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Title: In Madeira Place - 1887
Author: Chaplin, Heman White
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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By Heman White Chaplin

Turning from the street which follows the line of the wharves, into
Madeira Place, you leave at once an open region of docks and spars for
comparative retirement. Wagons seldom enter Madeira Place: it is too
hard to turn them in it; and then the inhabitants, for the most part,
have a convenient way of buying their coal by the basket. How much
trouble it would save, if we would all buy our coal by the basket!

A few doors up the place a passageway makes off to the right, through a
high wooden gate that is usually open; and at the upper corner of this
passage stands a brick house, whose perpetually closed blinds suggest
the owner’s absence. But the householders of Madeira Place do not absent
themselves, even in summer; they could hardly get much nearer to the
sea. And if you will take the pains to seat yourself, toward the close
of day, upon an opposite doorstep, between two rows of clamorous little
girls sliding, with screams of painful joy, down the rough hammered
stone, to the improvement of their clothing, you will see that the house
is by-no means untenanted.

Every evening it is much the same thing. First, following close upon the
heels of sunset, comes a grizzly, tall, and slouching man, in the cap
and blouse of a Union soldier, bearing down with his left hand upon
a cane, and dragging his left foot heavily behind him, while with his
right hand he holds by a string a cluster of soaring toy balloons, and
also drags, by its long wooden tongue, a rude child’s cart, in which is
a small hand-organ.

Next will come, most likely, a dark, bent, keen-eyed old woman, with her
parchment face shrunk into deep wrinkles. She bears a dangling placard,
stating, in letters of white upon a patent-leather background, what you
might not otherwise suspect,--that she was a soldier under the great
Napoleon, and fought with him at Waterloo. She also bears, since
music goes with war, a worn accordion. She is the old woman to whose
shrivelled, expectant countenance you sometimes offer up a copper coin,
as she kneels by the flagged crossway path of the Park.

She is succeeded, perhaps, by a couple of black-haired, short,
broad-shouldered men, leading a waddling, unconcerned bear, and talking
earnestly together in a language which you will hardly follow.

Then you will see six or eight or ten other sons and daughters of toil,
most of them with balloons.

All these people will turn, between the high, ball-topped gate-posts,
into the alley, and descend at once to the left, by a flight of three or
four steps, to a side basement door.

As they begin to flock in, you will see through the alley gate a dark,
thick-set man, of middle age, but with very little hair, come and stand
at the foot of the steps, in the doorway. It is Sorel, the master of the
house; for this is the _Maison Sorel_. Some of his guests he greets
with a Noachian deluge of swift French words and high-pitched cries of
welcome. It is thus that he receives those capitalists, the bear-leaders
from the Pyrenees; it is thus that he greets the grizzled man in the
blue cap and blouse,--Fidèle the old soldier, Fidèle the pensioner, to
whom a great government, far away, at Washington, doubtless with much
else on its mind, never forgets to send by mail, each quarter-day
morning, a special, personal communication, marked with Fidèle’s own
name, enclosing the preliminaries of a remittance: “Accept” (as it
were) “this slight tribute.” “_Ah! que c’est un gouvernement! Voilà une

Even a Frenchman may be proud to be an American!

Most of his guests, however, Sorel receives with a mere pantomime
of wide-opened eyes and extended hands and shrugged-up shoulders,
accompanied by a long-drawn “_Eh!_” by which he bodies forth a thousand
refinements of thought which language would fail to express. Does a
fresh immigrant from the Cévennes bring back at night but one or two of
the gay balloons with which she was stocked in the morning, or, better,
none; or, on the other hand, does a stalwart man just from the rich Brie
country return at sundown in abject despair, bringing back almost all
of the red and blue globes which floated like a radiant constellation
of hope about his head when he set forth in the early morning, Sorel can
express, by his “_Eh!_” and some slight movement, with subtle exactness
and with no possibility of being misapprehended, the precise shade of
feeling with which the result inspires him.

