirators.

But Fagerolles had just appeared, and amid the continuous ebb and flow
of the groups there seemed to be no one left but him. With his hand
outstretched, he seemed to show himself everywhere at the same time,
lavishly exerting himself to play the double part of a young ‘master’
and an influential member of the hanging committee. Overwhelmed with
praise, thanks, and complaints, he had an answer ready for everybody
without losing aught of his affability. Since early morning he had been
resisting the assault of the petty painters of his set who found their
pictures badly hung. It was the usual scamper of the first moment,
everybody looking for everybody else, rushing to see one another and
bursting into recriminations--noisy, interminable fury. Either the
picture was too high up, or the light did not fall upon it properly,
or the paintings near it destroyed its effect; in fact, some talked of
unhooking their works and carrying them off. One tall thin fellow
was especially tenacious, going from gallery to gallery in pursuit of
Fagerolles, who vainly explained that he was innocent in the matter and
could do nothing. Numerical order was followed, the pictures for each
wall were deposited on the floor below and then hung up without anybody
being favoured. He carried his obligingness so far as to promise his
intervention when the galleries were rearranged after the medals had
been awarded; but even then he did not manage to calm the tall thin
fellow, who still continued pursuing him.

Claude for a moment elbowed his way through the crowd to go and ask
Fagerolles where his picture had been hung. But on seeing his friend
so surrounded, pride restrained him. Was there not something absurd and
painful about this constant need of another’s help? Besides, he suddenly
reflected that he must have skipped a whole suite of galleries on the
right-hand side; and, indeed, there were fresh leagues of painting
there. He ended by reaching a gallery where a stifling crowd was massed
in front of a large picture which filled the central panel of honour.
At first he could not see it, there was such a surging sea of shoulders,
such a thick wall of heads, such a rampart of hats. People rushed
forward with gaping admiration. At length, however, by dint of rising on
tiptoe, he perceived the marvel, and recognised the subject, by what had
been told him.

It was Fagerolles’ picture. And in that ‘Picnic’ he found his own
forgotten work, ‘In the Open Air,’ the same light key of colour, the
same artistic formula, but softened, trickishly rendered, spoilt by
skin-deep elegance, everything being ‘arranged’ with infinite skill to
satisfy the low ideal of the public. Fagerolles had not made the mistake
of stripping his three women; but, clad in the audacious toilets of
women of society, they showed no little of their persons. As for the two
gallant gentlemen in summer jackets beside them, they realised the ideal
of everything most _distingue_; while afar off a footman was pulling a
hamper off the box of a landau drawn up behind the trees. The whole
of it, the figures, the drapery, the bits of still life of the repast,
stood out gaily in full sunlight against the darkened foliage of the
background; and the supreme skill of the painter lay in his pretended
audacity, in a mendacious semblance of forcible treatment which just
sufficed to send the multitude into ecstasies. It was like a storm in a
cream-jug!

Claude, being unable to approach, listened to the remarks around him.
At last there was a man who depicted real truth! He did not press
his points like those fools of the new school; he knew how to convey
everything without showing anything. Ah! the art of knowing where to
draw the line, the art of letting things be guessed, the respect due to
the public, the approval of good society! And withal such delicacy, such
charm and art! He did not unseasonably deliver himself of passionate
things of exuberant design; no, when he had taken three notes from
nature, he gave those three notes, nothing more. A newspaper man who
arrived went into raptures over the ‘Picnic,’ and coined the expression
‘a very Parisian style of painting.’ It was repeated, and people no
longer passed without declaring that the picture was ‘very Parisian’
indeed.

All those bent shoulders, all those admiring remarks rising from a sea
of spines, ended by exasperating Claude; and seized with a longing to
see the faces of the folk who created success, he manoeuvred in such a
way as to lean his back against the handrail hard by. From that point,
he had the public in front of him in the grey light filtering through
the linen awning which kept the centre of the gallery in shade; whilst
the brighter light, gliding from the edges of the blinds, illumined the
paintings on the walls with a white flow, in which the gilding of the
frames acquired a warm sunshiny tint. Claude at once recognised the
people who had formerly derided him--if these were not the same, they
were at least their relatives--serious, however, and enraptured, their
appearance greatly improved by their respectful attention. The evil
look, the weariness, which he had at first remarked on their faces, as
envious bile drew their skin together and dyed it yellow, disappeared
here while they enjoyed the treat of an amiable lie. Two fat ladies,
open-mouthed, were yawning with satisfaction. Some old gentlemen opened
their eyes wide with a knowing air. A husband explained the subject to
his young wife, who jogged her chin with a pretty motion of the neck.
There was every kind of marvelling, beatifical, astonished, profound,
gay, austere, amidst unconscious smiles and languid postures of the
head. The men threw back their black silk hats, the flowers in the
women’s bonnets glided to the napes of their necks. And all the faces,
after remaining motionless for a moment, were then drawn aside and
replaced by others exactly like them.

Then Claude, stupefied by that triumph, virtually forgot everything
else. The gallery was becoming too small, fresh bands of people
constantly accumulated inside it. There were no more vacant spaces, as
there had been early in the morning; no more cool whiffs rose from
the garden amid the ambient smell of varnish; the atmosphere was now
becoming hot and bitter with the perfumes scattered by the women’s
dresses. Before long the predominant odour suggested that of a wet dog.
It must have been raining outside; one of those sudden spring showers
had no doubt fallen, for the last arrivals brought moisture with
them--their clothes hung about them heavily and seemed to steam as soon
as they encountered the heat of the gallery. And, indeed, patches of
darkness had for a moment been passing above the awning of the roof.
Claude, who raised his eyes, guessed that large clouds were galloping
onward lashed by the north wind, that driving rain was beating upon
the glass panes. Moire-like shadows darted along the walls, all
the paintings became dim, the spectators themselves were blended in
obscurity until the cloud was carried away, whereupon the painter
saw the heads again emerge from the twilight, ever agape with idiotic
rapture.

But there was another cup of bitterness in reserve for Claude. On the
left-hand panel, facing Fagerolles’, he perceived Bongrand’s picture.
And in front of that painting there was no crush whatever; the visitors
walked by with an air of indifference. Yet it was Bongrand’s supreme
effort, the thrust he had been trying to give for years, a last work
conceived in his obstinate craving to prove the virility of his decline.
The hatred he harboured against the ‘Village Wedding,’ that first
masterpiece which had weighed upon all his toilsome after-life, had
impelled him to select a contrasting but corresponding subject: the
‘Village Funeral’--the funeral of a young girl, with relatives and
friends straggling among fields of rye and oats. Bongrand had wrestled
with himself, saying that people should see if he were done for, if the
experience of his sixty years were not worth all the lucky dash of his
youth; and now experience was defeated, the picture was destined to be
a mournful failure, like the silent fall of an old man, which does
not even stay passers-by in their onward course. There were still some
masterly bits, the choirboy holding the cross, the group of daughters
of the Virgin carrying the bier, whose white dresses and ruddy flesh
furnished a pretty contrast with the black Sunday toggery of the rustic
mourners, among all the green stuff; only the priest in his alb, the
girl carrying the Virgin’s banner, the family following the body, were
drily handled; the whole picture, in fact, was displeasing in its very
science and the obstinate stiffness of its treatment. One found in it a
fatal, unconscious return to the troubled romanticism which had been the
starting-point of the painter’s career. And the worst of the business
was that there was justification for the indifference with which the
public treated that art of another period, that cooked and somewhat dull
style of painting, which no longer stopped one on one’s way, since great
blazes of light had come into vogue.

It precisely happened that Bongrand entered the gallery with the
hesitating step of a timid beginner, and Claude felt a pang at his heart
as he saw him give a glance at his neglected picture and then another
at Fagerolles’, which was bringing on a riot. At that moment the old
painter must have been acutely conscious of his fall. If he had so
far been devoured by the fear of slow decline, it was because he still
doubted; and now he obtained sudden certainty; he was surviving his
reputation, his talent was dead, he would never more give birth to
living, palpitating works. He became very pale, and was about to turn
and flee, when Chambouvard, the sculptor, entering the gallery by the
other door, followed by his customary train of disciples, called to him
without caring a fig for the people present:

‘Ah! you humbug, I catch you at it--admiring yourself!’

He, Chambouvard, exhibited that year an execrable ‘Reaping Woman,’ one
of those stupidly spoilt figures which seemed like hoaxes on his part,
so unworthy they were of his powerful hands; but he was none the less
radiant, feeling certain that he had turned out yet another masterpiece,
and promenading his god-like infallibility through the crowd which he
did not hear laughing at him.

Bongrand did not answer, but looked at him with eyes scorched by fever.

‘And my machine downstairs?’ continued the sculptor. ‘Have you seen
it? The little fellows of nowadays may try it on, but we are the only
masters--we, old France!’

And thereupon he went off, followed by his court and bowing to the
astonished public.

‘The brute!’ muttered Bongrand, suffocating with grief, as indignant as
at the outburst of some low-bred fellow beside a deathbed.

He perceived Claude, and approached him. Was it not cowardly to flee
from this gallery? And he determined to show his courage, his lofty
soul, into which envy had never entered.

‘Our friend Fagerolles has a success and no mistake,’ he said. ‘I
should be a hypocrite if I went into ecstasies over his picture, which
I scarcely like; but he himself is really a very nice fellow indeed.
Besides, you know how he exerted himself on your behalf.’

Claude was trying to find a word of admiration for the ‘Village
Funeral.’

‘The little cemetery in the background is so pretty!’ he said at last.
‘Is it possible that the public--’

But Bongrand interrupted him in a rough voice:

‘No compliments of condolence, my friend, eh? I see clear enough.’

At this moment somebody nodded to them in a familiar way, and Claude
recognised Naudet--a Naudet who had grown and expanded, gilded by the
success of his colossal strokes of business. Ambition was turning his
head; he talked about sinking all the other picture dealers; he had
built himself a palace, in which he posed as the king of the market,
centralising masterpieces, and there opening large art shops of the
modern style. One heard a jingle of millions on the very threshold
of his hall; he held exhibitions there, even ran up other galleries
elsewhere; and each time that May came round, he awaited the visits
of the American amateurs whom he charged fifty thousand francs for a
picture which he himself had purchased for ten thousand. Moreover, he
lived in princely style, with a wife and children, a mistress, a country
estate in Picardy, and extensive shooting grounds. His first large
profits had come from the rise in value of works left by illustrious
artists, now defunct, whose talent had been denied while they lived,
such as Courbet, Millet, and Rousseau; and this had ended by making
him disdain any picture signed by a still struggling artist. However,
ominous rumours were already in circulation. As the number of well-known
pictures was limited, and the number of amateurs could barely be
increased, a time seemed to be coming when business would prove very
difficult. There was talk of a syndicate, of an understanding with
certain bankers to keep up the present high prices; the expedient of
simulated sales was resorted to at the Hotel Drouot--pictures being
bought in at a big figure by the dealer himself--and bankruptcy seemed
to be at the end of all that Stock Exchange jobbery, a perfect tumble
head-over-heels after all the excessive, mendacious _agiotage_.

‘Good-day, dear master,’ said Naudet, who had drawn near. ‘So you have
come, like everybody else, to see my Fagerolles, eh?’

He no longer treated Bongrand in the wheedling, respectful manner of
yore. And he spoke of Fagerolles as of a painter belonging to him, of a
workman to whom he paid wages, and whom he often scolded. It was he who
had settled the young artist in the Avenue de Villiers, compelling him
to have a little mansion of his own, furnishing it as he would have
furnished a place for a hussy, running him into debt with supplies of
carpets and nick-nacks, so that he might afterwards hold him at his
mercy; and now he began to accuse him of lacking orderliness and
seriousness, of compromising himself like a feather-brain. Take that
picture, for instance, a serious painter would never have sent it to the
Salon; it made a stir, no doubt, and people even talked of its obtaining
the medal of honour; but nothing could have a worse effect on high
prices. When a man wanted to get hold of the Yankees, he ought to know
how to remain at home, like an idol in the depths of his tabernacle.

‘You may believe me or not, my dear fellow,’ he said to Bongrand, ‘but
I would have given twenty thousand francs out of my pocket to prevent
those stupid newspapers from making all this row about my Fagerolles
this year.’

Bongrand, who, despite his sufferings, was listening bravely, smiled.

‘In point of fact,’ he said, ‘they are perhaps carrying indiscretion too
far. I read an article yesterday in which I learnt that Fagerolles ate
two boiled eggs every morning.’

He laughed over the coarse puffery which, after a first article on the
‘young master’s’ picture, as yet seen by nobody, had for a week past
kept all Paris occupied about him. The whole fraternity of reporters
had been campaigning, stripping Fagerolles to the skin, telling their
readers all about his father, the artistic zinc manufacturer, his
education, the house in which he resided, how he lived, even revealing
the colour of his socks, and mentioning a habit he had of pinching his
nose. And he was the passion of the hour, the ‘young master’ according
to the tastes of the day, one who had been lucky enough to miss the
Prix de Rome, and break off with the School of Arts, whose principles,
however, he retained. After all, the success of that style of painting
which aims merely at approximating reality, not at rendering it in all
its truth, was the fortune of a season which the wind brings and blows
away again, a mere whim on the part of the great lunatic city; the stir
it caused was like that occasioned by some accident, which upsets
the crowd in the morning and is forgotten by night amidst general
indifference.

However, Naudet noticed the ‘Village Funeral.’

‘Hullo! that’s your picture, eh?’ he said. ‘So you wanted to give a
companion to the “Wedding”? Well, I should have tried to dissuade you!
Ah! the “Wedding”! the “Wedding”!’

Bongrand still listened to him without ceasing to smile. Barely a twinge
of pain passed over his trembling lips. He forgot his masterpieces,
the certainty of leaving an immortal name, he was only cognisant of the
vogue which that youngster, unworthy of cleaning his palette, had so
suddenly and easily acquired, that vogue which seemed to be pushing him,
Bongrand, into oblivion--he who had struggled for ten years before he
had succeeded in making himself known. Ah! when the new generations
bury a man, if they only knew what tears of blood they make him shed in
death!

However, as he had remained silent, he was seized with the fear that he
might have let his suffering be divined. Was he falling to the baseness
of envy? Anger with himself made him raise his head--a man should die
erect. And instead of giving the violent answer which was rising to his
lips, he said in a familiar way:

‘You are right, Naudet, I should have done better if I had gone to bed
on the day when the idea of that picture occurred to me.’

‘Ah! there he is; excuse me!’ cried the dealer, making off.

It was Fagerolles showing himself at the entrance of the gallery. He
discreetly stood there without entering, carrying his good fortune with
the ease of a man who knows what he is about. Besides, he was looking
for somebody; he made a sign to a young man, and gave him an answer,
a favourable one, no doubt, for the other brimmed over with gratitude.
Then two other persons sprang forward to congratulate him; a woman
detained him, showing him, with a martyr’s gesture, a bit of still life
hung in a dark corner. And finally he disappeared, after casting but one
glance at the people in raptures before his picture.

Claude, who had looked and listened, was overwhelmed with sadness.
The crush was still increasing, he now had nought before him but faces
gaping and sweating in the heat, which had become intolerable. Above the
nearer shoulders rose others, and so on and so on as far as the door,
whence those who could see nothing pointed out the painting to each
other with the tips of their umbrellas, from which dripped the water
left by the showers outside. And Bongrand remained there out of pride,
erect in defeat, firmly planted on his legs, those of an old combatant,
and gazing with limpid eyes upon ungrateful Paris. He wished to finish
like a brave man, whose kindness of heart is boundless. Claude, who
spoke to him without receiving any answer, saw very well that there was
nothing behind that calm, gay face; the mind was absent, it had flown
away in mourning, bleeding with frightful torture; and thereupon, full
of alarm and respect, he did not insist, but went off. And Bongrand,
with his vacant eyes, did not even notice his departure.

A new idea had just impelled Claude onward through the crowd. He was
lost in wonderment at not having been able to discover his picture. But
nothing could be more simple. Was there not some gallery where people
grinned, some corner full of noise and banter, some gathering of jesting
spectators, insulting a picture? That picture would assuredly be his. He
could still hear the laughter of the bygone Salon of the Rejected. And
now at the door of each gallery he listened to ascertain if it were
there that he was being hissed.

However, as he found himself once more in the eastern gallery, that hall
where great art agonises, that depository where vast, cold, and gloomy
historical and religious compositions are accumulated, he started, and
remained motionless with his eyes turned upward. He had passed through
that gallery twice already, and yet that was certainly his picture up
yonder, so high up that he hesitated about recognising it. It looked,
indeed, so little, poised like a swallow at the corner of a frame--the
monumental frame of an immense painting five-and-thirty feet long,
representing the Deluge, a swarming of yellow figures turning
topsy-turvy in water of the hue of wine lees. On the left, moreover,
there was a pitiable ashen portrait of a general; on the right a
colossal nymph in a moonlit landscape, the bloodless corpse of a
murdered woman rotting away on some grass; and everywhere around there
were mournful violet-shaded things, mixed up with a comic scene of some
bibulous monks, and an ‘Opening of the Chamber of Deputies,’ with a
whole page of writing on a gilded cartouch, bearing the heads of the
better-known deputies, drawn in outline, together with their names.
And high up, high up, amid those livid neighbours, the little canvas,
over-coarse in treatment, glared ferociously with the painful grimace of
a monster.

Ah! ‘The Dead Child.’ At that distance the wretched little creature was
but a confused lump of flesh, the lifeless carcase of some shapeless
animal. Was that swollen, whitened head a skull or a stomach? And those
poor hands twisted among the bedclothes, like the bent claws of a bird
killed by cold! And the bed itself, that pallidity of the sheets, below
the pallidity of the limbs, all that white looking so sad, those tints
fading away as if typical of the supreme end! Afterwards, however, one
distinguished the light eyes staring fixedly, one recognised a child’s
head, and it all seemed to suggest some disease of the brain, profoundly
and frightfully pitiful.

Claude approached, and then drew back to see the better. The light was
so bad that refractions darted from all points across the canvas. How
they _had_ hung his little Jacques! no doubt out of disdain, or perhaps
from shame, so as to get rid of the child’s lugubrious ugliness. But
Claude evoked the little fellow such as he had once been, and beheld him
again over yonder in the country, so fresh and pinky, as he rolled
about in the grass; then in the Rue de Douai, growing pale and stupid
by degrees, and then in the Rue Tourlaque, no longer able to carry his
head, and dying one night, all alone, while his mother was asleep; and
he beheld her also, that mother, the sad woman who had stopped at home,
to weep there, no doubt, as she was now in the habit of doing for
entire days. No matter, she had done right in not coming; ‘twas too
mournful--their little Jacques, already cold in his bed, cast on one
side like a pariah, and so brutalised by the dancing light that his face
seemed to be laughing, distorted by an abominable grin.

But Claude suffered still more from the loneliness of his work.
Astonishment and disappointment made him look for the crowd, the rush
which he had anticipated. Why was he not hooted? Ah! the insults of
yore, the mocking, the indignation that had rent his heart, but made
him live! No, nothing more, not even a passing expectoration: this was
death. The visitors filed rapidly through the long gallery, seized with
boredom. There were merely some people in front of the ‘Opening of the
Chamber,’ where they collected to read the inscriptions, and show each
other the deputies’ heads. At last, hearing some laughter behind him, he
turned round; but nobody was jeering, some visitors were simply making
merry over the tipsy monks, the comic success of the Salon, which some
gentlemen explained to some ladies, declaring that it was brilliantly
witty. And all these people passed beneath little Jacques, and not a
head was raised, not a soul even knew that he was up there.