But there he stops. Nothing is said. Sorel is a philosopher: he has
indicated volumes, and he will not dilute with language. One who has
fired a little lead bullet does not need to throw after it a bushel of

The company, as they come in, one by one, wash their hands and faces,
if they see fit, at the kitchen sink, and dry them on a long
roller-towel,--a device adopted, probably, from the Americans. Then they
retire to the room behind the kitchen, and seat themselves at a long
table, at which the bear-leaders place themselves only after seeing
their animal fed, in the coalhole, where he is quartered.

At the supper-table all is joy, even with the hopeless. Fidèle beams
with good-humor, and not infrequently is called on to describe, amid a
general hush, for the benefit of some new-comer from “_la belle France_”
 the quarterly receipt of the communication from Washington: how he stays
at home that day, and shaves, and waits at the door for “_la poste_;”
 how the gray-uniformed letter-carrier appears, hands out a letter “as
large as that,” and nods smilingly to Fidèle: he, too, fought at “_la
Montagne du Lookout_.” The amount of the sergeant’s pension astonishes
them, wonted as they are to the pecuniary treatment of soldiers in the
Old World. “_Mais_, it is a fortune! Fidèle is a _vrai rentier!_ Ah!
_une république comme ça!_”

Generally, however, Fidèle contents himself at the evening meal with
smiling good-humoredly on everybody and rapidly passing in, under his
drooping mustache, spoonfuls of soup, morsels from the long French loaf,
and draughts of lager beer; for only the rich can have wine in this
country, and in the matter of drink an exile must needs lower his
standard, as the prodigal lowered his.

While Sorel and his wife and their busy maid fly in and out with
_potage_ and _rôti_, “_t-r-r-rès succulent_,” the history of which we
must not pry too deeply into, there is much excited conversation. You
see at once that many amusing things happen to one who sells balloons
all day upon the Park. And there are varied fortunes to recount. Such
a lady actually wished to buy three for fifty cents! Such a
“police-er-mann” is to be highly commended; such another looks with an
evil eye upon all: he should truly be removed from office. There is a
rumor that a license fee is to be required by the city.

All this is food for discussion.

After supper they all sit about the kitchen or in the alley-way,
chatting, smoking. She who has been lucky in her sales basks in Sorel’s
favor. The unfortunate peasant from the Brie country feels the little
bullet in his heart, and nurses a desperate resolution to redeem himself
on the morrow: one must live.

Sometimes, if you happen to pass there on a warm evening, you may see
a young woman, rather handsome, sitting sidewise on the outer basement
steps, looking absently before her, straight-backed, upright, with her
hands clasped about one knee, with her skirt sweeping away: a picture of
Alsace. I have never been able to find out who she is.

One evening there is a little flutter among this brood. A gentleman,
at the alley door, wishes to see M. Sorel. M. Sorel leads the gentleman
out, through the alley gate, to the front street-door; then, retiring
whence he came, he shortly appears from within at the front door,
which opens only after a struggle. A knot of small boys has instantly
gathered, apparently impressed with a vague, awful expectation that the
gentleman about to enter will never come out. Realizing, however, that
in that case there will be nothing to see, they slowly disperse when the
door is closed, and resume their play.

Sorel ushers the gentleman into the front parlor, which is Sorel’s
bedroom, which is also the storehouse of his merchandise, which is also
the nursery. At this moment an infant is sleeping in a trundle-bed.

The gentleman takes a chair. So does Sorel.

The gentleman does not talk French. Fortunately, M. Sorel can speak the
English: he has learned it in making purchases for his table.

“I am an officer of the government,” says Mr. Fox, with a very sharp,
distinct utterance, “in the custom-house. You know ‘customhouse’?”

M. Sorel does not commit himself. He is an importer of toys. One must
be on his guard.

Thereupon, a complicated explanation: this street, and that street,
and the other street, and this building, and the market, and the great
building standing here.

Ah! yes! M. Sorel identifies the building. Then he is informed that many
government officers are there. He knew it very well before.

The conversation goes a step farther.

Mr. Fox is one of those officers. The government is at present in need
of a gentleman absolutely trustworthy, for certain important duties:
perhaps to judge of silks; perhaps to oversee the weighing of sugar, of
iron, of diamonds; perhaps to taste of wines. Who can say what service
this great government may not need from its children!

With some labor, since the English is only a translucent, and not a
transparent medium to Sorel, this is made clear. Still the horizon is

Mr. Fox draws his chair nearer, facing Sorel, who looks uneasy: Sorel’s
feelings, to the thousandth degree of subdivision, are always declaring
themselves in swift succession upon his face.

Mr. Fox proceeds.

“The great officer of the custom-house, the collector--”

“_Le chef?_” interrupts Sorel.

--yes, the _chef_ (Mr. Fox seizes upon the word and clings to it),--the
_chef_ has been speaking anxiously to Mr. Fox about this vacancy: Mr.
Fox is in the _chefs_ confidence.

“Ah!” from Sorel, in a tone of utter bewilderment.

“We must have,” the _chef_ had said to Mr. Fox,--“we must have for
this place a noble man, a man with a large heart” (the exact required
dimensions Mr. Fox does not give); “a man who loves his government, a
man who has showed himself ready to die for her; we must have”--here Mr.
Fox bends forward and lays his hand upon Sorel’s knee, and looks him in
the eye,--“we must have--_a soldier!_”

“Ah!” says Sorel, moving his chair back a little, unconsciously, “_il
faut un soldat!_ I un-’stan’,--_le chef_ ‘e boun’ to ‘ave one sol’ier!”

Still no comprehension of the stranger’s object. Curiosity, however,
prompts Sorel at this point to an inquiry: “‘Ow much ‘e goin’ pay ‘im?”

Mr. Fox suggests that he guess. M. Sorel guesses, boldly, and
high,--almost insolently high,--eight dollars a week: she is so
generous, _la République!_


“Higher!” Sorel’s eyes open. He guesses again, and recklessly: “_Dix
dollars par semaine_; you know--ten dol-lar ever-y week.”

Try again,--again,--again! He guesses,--madly now, as one risks his gold
at Baden: twelve, fourteen, sixteen, eighteen.

Yes, eighteen dollars a week, and more--a thousand dollars every year.

Sorel wipes his brow. A thousand dollars in one year! It is like a
temptation of the devil.

Sorel ventures another inquiry. The _chef_ of the customhouse, esteeming
the old sol’iers so highly, is an old sol’ier himself,--is it not so?
He has fought for his country? Doubtless he has lost an arm. And Sorel
instinctively lets his right arm hang limp, as if the sleeve were empty.

No; the _chef_ was an editor and a statesman in the time of the war. He
had greatly desired to go to fight, but his duties did not permit it.
Still, he loves the old soldier.

Another advance in the conversation, this time by Mr. Fox.

The government, it seems, has now awakened, with deep distress, to the
fact that one class of her soldiers she has hitherto forgotten. The
government--that is, the _chef_ of the customhouse--had this very
morning said to Mr. Fox that this class of old soldiers must be brought
forward, for trust and for honor. “We must choose, for this vacant
place,” the _chef_ had said,--here Mr. Fox brings his face forward in
close proximity to Sorel’s astonished countenance,--“we must have, not
only an old soldier, but--_a Frenchman!_”


“Such a soldier lives here,” says Mr. Fox; “is it not true? So brave, so
honest, so modest, so faithful! Ready to die for his country; worthy of
trust and worthy of reward!”

“_Mais!_” with amazement. Yes, such a sol-’ier lives here. But can it be
that monsieur refers to our Fidèle?

Precisely so!

Whereupon Sorel, hard, hairless, but French, weeps, and embraces Mr.
Fox as the representative of the great government at Washington; and,
weeping and laughing, leads him downstairs and presents him to Fidèle
and to the bear-leaders, and opens a bottle of weak vinegar.

Such an ovation as Fidèle receives! And such a generous government! To
send a special messenger to seek out the old sergeant in his retirement!
So thoughtful! But it is all of a piece with its unfailing care in the

Fidèle begins, on the spot, to resume something of his former erectness
and soldierly bearing; to shake off the stoop and slouch which lameness
and the drawing about of his “_musique_” have given him. He wishes to
tell the story of Lookout Mountain.

As Mr. Fox is about to go, he recollects himself. Oh, by the way, one
thing more. It is not pleasant to mingle sadness with rejoicing. But
Mr. Fox is the reluctant bearer of a gentle reproach from the great
government at Washington. Her French children,--are they not just a
little remiss? And when she is so bountiful, so thoughtful!