However, the painter had a gleam of hope. On the central settee,
two personages, one of them fat and the other thin, and both of them
decorated with the Legion of Honour, sat talking, reclining against the
velvet, and looking at the pictures in front of them. Claude drew near
them and listened.

‘And I followed them,’ said the fat fellow. ‘They went along the Rue
St. Honore, the Rue St. Roch, the Rue de la Chaussee d’Antin, the Rue la
Fayette--’

‘And you spoke to them?’ asked the thin man, who appeared to be deeply
interested.

‘No, I was afraid of getting in a rage.’

Claude went off and returned on three occasions, his heart beating fast
each time that some visitor stopped short and glanced slowly from the
line to the ceiling. He felt an unhealthy longing to hear one word, but
one. Why exhibit? How fathom public opinion? Anything rather than such
torturing silence! And he almost suffocated when he saw a young married
couple approach, the husband a good-looking fellow with little fair
moustaches, the wife, charming, with the delicate slim figure of a
shepherdess in Dresden china. She had perceived the picture, and asked
what the subject was, stupefied that she could make nothing out of it;
and when her husband, turning over the leaves of the catalogue, had
found the title, ‘The Dead Child,’ she dragged him away, shuddering, and
raising this cry of affright:

‘Oh, the horror! The police oughtn’t to allow such horrors!’

Then Claude remained there, erect, unconscious and haunted, his eyes
raised on high, amid the continuous flow of the crowd which passed on,
quite indifferent, without one glance for that unique sacred thing,
visible to him alone. And it was there that Sandoz came upon him, amid
the jostling.

The novelist, who had been strolling about alone--his wife having
remained at home beside his ailing mother--had just stopped short,
heart-rent, below the little canvas, which he had espied by chance. Ah!
how disgusted he felt with life! He abruptly lived the days of his youth
over again. He recalled the college of Plassans, his freaks with Claude
on the banks of the Viorne, their long excursions under the burning sun,
and all the flaming of their early ambition; and, later on, when they
had lived side by side, he remembered their efforts, their certainty of
coming glory, that fine irresistible, immoderate appetite that had
made them talk of swallowing Paris at one bite! How many times, at that
period, had he seen in Claude a great man, whose unbridled genius would
leave the talent of all others far behind in the rear! First had come
the studio of the Impasse des Bourdonnais; later, the studio of the Quai
de Bourbon, with dreams of vast compositions, projects big enough to
make the Louvre burst; and, meanwhile, the struggle was incessant; the
painter laboured ten hours a day, devoting his whole being to his work.
And then what? After twenty years of that passionate life he ended
thus--he finished with that poor, sinister little thing, which nobody
noticed, which looked so distressfully sad in its leper-like solitude!
So much hope and torture, a lifetime spent in the toil of creating, to
come to that, to that, good God!

Sandoz recognised Claude standing by, and fraternal emotion made his
voice quake as he said to him:

‘What! so you came? Why did you refuse to call for me, then?’

The painter did not even apologise. He seemed very tired, overcome with
somniferous stupor.

‘Well, don’t stay here,’ added Sandoz. ‘It’s past twelve o’clock, and
you must lunch with me. Some people were to wait for me at Ledoyen’s;
but I shall give them the go-by. Let’s go down to the buffet; we shall
pick up our spirits there, eh, old fellow?’

And then Sandoz led him away, holding his arm, pressing it, warming it,
and trying to draw him from his mournful silence.

‘Come, dash it all! you mustn’t give way like that. Although they
have hung your picture badly, it is all the same superb, a real bit of
genuine painting. Oh! I know that you dreamt of something else! But you
are not dead yet, it will be for later on. And, just look, you ought
to be proud, for it’s you who really triumph at the Salon this year.
Fagerolles isn’t the only one who pillages you; they all imitate you
now; you have revolutionised them since your “Open Air,” which they
laughed so much about. Look, look! there’s an “open air” effect, and
there’s another, and here and there--they all do it.’

He waved his hand towards the pictures as he and Claude passed along
the galleries. In point of fact, the dash of clear light, introduced by
degrees into contemporary painting, had fully burst forth at last. The
dingy Salons of yore, with their pitchy canvases, had made way for
a Salon full of sunshine, gay as spring itself. It was the dawn, the
aurora which had first gleamed at the Salon of the Rejected, and which
was now rising and rejuvenating art with a fine, diffuse light, full of
infinite shades. On all sides you found Claude’s famous ‘bluey tinge,’
even in the portraits and the _genre_ scenes, which had acquired the
dimensions and the serious character of historical paintings. The old
academical subjects had disappeared with the cooked juices of tradition,
as if the condemned doctrine had carried its people of shadows away with
it; rare were the works of pure imagination, the cadaverous nudities of
mythology and catholicism, the legendary subjects painted without faith,
the anecdotic bits destitute of life--in fact, all the bric-a-brac of
the School of Arts used up by generations of tricksters and fools; and
the influence of the new principle was evident even among those artists
who lingered over the antique recipes, even among the former masters
who had now grown old. The flash of sunlight had penetrated to
their studios. From afar, at every step you took, you saw a painting
transpierce the wall and form, as it were, a window open upon Nature.
Soon the walls themselves would fall, and Nature would walk in; for the
breach was a broad one, and the assault had driven routine away in that
gay battle waged by audacity and youth.

‘Ah! your lot is a fine one, all the same, old fellow!’ continued
Sandoz. ‘The art of to-morrow will be yours; you have made them all.’

Claude thereupon opened his mouth, and, with an air of gloomy brutality,
said in a low voice:

‘What do I care if I _have_ made them all, when I haven’t made myself?
See here, it’s too big an affair for me, and that’s what stifles me.’

He made a gesture to finish expressing his thought, his consciousness
of his inability to prove the genius of the formula he had brought with
him, the torture he felt at being merely a precursor, the one who
sows the idea without reaping the glory, his grief at seeing himself
pillaged, devoured by men who turned out hasty work, by a whole flight
of fellows who scattered their efforts and lowered the new form of
art, before he or another had found strength enough to produce the
masterpiece which would make the end of the century a date in art.

But Sandoz protested, the future lay open. Then, to divert Claude, he
stopped him while crossing the Gallery of Honour and said:

‘Just look at that lady in blue before that portrait! What a slap Nature
does give to painting! You remember when we used to look at the dresses
and the animation of the galleries in former times? Not a painting
then withstood the shock. And yet now there are some which don’t suffer
overmuch. I even noticed over there a landscape, the general yellowish
tinge of which completely eclipsed all the women who approached it.’

Claude was quivering with unutterable suffering.

‘Pray, let’s go,’ he said. ‘Take me away--I can’t stand it any longer.’

They had all the trouble in the world to find a free table in the
refreshment room. People were pressed together in that big, shady
retreat, girt round with brown serge drapery under the girders of the
lofty iron flooring of the upstairs galleries. In the background, and
but partially visible in the darkness, stood three dressers displaying
dishes of preserved fruit symmetrically ranged on shelves; while, nearer
at hand, at counters placed on the right and left, two ladies, a dark
one and a fair one, watched the crowd with a military air; and from the
dim depths of this seeming cavern rose a sea of little marble tables, a
tide of chairs, serried, entangled, surging, swelling, overflowing and
spreading into the garden, under the broad, pallid light which fell from
the glass roof.

At last Sandoz saw some people rise. He darted forward and conquered the
vacant table by sheer struggling with the mob.

‘Ah! dash it! we are here at all events. What will you have to eat?’

Claude made a gesture of indifference. The lunch was execrable; there
was some trout softened by over-boiling, some undercut of beef dried up
in the oven, some asparagus smelling of moist linen, and, in addition,
one had to fight to get served; for the hustled waiters, losing their
heads, remained in distress in the narrow passages which the chairs were
constantly blocking. Behind the hangings on the left, one could hear a
racket of saucepans and crockery; the kitchen being installed there on
the sand, like one of those Kermesse cook-shops set up by the roadside
in the open air.

Sandoz and Claude had to eat, seated obliquely and half strangled
between two parties of people whose elbows almost ended by getting into
their plates; and each time that a waiter passed he gave their chairs
a shake with his hips. However, the inconvenience, like the abominable
cookery, made one gay. People jested about the dishes, different tables
fraternised together, common misfortune brought about a kind of pleasure
party. Strangers ended by sympathising; friends kept up conversations,
although they were seated three rows distant from one another, and
were obliged to turn their heads and gesticulate over their neighbours’
shoulders. The women particularly became animated, at first rather
anxious as to the crush, and then ungloving their hands, catching up
their skirts, and laughing at the first thimbleful of neat wine they
drank.

However, Sandoz, who had renounced finishing his meat, raised his voice
amid the terrible hubbub caused by the chatter and the serving:

‘A bit of cheese, eh? And let’s try to get some coffee.’

Claude, whose eyes looked dreamy, did not hear. He was gazing into the
garden. From his seat he could see the central clump of verdure, some
lofty palms which stood in relief against the grey hangings with which
the garden was decorated all round. A circle of statues was set out
there; and you could see the back of a faun; the profile of a young
girl with full cheeks; the face of a bronze Gaul, a colossal bit of
romanticism which irritated one by its stupid assumption of patriotism;
the trunk of a woman hanging by the wrists, some Andromeda of the
Place Pigalle; and others, and others still following the bends of the
pathways; rows of shoulders and hips, heads, breasts, legs, and arms,
all mingling and growing indistinct in the distance. On the left
stretched a line of busts--such delightful ones--furnishing a most
comical and uncommon suite of noses. There was the huge pointed nose
of a priest, the tip-tilted nose of a soubrette, the handsome classical
nose of a fifteenth-century Italian woman, the mere fancy nose of a
sailor--in fact, every kind of nose, both the magistrate’s and the
manufacturer’s, and the nose of the gentleman decorated with the Legion
of Honour--all of them motionless and ranged in endless succession!

However, Claude saw nothing of them; to him they were but grey spots
in the hazy, greenish light. His stupor still lasted, and he was only
conscious of one thing, the luxuriousness of the women’s dresses, of
which he had formed a wrong estimate amid the pushing in the galleries,
and which were here freely displayed, as if the wearers had been
promenading over the gravel in the conservatory of some chateau. All the
elegance of Paris passed by, the women who had come to show themselves,
in dresses thoughtfully combined and destined to be described in the
morrow’s newspapers. People stared a great deal at an actress, who
walked about with a queen-like tread, on the arm of a gentleman who
assumed the complacent airs of a prince consort. The women of society
looked like so many hussies, and they all of them took stock of one
another with that slow glance which estimates the value of silk and the
length of lace, and which ferrets everywhere, from the tips of boots
to the feathers upon bonnets. This was neutral ground, so to say;
some ladies who were seated had drawn their chairs together, after
the fashion in the garden of the Tuileries, and occupied themselves
exclusively with criticising those of their own sex who passed by. Two
female friends quickened their pace, laughing. Another woman, all alone,
walked up and down, mute, with a black look in her eyes. Some others,
who had lost one another, met again, and began ejaculating about
the adventure. And, meantime, the dark moving mass of men came to a
standstill, then set off again till it stopped short before a bit of
marble, or eddied back to a bit of bronze. And among the mere bourgeois,
who were few in number, though all of them looked out of their element
there, moved men with celebrated names--all the _illustrations_ of
Paris. A name of resounding glory re-echoed as a fat, ill-clad gentleman
passed by; the winged name of a poet followed as a pale man with a flat,
common face approached. A living wave was rising from this crowd in the
even, colourless light when suddenly a flash of sunshine, from behind
the clouds of a final shower, set the glass panes on high aflame, making
the stained window on the western side resplendent, and raining down
in golden particles through the still atmosphere; and then everything
became warm--the snowy statues amid the shiny green stuff, the soft
lawns parted by the yellow sand of the pathways, the rich dresses
with their glossy satin and bright beads, even the very voices, whose
hilarious murmur seemed to crackle like a bright fire of vine shoots.
Some gardeners, completing the arrangements of the flower-beds, turned
on the taps of the stand-pipes and promenaded about with their pots, the
showers squirting from which came forth again in tepid steam from the
drenched grass. And meanwhile a plucky sparrow, who had descended from
the iron girders, despite the number of people, dipped his beak in the
sand in front of the buffet, eating some crumbs which a young woman
threw him by way of amusement. Of all the tumult, however, Claude
only heard the ocean-like din afar, the rumbling of the people rolling
onwards in the galleries. And a recollection came to him, he remembered
that noise which had burst forth like a hurricane in front of his
picture at the Salon of the Rejected. But nowadays people no longer
laughed at him; upstairs the giant roar of Paris was acclaiming
Fagerolles!

It so happened that Sandoz, who had turned round, said to Claude:
‘Hallo! there’s Fagerolles!’

And, indeed, Fagerolles and Jory had just laid hands on a table near by
without noticing their friends, and the journalist, continuing in his
gruff voice a conversation which had previously begun, remarked:

‘Yes, I saw his “Dead Child”! Ah! the poor devil! what an ending!’

But Fagerolles nudged Jory, and the latter, having caught sight of his
two old comrades, immediately added:

‘Ah! that dear old Claude! How goes it, eh? You know that I haven’t yet
seen your picture. But I’m told that it’s superb.’

‘Superb!’ declared Fagerolles, who then began to express his surprise.
‘So you lunched here. What an idea! Everything is so awfully bad. We two
have just come from Ledoyen’s. Oh! such a crowd and such hustling, such
mirth! Bring your table nearer and let us chat a bit.’

They joined the two tables together. But flatterers and petitioners were
already after the triumphant young master. Three friends rose up and
noisily saluted him from afar. A lady became smilingly contemplative
when her husband had whispered his name in her ear. And the tall,
thin fellow, the artist whose picture had been badly hung, and who had
pursued him since the morning, as enraged as ever, left a table where he
was seated at the further end of the buffet, and again hurried forward
to complain, imperatively demanding ‘the line’ at once.

‘Oh! go to the deuce!’ at last cried Fagerolles, his patience and
amiability exhausted. And he added, when the other had gone off,
mumbling some indistinct threats: ‘It’s true; a fellow does all he can
to be obliging, but those chaps would drive one mad! All of them on
the “line”! leagues of “line” then! Ah! what a business it is to be a
committee-man! One wears out one’s legs, and one only reaps hatred as
reward.’

Claude, who was looking at him with his oppressed air, seemed to wake up
for a moment, and murmured:

‘I wrote to you; I wanted to go and see you to thank you. Bongrand told
me about all the trouble you had. So thanks again.’

But Fagerolles hastily broke in:

‘Tut, tut! I certainly owed that much to our old friendship. It’s I who
am delighted to have given you any pleasure.’

He showed the embarrassment which always came upon him in presence of
the acknowledged master of his youth, that kind of humility which filled
him perforce when he was with the man whose mute disdain, even at this
moment, sufficed to spoil all his triumph.

‘Your picture is very good,’ slowly added Claude, who wished to be
kind-hearted and generous.

This simple praise made Fagerolles’ heart swell with exaggerated,
irresistible emotion, springing he knew not whence; and this rascal, who
believed in nothing, who was usually so proficient in humbug, answered
in a shaky voice:

‘Ah! my dear fellow, ah! it’s very kind of you to tell me that!’

Sandoz had at last obtained two cups of coffee, and as the waiter had
forgotten to bring any sugar, he had to content himself with some pieces
which a party had left on an adjoining table. A few tables, indeed,
had now become vacant, but the general freedom had increased, and one
woman’s laughter rang out so loudly that every head turned round. The
men were smoking, and a bluish cloud slowly rose above the straggling
tablecloths, stained by wine and littered with dirty plates and dishes.
When Fagerolles, on his aide, succeeded in obtaining two glasses of
chartreuse for himself and Jory, he began to talk to Sandoz, whom he
treated with a certain amount of deference, divining that the novelist
might become a power. And Jory thereupon appropriated Claude, who had
again become mournful and silent.

‘You know, my dear fellow,’ said the journalist, ‘I didn’t send you any
announcement of my marriage. On account of our position we managed it on
the quiet without inviting any guests. All the same, I should have liked
to let you know. You will excuse me, won’t you?’

He showed himself expansive, gave particulars, full of the happiness of
life, and egotistically delighted to feel fat and victorious in front of
that poor vanquished fellow. He succeeded with everything, he said.
He had given up leader-writing, feeling the necessity of settling down
seriously, and he had risen to the editorship of a prominent art review,
on which, so it was asserted, he made thirty thousand francs a year,
without mentioning certain profits realised by shady trafficking in
the sale of art collections. The middle-class rapacity which he had
inherited from his mother, the hereditary passion for profit which had
secretly impelled him to embark in petty speculations as soon as he had
gained a few coppers, now openly displayed itself, and ended by making
him a terrible customer, who bled all the artists and amateurs who came
under his clutches.

It was amidst this good luck of his that Mathilde, now all-powerful,
had brought him to the point of begging her, with tears in his eyes, to
become his wife, a request which she had proudly refused during six long
months.

‘When folks are destined to live together,’ he continued, ‘the best
course is to set everything square. You experienced it yourself, my
dear fellow; you know something about it, eh? And if I told you that she
wouldn’t consent at first--yes, it’s a fact--for fear of being misjudged
and of doing me harm. Oh! she has such grandeur, such delicacy of mind!
No, nobody can have an idea of that woman’s qualities. Devoted, taking
all possible care of one, economical, and acute, too, and such a good
adviser! Ah! it was a lucky chance that I met her! I no longer do
anything without consulting her; I let her do as she likes; she manages
everything, upon my word.’

The truth was that Mathilde had finished by reducing him to the
frightened obedience of a little boy. The once dissolute she-ghoul
had become a dictatorial spouse, eager for respect, and consumed with
ambition and love of money. She showed, too, every form of sourish
virtue. It was said that they had been seen taking the Holy Communion
together at Notre Dame de Lorette. They kissed one another before
other people, and called each other by endearing nicknames. Only, of an
evening, he had to relate how he had spent his time during the day, and
if the employment of a single hour remained suspicious, if he did not
bring home all the money he had received, down to the odd coppers, she
led him the most abominable life imaginable.

This, of course, Jory left unmentioned. By way of conclusion he
exclaimed: ‘And so we waited for my father’s death, and then I married
her.’

Claude, whose mind had so far been wandering, and who had merely nodded
without listening, was struck by that last sentence.

‘What! you married her--married Mathilde?’

That exclamation summed up all the astonishment that the affair caused
him, all the recollections that occurred to him of Mahoudeau’s shop.
That Jory, why, he could still hear him talking about Mathilde in an
abominable manner; and yet he had married her! It was really stupid for
a fellow to speak badly of a woman, for he never knew if he might not
end by marrying her some day or other!

However, Jory was perfectly serene, his memory was dead, he never
allowed himself an allusion to the past, never showed the slightest
embarrassment when his comrades’ eyes were turned on him. Besides,
Mathilde seemed to be a new-comer. He introduced her to them as if they
knew nothing whatever about her.

Sandoz, who had lent an ear to the conversation, greatly interested by
this fine business, called out as soon as Jory and Claude became silent:

‘Let’s be off, eh? My legs are getting numbed.’

But at that moment Irma Becot appeared, and stopped in front of the
buffet. With her hair freshly gilded, she had put on her best looks--all
the tricky sheen of a tawny hussy, who seemed to have just stepped
out of some old Renaissance frame; and she wore a train of light blue
brocaded silk, with a satin skirt covered with Alencon lace, of such
richness that quite an escort of gentlemen followed her in admiration.
On perceiving Claude among the others, she hesitated for a moment,
seized, as it were, with cowardly shame in front of that ill-clad, ugly,
derided devil. Then, becoming valiant, as it were, it was his hand that
she shook the first amid all those well-dressed men, who opened their
eyes in amazement. She laughed with an affectionate air, and spoke to
him in a friendly, bantering way.

Fagerolles, however, was already paying for the two chartreuses he had
ordered, and at last he went off with Irma, whom Jory also decided to
follow. Claude watched them walk away together, she between the two men,
moving on in regal fashion, greatly admired, and repeatedly bowed to by
people in the crowd.

‘One can see very well that Mathilde isn’t here,’ quietly remarked
Sandoz. ‘Ah! my friend, what clouts Jory would receive on getting home!’

The novelist now asked for the bill. All the tables were becoming
vacant; there only remained a litter of bones and crusts. A couple of
waiters were wiping the marble slabs with sponges, whilst a third raked
up the soiled sand. Behind the brown serge hangings the staff of the
establishment was lunching--one could hear a grinding of jaws and husky
laughter, a rumpus akin to that of a camp of gipsies devouring the
contents of their saucepans.

Claude and Sandoz went round the garden, where they discovered a statue
by Mahoudeau, very badly placed in a corner near the eastern vestibule.
It was the bathing girl at last, standing erect, but of diminutive
proportions, being scarcely as tall as a girl ten years old, but
charmingly delicate--with slim hips and a tiny bosom, displaying all the
exquisite hesitancy of a sprouting bud. The figure seemed to exhale a
perfume, that grace which nothing can give, but which flowers where it
lists, stubborn, invincible, perennial grace, springing still and ever
from Mahoudeau’s thick fingers, which were so ignorant of their special
aptitude that they had long treated this very grace with derision.

Sandoz could not help smiling.

‘And to think that this fellow has done everything he could to warp
his talent. If his figure were better placed, it would meet with great
success.’

‘Yes, great success,’ repeated Claude. ‘It is very pretty.’

Precisely at that moment they perceived Mahoudeau, already in the
vestibule, and going towards the staircase. They called him, ran after
him, and then all three remained talking together for a few minutes. The
ground-floor gallery stretched away, empty, with its sanded pavement,
and the pale light streaming through its large round windows. One might
have fancied oneself under a railway bridge. Strong pillars supported
the metallic framework, and an icy chillness blew from above, moistening
the sand in which one’s feet sank. In the distance, behind a torn
curtain, one could see rows of statues, the rejected sculptural
exhibits, the casts which poor sculptors did not even remove,
gathered together in a livid kind of Morgue, in a state of lamentable
abandonment. But what surprised one, on raising one’s head, was the
continuous din, the mighty tramp of the public over the flooring of the
upper galleries. One was deafened by it; it rolled on without a pause,
as if interminable trains, going at full speed, were ever and ever
shaking the iron girders.

When Mahoudeau had been complimented, he told Claude that he had
searched for his picture in vain. In the depths of what hole could they
have put it? Then, in a fit of affectionate remembrance for the past,
he asked anxiously after Gagniere and Dubuche. Where were the Salons of
yore which they had all reached in a band, the mad excursions through
the galleries as in an enemy’s country, the violent disdain they had
felt on going away, the discussions which had made their tongues swell
and emptied their brains? Nobody now saw Dubuche. Two or three times a
month Gagniere came from Melun, in a state of bewilderment, to attend
some concert; and he now took such little interest in painting that he
had not even looked in at the Salon, although he exhibited his usual
landscape, the same view of the banks of the Seine which he had been
sending for the last fifteen years--a picture of a pretty greyish tint,
so conscientious and quiet that the public had never remarked it.

‘I was going upstairs,’ resumed Mahoudeau. ‘Will you come with me?’

Claude, pale with suffering, raised his eyes every second. Ah! that
terrible rumbling, that devouring gallop of the monster overhead, the
shock of which he felt in his very limbs!

He held out his hand without speaking.

‘What! are you going to leave us?’ exclaimed Sandoz. Take just another
turn with us, and we’ll go away together.’

Then, on seeing Claude so weary, a feeling of pity made his heart
contract. He divined that the poor fellow’s courage was exhausted, that
he was desirous of solitude, seized with a desire to fly off alone and
hide his wound.

‘Then, good-bye, old man: I’ll call and see you to-morrow.’

Staggering, and as if pursued by the tempest upstairs, Claude
disappeared behind the clumps of shrubbery in the garden. But two hours
later Sandoz, who after losing Mahoudeau had just found him again with
Jory and Fagerolles, perceived the unhappy painter again standing in
front of his picture, at the same spot where he had met him the first
time. At the moment of going off the wretched fellow had come up there
again, harassed and attracted despite himself.

There was now the usual five o’clock crush. The crowd, weary of winding
round the galleries, became distracted, and pushed and shoved without
ever finding its way out. Since the coolness of the morning, the heat of
all the human bodies, the odour of all the breath exhaled there had made
the atmosphere heavy, and the dust of the floors, flying about, rose up
in a fine mist. People still took each other to see certain pictures,
the subjects of which alone struck and attracted the crowd. Some
went off, came back, and walked about unceasingly. The women were
particularly obstinate in not retiring; they seemed determined to remain
there till the attendants should push them out when six o’clock began
to strike. Some fat ladies had foundered. Others, who had failed to find
even the tiniest place to sit down, leaned heavily on their parasols,
sinking, but still obstinate. Every eye was turned anxiously and
supplicatingly towards the settees laden with people. And all that those
thousands of sight-seers were now conscious of, was that last fatigue of
theirs, which made their legs totter, drew their features together, and
tortured them with headache--that headache peculiar to fine-art shows,
which is caused by the constant straining of one’s neck and the blinding
dance of colours.

Alone on the little settee where at noon already they had been talking
about their private affairs, the two decorated gentlemen were still
chatting quietly, with their minds a hundred leagues away from the
place. Perhaps they had returned thither, perhaps they had not even
stirred from the spot.

‘And so,’ said the fat one, ‘you went in, pretending not to understand?’

‘Quite so,’ replied the thin one. ‘I looked at them and took off my hat.
It was clear, eh?’

‘Astonishing! You really astonish me, my dear friend.’

Claude, however, only heard the low beating of his heart, and only
beheld the ‘Dead Child’ up there in the air, near the ceiling. He did
not take his eyes off it, a prey to a fascination which held him there,
quite independent of his will. The crowd turned round him, people’s feet
trod on his own, he was pushed and carried away; and, like some inert
object, he abandoned himself, waved about, and ultimately found himself
again on the same spot as before without having once lowered his
head, quite ignorant of what was occurring below, all his life being
concentrated up yonder beside his work, his little Jacques, swollen
in death. Two big tears which stood motionless between his eyelids
prevented him from seeing clearly. And it seemed to him as if he would
never have time to see enough.

Then Sandoz, in his deep compassion, pretended he did not perceive his
old friend; it was as if he wished to leave him there, beside the tomb
of his wrecked life. Their comrades once more went past in a band.
Fagerolles and Jory darted on ahead, and, Mahoudeau having asked Sandoz
where Claude’s picture was hung, the novelist told a lie, drew him aside
and took him off. All of them went away.

In the evening Christine only managed to draw curt words from Claude;
everything was going on all right, said he; the public showed no
ill-humour; the picture had a good effect, though it was hung perhaps
rather high up. However, despite this semblance of cold tranquillity, he
seemed so strange that she became frightened.

After dinner, as she returned from carrying the dirty plates into the
kitchen, she no longer found him near the table. He had opened a window
which overlooked some waste ground, and he stood there, leaning out
to such a degree that she could scarcely see him. At this she sprang
forward, terrified, and pulled him violently by his jacket.

‘Claude! Claude! what are you doing?’

He turned round, with his face as white as a sheet and his eyes haggard.

‘I’m looking,’ he said.

But she closed the window with trembling hands, and after that
significant incident such anguish clung to her that she no longer slept
at night-time.



XI

CLAUDE set to work again on the very next day, and months elapsed,
indeed the whole summer went by, in heavy quietude. He had found a job,
some little paintings of flowers for England, the proceeds of which
sufficed for their daily bread. All his available time was again devoted
to his large canvas, and he no longer went into the same fits of anger
over it, but seemed to resign himself to that eternal task, evincing
obstinate, hopeless industry. However, his eyes retained their crazy
expression--one could see the death of light, as it were, in them, when
they gazed upon the failure of his existence.

About this period Sandoz also experienced great grief. His mother died,
his whole life was upset--that life of three together, so homely in
its character, and shared merely by a few friends. He began to hate the
pavilion of the Rue Nollet, and, moreover, success suddenly declared
itself with respect to his books, which hitherto had sold but moderately
well. So, prompted by the advent of comparative wealth, he rented in the
Rue de Londres a spacious flat, the arrangements of which occupied him
and his wife for several months. Sandoz’s grief had drawn him closer to
Claude again, both being disgusted with everything. After the terrible
blow of the Salon, the novelist had felt very anxious about his old
chum, divining that something had irreparably snapped within him, that
there was some wound by which life ebbed away unseen. Then, however,
finding Claude so cold and quiet, he ended by growing somewhat
reassured.

Sandoz often walked up to the Rue Tourlaque, and whenever he found only
Christine at home, he questioned her, realising that she also lived in
apprehension of a calamity of which she never spoke. Her face bore a
look of worry, and now and again she started nervously, like a mother
who watches over her child and trembles at the slightest sound, with the
fear that death may be entering the chamber.

One July morning Sandoz asked her: ‘Well, are you pleased? Claude’s
quiet, he works a deal.’

She gave the large picture her usual glance, a side glance full of
terror and hatred.

‘Yes, yes, he works,’ she said. ‘He wants to finish everything else
before taking up the woman again.’ And without confessing the fear that
harassed her, she added in a lower tone: ‘But his eyes--have you noticed
his eyes? They always have the same wild expression. I know very well
that he lies, despite his pretence of taking things so easily. Pray,
come and see him, and take him out with you, so as to change the current
of his thoughts. He only has you left; help me, do help me!’

After that Sandoz diligently devised motives for various walks, arriving
at Claude’s early in the morning, and carrying him away from his work
perforce. It was almost always necessary to drag him from his steps,
on which he habitually sat, even when he was not painting. A feeling of
weariness stopped him, a kind of torpor benumbed him for long minutes,
during which he did not give a single stroke with the brush. In those
moments of mute contemplation, his gaze reverted with pious fervour to
the woman’s figure which he no longer touched: it was like a hesitating
desire combined with sacred awe, a passion which he refused to satisfy,
as he felt certain that it would cost him his life. When he set to work
again at the other figures and the background of the picture, he well
knew that the woman’s figure was still there, and his glance wavered
whenever he espied it; he felt that he would only remain master of
himself as long as he did not touch it again.

One evening, Christine, who now visited at Sandoz’s and never missed a
single Thursday there, in the hope of seeing her big sick child of an
artist brighten up in the society of his friends, took the novelist
aside and begged him to drop in at their place on the morrow. And on the
next day Sandoz, who, as it happened, wanted to take some notes for
a novel, on the other side of Montmartre, went in search of Claude,
carried him off and kept him idling about until night-time.

On this occasion they went as far as the gate of Clignancourt, where a
perpetual fair was held, with merry-go-rounds, shooting-galleries, and
taverns, and on reaching the spot they were stupefied to find themselves
face to face with Chaine, who was enthroned in a large and stylish
booth. It was a kind of chapel, highly ornamented. There were four
circular revolving stands set in a row and loaded with articles in china
and glass, all sorts of ornaments and nick-nacks, whose gilding and
polish shone amid an harmonica-like tinkling whenever the hand of a
gamester set the stand in motion. It then spun round, grating against
a feather, which, on the rotatory movement ceasing, indicated what
article, if any, had been won. The big prize was a live rabbit, adorned
with pink favours, which waltzed and revolved unceasingly, intoxicated
with fright. And all this display was set in red hangings, scalloped at
the top; and between the curtains one saw three pictures hanging at the
rear of the booth, as in the sanctuary of some tabernacle. They were
Chaine’s three masterpieces, which now followed him from fair to fair,
from one end of Paris to the other. The ‘Woman taken in Adultery’ in the
centre, the copy of the Mantegna on the left, and Mahoudeau’s stove
on the right. Of an evening, when the petroleum lamps flamed and the
revolving stands glowed and radiated like planets, nothing seemed
finer than those pictures hanging amid the blood-tinged purple of the
hangings, and a gaping crowd often flocked to view them.

The sight was such that it wrung an exclamation from Claude: ‘Ah, good
heavens! But those paintings look very well--they were surely intended
for this.’

The Mantegna, so naively harsh in treatment, looked like some faded
coloured print nailed there for the delectation of simple-minded
folk; whilst the minutely painted stove, all awry, hanging beside
the gingerbread Christ absolving the adulterous woman, assumed an
unexpectedly gay aspect.

However, Chaine, who had just perceived the two friends, held out his
hand to them, as if he had left them merely the day before. He was calm,
neither proud nor ashamed of his booth, and he had not aged, having
still a leathery aspect; though, on the other hand, his nose had
completely vanished between his cheeks, whilst his mouth, clammy with
prolonged silence, was buried in his moustache and beard.

‘Hallo! so we meet again!’ said Sandoz, gaily. ‘Do you know, your
paintings have a lot of effect?’

‘The old humbug!’ added Claude. ‘Why, he has his little Salon all to
himself. That’s very cute indeed.’

Chaine’s face became radiant, and he dropped the remark: ‘Of course!’

Then, as his artistic pride was roused, he, from whom people barely
wrung anything but growls, gave utterance to a whole sentence:

‘Ah! it’s quite certain that if I had had any money, like you fellows, I
should have made my way, just as you have done, in spite of everything.’

That was his conviction. He had never doubted of his talent, he had
simply forsaken the profession because it did not feed him. When he
visited the Louvre, at sight of the masterpieces hanging there he felt
convinced that time alone was necessary to turn out similar work.

‘Ah, me!’ said Claude, who had become gloomy again. ‘Don’t regret what
you’ve done; you alone have succeeded. Business is brisk, eh?’

But Chaine muttered bitter words. No, no, there was nothing doing, not
even in his line. People wouldn’t play for prizes; all the money found
its way to the wine-shops. In spite of buying paltry odds and ends,
and striking the table with the palm of one’s hand, so that the feather
might not indicate one of the big prizes, a fellow barely had water to
drink nowadays. Then, as some people had drawn near, he stopped short in
his explanation to call out: ‘Walk up, walk up, at every turn you win!’
in a gruff voice which the two others had never known him to possess,
and which fairly stupefied them.

A workman who was carrying a sickly little girl with large covetous
eyes, let her play two turns. The revolving stands grated and the
nick-nacks danced round in dazzling fashion, while the live rabbit, with
his ears lowered, revolved and revolved so rapidly that the outline of
his body vanished and he became nothing but a whitish circle. There
was a moment of great emotion, for the little girl had narrowly missed
winning him.

Then, after shaking hands with Chaine, who was still trembling with the
fright this had given him, the two friends walked away.

‘He’s happy,’ said Claude, after they had gone some fifty paces in
silence.

‘He!’ cried Sandoz; ‘why, he believes he has missed becoming a member of
the Institute, and it’s killing him.’

Shortly after this meeting, and towards the middle of August, Sandoz
devised a real excursion which would take up a whole day. He had met
Dubuche--Dubuche, careworn and mournful, who had shown himself plaintive
and affectionate, raking up the past and inviting his two old chums to
lunch at La Richaudiere, where he should be alone with his two children
for another fortnight. Why shouldn’t they go and surprise him there,
since he seemed so desirous of renewing the old intimacy? But in vain
did Sandoz repeat that he had promised Dubuche on oath to bring
Claude with him; the painter obstinately refused to go, as if he were
frightened at the idea of again beholding Bennecourt, the Seine, the
islands, all the stretch of country where his happy years lay dead and
buried. It was necessary for Christine to interfere, and he finished
by giving way, although full of repugnance to the trip. It precisely
happened that on the day prior to the appointment he had worked at his
painting until very late, being taken with the old fever again. And so
the next morning--it was Sunday--being devoured with a longing to paint,
he went off most reluctantly, tearing himself away from his picture with
a pang. What was the use of returning to Bennecourt? All that was dead,
it no longer existed. Paris alone remained, and even in Paris there
was but one view, the point of the Cite, that vision which haunted him
always and everywhere, that one corner where he ever left his heart.

Sandoz, finding him nervous in the railway carriage, and seeing that
his eyes remained fixed on the window as if he had been leaving the
city--which had gradually grown smaller and seemed shrouded in mist--for
years, did all he could to divert his mind, telling him, for instance,
what he knew about Dubuche’s real position. At the outset, old
Margaillan, glorifying in his bemedalled son-in-law, had trotted him
about and introduced him everywhere as his partner and successor. There
was a fellow who would conduct business briskly, who would build houses
more cheaply and in finer style than ever, for hadn’t he grown pale
over books? But Dubuche’s first idea proved disastrous; on some land
belonging to his father-in-law in Burgundy he established a brickyard
in so unfavourable a situation, and after so defective a plan, that the
venture resulted in the sheer loss of two hundred thousand francs. Then
he turned his attention to erecting houses, insisting upon bringing
personal ideas into execution, a certain general scheme of his which
would revolutionise the building art. These ideas were the old theories
he held from the revolutionary chums of his youth, everything that he
had promised he would realise when he was free; but he had not properly
reduced the theories to method, and he applied them unseasonably, with
the awkwardness of a pupil lacking the sacred fire; he experimented with
terra-cotta and pottery ornamentation, large bay windows, and especially
with the employment of iron--iron girders, iron staircases, and iron
roofings; and as the employment of these materials increased the outlay,
he again ended with a catastrophe, which was all the greater as he was
a pitiful manager, and had lost his head since he had become rich,
rendered the more obtuse, it seemed, by money, quite spoilt and at
sea, unable even to revert to his old habits of industry. This time
Margaillan grew angry; he for thirty years had been buying ground,
building and selling again, estimating at a glance the cost and return
of house property; so many yards of building at so much the foot having
to yield so many suites of rooms at so much rent. He wouldn’t have
anything more to do with a fellow who blundered about lime, bricks,
millstones, and in fact everything, who employed oak when deal would
have suited, and who could not bring himself to cut up a storey--like a
consecrated wafer--into as many little squares as was necessary. No, no,
none of that! He rebelled against art, after having been ambitious
to introduce a little of it into his routine, in order to satisfy a
long-standing worry about his own ignorance. And after that matters
had gone from bad to worse, terrible quarrels had arisen between the
son-in-law and the father-in-law, the former disdainful, intrenching
himself behind his science, and the latter shouting that the commonest
labourer knew more than an architect did. The millions were in
danger, and one fine day Margaillan turned Dubuche out of his offices,
forbidding him ever to set foot in them again, since he did not even
know how to direct a building-yard where only four men worked. It was a
disaster, a lamentable failure, the School of Arts collapsing, derided
by a mason!