“_Mais_--how you mean?” (with surprise.)

Why,--and there is a certain pathos in Mr. Fox’s tone, as he stands
facing Sorel, with the gaze of a loving, reproachful friend,--why, how
many of the Frenchmen of this quarter are ever seen now at the pleasant
gatherings of the Republicans, in the wardroom? The Republic, the
Republicans,--it is all one. Is that quite kind to the Republic? Should
not her French children, on their part, show filial devotion to the fond

“_Mais_,” M. Sorel swiftly explains, “they are weary of going; they
understand nothing. One sits and smokes a little while, and one talks;
then one puts a little ticket into one’s hand; one is jammed into a
long file; one slips his ticket into a box; he knows not for whom he is
voting; it is like a flock of sheep. What is the use of going?”

Ah! that is the trouble? Then they are unjustly reproached. The
government has indeed neglected to guide them. But suppose that some
officer of the government--Mr. Fox himself, for instance--will be at the
meeting? Then can M. Sorel induce those good French citizens to come?

Induce them! They will be only too ready; in fact, at a word from M.
Sorel, and particularly when the news of this great honor to Fidèle
shall have spread abroad, twenty, thirty, forty will go to every
meeting,--that is, if a friend be there to guide them. At the very next
meeting, _monsieur_ shall see whether the great government’s French
children are neglectful!

Whereupon the great government, in the person of Mr. Fox, then and
there falls in spirit upon the neck of her French citizen-children,
represented by Sorel and Fidèle, and full reconciliation is made.

Yes, Mr. Fox will come again. M. Sorel must introduce him to those brave
Frenchmen, his friends and neighbors; Mr. Fox must grasp them by
the hand, one by one. Sorel must take him to the _Société des
Franco-Américains_, where they gather. The government wishes to know
them better. And (this in a confidential whisper) there may be other
places to be filled. What! Suppose, now, that the government should some
day demand the services of M. Sorel himself in the custom-house; and,
since he is a business man, at a still larger salary than a thousand
dollars a year!

“Ah, _monsieur_” (in a tone of playful reproach), “_vous êtes un
flatteur, n’est ce pas?_ You know,--I guess you giv’n’ me taffy.”

Such a hero as Fidèle is! No more balloons, no more carting about of
“_ma musique_;” a square room upstairs, a bottle of wine at dinner,
short hours, distinction,--in fine, all that the heart can wish.

I have been speaking in the present: I should have spoken in the past.

It was shortly after Fidèle’s appointment--in the early autumn--that I
first made his and Sorel’s acquaintance.

I was teaching in an evening school, not far from Madeira Place, and
among my scholars was Sorel’s only son, a boy of perhaps fourteen, whom
his father had left behind, for a time, at school in France, and had but
lately brought over. He was a shy, modest, intelligent little fellow,
utterly out of place in his rude surroundings. From the pleasant village
home-school, of which he sometimes told me, to the _Maison Sorel_, was a
grating change.

He was always waiting for me at the schoolroom door, and was always the
last one to speak to me at closing. Perhaps I reminded him of some young
usher whom he had known when life was more pleasant.

If, however, the _Maison Sorel_ chafed Auguste, it was not for lack of
affection on his father’s part Sorel often came with him to the door of
the school-room; and every night, rain or shine, he was there at nine to
accompany him home. It was in this way that I first came to know Sorel;
and whether it was from some kindness that Auguste may have thought
I showed, or because I could talk a little French, Sorel took a great
liking to me. At first, he and Auguste would walk with me a few blocks
after school; then he would look in upon me for a few minutes at the
law-office where I was studying, where I had a large anteroom to myself;
finally, nothing would do but that I should visit him at his house. I
had always been fond of strolling about the wharves, and I should have
liked very well to stop occasionally at Sorel’s, if I could have been
allowed to sit in the kitchen and hear the general conversation. But
this was not sufficient state for “M. le maître d’école.” I must be
drawn off upstairs to the bedroom parlor, to hear of Auguste’s virtues.
Such devotion I have seldom seen. Sorel would have praised Auguste, with
tears in his eyes, for hours together, if I would have stayed to listen.