At this point of Sandoz’s story, Claude, who had begun to listen to his
friend, inquired:

‘Then what is Dubuche doing now?’

‘I don’t know--nothing probably,’ answered Sandoz. ‘He told me that he
was anxious about his children’s health, and was taking care of them.’

That pale woman, Madame Margaillan, as slender as the blade of a knife,
had died of tubercular consumption, which was plainly the hereditary
disease, the source of the family’s degeneracy, for her daughter,
Regine, had been coughing ever since her marriage. She was now drinking
the waters at Mont-Dore, whither she had not dared to take her children,
as they had been very poorly the year before, after a season spent
in that part, where the air was too keen for them. This explained the
scattering of the family: the mother over yonder with her maid;
the grandfather in Paris, where he had resumed his great building
enterprises, battling amid his four hundred workmen, and crushing the
idle and the incapable beneath his contempt; and the father in exile at
La Richaudiere, set to watch over his son and daughter, shut up there,
after the very first struggle, as if it had broken him down for life. In
a moment of effusion Dubuche had even let Sandoz understand that as his
wife was so extremely delicate he now lived with her merely on friendly
terms.

‘A nice marriage,’ said Sandoz, simply, by way of conclusion.

It was ten o’clock when the two friends rang at the iron gate of La
Richaudiere. The estate, with which they were not acquainted, amazed
them. There was a superb park, a garden laid out in the French style,
with balustrades and steps spreading away in regal fashion; three huge
conservatories and a colossal cascade--quite a piece of folly, with its
rocks brought from afar, and the quantity of cement and the number of
conduits that had been employed in arranging it. Indeed, the owner had
sunk a fortune in it, out of sheer vanity. But what struck the friends
still more was the melancholy, deserted aspect of the domain; the gravel
of the avenues carefully raked, with never a trace of footsteps; the
distant expanses quite deserted, save that now and then a solitary
gardener passed by; and the house looking lifeless, with all its windows
closed, excepting two, which were barely set ajar.

However, a valet who had decided to show himself began to question
them, and when he learnt that they wished to see ‘monsieur,’ he became
insolent, and replied that ‘monsieur’ was behind the house in the
gymnasium, and then went indoors again.

Sandoz and Claude followed a path which led them towards a lawn, and
what they saw there made them pause. Dubuche, who stood in front of a
trapeze, was raising his arms to support his son, Gaston, a poor sickly
boy who, at ten years of age, still had the slight, soft limbs of early
childhood; while the girl, Alice, sat in a perambulator awaiting her
turn. She was so imperfectly developed that, although she was six years
old, she could not yet walk. The father, absorbed in his task, continued
exercising the slim limbs of his little boy, swinging him backwards and
forwards, and vainly trying to make him raise himself up by his wrists.
Then, as this slight effort sufficed to bring on perspiration, he
removed the little fellow from the trapeze and rolled him in a rug. And
all this was done amid complete silence, alone under the far expanse of
sky, his face wearing a look of distressful pity as he knelt there in
that splendid park. However, as he rose up he perceived the two friends.

‘What! it’s you? On a Sunday, and without warning me!’

He had made a gesture of annoyance, and at once explained that the maid,
the only woman to whom he could trust the children, went to Paris on
Sundays, and that it was consequently impossible for him to leave Gaston
and Alice for a minute.

‘I’ll wager that you came to lunch?’ he added.

As Claude gave Sandoz an imploring glance, the novelist made haste to
answer:

‘No, no. As it happens, we only have time enough to shake hands with
you. Claude had to come down here on a business matter. He lived at
Bennecourt, as you know. And as I accompanied him, we took it into our
heads to walk as far as here. But there are people waiting for us, so
don’t disturb yourself in the least.’

Thereupon, Dubuche, who felt relieved, made a show of detaining them.
They certainly had an hour to spare, dash it all! And they all three
began to talk. Claude looked at Dubuche, astonished to find him so aged;
his flabby face had become wrinkled--it was of a yellowish hue, and
streaked with red, as if bile had splashed his skin; whilst his hair
and his moustaches were already growing grey. In addition, his figure
appeared to have become more compact; a bitter weariness made each of
his gestures seem an effort. Were defeats in money matters as hard to
bear, then, as defeats in art? Everything about this vanquished man--his
voice, his glance--proclaimed the shameful dependency in which he had to
live: the bankruptcy of his future which was cast in his teeth, with the
accusation of having allowed a talent he did not possess to be set down
as an asset in the marriage contract. Then there was the family money
which he nowadays stole, the money spent on what he ate, the clothes he
wore, and the pocket-money he needed--in fact, the perpetual alms which
were bestowed upon him, just as they might have been bestowed upon some
vulgar swindler, whom one unluckily could not get rid of.

‘Wait a bit,’ resumed Dubuche; ‘I have to stop here five minutes longer
with one of my poor duckies, and afterwards we’ll go indoors.’

Gently, and with infinite motherly precautions, he removed little Alice
from the perambulator and lifted her to the trapeze. Then, stammering
coaxing words and smiling, he encouraged her, and left her hanging for
a couple of minutes, so as to develop her muscles; but he remained with
open arms, watching each movement with the fear of seeing her smashed to
pieces, should her weak little wax-like hands relax their hold. She
did not say anything, but obeyed him in spite of the terror that this
exercise caused her; and she was so pitifully light in weight that
she did not even fully stretch the ropes, being like one of those poor
scraggy little birds which fall from a young tree without as much as
bending it.

At this moment, Dubuche, having given Gaston a glance, became distracted
on remarking that the rug had slipped and that the child’s legs were
uncovered.

‘Good heavens! good heavens! Why, he’ll catch cold on this grass! And I,
who can’t move! Gaston, my little dear! It’s the same thing every day;
you wait till I’m occupied with your sister. Sandoz, pray cover him
over! Ah, thanks! Pull the rug up more; don’t be afraid!’

So this was the outcome of his splendid marriage--those two poor, weak
little beings, whom the least breath from the sky threatened to kill
like flies. Of the fortune he had married, all that remained to him was
the constant grief of beholding those woeful children stricken by
the final degeneracy of scrofula and phthisis. However, this big,
egotistical fellow showed himself an admirable father. The only energy
that remained to him consisted in a determination to make his children
live, and he struggled on hour after hour, saving them every morning,
and dreading to lose them every night. They alone existed now amid his
finished existence, amid the bitterness of his father-in-law’s insulting
reproaches, the coldness of his sorry, ailing wife. And he kept to his
task in desperation; he finished bringing those children into the world,
as it were, by dint of unremitting tenderness.

‘There, my darling, that’s enough, isn’t it?’ he said. ‘You’ll soon see
how big and pretty you’ll become.’

He then placed Alice in the perambulator again, took Gaston, who was
still wrapped up, on one of his arms; and when his friends wished to
help him, he declined their offer, pushing the little girl’s vehicle
along with his right hand, which had remained free.

‘Thanks,’ he said, ‘I’m accustomed to it. Ah! the poor darlings are not
heavy; and besides, with servants one can never be sure of anything.’

On entering the house, Sandoz and Claude again saw the valet who had
been so insolent; and they noticed that Dubuche trembled before him. The
kitchen and the hall shared the contempt of the father-in-law, who
paid for everything, and treated ‘madame’s’ husband like a beggar whose
presence was merely tolerated out of charity. Each time that a shirt
was got ready for him, each time that he asked for some more bread, the
servants’ impolite gestures made him feel that he was receiving alms.

‘Well, good-bye, we must leave you,’ said Sandoz, who suffered at the
sight of it all.

‘No, no, wait a bit. The children are going to breakfast, and afterwards
I’ll accompany you with them. They must go for their outing.’

Each day was regulated hour by hour. Of a morning came the baths and
the gymnastics; then the breakfast, which was quite an affair, as the
children needed special food, which was duly discussed and weighed. And
matters were carried to such a point that even their wine and water was
slightly warmed, for fear that too chilly a drop might give them a cold.
On this occasion they each partook of the yolk of an egg diluted in some
broth, and a mutton cutlet, which the father cut up into tiny morsels.
Then, prior to the siesta, came the promenade.

Sandoz and Claude found themselves once more out-of-doors, walking
down the broad avenues with Dubuche, who again propelled Alice’s
perambulator, whilst Gaston walked beside him. They talked about the
estate as they went towards the gate. The master glanced over the park
with timid, nervous eyes, as if he did not feel at home. Besides he did
not know anything; he did not occupy himself about anything. He appeared
even to have forgotten the profession which he was said to be ignorant
of, and seemed to have gone astray, to be bowed down by sheer inaction.

‘And your parents, how are they?’ asked Sandoz.

A spark was once more kindled in Dubuche’s dim eyes.

‘Oh! my parents are happy,’ he said; ‘I bought them a little house,
where they live on the annuity which I had specified in my marriage
contract. Well, you see, mamma had advanced enough money for my
education, and I had to return it to her, as I had promised, eh? Yes, I
can at least say that my parents have nothing to reproach me with.’

Having reached the gate, they tarried there for a few minutes. At last,
still looking crushed, Dubuche shook hands with his old comrades; and
retaining Claude’s hand in his, he concluded, as if making a simple
statement of fact quite devoid of anger:

‘Good-bye; try to get out of worry! As for me, I’ve spoilt my life.’

And they watched him walk back towards the house, pushing the
perambulator, and supporting Gaston, who was already stumbling with
fatigue--he, Dubuche, himself having his back bent and the heavy tread
of an old man.

One o’clock was striking, and they both hurried down towards Bennecourt,
saddened and ravenous. But mournfulness awaited them there as well; a
murderous blast had swept over the place, both Faucheurs, husband and
wife, and old Porrette, were all dead; and the inn, having fallen into
the hands of that goose Melie, was becoming repugnant with its filth and
coarseness. An abominable repast was served them, an omelette with hairs
in it, and cutlets smelling of grease, in the centre of the common room,
to which an open window admitted the pestilential odour of a dung heap,
while the place was so full of flies that they positively blackened the
tables. The heat of the burning afternoon came in with the stench, and
Claude and Sandoz did not even feel the courage to order any coffee;
they fled.

‘And you who used to extol old Mother Faucheur’s omelettes!’ said
Sandoz. ‘The place is done for. We are going for a turn, eh?’

Claude was inclined to refuse. Ever since the morning he had had but
one idea--that of walking on as fast as possible, as if each step would
shorten the disagreeable task and bring him back to Paris. His heart,
his head, his whole being had remained there. He looked neither to right
nor to left, he glided along without distinguishing aught of the
fields or trees, having but one fixed idea in his brain, a prey to such
hallucinations that at certain moments he fancied the point of the
Cite rose up and called to him from amid the vast expanse of stubble.
However, Sandoz’s proposal aroused memories in his mind; and, softening
somewhat, he replied:

‘Yes, that’s it, we’ll have a look.’

But as they advanced along the river bank, he became indignant and
grieved. He could scarcely recognise the place. A bridge had been built
to connect Bennecourt with Bonnieres: a bridge, good heavens! in the
place of the old ferry-boat, grating against its chain--the old black
boat which, cutting athwart the current, had been so full of interest to
the artistic eye. Moreover, a dam established down-stream at Port-Villez
had raised the level of the river, most of the islands of yore were
now submerged, and the little armlets of the stream had become broader.
There were no more pretty nooks, no more rippling alleys amid which one
could lose oneself; it was a disaster that inclined one to strangle all
the river engineers!

‘Why, that clump of pollards still emerging from the water on the left,’
cried Claude, ‘was the Barreux Island, where we used to chat together,
lying on the grass! You remember, don’t you? Ah! the scoundrels!’

Sandoz, who could never see a tree felled without shaking his fist at
the wood-cutter, turned pale with anger, and felt exasperated that the
authorities had thus dared to mutilate nature.

Then, as Claude approached his old home, he became silent, and his teeth
clenched. The house had been sold to some middle-class folk, and
now there was an iron gate, against which he pressed his face. The
rose-bushes were all dead, the apricot trees were dead also; the garden,
which looked very trim, with its little pathways and its square-cut beds
of flowers and vegetables, bordered with box, was reflected in a large
ball of plated glass set upon a stand in the very centre of it; and the
house, newly whitewashed and painted at the corners and round the doors
and windows, in a manner to imitate freestone, suggested some clownish
parvenu awkwardly arrayed in his Sunday toggery. The sight fairly
enraged the painter. No, no, nothing of himself, nothing of Christine,
nothing of the great love of their youth remained there! He wished to
look still further; he turned round behind the house, and sought for
the wood of oak trees where they had left the living quiver of their
embraces; but the wood was dead, dead like all the rest, felled, sold,
and burnt! Then he made a gesture of anathema, in which he cast all his
grief to that stretch of country which was now so changed that he could
not find in it one single token of his past life. And so a few years
sufficed to efface the spot where one had laboured, loved, and suffered!
What was the use of man’s vain agitation if the wind behind him swept
and carried away all the traces of his footsteps? He had rightly
realised that he ought not to return thither, for the past is simply
the cemetery of our illusions, where our feet for ever stumble against
tombstones!

‘Let us go!’ he cried; ‘let us go at once! It’s stupid to torture one’s
heart like this!’

When they were on the new bridge, Sandoz tried to calm him by showing
him the view which had not formerly existed, the widened bed of the
Seine, full to the brim, as it were, and the water flowing onward,
proudly and slowly. But this water failed to interest Claude, until he
reflected that it was the same water which, as it passed through Paris,
had bathed the old quay walls of the Cite; and then he felt touched, he
leant over the parapet of the bridge for a moment, and thought that he
could distinguish glorious reflections in it--the towers of Notre-Dame,
and the needle-like spire of the Sainte-Chapelle, carried along by the
current towards the sea.

The two friends missed the three o’clock train, and it was real torture
to have to spend two long hours more in that region, where everything
weighed so heavily on their shoulders. Fortunately, they had forewarned
Christine and Madame Sandoz that they might return by a night train
if they were detained. So they resolved upon a bachelor dinner at a
restaurant on the Place du Havre, hoping to set themselves all right
again by a good chat at dessert as in former times. Eight o’clock was
about to strike when they sat down to table.

Claude, on leaving the terminus, with his feet once more on the Paris
pavement, had lost his nervous agitation, like a man who at last finds
himself once more at home. And with the cold, absent-minded air which he
now usually displayed, he listened to Sandoz trying to enliven him.
The novelist treated his friend like a mistress whose head he wished to
turn; they partook of delicate, highly spiced dishes and heady wines.
But mirth was rebellious, and Sandoz himself ended by becoming gloomy.
All his hopes of immortality were shaken by his excursion to that
ungrateful country village, that Bennecourt, so loved and so forgetful,
where he and Claude had not found a single stone retaining any
recollection of them. If things which are eternal forget so soon, can
one place any reliance for one hour on the memory of man?

‘Do you know, old fellow,’ said the novelist, ‘it’s that which sometimes
sends me into a cold sweat. Have you ever reflected that posterity may
not be the faultless dispenser of justice that we dream of? One consoles
oneself for being insulted and denied, by relying on the equity of the
centuries to come; just as the faithful endure all the abominations of
this earth in the firm belief of another life, in which each will be
rewarded according to his deserts. But suppose Paradise exists no
more for the artist than it does for the Catholic, suppose that future
generations prolong the misunderstanding and prefer amiable little
trifles to vigorous works! Ah! what a sell it would be, eh? To have led
a convict’s life--to have screwed oneself down to one’s work--all for a
mere delusion! Please notice that it’s quite possible, after all.
There are some consecrated reputations which I wouldn’t give a rap for.
Classical education has deformed everything, and has imposed upon us as
geniuses men of correct, facile talent, who follow the beaten track.
To them one may prefer men of free tendencies, whose work is at times
unequal; but these are only known to a few people of real culture,
so that it looks as if immortality might really go merely to the
middle-class “average” talent, to the men whose names are forced into
our brains at school, when we are not strong enough to defend ourselves.
But no, no, one mustn’t say those things; they make me shudder! Should I
have the courage to go on with my task, should I be able to remain erect
amid all the jeering around me if I hadn’t the consoling illusion that I
shall some day be appreciated?’

Claude had listened with his dolorous expression, and he now made a
gesture of indifference tinged with bitterness.

‘Bah! what does it matter? Well, there’s nothing hereafter. We are even
madder than the fools who kill themselves for a woman. When the earth
splits to pieces in space like a dry walnut, our works won’t add one
atom to its dust.’

‘That’s quite true,’ summed up Sandoz, who was very pale. ‘What’s the
use of trying to fill up the void of space? And to think that we know
it, and that our pride still battles all the same!’

They left the restaurant, roamed about the streets, and foundered again
in the depths of a cafe, where they philosophised. They had come by
degrees to raking up the memories of their childhood, and this ended
by filling their hearts with sadness. One o’clock in the morning struck
when they decided to go home.

However, Sandoz talked of seeing Claude as far as the Rue Tourlaque.
That August night was a superb one, the air was warm, the sky studded
with stars. And as they went the round by way of the Quartier de
l’Europe, they passed before the old Cafe Baudequin on the Boulevard des
Batignolles. It had changed hands three times. It was no longer arranged
inside in the same manner as formerly; there were now a couple of
billiard tables on the right hand; and several strata of customers had
followed each other thither, one covering the other, so that the old
frequenters had disappeared like buried nations. However, curiosity, the
emotion they had derived from all the past things they had been raking
up together, induced them to cross the boulevard and to glance into the
cafe through the open doorway. They wanted to see their table of yore,
on the left hand, right at the back of the room.

‘Oh, look!’ said Sandoz, stupefied.

‘Gagniere!’ muttered Claude.

It was indeed Gagniere, seated all alone at that table at the end of the
empty cafe. He must have come from Melun for one of the Sunday concerts
to which he treated himself; and then, in the evening, while astray in
Paris, an old habit of his legs had led him to the Cafe Baudequin. Not
one of the comrades ever set foot there now, and he, who had beheld
another age, obstinately remained there alone. He had not yet touched
his glass of beer; he was looking at it, so absorbed in thought that
he did not even stir when the waiters began piling the chairs on
the tables, in order that everything might be ready for the morrow’s
sweeping.

The two friends hurried off, upset by the sight of that dim figure,
seized as it were with a childish fear of ghosts. They parted in the Rue
Tourlaque.

‘Ah! that poor devil Dubuche!’ said Sandoz as he pressed Claude’s hand,
‘he spoilt our day for us.’

As soon as November had come round, and when all the old friends were
back in Paris again, Sandoz thought of gathering them together at one
of those Thursday dinners which had remained a habit with him. They were
always his greatest delight. The sale of his books was increasing, and
he was growing rich; the flat in the Rue de Londres was becoming quite
luxurious compared with the little house at Batignolles; but he himself
remained immutable. On this occasion, he was anxious, in his good
nature, to procure real enjoyment for Claude by organising one of the
dear evenings of their youth. So he saw to the invitations; Claude and
Christine naturally must come; next Jory and his wife, the latter of
whom it had been necessary to receive since her marriage, then Dubuche,
who always came alone, with Fagerolles, Mahoudeau, and finally Gagniere.
There would be ten of them--all the men comrades of the old band,
without a single outsider, in order that the good understanding and
jollity might be complete.

Henriette, who was more mistrustful than her husband, hesitated when
this list of guests was decided upon.

‘Oh! Fagerolles? You believe in having Fagerolles with the others? They
hardly like him--nor Claude either; I fancied I noticed a coolness--’

But he interrupted her, bent on not admitting it.

‘What! a coolness? It’s really funny, but women can’t understand that
fellows chaff each other. All that doesn’t prevent them from having
their hearts in the right place.’

Henriette took especial care in preparing the menu for that Thursday
dinner. She now had quite a little staff to overlook, a cook, a
man-servant, and so on; and if she no longer prepared any of the dishes
herself, she still saw that very delicate fare was provided, out of
affection for her husband, whose sole vice was gluttony. She went to
market with the cook, and called in person on the tradespeople. She
and her husband had a taste for gastronomical curiosities from the four
corners of the world. On this occasion they decided to have some ox-tail
soup, grilled mullet, undercut of beef with mushrooms, _raviolis_ in
the Italian fashion, hazel-hens from Russia, and a salad of truffles,
without counting caviare and _kilkis_ as side-dishes, a _glace
pralinee_, and a little emerald-coloured Hungarian cheese, with fruit
and pastry. As wine, some old Bordeaux claret in decanters, chambertin
with the roast, and sparkling moselle at dessert, in lieu of champagne,
which was voted commonplace.

At seven o’clock Sandoz and Henriette were waiting for their guests, he
simply wearing a jacket, and she looking very elegant in a plain dress
of black satin. People dined at their house in frock-coats, without
any fuss. The drawing-room, the arrangements of which they were now
completing, was becoming crowded with old furniture, old tapestry,
nick-nacks of all countries and all times--a rising and now overflowing
stream of things which had taken source at Batignolles with an old pot
of Rouen ware, which Henriette had given her husband on one of his fete
days. They ran about to the curiosity shops together; a joyful passion
for buying possessed them. Sandoz satisfied the longings of his youth,
the romanticist ambitions which the first books he had read had
given birth to. Thus this writer, so fiercely modern, lived amid the
worm-eaten middle ages which he had dreamt of when he was a lad of
fifteen. As an excuse, he laughingly declared that handsome modern
furniture cost too much, whilst with old things, even common ones, you
immediately obtained something with effect and colour. There was nothing
of the collector about him, he was entirely concerned as to decoration
and broad effects; and to tell the truth, the drawing-room, lighted by
two lamps of old Delft ware, had quite a soft warm tint with the dull
gold of the dalmaticas used for upholstering the seats, the yellowish
incrustations of the Italian cabinets and Dutch show-cases, the faded
hues of the Oriental door-hangings, the hundred little notes of the
ivory, crockery and enamel work, pale with age, which showed against the
dull red hangings of the room.

Claude and Christine were the first to arrive. The latter had put on
her only silk dress--an old, worn-out garment which she preserved with
especial care for such occasions. Henriette at once took hold of
both her hands and drew her to a sofa. She was very fond of her, and
questioned her, seeing her so strange, touchingly pale, and with anxious
eyes. What was the matter? Did she feel poorly? No, no, she answered
that she was very gay and very pleased to come; but while she spoke, she
kept on glancing at Claude, as if to study him, and then looked away. He
seemed excited, evincing a feverishness in his words and gestures which
he had not shown for a month past. At intervals, however, his agitation
subsided, and he remained silent, with his eyes wide open, gazing
vacantly into space at something which he fancied was calling him.

‘Ah! old man,’ he said to Sandoz, ‘I finished reading your book last
night. It’s deucedly clever; you have shut up their mouths this time!’

They both talked standing in front of the chimney-piece, where some logs
were blazing. Sandoz had indeed just published a new novel, and although
his critics did not disarm, there was at last that stir of success which
establishes a man’s reputation despite the persistent attacks of his
adversaries. Besides, he had no illusions; he knew very well that the
battle, even if it were won, would begin again at each fresh book he
wrote. The great work of his life was advancing, that series of novels
which he launched forth in volumes one after another in stubborn,
regular fashion, marching towards the goal he had selected without
letting anything, obstacles, insults, or fatigue, conquer him.

‘It’s true,’ he gaily replied, ‘they are weakening this time. There’s
even one who has been foolish enough to admit that I’m an honest man!
See how everything degenerates! But they’ll make up for it, never fear!
I know some of them whose nuts are too much unlike my own to let
them accept my literary formula, my boldness of language, and my
physiological characters acting under the influence of circumstances;
and I refer to brother writers who possess self-respect; I leave the
fools and the scoundrels on one side. For a man to be able to work on
pluckily, it is best for him to expect neither good faith nor justice.
To be in the right he must begin by dying.’

At this Claude’s eyes abruptly turned towards a corner of the
drawing-room, as if to pierce the wall and go far away yonder, whither
something had summoned him. Then they became hazy and returned from
their journey, whilst he exclaimed:

‘Oh! you speak for yourself! I should do wrong to kick the bucket. No
matter, your book sent me into a deuced fever. I wanted to paint to-day,
but I couldn’t. Ah! it’s lucky that I can’t get jealous of you, else you
would make me too unhappy.’

However, the door had opened, and Mathilde came in, followed by Jory.
She was richly attired in a tunic of nasturtium-hued velvet and a skirt
of straw-coloured satin, with diamonds in her ears and a large bouquet
of roses on her bosom. What astonished Claude the most was that he did
not recognise her, for she had become plump, round, and fair skinned,
instead of thin and sunburnt as he had known her. Her disturbing
ugliness had departed in a swelling of the face; her mouth, once
noted for its black voids, now displayed teeth which looked over-white
whenever she condescended to smile, with a disdainful curling of the
upper lip. You could guess that she had become immoderately respectable;
her five and forty summers gave her weight beside her husband, who was
younger than herself and seemed to be her nephew. The only thing of yore
that clung to her was a violent perfume; she drenched herself with the
strongest essences, as if she had been anxious to wash from her skin the
smell of all the aromatic simples with which she had been impregnated
by her herbalist business; however, the sharpness of rhubarb, the
bitterness of elder-seed, and the warmth of peppermint clung to her;
and as soon as she crossed the drawing-room, it was filled with an
undefinable smell like that of a chemist’s shop, relieved by an acute
odour of musk.

Henriette, who had risen, made her sit down beside Christine, saying:

‘You know each other, don’t you? You have already met here.’

Mathilde gave but a cold glance at the modest attire of that woman
who had lived for a long time with a man, so it was said, before being
married to him. She herself was exceedingly rigid respecting such
matters since the tolerance prevailing in literary and artistic circles
had admitted her to a few drawing-rooms. Henriette hated her, however,
and after the customary exchange of courtesies, not to be dispensed
with, resumed her conversation with Christine.

Jory had shaken hands with Claude and Sandoz, and, standing near them,
in front of the fireplace, he apologised for an article slashing the
novelist’s new book which had appeared that very morning in his review.

‘As you know very well, my dear fellow, one is never the master in one’s
own house. I ought to see to everything, but I have so little time! I
hadn’t even read that article, I relied on what had been told me
about it. So you will understand how enraged I was when I read it this
afternoon. I am dreadfully grieved, dreadfully grieved--’

‘Oh, let it be! It’s the natural order of things,’ replied Sandoz,
quietly. ‘Now that my enemies are beginning to praise me, it’s only
proper that my friends should attack me.’

The door again opened, and Gagniere glided in softly, like a
will-o’-the-wisp. He had come straight from Melun, and was quite alone,
for he never showed his wife to anybody. When he thus came to dinner he
brought the country dust with him on his boots, and carried it back with
him the same night on taking the last train. On the other hand, he did
not alter; or, rather, age seemed to rejuvenate him; his complexion
became fairer as he grew old.

‘Hallo! Why, Gagniere’s here!’ exclaimed Sandoz.

Then, just as Gagniere was making up his mind to bow to the ladies,
Mahoudeau entered. He had already grown grey, with a sunken,
fierce-looking face and childish, blinking eyes. He still wore trousers
which were a good deal too short for him, and a frock-coat which creased
in the back, in spite of the money which he now earned; for the bronze
manufacturer for whom he worked had brought out some charming statuettes
of his, which one began to see on middle-class mantel-shelves and
consoles.

Sandoz and Claude had turned round, inquisitive to witness the meeting
between Mahoudeau and Mathilde. However, matters passed off very
quietly. The sculptor bowed to her respectfully, while Jory, the
husband, with his air of serene unconsciousness, thought fit to
introduce her to him, for the twentieth time, perhaps.

‘Eh! It’s my wife, old fellow. Shake hands together.’

Thereupon, both very grave, like people of society who are forced
somewhat over-promptly into familiarity, Mathilde and Mahoudeau shook
hands. Only, as soon as the latter had got rid of the job and had found
Gagniere in a corner of the drawing-room, they both began sneering and
recalling, in terrible language, all the abominations of yore.

Dubuche was expected that evening, for he had formally promised to come.

‘Yes,’ explained Henriette, ‘there will only be nine of us. Fagerolles
wrote this morning to apologise; he is forced to go to some official
dinner, but he hopes to escape, and will join us at about eleven
o’clock.’

At that moment, however, a servant came in with a telegram. It was from
Dubuche, who wired: ‘Impossible to stir. Alice has an alarming cough.’

‘Well, we shall only be eight, then,’ resumed Henriette, with the
somewhat peevish resignation of a hostess disappointed by her guests.

And the servant having opened the dining-room door and announced that
dinner was ready, she added:

‘We are all here. Claude, offer me your arm.’

Sandoz took Mathilde’s, Jory charged himself with Christine, while
Mahoudeau and Gagniere brought up the rear, still joking coarsely about
what they called the beautiful herbalist’s padding.

The dining-room which they now entered was very spacious, and the light
was gaily bright after the subdued illumination of the drawing-room. The
walls, covered with specimens of old earthenware, displayed a gay medley
of colours, reminding one of cheap coloured prints. Two sideboards,
one laden with glass and the other with silver plate, sparkled like
jewellers’ show-cases. And in the centre of the room, under the
big hanging lamp girt round with tapers, the table glistened like a
_catafalque_ with the whiteness of its cloth, laid in perfect style,
with decorated plates, cut-glass decanters white with water or
ruddy with wine, and symmetrical side-dishes, all set out around the
centre-piece, a silver basket full of purple roses.

They sat down, Henriette between Claude and Mahoudeau, Sandoz with
Mathilde and Christine beside him, Jory and Gagniere at either end; and
the servant had barely finished serving the soup, when Madame Jory made
a most unfortunate remark. Wishing to show herself amiable, and not
having heard her husband’s apologies, she said to the master of the
house:

‘Well, were you pleased with the article in this morning’s number?
Edouard personally revised the proofs with the greatest care!’

On hearing this, Jory became very much confused and stammered:

‘No, no! you are mistaken! It was a very bad article indeed, and you
know very well that it was “passed” the other evening while I was away.’

By the silent embarrassment which ensued she guessed her blunder. But
she made matters still worse, for, giving her husband a sharp glance,
she retorted in a very loud voice, so as to crush him, as it were, and
disengage her own responsibility:

‘Another of your lies! I repeat what you told me. I won’t allow you to
make me ridiculous, do you hear?’

This threw a chill over the beginning of the dinner. Henriette
recommended the _kilkis_, but Christine alone found them very nice.
When the grilled mullet appeared, Sandoz, who was amused by Jory’s
embarrassment, gaily reminded him of a lunch they had had together at
Marseilles in the old days. Ah! Marseilles, the only city where people
know how to eat!

Claude, who for a little while had been absorbed in thought, now seemed
to awaken from a dream, and without any transition he asked:

‘Is it decided? Have they selected the artists for the new decorations
of the Hotel de Ville?’

‘No,’ said Mahoudeau, ‘they are going to do so. I sha’n’t get anything,
for I don’t know anybody. Fagerolles himself is very anxious. If he
isn’t here to-night, it’s because matters are not going smoothly. Ah!
he has had his bite at the cherry; all that painting for millions is
cracking to bits!’

There was a laugh, expressive of spite finally satisfied, and even
Gagniere at the other end of the table joined in the sneering. Then they
eased their feelings in malicious words, and rejoiced over the sudden
fall of prices which had thrown the world of ‘young masters’ into
consternation. It was inevitable, the predicted time was coming,
the exaggerated rise was about to finish in a catastrophe. Since the
amateurs had been panic-stricken, seized with consternation like that
of speculators when a ‘slump’ sweeps over a Stock Exchange, prices were
giving way day by day, and nothing more was sold. It was a sight to
see the famous Naudet amid the rout; he had held out at first, he had
invented ‘the dodge of the Yankee’--the unique picture hidden deep in
some gallery, in solitude like an idol--the picture of which he would
not name the price, being contemptuously certain that he could never
find a man rich enough to purchase it, but which he finally sold for two
or three hundred thousand francs to some pig-dealer of Chicago, who
felt glorious at carrying off the most expensive canvas of the year. But
those fine strokes of business were not to be renewed at present, and
Naudet, whose expenditure had increased with his gains, drawn on and
swallowed up in the mad craze which was his own work, could now hear
his regal mansion crumbling beneath him, and was reduced to defend it
against the assault of creditors.

‘Won’t you take some more mushrooms, Mahoudeau?’ obligingly interrupted
Henriette.

The servant was now handing round the undercut. They ate, and emptied
the decanters; but their bitterness was so great that the best things
were offered without being tasted, which distressed the master and
mistress of the house.

‘Mushrooms, eh?’ the sculptor ended by repeating. ‘No, thanks.’ And he
added: ‘The funny part of it all is, that Naudet is suing Fagerolles.
Oh, quite so! he’s going to distrain on him. Ah! it makes me laugh! We
shall see a pretty scouring in the Avenue de Villiers among all those
petty painters with mansions of their own. House property will go for
nothing next spring! Well, Naudet, who had compelled Fagerolles to build
a house, and who furnished it for him as he would have furnished a place
for a hussy, wanted to get hold of his nick-nacks and hangings again.
But Fagerolles had borrowed money on them, so it seems. You can imagine
the state of affairs; the dealer accuses the artist of having spoilt his
game by exhibiting with the vanity of a giddy fool; while the painter
replies that he doesn’t mean to be robbed any longer; and they’ll end by
devouring each other--at least, I hope so.’

Gagniere raised his voice, the gentle but inexorable voice of a dreamer
just awakened.

‘Fagerolles is done for. Besides, he never had any success.’

The others protested. Well, what about the hundred thousand francs’
worth of pictures he had sold a year, and his medals and his cross
of the Legion of Honour? But Gagniere, still obstinate, smiled with
a mysterious air, as if facts could not prevail against his inner
conviction. He wagged his head and, full of disdain, replied:

‘Let me be! He never knew anything about chiaroscuro.’

Jory was about to defend the talent of Fagerolles, whom he considered to
be his own creation, when Henriette solicited a little attention for
the _raviolis_. There was a short slackening of the quarrel amid the
crystalline clinking of the glasses and the light clatter of the forks.
The table, laid with such fine symmetry, was already in confusion, and
seemed to sparkle still more amid the ardent fire of the quarrel. And
Sandoz, growing anxious, felt astonished. What was the matter with them
all that they attacked Fagerolles so harshly? Hadn’t they all begun
together, and were they not all to reach the goal in the same victory?
For the first time, a feeling of uneasiness disturbed his dream of
eternity, that delight in his Thursdays, which he had pictured following
one upon another, all alike, all of them happy ones, into the far
distance of the future. But the feeling was as yet only skin deep, and
he laughingly exclaimed:

‘Husband your strength, Claude, here are the hazel-hens. Eh! Claude,
where are you?’

Since silence had prevailed, Claude had relapsed into his dream, gazing
about him vacantly, and taking a second help of _raviolis_ without
knowing what he was about; Christine, who said nothing, but sat there
looking sad and charming, did not take her eyes off him. He started when
Sandoz spoke, and chose a leg from amid the bits of hazel-hen now being
served, the strong fumes of which filled the room with a resinous smell.

‘Do you smell that?’ exclaimed Sandoz, amused; ‘one would think one were
swallowing all the forests of Russia.’

But Claude returned to the matter which worried him.

‘Then you say that Fagerolles will be entrusted with the paintings for
the Municipal Council’s assembly room?’

And this remark sufficed; Mahoudeau and Gagniere, set on the track, at
once started off again. Ah! a nice wishy-washy smearing it would be
if that assembly room were allotted to him; and he was doing plenty of
dirty things to get it. He, who had formerly pretended to spit on
orders for work, like a great artist surrounded by amateurs, was basely
cringing to the officials, now that his pictures no longer sold.
Could anything more despicable be imagined than a painter soliciting
a functionary, bowing and scraping, showing all kinds of cowardice and
making all kinds of concessions? It was shameful that art should be
dependent upon a Minister’s idiotic good pleasure! Fagerolles, at that
official dinner he had gone to, was no doubt conscientiously licking the
boots of some chief clerk, some idiot who was only fit to be made a guy
of.

‘Well,’ said Jory, ‘he effects his purpose, and he’s quite right. _You_
won’t pay his debts.’

‘Debts? Have I any debts, I who have always starved?’ answered Mahoudeau
in a roughly arrogant tone. ‘Ought a fellow to build himself a palace
and spend money on creatures like that Irma Becot, who’s ruining
Fagerolles?’

At this Jory grew angry, while the others jested, and Irma’s name went
flying over the table. But Mathilde, who had so far remained reserved
and silent by way of making a show of good breeding, became intensely
indignant. ‘Oh! gentlemen, oh! gentlemen,’ she exclaimed, ‘to talk
before _us_ about that creature. No, not that creature, I implore you!

After that Henriette and Sandoz, who were in consternation, witnessed
the rout of their menu. The truffle salad, the ice, the dessert,
everything was swallowed without being at all appreciated amidst the
rising anger of the quarrel; and the chambertin and sparkling moselle
were imbibed as if they had merely been water. In vain did Henriette
smile, while Sandoz good-naturedly tried to calm them by making
allowances for human weakness. Not one of them retreated from his
position; a single word made them spring upon each other. There was
none of the vague boredom, the somniferous satiety which at times had
saddened their old gatherings; at present there was real ferocity in the
struggle, a longing to destroy one another. The tapers of the hanging
lamp flared up, the painted flowers of the earthenware on the walls
bloomed, the table seemed to have caught fire amid the upsetting of its
symmetrical arrangements and the violence of the talk, that demolishing
onslaught of chatter which had filled them with fever for a couple of
hours past.

And amid the racket, when Henriette made up her mind to rise so as to
silence them, Claude at length remarked:

‘Ah! if I only had the Hotel de Ville work, and if I could! It used to
be my dream to cover all the walls of Paris!’

They returned to the drawing-room, where the little chandelier and the
bracket-candelabra had just been lighted. It seemed almost cold there in
comparison with the kind of hot-house which had just been left; and
for a moment the coffee calmed the guests. Nobody beyond Fagerolles was
expected. The house was not an open one by any means, the Sandozes
did not recruit literary dependents or muzzle the press by dint of
invitations. The wife detested society, and the husband said with a
laugh that he needed ten years to take a liking to anybody, and then he
must like him always. But was not that real happiness, seldom realised?
A few sound friendships and a nook full of family affection. No
music was ever played there, and nobody had ever read a page of his
composition aloud.

On that particular Thursday the evening seemed a long one, on account
of the persistent irritation of the men. The ladies had begun to chat
before the smouldering fire; and when the servant, after clearing the
table, reopened the door of the dining-room, they were left alone, the
men repairing to the adjoining apartment to smoke and sip some beer.