He had many things to show in that parlor. He had gyroscopes: and he
would wind them up and set half-a-dozen of those anti-natural tops
spinning straight out in the air for my diversion. There were great
sacks of uninflated balloons, and delicate sheet-rubber, from which
Sorel made up balloons. There were other curious things in rubber,--a
tobacco-pouch, for example, in perfect outward imitation of an iron
kilogramme-weight, with a ring to lift it by, warranted to create
“immense surprise” among those who should lift it for iron;
tobacco-pouches, too, in fac-simile of lobsters and crabs and reptiles,
colored to nature, which Sorel assured me would cause roars of laughter
among my friends: there was no pleasanter way, he said, of entertaining
an evening company than suddenly to display one of these creatures,
and make the ladies scream and run about. He presented me, at different
times, with a gyroscope, a kilogramme-weight and a lobster with a blue
silk lining.

As time ran on, and, in the early winter, I began practice, Sorel
brought me a little business. He had to sue two Graeco-Roman wrestlers
for board and attach their box-office receipts. Some Frenchman had heard
of a little legacy left him in the Calvados, and wanted me to look up
the matter.

Fidèle, too, came to me every quarter-day, to make oath before me to his
pension certificate, and stopped and made a short call. He had little to
say about France. His great romance had been the war, although it
seemed to have fused itself into a hazy, high-colored dream of danger,
excitement, suffering, and generous devotion. Tears always rose in his
eyes when he spoke of “_la république?_”

In those first days of practice, anything by the name of law business
wore a halo, and I used to encourage Sorel’s calls, partly for this
reason and partly for practice in talking French with a common man. I
hoped to go to France some day, and I wanted to be able then to talk not
only with the grammatical, but with the dear people who say, “I guess
likely,” and “How be you?” in French.

Moreover, Sorel was rather amusing. He was something of a humorist. Once
he came to tell me, excitedly, that Auguste was learning music: “_Il
touche au violon,--mais_--‘e play so _bien!_” And Sorel’s eyes opened in
wonder at the boy’s quickness.

“Who teaches him?” I asked. “Some Frenchman who plays in the theatre?”

“_Mais_, no,” Sorel replied, with a broad drollery in his eye; “_un
professeur d’occasion!_” It was a ruined music-teacher, engaged now
in selling balloons from Madeira Place, who was the “_professeur

One day Sorel appeared with a great story to tell. Auguste, it seemed,
had wearied of home, and was determined to go to sea. Nothing could
deter him. Whereupon M. Sorel had hit upon a stratagem. He had hunted
up, somewhere along the wharves, two French sailors with conversational
powers, and had retained them to stay at his house for two or three
days, as chance comers. It was inevitable that Auguste should ply them
with eager questions,--and they knew their part.

As Sorel, entering into the situation now with all his dramatic nature,
with his eyes wide open, repeated to me some of the tales of horror
which they had palmed off upon innocent Auguste as spontaneous truth, I
could see, myself, the rigging covered with ice an inch thick; sailors
climbing up (“Ah! _comme ils grimpent,--ils grimpent!_”) bare-handed,
their hands freezing to the ropes at every touch, and leaving flesh
behind, “_comme_ if you put your tongue to a lam’post in the winter.”
 I could see the seamen’s backs cut up with lashes for the slightest
offences; I tasted the foul, unwholesome food. I think that Sorel half
believed it all himself,--his imagination was so powerful,--forgetting
that he had paid in silver coin for every word of it. At any rate, the
ruse had been successful. Auguste had been thoroughly scared and had
consented to stay at home, and the most threatening cloud of Sorel’s
life had blown over.

Usually, however, Sorel and I talked politics; and to our common
pleasure we generally agreed. Sorel knew very little about the details
of our government, and he would listen to me with the utmost eagerness
while I practised my French upon him, explaining to his wondering mind
the relations of the States to each other and to the general government,
and the system of State and Federal courts. He was very quick, and he
took in the ingenious scheme with great facility. Then he would tell me
about the workings of government in the French villages and departments;
and as he read French papers, he had always something in the way of news
or explanation of recent events. I have since come to believe that he
was exceedingly well informed.