Sandoz and Claude, who were not smokers, soon returned, however, and sat
down, side by side, on a sofa near the doorway. The former, who was glad
to see his old friend excited and talkative, recalled the memories
of Plassans apropos of a bit of news he had learnt the previous day.
Pouillaud, the old jester of their dormitory, who had become so grave
a lawyer, was now in trouble over some adventure with a woman. Ah! that
brute of a Pouillaud! But Claude did not answer, for, having heard his
name mentioned in the dining-room, he listened attentively, trying to
understand.

Jory, Mahoudeau, and Gagniere, unsatiated and eager for another bite,
had started on the massacre again. Their voices, at first mere whispers,
gradually grew louder, till at last they began to shout.

‘Oh! the man, I abandon the man to you,’ said Jory, who was speaking of
Fagerolles. ‘He isn’t worth much. And he out-generalled you, it’s true.
Ah! how he did get the better of you fellows, by breaking off from you
and carving success for himself on your backs! You were certainly not at
all cute.’

Mahoudeau, waxing furious, replied:

‘Of course! It sufficed for us to be with Claude, to be turned away
everywhere.’

‘It was Claude who did for us!’ so Gagniere squarely asserted.

And thus they went on, relinquishing Fagerolles, whom they reproached
for toadying the newspapers, for allying himself with their enemies and
wheedling sexagenarian baronesses, to fall upon Claude, who now became
the great culprit. Well, after all, the other was only a hussy, one of
the many found in the artistic fraternity, fellows who accost the public
at street corners, leave their comrades in the lurch, and victimise them
so as to get the bourgeois into their studios. But Claude, that abortive
great artist, that impotent fellow who couldn’t set a figure on its legs
in spite of all his pride, hadn’t he utterly compromised them, hadn’t he
let them in altogether? Ah! yes, success might have been won by breaking
off. If they had been able to begin over again, they wouldn’t have been
idiots enough to cling obstinately to impossible principles! And they
accused Claude of having paralysed them, of having traded on them--yes,
traded on them, but in so clumsy and dull-witted a manner that he
himself had not derived any benefit by it.

‘Why, as for me,’ resumed Mahoudeau, ‘didn’t he make me quite idiotic at
one moment? When I think of it, I sound myself, and remain wondering
why I ever joined his band. Am I at all like him? Was there ever any one
thing in common between us, eh? Ah! it’s exasperating to find the truth
out so late in the day!’

‘And as for myself,’ said Gagniere, ‘he robbed me of my originality. Do
you think it has amused me, each time I have exhibited a painting during
the last fifteen years, to hear people saying behind me, “That’s a
Claude!” Oh! I’ve had enough of it, I prefer not to paint any more.
All the same, if I had seen clearly in former times, I shouldn’t have
associated with him.’

It was a stampede, the snapping of the last ties, in their stupefaction
at suddenly finding that they were strangers and enemies, after a long
youth of fraternity together. Life had disbanded them on the road, and
the great dissimilarity of their characters stood revealed; all that
remained in them was the bitterness left by the old enthusiastic dream,
that erstwhile hope of battle and victory to be won side by side, which
now increased their spite.

‘The fact is,’ sneered Jory, ‘that Fagerolles did not let himself be
pillaged like a simpleton.’

But Mahoudeau, feeling vexed, became angry. ‘You do wrong to laugh,’ he
said, ‘for you are a nice backslider yourself. Yes, you always told us
that you would give us a lift up when you had a paper of your own.’

‘Ah! allow me, allow me--’

Gagniere, however, united with Mahoudeau: ‘That’s quite true!’ he said.
‘You can’t say any more that what you write about us is cut out, for you
are the master now. And yet, never a word! You didn’t even name us in
your articles on the last Salon.’

Then Jory, embarrassed and stammering, in his turn flew into a rage.

‘Ah! well, it’s the fault of that cursed Claude! I don’t care to lose my
subscribers simply to please you fellows. It’s impossible to do anything
for you! There! do you understand? You, Mahoudeau, may wear yourself
out in producing pretty little things; you, Gagniere, may even never do
anything more; but you each have a label on the back, and you’ll need
ten years’ efforts before you’ll be able to get it off. In fact, there
have been some labels that would never come off! The public is amused
by it, you know; there were only you fellows to believe in the genius of
that big ridiculous lunatic, who will be locked up in a madhouse one of
these fine mornings!’

Then the dispute became terrible, they all three spoke at once, coming
at last to abominable reproaches, with such outbursts, and such furious
motion of the jaw, that they seemed to be biting one another.

Sandoz, seated on the sofa, and disturbed in the gay memories he was
recalling, was at last obliged to lend ear to the tumult which reached
him through the open doorway.

‘You hear them?’ whispered Claude, with a dolorous smile; ‘they are
giving it me nicely! No, no, stay here, I won’t let you stop them; I
deserve it, since I have failed to succeed.’

And Sandoz, turning pale, remained there, listening to that bitter
quarrelling, the outcome of the struggle for life, that grappling of
conflicting personalities, which bore all his chimera of everlasting
friendship away.

Henriette, fortunately, became anxious on hearing the violent shouting.
She rose and went to shame the smokers for thus forsaking the ladies
to go and quarrel together. They then returned to the drawing-room,
perspiring, breathing hard, and still shaken by their anger. And as
Henriette, with her eyes on the clock, remarked that they certainly
would not see Fagerolles that evening, they, began to sneer again,
exchanging glances. Ah! he had a fine scent, and no mistake; he wouldn’t
be caught associating with old friends, who had become troublesome, and
whom he hated.

In fact, Fagerolles did not come. The evening finished laboriously. They
once more went back to the dining-room, where the tea was served on a
Russian tablecloth embroidered with a stag-hunt in red thread; and under
the tapers a plain cake was displayed, with plates full of sweetstuff
and pastry, and a barbarous collection of liqueurs and spirits, whisky,
hollands, Chio raki, and kummel. The servant also brought some punch,
and bestirred himself round the table, while the mistress of the house
filled the teapot from the samovar boiling in front of her. But all the
comfort, all the feast for the eyes and the fine perfume of the tea did
not move their hearts. The conversation again turned on the success that
some men achieved and the ill-luck that befell others. For instance, was
it not shameful that art should be dishonoured by all those medals, all
those crosses, all those rewards, which were so badly distributed to
boot? Were artists always to remain like little boys at school? All
the universal platitude came from the docility and cowardice which were
shown, as in the presence of ushers, so as to obtain good marks.

They had repaired to the drawing-room once more, and Sandoz, who was
greatly distressed, had begun to wish that they would take themselves
off, when he noticed Mathilde and Gagniere seated side by side on a sofa
and talking languishingly of music, while the others remained exhausted,
lacking saliva and power of speech. Gagniere philosophised and poetised
in a state of ecstasy, while Mathilde rolled up her eyes and went into
raptures as if titillated by some invisible wing. They had caught sight
of each other on the previous Sunday at the concert at the Cirque, and
they apprised each other of their enjoyment in alternate, far-soaring
sentences.

‘Ah! that Meyerbeer, monsieur, the overture of “Struensee,” that
funereal strain, and then that peasant dance, so full of dash and
colour; and then the mournful burden which returns, the duo of the
violoncellos. Ah! monsieur, the violoncellos, the violoncellos!’

‘And Berlioz, madame, the festival air in “Romeo.” Oh! the solo of the
clarionets, the beloved women, with the harp accompaniment! Something
enrapturing, something white as snow which ascends! The festival
bursts upon you, like a picture by Paul Veronese, with the tumultuous
magnificence of the “Marriage of Cana”; and then the love-song begins
again, oh, how softly! Oh! always higher! higher still--’

‘Did you notice, monsieur, in Beethoven’s Symphony in A, that knell
which ever and ever comes back and beats upon your heart? Yes, I see
very well, you feel as I do, music is a communion--Beethoven, ah, me!
how sad and sweet it is to be two to understand him and give way--’

‘And Schumann, madame, and Wagner, madame--Schumann’s “Reverie,” nothing
but the stringed instruments, a warm shower falling on acacia leaves, a
sunray which dries them, barely a tear in space. Wagner! ah, Wagner! the
overture of the “Flying Dutchman,” are you not fond of it?--tell me you
are fond of it! As for myself, it overcomes me. There is nothing left,
nothing left, one expires--’

Their voices died away; they did not even look at each other, but sat
there elbow to elbow, with their faces turned upward, quite overcome.

Sandoz, who was surprised, asked himself where Mathilde could have
picked up that jargon. In some article of Jory’s, perhaps. Besides, he
had remarked that women talk music very well, even without knowing a
note of it. And he, whom the bitterness of the others had only grieved,
became exasperated at sight of Mathilde’s languishing attitude. No, no,
that was quite enough; the men tore each other to bits; still that might
pass, after all; but what an end to the evening it was, that feminine
fraud, cooing and titillating herself with thoughts of Beethoven’s and
Schumann’s music! Fortunately, Gagniere suddenly rose. He knew what
o’clock it was even in the depths of his ecstasy, and he had only just
time left him to catch his last train. So, after exchanging nerveless
and silent handshakes with the others, he went off to sleep at Melun.

‘What a failure he is!’ muttered Mahoudeau. ‘Music has killed painting;
he’ll never do anything!’

He himself had to leave, and the door had scarcely closed behind his
back when Jory declared:

‘Have you seen his last paperweight? He’ll end by sculpturing
sleeve-links. There’s a fellow who has missed his mark! To think that he
prided himself on being vigorous!’

But Mathilde was already afoot, taking leave of Christine with a curt
little inclination of the head, affecting social familiarity with
Henriette, and carrying off her husband, who helped her on with her
cloak in the ante-room, humble and terrified at the severe glance she
gave him, for she had an account to settle.

Then, the door having closed behind them, Sandoz, beside himself,
cried out: ‘That’s the end! The journalist was bound to call the others
abortions--yes, the journalist who, after patching up articles, has
fallen to trading upon public credulity! Ah! luckily there’s Mathilde
the Avengeress!’

Of the guests Christine and Claude alone were left. The latter, since
the drawing-room had been growing empty, had remained ensconced in the
depths of an arm-chair, no longer speaking, but overcome by that species
of magnetic slumber which stiffened him, and fixed his eyes on something
far away beyond the walls. He protruded his face, a convulsive kind
of attention seemed to carry it forward; he certainly beheld something
invisible, and heard a summons in the silence.

Christine having risen in her turn, and apologised for being the last
to leave, Henriette took hold of her hands, repeated how fond she was of
her, begged her to come and see her frequently, and to dispose of her
in all things as she would with a sister. But Claude’s sorrowful wife,
looking so sadly charming in her black dress, shook her head with a pale
smile.

‘Come,’ said Sandoz in her ear, after giving a glance at Claude, ‘you
mustn’t distress yourself like that. He has talked a great deal, he has
been gayer this evening. He’s all right.’

But in a terrified voice she answered:

‘No, no; look at his eyes--I shall tremble as long as he has his eyes
like that. You have done all you could, thanks. What you haven’t done no
one will do. Ah! how I suffer at being unable to hope, at being unable
to do anything!’

Then in a loud tone she asked:

‘Are you coming, Claude?’

She had to repeat her question twice, for at first he did not hear her;
he ended by starting, however, and rose to his feet, saying, as if he
had answered the summons from the horizon afar off:

‘Yes, I’m coming, I’m coming.’

When Sandoz and his wife at last found themselves alone in the
drawing-room, where the atmosphere now was stifling--heated by the
lights and heavy, as it were, with melancholy silence after all the
outbursts of the quarrelling--they looked at one another and let their
arms fall, quite heart-rent by the unfortunate issue of their dinner
party. Henrietta tried to laugh it off, however, murmuring:

‘I warned you, I quite understood--’

But he interrupted her with a despairing gesture. What! was that, then,
the end of his long illusion, that dream of eternity which had made
him set happiness in a few friendships, formed in childhood, and shared
until extreme old age? Ah! what a wretched band, what a final rending,
what a terrible balance-sheet to weep over after that bankruptcy of the
human heart! And he grew astonished on thinking of the friends who had
fallen off by the roadside, of the great affections lost on the way,
of the others unceasingly changing around himself, in whom he found no
change. His poor Thursdays filled him with pity, so many memories were
in mourning, it was the slow death of all that one loves! Would his
wife and himself have to resign themselves to live as in a desert, to
cloister themselves in utter hatred of the world? Ought they rather to
throw their doors wide open to a throng of strangers and indifferent
folk? By degrees a certainty dawned in the depths of his grief:
everything ended and nothing began again in life. He seemed to yield to
evidence, and, heaving a big sigh, exclaimed:

‘You were right. We won’t invite them to dinner again--they would devour
one another.’

As soon as Claude and Christine reached the Place de la Trinite on their
way home, the painter let go of his wife’s arm; and, stammering that
he had to go somewhere, he begged her to return to the Rue Tourlaque
without him. She had felt him shuddering, and she remained quite scared
with surprise and fear. Somewhere to go at that hour--past midnight!
Where had he to go, and what for? He had turned round and was making
off, when she overtook him, and, pretending that she was frightened,
begged that he would not leave her to climb up to Montmartre alone at
that time of night. This consideration alone brought him back. He took
her arm again; they ascended the Rue Blanche and the Rue Lepic, and at
last found themselves in the Rue Tourlaque. And on reaching their door,
he rang the bell, and then again left her.

‘Here you are,’ he said; ‘I’m going.’

He was already hastening away, taking long strides, and gesticulating
like a madman. Without even closing the door which had been opened, she
darted off, bent on following him. In the Rue Lepic she drew near; but
for fear of exciting him still more she contented herself with keeping
him in sight, walking some thirty yards in the rear, without his knowing
that she was behind him. On reaching the end of the Rue Lepic he went
down the Rue Blanche again, and then proceeded by way of the Rue de
la Chaussee-d’Antin and the Rue du Dix Decembre as far as the Rue de
Richelieu. When she saw him turn into the last-named thoroughfare, a
mortal chill came over her: he was going towards the Seine; it was the
realisation of the frightful fear which kept her of a night awake, full
of anguish! And what could she do, good Lord? Go with him, hang upon his
neck over yonder? She was now only able to stagger along, and as each
step brought them nearer to the river, she felt life ebbing from her
limbs. Yes, he was going straight there; he crossed the Place du
Theatre Francais, then the Carrousel, and finally reached the Pont des
Saints-Peres. After taking a few steps along the bridge, he approached
the railing overlooking the water; and at the thought that he was about
to jump over, a loud cry was stifled in her contracted throat.

But no; he remained motionless. Was it then only the Cite over yonder
that haunted him, that heart of Paris which pursued him everywhere,
which he conjured up with his fixed eyes, even through walls, and which,
when he was leagues away, cried out the constant summons heard by him
alone? She did not yet dare to hope it; she had stopped short, in the
rear, watching him with giddy anxiety, ever fancying that she saw him
take the terrible leap, but resisting her longing to draw nearer, for
fear lest she might precipitate the catastrophe by showing herself.
Oh, God! to think that she was there with her devouring passion, her
bleeding motherly heart--that she was there beholding everything,
without daring to risk one movement to hold him back!

He stood erect, looking very tall, quite motionless, and gazing into the
night.

It was a winter’s night, with a misty sky of sooty blackness, and was
rendered extremely cold by a sharp wind blowing from the west. Paris,
lighted up, had gone to sleep, showing no signs of life save such as
attached to the gas-jets, those specks which scintillated and grew
smaller and smaller in the distance till they seemed but so much starry
dust. The quays stretched away showing double rows of those luminous
beads whose reverberation glimmered on the nearer frontages. On the left
were the houses of the Quai du Louvre, on the right the two wings of the
Institute, confused masses of monuments and buildings, which became lost
to view in the darkening gloom, studded with sparks. Then between those
cordons of burners, extending as far as the eye could reach, the bridges
stretched bars of lights, ever slighter and slighter, each formed of a
train of spangles, grouped together and seemingly hanging in mid-air.
And in the Seine there shone the nocturnal splendour of the animated
water of cities; each gas-jet there cast a reflection of its flame, like
the nucleus of a comet, extending into a tail. The nearer ones, mingling
together, set the current on fire with broad, regular, symmetrical fans
of light, glowing like live embers, while the more distant ones, seen
under the bridges, were but little motionless sparks of fire. But the
large burning tails appeared to be animated, they waggled as they spread
out, all black and gold, with a constant twirling of scales, in which
one divined the flow of the water. The whole Seine was lighted up by
them, as if some fete were being given in its depths--some mysterious,
fairy-like entertainment, at which couples were waltzing beneath the
river’s red-flashing window-panes. High above those fires, above the
starry quays, the sky, in which not a planet was visible, showed a ruddy
mass of vapour, that warm, phosphorescent exhalation which every night,
above the sleep of the city, seems to set the crater of a volcano.

The wind blew hard, and Christine, shivering, her eyes full of tears,
felt the bridge move under her, as if it were bearing her away amid a
smash up of the whole scene. Had not Claude moved? Was he not climbing
over the rail? No; everything became motionless again, and she saw him
still on the same spot, obstinately stiff, with his eyes turned towards
the point of the Cite, which he could not see.

It had summoned him, and he had come, and yet he could not see it in
the depths of the darkness. He could only distinguish the bridges, with
their light framework standing out blackly against the sparkling water.
But farther off everything became confused, the island had disappeared,
he could not even have told its exact situation if some belated cabs
had not passed from time to time over the Pont-Neuf, with their lamps
showing like those shooting sparks which dart at times through embers.
A red lantern, on a level with the dam of the Mint, cast a streamlet of
blood, as it were, into the water. Something huge and lugubrious, some
drifting form, no doubt a lighter which had become unmoored, slowly
descended the stream amid the reflections. Espied for a moment, it was
immediately afterwards lost in the darkness. Where had the triumphal
island sunk? In the depths of that flow of water? Claude still gazed,
gradually fascinated by the great rushing of the river in the night. He
leant over its broad bed, chilly like an abyss, in which the mysterious
flames were dancing. And the loud, sad wail of the current attracted
him, and he listened to its call, despairing, unto death.

By a shooting pain at her heart, Christine this time realised that the
terrible thought had just occurred to him. She held out her quivering
hands which the wind was lashing. But Claude remained there, struggling
against the sweetness of death; indeed he did not move for another hour,
he lingered there unconscious of the lapse of time, with his eyes still
turned in the direction of the Cite, as if by a miracle of power they
were about to create light, and conjure up the island so that he might
behold it.

When Claude at last left the bridge, with stumbling steps, Christine had
to pass in front and run in order to be home in the Rue Tourlaque before
him.



XII

IT was nearly three o’clock when they went to bed that night, with the
bitter cold November wind blowing through their little room and the big
studio. Christine, breathless from her run, had quickly slipped between
the sheets so that he might not know that she had followed him; and
Claude, quite overcome, had taken his clothes off, one garment after
another, without saying a word. For long months they had been as
strangers; until then, however, she had never felt such a barrier
between them, such tomb-like coldness.

She struggled for nearly a quarter of an hour against the sleepiness
coming over her. She was very tired, and a kind of torpor numbed her;
still she would not give way, feeling anxious at leaving him awake. She
thus waited every night until he dozed off, so that she herself might
afterwards sleep in peace. But he had not extinguished the candle, he
lay there with his eyes open, fixed upon its flame. What could he be
thinking of? Had he remained in fancy over yonder in the black night,
amid the moist atmosphere of the quays, in front of Paris studded with
stars like a frosty sky? And what inner conflict, what matter that had
to be decided, contracted his face like that? Then, resistance being
impossible, she succumbed and glided into the slumber following upon
great weariness.

An hour later, the consciousness of something missing, the anguish
of uneasiness awoke her with a sudden start. She at once felt the bed
beside her, it was already cold: he was no longer there, she had already
divined it while asleep. And she was growing alarmed, still but half
awake, her head heavy and her ears buzzing, when through the doorway,
left ajar, she perceived a ray of light coming from the studio. She then
felt reassured, she thought that in a fit of sleeplessness he had gone
to fetch some book or other; but at last, as he did not return, she
ended by softly rising so as to take a peep. What she beheld quite
unsettled her, and kept her standing on the tiled floor, with her feet
bare, in such surprise that she did not at first dare to show herself.

Claude, who was in his shirt-sleeves, despite the coldness of the
temperature, having merely put on his trousers and slippers in his
haste, was standing on the steps in front of his large picture. His
palette was lying at his feet, and with one hand he held the candle,
while with the other he painted. His eyes were dilated like those of
a somnambulist, his gestures were precise and stiff; he stooped every
minute to take some colour on his brush, and then rose up, casting a
large fantastic shadow on the wall. And there was not a sound; frightful
silence reigned in the big dim room.

Christine guessed the truth and shuddered. The besetting worry,
made more acute by that hour spent on the Pont des Saints-Peres, had
prevented him from sleeping and had brought him once more before his
canvas, consumed with a longing to look at it again, in spite of the
lateness of the hour. He had, no doubt, only climbed the steps to fill
his eyes the nearer. Then, tortured by the sight of some faulty shade,
upset by some defect, to such a point that he could not wait for
daylight, he had caught up a brush, at first merely wishing to give
a simple touch, and then had been carried on from correction to
correction, until at last, with the candle in his hand, he painted there
like a man in a state of hallucination, amid the pale light which darted
hither and thither as he gesticulated. His powerless creative rage had
seized hold of him again, he was wearing himself out, oblivious of the
hour, oblivious of the world; he wished to infuse life into his work at
once.

Ah, what a pitiful sight! And with what tear-drenched eyes did Christine
gaze at him! At first she thought of leaving him to that mad work, as a
maniac is left to the pleasures of his craziness. He would never finish
that picture, that was quite certain now. The more desperately he worked
at it, the more incoherent did it become; the colouring had grown heavy
and pasty, the drawing was losing shape and showing signs of effort.
Even the background and the group of labourers, once so substantial
and satisfactory, were getting spoiled; yet he clung to them, he had
obstinately determined to finish everything else before repainting the
central figure, the nude woman, which remained the dread and the desire
of his hours of toil, and which would finish him off whenever he might
again try to invest it with life. For months he had not touched it,
and this had tranquillised Christine and made her tolerant and
compassionate, amid her jealous spite; for as long as he did not return
to that feared and desired mistress, she thought that he betrayed her
less.

Her feet were freezing on the tiles, and she was turning to get into bed
again when a shock brought her back to the door. She had not understood
at first, but now at last she saw. With broad curved strokes of his
brush, full of colour, Claude was at once wildly and caressingly
modelling flesh. He had a fixed grin on his lips, and did not feel
the burning candle-grease falling on his fingers, while with silent,
passionate see-sawing, his right arm alone moved against the wall,
casting black confusion upon it. He was working at the nude woman.

Then Christine opened the door and walked into the studio. An invincible
revolt, the anger of a wife buffeted at home, impelled her forward. Yes,
he was with that other, he was painting her like a visionary, whom wild
craving for truth had brought to the madness of the unreal; and those
limbs were being gilded like the columns of a tabernacle, that trunk was
becoming a star, shimmering with yellow and red, splendid and unnatural.
Such strange nudity--like unto a monstrance gleaming with precious
stones and intended for religious adoration--brought her anger to a
climax. She had suffered too much, she would not tolerate it.

And yet at first she simply showed herself despairing and supplicating.
It was but the mother remonstrating with her big mad boy of an artist
that spoke.

‘What are you doing there, Claude? Is it reasonable, Claude, to have
such ideas? Come to bed, I beg of you, don’t stay on those steps where
you will catch your death of cold!’

He did not answer; he stooped again to take some more paint on his
brush, and made the figure flash with two bright strokes of vermilion.

‘Listen to me, Claude, in pity come to me--you know that I love you--you
see how anxious you have made me. Come, oh! come, if you don’t want me
to die of cold and waiting for you.’

With his face haggard, he did not look at her; but while he bedecked a
part of the figure with carmine, he grumbled in a husky voice:

‘Just leave me alone, will you? I’m working.’

Christine remained silent for a moment. She was drawing herself erect,
her eyes began to gleam with fire, rebellion inflated her gentle,
charming form. Then she burst forth, with the growl of a slave driven to
extremities.

‘Well, no, I won’t leave you alone! I’ve had enough of it. I’ll tell
you what’s stifling me, what has been killing me ever since I have known
you. Ah! that painting, yes, your painting, she’s the murderess who
has poisoned my life! I had a presentiment of it on the first day; your
painting frightened me as if it were a monster. I found it abominable,
execrable; but then, one’s cowardly, I loved you too much not to like
it also; I ended by growing accustomed to it! But later on, how I
suffered!--how it tortured me! For ten years I don’t recollect having
spent a day without shedding tears. No, leave me! I am easing my mind,
I must speak out, since I have found strength enough to do so. For ten
years I have been abandoned and crushed every day. Ah! to be nothing
more to you, to feel myself cast more and more on one side, to fall
to the rank of a servant; and to see that other one, that thief, place
herself between you and me and clutch hold of you and triumph and insult
me! For dare, yes, dare to say that she hasn’t taken possession of
you, limb by limb, glided into your brain, your heart, your flesh,
everywhere! She holds you like a vice, she feeds on you; in fact,
she’s your wife, not I. She’s the only one you care for! Ah! the cursed
wretch, the hussy!’

Claude was now listening to her, in his astonishment at that dolorous
outburst; and being but half roused from his exasperated creative dream,
he did not as yet very well understand why she was talking to him like
that. And at sight of his stupor, the shuddering of a man surprised in
a debauch, she flew into a still greater passion; she mounted the steps,
tore the candlestick from his hand, and in her turn flashed the light in
front of the picture.

‘Just look!’ she cried, ‘just tell me how you have improved matters?
It’s hideous, it’s lamentable and grotesque; you’ll end by seeing so
yourself. Come, isn’t it ugly, isn’t it idiotic? You see very well that
you are conquered, so why should you persist any longer? There is no
sense in it, that’s what upsets me. If you can’t be a great painter,
life, at least, remains to us. Ah! life, life!’

She had placed the candle on the platform of the steps, and as he had
gone down, staggering, she sprang off to join him, and they both found
themselves below, he crouching on the last step, and she pressing his
inert, dangling hands with all her strength.

‘Come, there’s life! Drive your nightmare away, and let us live, live
together. Isn’t it too stupid, to be we two together, to be growing old
already, and to torture ourselves, and fail in every attempt to find
happiness? Oh! the grave will take us soon enough, never fear. Let’s try
to live, and love one another. Remember Bennecourt! Listen to my dream.
I should like to be able to take you away to-morrow. We would go far
from this cursed Paris, we would find a quiet spot somewhere, and you
would see how pleasant I would make your life; how nice it would be
to forget everything together! Of a morning there are strolls in the
sunlight, the breakfast which smells nice, the idle afternoon, the
evening spent side by side under the lamp! And no more worrying about
chimeras, nothing but the delight of living! Doesn’t it suffice that I
love you, that I adore you, that I am willing to be your servant, your
slave, to exist solely for your pleasures? Do you hear, I love you, I
love you? there is nothing else, and that is enough--I love you!’

He had freed his hands, and making a gesture of refusal, he said, in a
gloomy voice:

‘No, it is not enough! I _won’t_ go away with you, I _won’t_ be happy, I
_will paint_!’

‘And I shall die of it, eh? And you will die of it, and we shall end by
leaving all our blood and all our tears in it! There’s nothing beyond
Art, that is the fierce almighty god who strikes us with his thunder,
and whom you honour! he may crush us, since he is the master, and you
will still bless his name!’

‘Yes, I belong to that god, he may do what he pleases with me. I
should die if I no longer painted, and I prefer to paint and die of it.
Besides, my will is nothing in the matter. Nothing exists beyond art;
let the world burst!’

She drew herself up in a fresh spurt of anger. Her voice became harsh
and passionate again.

‘But I--I am alive, and the women you love are lifeless! Oh! don’t say
no! I know very well that all those painted women of yours are the only
ones you care about! Before I was yours I had already perceived it.
Then, for a short time you appeared to love me. It was at that period
you told me all that nonsense about your fondness for your creations.
You held such shadows in pity when you were with me; but it didn’t last.
You returned to them, oh! like a maniac returns to his mania. I, though
living, no longer existed for you; it was they, the visions, who again
became the only realities of your life. What I then endured you never
knew, for you are wonderfully ignorant of women. I have lived by your
side without your ever understanding me. Yes, I was jealous of those
painted creatures. When I posed to you, only one idea lent me the
courage that I needed. I wanted to fight them, I hoped to win you back;
but you granted me nothing, not even a kiss on my shoulder! Oh, God!
how ashamed I sometimes felt! What grief I had to force back at finding
myself thus disdained and thus betrayed!’

She continued boldly, she spoke out freely--she, so strangely compounded
of passion and modesty. And she was not mistaken in her jealousy when
she accused his art of being responsible for his neglect of herself.
At the bottom of it all, there was the theory which he had repeated a
hundred times in her presence: genius should be chaste, an artist’s only
spouse should be his work.

‘You repulse me,’ she concluded violently; ‘you draw back from me as
if I displeased you! And you love what? A nothing, a mere semblance, a
little dust, some colour spread upon a canvas! But, once more, look at
her, look at your woman up yonder! See what a monster you have made
of her in your madness! Are there any women like that? Have any women
golden limbs, and flowers on their bodies? Wake up, open your eyes,
return to life again!’

Claude, obeying the imperious gesture with which she pointed to the
picture, had now risen and was looking. The candle, which had remained
upon the platform of the steps, illumined the nude woman like a taper
in front of an altar, whilst the whole room around remained plunged in
darkness. He was at length awakening from his dream, and the woman
thus seen from below, at a distance of a few paces, filled him with
stupefaction. Who had just painted that idol of some unknown religion?
Who had wrought her of metals, marbles, and gems? Was it he who had
unconsciously created that symbol of insatiable passion, that unhuman
presentment of flesh, which had become transformed into gold and
diamonds under his fingers, in his vain effort to make it live? He
gasped and felt afraid of his work, trembling at the thought of that
sudden plunge into the infinite, and understanding at last that it
had become impossible for him even to depict Reality, despite his long
effort to conquer and remould it, making it yet more real with his human
hands.

‘You see! you see!’ Christine repeated, victoriously. And he, in a very
low voice, stammered:

‘Oh! what have I done? Is it impossible to create, then? Haven’t our
hands the power to create beings?’

She felt that he was giving way, and she caught him in her arms:

‘But why all this folly?--why think of anyone but me--I who love
you? You took me for your model, but what was the use, say? Are those
paintings of yours worth me? They are frightful, they are as stiff, as
cold as corpses. But I am alive, and I love you!’

She seemed to be at that moment the very incarnation of passionate
love. He turned and looked at her, and little by little he returned her
embrace; she was softening him and conquering him.

‘Listen!’ she continued. ‘I know that you had a frightful thought; yes,
I never dared to speak to you about it, because one must never bring
on misfortune; but I no longer sleep of a night, you frighten me. This
evening I followed you to that bridge which I hate, and I trembled, oh!
I thought that it was all over--that I had lost you. Oh, God! what would
become of me? I need you--you surely do not wish to kill me! Let us live
and love one another--yes, love one another!’

Then, in the emotion caused him by her infinite passion and grief, he
yielded. He pressed her to him, sobbing and stammering:

‘It is true I had that frightful thought--I should have done it, and I
only resisted on thinking of that unfinished picture. But can I still
live if work will have nothing more to do with me? How can I live after
that, after what’s there, what I spoilt just now?’

‘I will love you, and you will live.’

‘Ah! you will never love me enough--I know myself. Something which
does not exist would be necessary--something which would make me forget
everything. You were already unable to change me. You cannot accomplish
a miracle!’

Then, as she protested and kissed him passionately, he went on: ‘Well,
yes, save me! Yes, save me, if you don’t want me to kill myself! Lull
me, annihilate me, so that I may become your thing, slave enough, small
enough to dwell under your feet, in your slippers. Ah! to live only on
your perfume, to obey you like a dog, to eat and sleep--if I could, if I
only _could_!’

She raised a cry of victory: ‘At last you are mine! There is only I
left, the other is quite dead!’

And she dragged him from the execrated painting, she carried him off
triumphantly. The candle, now nearly consumed, flared up for a minute
behind them on the steps, before the big painting, and then went out. It
was victory, yes, but could it last?

Daylight was about to break, and Christine lay asleep beside Claude. She
was breathing softly, and a smile played upon her lips. He had closed
his eyes; and yet, despite himself, he opened them afresh and gazed into
the darkness. Sleep fled from him, and confused ideas again ascended
to his brain. As the dawn appeared, yellowishly dirty, like a splash
of liquid mud on the window-panes, he started, fancying that he heard
a loud voice calling to him from the far end of the studio. Then,
irresistibly, despite a few brief hours’ forgetfulness, all his old
thoughts returned, overflowing and torturing him, hollowing his cheeks
and contracting his jaws in the disgust he felt for mankind. Two
wrinkles imparted intense bitterness to the expression of his face,
which looked like the wasted countenance of an old man. And suddenly
the loud voice from the far end of the studio imperiously summoned him
a second time. Then he quite made up his mind: it was all over, he
suffered too much, he could no longer live, since everything was a lie,
since there was nothing left upon earth. Love! what was it? Nought but
a passing illusion. This thought at last mastered him, possessed him
entirely; and soon the craving for nothingness as his only refuge came
on him stronger than ever. At first he let Christine’s head slip down
from his shoulder on which it rested. And then, as a third summons rang
out in his mind, he rose and went to the studio, saying:

‘Yes, yes, I’m coming,’

The sky did not clear, it still remained dirty and mournful--it was one
of those lugubrious winter dawns; and an hour later Christine herself
awoke with a great chilly shiver. She did not understand at first. How
did it happen that she was alone? Then she remembered: she had fallen
asleep with her cheek against his. How was it then that he had left her?
Where could he be? Suddenly, amid her torpor, she sprang out of bed and
ran into the studio. Good God! had he returned to the other then? Had
the other seized hold of him again, when she herself fancied that she
had conquered him for ever?

She saw nothing at the first glance she took; in the cold and murky
morning twilight the studio seemed to her to be deserted. But whilst she
was tranquillising herself at seeing nobody there, she raised her eyes
to the canvas, and a terrible cry leapt from her gaping mouth:

‘Claude! oh, Claude!’

Claude had hanged himself from the steps in front of his spoilt work. He
had simply taken one of the cords which held the frame to the wall,
and had mounted the platform, so as to fasten the rope to an oaken
crosspiece, which he himself had one day nailed to the uprights to
consolidate them. Then from up above he had leapt into space. He was
hanging there in his shirt, with his feet bare, looking horrible, with
his black tongue protruding, and his bloodshot eyes starting from their
orbits; he seemed to have grown frightfully tall in his motionless
stiffness, and his face was turned towards the picture, close to the
nude woman, as if he had wished to infuse his soul into her with
his last gasp, and as if he were still looking at her with his
expressionless eyes.

Christine, however, remained erect, quite overwhelmed with the grief,
fright, and anger which dilated her body. Only a continuous howl
came from her throat. She opened her arms, stretched them towards the
picture, and clenched both hands.

‘Oh, Claude! oh, Claude!’ she gasped at last, ‘she has taken you
back--the hussy has killed you, killed you, killed you!’

Then her legs gave way. She span round and fell all of a heap upon the
tiled flooring. Her excessive suffering had taken all the blood from her
heart, and, fainting away, she lay there, as if she were dead, like a
white rag, miserable, done for, crushed beneath the fierce sovereignty
of Art. Above her the nude woman rose radiant in her symbolic idol’s
brightness; painting triumphed, alone immortal and erect, even when mad.

At nine o’clock on the Monday morning, when Sandoz, after the
formalities and delay occasioned by the suicide, arrived in the Rue
Tourlaque for the funeral, he found only a score of people on the
footway. Despite his great grief, he had been running about for three
days, compelled to attend to everything. At first, as Christine had
been picked up half dead, he had been obliged to have her carried to the
Hopital de Lariboisiere; then he had gone from the municipal offices,
to the undertaker’s and the church, paying everywhere, and full of
indifference so far as that went, since the priests were willing to pray
over that corpse with a black circle round its neck. Among the people
who were waiting he as yet only perceived some neighbours, together
with a few inquisitive folk; while other people peered out of the house
windows and whispered together, excited by the tragedy. Claude’s friends
would, no doubt, soon come. He, Sandoz, had not been able to write to
any members of the family, as he did not know their addresses. However,
he retreated into the background on the arrival of two relatives, whom
three lines in the newspapers had roused from the forgetfulness in
which Claude himself, no doubt, had left them. There was an old female
cousin,* with the equivocal air of a dealer in second-hand goods, and
a male cousin, of the second degree, a wealthy man, decorated with the
Legion of Honour, and owning one of the large Paris drapery shops.
He showed himself good-naturedly condescending in his elegance, and
desirous of displaying an enlightened taste for art. The female cousin
at once went upstairs, turned round the studio, sniffed at all the bare
wretchedness, and then walked down again, with a hard mouth, as if she
were irritated at having taken the trouble to come. The second cousin,
on the contrary, drew himself up and walked first behind the hearse,
filling the part of chief mourner with proud and pleasant fitness.

  * Madame Sidonie, who figures in M. Zola’s novel, ‘La Curee.’
    The male cousin, mentioned immediately afterwards, is Octave
    Mouret, the leading character of ‘Pot-Bouille’ and ‘Au Bonheur
    des Dames.’--ED.

As the procession was starting off, Bongrand came up, and, after shaking
hands with Sandoz, remained beside him. He was gloomy, and, glancing at
the fifteen or twenty strangers who followed, he murmured:

‘Ah! poor chap! What! are there only we two?’

Dubuche was at Cannes with his children. Jory and Fagerolles kept away,
the former hating the deceased and the latter being too busy. Mahoudeau
alone caught the party up at the rise of the Rue Lepic, and he explained
that Gagniere must have missed the train.

The hearse slowly ascended the steep thoroughfare which winds round
the flanks of the height of Montmartre; and now and then cross streets,
sloping downward, sudden gaps amid the houses, showed one the immensity
of Paris as deep and as broad as a sea. When the party arrived in front
of the Church of St. Pierre, and the coffin was carried up the steps,
it overtopped the great city for a moment. There was a grey wintry sky
overhead, large masses of clouds swept along, carried away by an icy
wind, and in the mist Paris seemed to expand, to become endless, filling
the horizon with threatening billows. The poor fellow who had wished to
conquer it, and had broken his neck in his fruitless efforts, now passed
in front of it, nailed under an oaken board, returning to the earth like
one of the city’s muddy waves.

On leaving the church the female cousin disappeared, Mahoudeau likewise;
while the second cousin again took his position behind the hearse. Seven
other unknown persons decided to follow, and they started for the new
cemetery of St. Ouen, to which the populace has given the disquieting
and lugubrious name of Cayenne. There were ten mourners in all.

‘Well, we two shall be the only old friends,’ repeated Bongrand as he
walked on beside Sandoz.

The procession, preceded by the mourning coach in which the priest and
the choirboy were seated, now descended the other side of the height,
along winding streets as precipitous as mountain paths. The horses of
the hearse slipped over the slimy pavement; one could hear the wheels
jolting noisily. Right behind, the ten mourners took short and careful
steps, trying to avoid the puddles, and being so occupied with the
difficulty of the descent that they refrained from speaking. But at
the bottom of the Rue du Ruisseau, when they reached the Porte de
Clignancourt and the vast open spaces, where the boulevard running round
the city, the circular railway, the talus and moat of the fortifications
are displayed to view, there came sighs of relief, a few words were
exchanged, and the party began to straggle.

Sandoz and Bongrand by degrees found themselves behind all the others,
as if they had wished to isolate themselves from those folk whom they
had never previously seen. Just as the hearse was passing the city gate,
the painter leant towards the novelist.

‘And the little woman, what is going to be done with her?’

‘Ah! how dreadful it is!’ replied Sandoz. ‘I went to see her yesterday
at the hospital. She has brain fever. The house doctor maintains that
they will save her, but that she will come out of it ten years older and
without any strength. Do you know that she had come to such a point
that she no longer knew how to spell. Such a crushing fall, a young lady
abased to the level of a drudge! Yes, if we don’t take care of her like
a cripple, she will end by becoming a scullery-maid somewhere.’

‘And not a copper, of course?’

‘Not a copper. I thought I should find the studies Claude made from
nature for his large picture, those superb studies which he afterwards
turned to such poor account. But I ferreted everywhere; he gave
everything away; people robbed him. No, nothing to sell, not a canvas
that could be turned to profit, nothing but that huge picture, which I
demolished and burnt with my own hands, and right gladly, I assure you,
even as one avenges oneself.’

They became silent for a moment. The broad road leading to St. Ouen
stretched out quite straight as far as the eye could reach; and over the
plain went the procession, pitifully small, lost, as it were, on that
highway, along which there flowed a river of mud. A line of palings
bordered it on either side, waste land extended both to right and left,
while afar off one only saw some factory chimneys and a few lofty white
houses, standing alone, obliquely to the road. They passed through the
Clignancourt fete, with booths, circuses, and roundabouts on either
side, all shivering in the abandonment of winter, empty dancing cribs,
mouldy swings, and a kind of stage homestead, ‘The Picardy Farm,’
looking dismally sad between its broken fences.

‘Ah! his old canvases,’ resumed Bongrand, ‘the things he had at the Quai
de Bourbon, do you remember them? There were some extraordinary bits
among them. The landscapes he brought back from the south and the
academy studies he painted at Boutin’s--a girl’s legs and a woman’s
trunk, for instance. Oh, that trunk! Old Malgras must have it. A
magisterial study it was, which not one of our “young masters” could
paint. Yes, yes, the fellow was no fool--simply a great painter.’

‘When I think,’ said Sandoz, ‘that those little humbugs of the School
and the press accused him of idleness and ignorance, repeating one
after the other that he had always refused to learn his art. Idle! good
heavens! why, I have seen him faint with fatigue after sittings ten
hours long; he gave his whole life to his work, and killed himself in
his passion for toil! And they call him ignorant--how idiotic! They
will never understand that the individual gift which a man brings in
his nature is superior to all acquired knowledge. Delacroix also was
ignorant of his profession in their eyes, simply because he could not
confine himself to hard and fast rules! Ah! the ninnies, the slavish
pupils who are incapable of painting anything incorrectly!’

He took a few steps in silence, and then he added:

‘A heroic worker, too--a passionate observer whose brain was crammed
with science--the temperament of a great artist endowed with admirable
gifts. And to think that he leaves nothing, nothing!’

‘Absolutely nothing, not a canvas,’ declared Bongrand. ‘I know nothing
of his but rough drafts, sketches, notes carelessly jotted down, as it
were, all that artistic paraphernalia which can’t be submitted to the
public. Yes, indeed, it is really a dead man, dead completely, who is
about to be lowered into the grave.’

However, the painter and the novelist now had to hasten their steps, for
they had got far behind the others while talking; and the hearse, after
rolling past taverns and shops full of tombstones and crosses, was
turning to the right into the short avenue leading to the cemetery. They
overtook it, and passed through the gateway with the little procession.
The priest in his surplice and the choirboy carrying the holy water
receiver, who had both alighted from the mourning coach, walked on
ahead.

It was a large flat cemetery, still in its youth, laid out by rule
and line in the suburban waste land, and divided into squares by broad
symmetrical paths. A few raised tombs bordered the principal avenues,
but most of the graves, already very numerous, were on a level with the
soil. They were hastily arranged temporary sepulchres, for five-year
grants were the only ones to be obtained, and families hesitated to go
to any serious expense. Thus, the stones sinking into the ground for
lack of foundations, the scrubby evergreens which had not yet had time
to grow, all the provisional slop kind of mourning that one saw there,
imparted to that vast field of repose a look of poverty and cold, clean,
dismal bareness like that of a barracks or a hospital. There was not a
corner to be found recalling the graveyard nooks sung of in the ballads
of the romantic period, not one leafy turn quivering with mystery, not
a single large tomb speaking of pride and eternity. You were in the new
style of Paris cemetery, where everything is set out straight and duly
numbered--the cemetery of democratic times, where the dead seem to
slumber at the bottom of an office drawer, after filing past one by
one, as people do at a fete under the eyes of the police, so as to avoid
obstruction.

‘Dash it!’ muttered Bongrand, ‘it isn’t lively here.’

‘Why not?’ asked Sandoz. ‘It’s commodious; there is plenty of air. And
even although there is no sun, see what a pretty colour it all has.’

In fact, under the grey sky of that November morning, in the penetrating
quiver of the wind, the low tombs, laden with garlands and crowns of
beads, assumed soft tints of charming delicacy. There were some quite
white, and others all black, according to the colour of the beads. But
the contrast lost much of its force amid the pale green foliage of the
dwarfish trees. Poor families exhausted their affection for the dear
departed in decking those five-year grants; there were piles of crowns
and blooming flowers--freshly brought there on the recent Day of
the Dead. Only the cut flowers had as yet faded, between their paper
collars. Some crowns of yellow immortelles shone out like freshly
chiselled gold. But the beads predominated to such a degree that at
the first glance there seemed to be nothing else; they gushed forth
everywhere, hiding the inscriptions and covering the stones and
railings. There were beads forming hearts, beads in festoons and
medallions, beads framing either ornamental designs or objects under
glass, such as velvet pansies, wax hands entwined, satin bows, or, at
times, even photographs of women--yellow, faded, cheap photographs,
showing poor, ugly, touching faces that smiled awkwardly.

As the hearse proceeded along the Avenue du Rond Point, Sandoz, whose
last remark--since it was of an artistic nature--had brought him back to
Claude, resumed the conversation, saying:

‘This is a cemetery which he would have understood, he who was so mad
on modern things. No doubt he suffered physically, wasted away by the
over-severe lesion that is so often akin to genius, “three grains too
little, or three grains too much, of some substance in the brain,” as
he himself said when he reproached his parents for his constitution.
However, his disorder was not merely a personal affair, he was
the victim of our period. Yes, our generation has been soaked in
romanticism, and we have remained impregnated with it. It is in
vain that we wash ourselves and take baths of reality, the stain is
obstinate, and all the scrubbing in the world won’t take it away.’

Bongrand smiled. ‘Oh! as for romanticism,’ said he, ‘I’m up to my ears
in it. It has fed my art, and, indeed, I’m impenitent. If it be true
that my final impotence is due to that, well, after all, what does it
matter? I can’t deny the religion of my artistic life. However, your
remark is quite correct; you other fellows, you are rebellious sons.
Claude, for instance, with his big nude woman amid the quays, that
extravagant symbol--’

‘Ah, that woman!’ interrupted Sandoz, ‘it was she who throttled him! If
you knew how he worshipped her! I was never able to cast her out of
him. And how can one possibly have clear perception, a solid,
properly-balanced brain when such phantasmagoria sprouts forth from your
skull? Though coming after yours, our generation is too imaginative to
leave healthy work behind it. Another generation, perhaps two, will be
required before people will be able to paint and write logically, with
the high, pure simplicity of truth. Truth, nature alone, is the right
basis, the necessary guide, outside of which madness begins; and the
toiler needn’t be afraid of flattening his work, his temperament is
there, which will always carry him sufficiently away. Does any one
dream of denying personality, the involuntary thumb-stroke which deforms
whatever we touch and constitutes our poor creativeness?’

However, he turned his head, and involuntarily added:

‘Hallo! what’s burning? Are they lighting bonfires here?’

The procession had turned on reaching the Rond Point, where the ossuary
was situated--the common vault gradually filled with all the remnants
removed from the graves, and the stone slab of which, in the centre of
a circular lawn, disappeared under a heap of wreaths, deposited there
by the pious relatives of those who no longer had an individual
resting-place. And, as the hearse rolled slowly to the left in
transversal Avenue No. 2, there had come a sound of crackling, and thick
smoke had risen above the little plane trees bordering the path. Some
distance ahead, as the party approached, they could see a large pile of
earthy things beginning to burn, and they ended by understanding. The
fire was lighted at the edge of a large square patch of ground, which
had been dug up in broad parallel furrows, so as to remove the coffins
before allotting the soil to other corpses; just as the peasant turns
the stubble over before sowing afresh. The long empty furrows seemed
to yawn, the mounds of rich soil seemed to be purifying under the broad
grey sky; and the fire thus burning in that corner was formed of the
rotten wood of the coffins that had been removed--slit, broken boards,
eaten into by the earth, often reduced to a ruddy humus, and gathered
together in an enormous pile. They broke up with faint detonations, and
being damp with human mud, they refused to flame, and merely smoked with
growing intensity. Large columns of the smoke rose into the pale sky,
and were beaten down by the November wind, and torn into ruddy shreds,
which flew across the low tombs of quite one half of the cemetery.

Sandoz and Bongrand had looked at the scene without saying a word. Then,
having passed the fire, the former resumed:

‘No, he did not prove to be the man of the formula he laid down. I mean
that his genius was not clear enough to enable him to set that formula
erect and impose it upon the world by a definite masterpiece. And now
see how other fellows scatter their efforts around him, after him! They
go no farther than roughing off, they give us mere hasty impressions,
and not one of them seems to have strength enough to become the master
who is awaited. Isn’t it irritating, this new notion of light, this
passion for truth carried as far as scientific analysis, this evolution
begun with so much originality, and now loitering on the way, as it
were, falling into the hands of tricksters, and never coming to a head,
simply because the necessary man isn’t born? But pooh! the man will be
born; nothing is ever lost, light must be.’

‘Who knows? not always,’ said Bongrand. ‘Life miscarries, like
everything else. I listen to you, you know, but I’m a despairer. I am
dying of sadness, and I feel that everything else is dying. Ah! yes,
there is something unhealthy in the atmosphere of the times--this end of
a century is all demolition, a litter of broken monuments, and soil
that has been turned over and over a hundred times, the whole exhaling a
stench of death! Can anybody remain in good health amid all that?
One’s nerves become unhinged, the great neurosis is there, art grows
unsettled, there is general bustling, perfect anarchy, all the madness
of self-love at bay. Never have people quarrelled more and seen less
clearly than since it is pretended that one knows everything.’

Sandoz, who had grown pale, watched the large ruddy coils of smoke
rolling in the wind.

‘It was fated,’ he mused in an undertone. ‘Our excessive activity and
pride of knowledge were bound to cast us back into doubt. This century,
which has already thrown so much light over the world, was bound to
finish amid the threat of a fresh flow of darkness--yes, our discomfort
comes from that! Too much has been promised, too much has been hoped
for; people have looked forward to the conquest and explanation of
everything, and now they growl impatiently. What! don’t things go
quicker than that? What! hasn’t science managed to bring us absolute
certainty, perfect happiness, in a hundred years? Then what is the use
of going on, since one will never know everything, and one’s bread will
always be as bitter? It is as if the century had become bankrupt, as if
it had failed; pessimism twists people’s bowels, mysticism fogs their
brains; for we have vainly swept phantoms away with the light of
analysis, the supernatural has resumed hostilities, the spirit of
the legends rebels and wants to conquer us, while we are halting with
fatigue and anguish. Ah! I certainly don’t affirm anything; I myself
am tortured. Only it seems to me that this last convulsion of the old
religious terrors was to be foreseen. We are not the end, we are but a
transition, a beginning of something else. It calms me and does me good
to believe that we are marching towards reason, and the substantiality
of science.’

His voice had become husky with emotion, and he added:

‘That is, unless madness plunges us, topsy-turvy, into night again, and
we all go off throttled by the ideal, like our old friend who sleeps
there between his four boards.’

The hearse was leaving transversal Avenue No. 2 to turn, on the right,
into lateral Avenue No. 3, and the painter, without speaking, called
the novelist’s attention to a square plot of graves, beside which the
procession was now passing.

There was here a children’s cemetery, nothing but children’s tombs,
stretching far away in orderly fashion, separated at regular intervals
by narrow paths, and looking like some infantile city of death. There
were tiny little white crosses, tiny little white railings, disappearing
almost beneath an efflorescence of white and blue wreaths, on a level
with the soil; and that peaceful field of repose, so soft in colour,
with the bluish tint of milk about it, seemed to have been made flowery
by all the childhood lying in the earth. The crosses recorded various
ages, two years, sixteen months, five months. One poor little cross,
destitute of any railing, was out of line, having been set up slantingly
across a path, and it simply bore the words: ‘Eugenie, three days.’
Scarcely to exist as yet, and withal to sleep there already, alone, on
one side, like the children who on festive occasions dine at a little
side table!

However, the hearse had at last stopped, in the middle of the avenue;
and when Sandoz saw the grave ready at the corner of the next division,
in front of the cemetery of the little ones, he murmured tenderly:

‘Ah! my poor old Claude, with your big child’s heart, you will be in
your place beside them.’

The under-bearers removed the coffin from the hearse. The priest, who
looked surly, stood waiting in the wind; some sextons were there with
their shovels. Three neighbours had fallen off on the road, the ten had
dwindled into seven. The second cousin, who had been holding his hat in
his hand since leaving the church, despite the frightful weather, now
drew nearer. All the others uncovered, and the prayers were about to
begin, when a loud piercing whistle made everybody look up.

Beyond this corner of the cemetery as yet untenanted, at the end of
lateral Avenue No. 3, a train was passing along the high embankment of
the circular railway which overlooked the graveyard. The grassy slope
rose up, and a number of geometrical lines, as it were, stood out
blackly against the grey sky; there were telegraph-posts, connected by
thin wires, a superintendent’s box, and a red signal plate, the only
bright throbbing speck visible. When the train rolled past, with its
thunder-crash, one plainly distinguished, as on the transparency of a
shadow play, the silhouettes of the carriages, even the heads of the
passengers showing in the light gaps left by the windows. And the line
became clear again, showing like a simple ink stroke across the horizon;
while far away other whistles called and wailed unceasingly, shrill with
anger, hoarse with suffering, or husky with distress. Then a guard’s
horn resounded lugubriously.

‘_Revertitur in terram suam unde erat_,’ recited the priest, who had
opened a book and was making haste.

But he was not heard, for a large engine had come up puffing, and was
manoeuvring backwards and forwards near the funeral party. It had a loud
thick voice, a guttural whistle, which was intensely mournful. It came
and went, panting; and seen in profile it looked like a heavy monster.
Suddenly, moreover, it let off steam, with all the furious blowing of a
tempest.

‘_Requiescat in pace_,’ said the priest.

‘Amen,’ replied the choirboy.

But the words were again lost amid the lashing, deafening detonation,
which was prolonged with the continuous violence of a fusillade.

Bongrand, quite exasperated, turned towards the engine. It became
silent, fortunately, and every one felt relieved. Tears had risen to
the eyes of Sandoz, who had already been stirred by the words which had
involuntarily passed his lips, while he walked behind his old comrade,
talking as if they had been having one of their familiar chats of yore;
and now it seemed to him as if his youth were about to be consigned to
the earth. It was part of himself, the best part, his illusions and his
enthusiasm, which the sextons were taking away to lower into the depths.
At that terrible moment an accident occurred which increased his grief.
It had rained so hard during the preceding days, and the ground was so
soft, that a sudden subsidence of soil took place. One of the sextons
had to jump into the grave and empty it with his shovel with a slow
rhythmical movement. There was no end to the matter, the funeral seemed
likely to last for ever amid the impatience of the priest and the
interest of the four neighbours who had followed on to the end, though
nobody could say why. And up above, on the embankment, the engine had
begun manoeuvring again, retreating and howling at each turn of its
wheels, its fire-box open the while, and lighting up the gloomy scene
with a rain of sparks.

At last the pit was emptied, the coffin lowered, and the aspergillus
passed round. It was all over. The second cousin, standing erect, did
the honours with his correct, pleasant air, shaking hands with all these
people whom he had never previously seen, in memory of the relative
whose name he had not remembered the day before.

‘That linen-draper is a very decent fellow,’ said Bongrand, who was
swallowing his tears.

‘Quite so,’ replied Sandoz, sobbing.

All the others were going off, the surplices of the priest and the
choirboy disappeared between the green trees, while the straggling
neighbours loitered reading the inscriptions on the surrounding tombs.

Then Sandoz, making up his mind to leave the grave, which was now half
filled, resumed:

‘We alone shall have known him. There is nothing left of him, not even a
name!’

‘He is very happy,’ said Bongrand; ‘he has no picture on hand, in the
earth where he sleeps. It is as well to go off as to toil as we do
merely to turn out infirm children, who always lack something, their
legs or their head, and who don’t live.’

‘Yes, one must really be wanting in pride to resign oneself to turning
out merely approximate work and resorting to trickery with life. I,
who bestow every care on my books--I despise myself, for I feel that,
despite all my efforts, they are incomplete and untruthful.’

With pale faces, they slowly went away, side by side, past the
children’s white tombs, the novelist then in all the strength of his
toil and fame, the painter declining but covered with glory.

‘There, at least, lies one who was logical and brave,’ continued Sandoz;
‘he confessed his powerlessness and killed himself.’

‘That’s true,’ said Bongrand; ‘if we didn’t care so much for our skins
we should all do as he has done, eh?’

‘Well, yes; since we cannot create anything, since we are but feeble
copyists, we might as well put an end to ourselves at once.’

Again they found themselves before the burning pile of old rotten
coffins, now fully alight, sweating and crackling; but there were still
no flames to be seen, the smoke alone had increased--a thick acrid
smoke, which the wind carried along in whirling coils, so that it now
covered the whole cemetery as with a cloud of mourning.

‘Dash it! Eleven o’clock!’ said Bongrand, after pulling out his watch.
‘I must get home again.’

Sandoz gave an exclamation of surprise:

‘What, already eleven?’

Over the low-lying graves, over the vast bead-flowered field of death,
so formal of aspect and so cold, he cast a long look of despair, his
eyes still bedimmed by his tears. And then he added:

‘Let’s go to work.’



                              THE END





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