The most singular thing about him to me was how he could cherish on the
one hand such devotion as he plainly did, to France, and on the other
hand such a passionate attachment to the United States. In truth, that
double patriotism is one of the characteristic features of our country.

I could lead him, in twenty minutes, through the whole gamut of emotion,
by talking about Auguste, and then of politics. It was irresistible,
the temptation to lead him out. A word about Auguste, and he would wipe
tears from his eyes. A mention of Gambetta, and the bare idea filled
him with enthusiasm; he was instantly, in imagination, one of a surging
crowd, throwing his hat in the air, or drawing Gambetta’s carriage
through the streets of Paris. I had only to speak of Alsace to bring
him to a mood of sullen ugliness and hatred. He was, I have no doubt,
a pretty good-tempered man; he was certainly warm-hearted; his apparent
harshness to his balloon-venders was probably nothing more than
necessary parental severity, and he was always ready to recognize their
successes. But I have never seen a more wicked and desperate expression
than an allusion to Alsace called up in his face and in his whole
bearing. Sometimes he would laugh, when I mentioned the severed
province; but it was with a hard, metallic, cruel laugh.’ He felt the
loss as he would have felt the loss of a limb. The first time I brought
up the topic, I saw the whole bitter story of the dismembering of

There was another subject which called out that same bitter revengeful
look, and that cruel nasal laugh,--the royalist factions and the
Bonapartists. When we spoke of them, and I watched his face and heard
his soulless laughter, I saw the French Revolution.

But he could always be brought back to open childish delight and warmth
by a reference to the United States. Our government, in his eyes,
embodied all that was good. France was now a “_république_,” to be sure,
and he rejoiced in the fact; but he plainly felt the power and settled
stability of our republic, and he seemed to have a filial devotion
toward it closely akin to his love for Auguste.

How fortunate we were! Here were no _Légitimistes_, no _Orléanistes_, no
_Bonapartistes_, for a perpetual menace! Here all citizens, however
else their views might differ, believed, at least, in the republic,
and desired to stay her hands. There were no factions here continually
plotting in the darkness. Here the machinery of government was all in
view, and open to discussion and improvement Ah, what a proud, happy
country is this!”_Que c’est une république!_”

I gathered enthusiasm myself from this stranger’s ardor for the country
of his adoption. I think that I appreciated better, through him, the
free openness of our institutions. It is of great advantage to meet an
intense man, of associations different from your own, who, by his very
intensity and narrowness, instantly puts you at his standpoint. I viewed
the United States from the shores of a sister republic which has
to contend against strong and organized political forces not fully
recognized in the laws, working beneath the surface, which nevertheless
are facts.

One acquaintance leads to another. Through Sorel, whose house was the
final resort of Frenchmen in distress, and their asylum if they were
helpless, not only Fidèle, but a number of other Frenchmen of that
neighborhood, began to come to me with their small affairs. I was the
_avocat_ who “speak French.” I am afraid that they were surprised at my
“French” when they heard it.

There was a willow-worker from the Pas-de-Calais, a deformed man,
walking high and low, and always wanting to rise from his chair and lay
his hand upon my shoulder, as he talked, who came to consult me about
the recovery of a hundred francs which he had advanced at _Anvers_ to
a Belgian tailor upon the pledge of a sewing-machine, on consideration
that the tailor, who was to come in a different steamer, should take
charge of the willow-worker’s dog on the voyage: the willow-worker had a
wife and six children to look after. This was a lofty contest; but I
had time then. I found a little amusement in the case, and I had the
advantage of two or three hours in all of practical French conversation
with men thoroughly in earnest. Finally, I had the satisfaction of
settling their dispute, and so keeping them from a quarrel.

Then there was a French cook, out of a job, who wanted me to find him a
place. He was gathering mushrooms, meanwhile, for the hotels. One day he
surprised me by coming into my office in a white linen cap, brandishing
in his hand a long, gleaming knife. He only desired, however, to tell
me that he had found a place at one of the clubs, and to show, in his
pride, the shining blade which he had just bought as his equipment.

But the man who impressed me most, after Sorel, was Carron. He first
appeared as the friend of the cook,--whom he introduced to me, with many
flourishes and compliments, although he was an utter stranger himself.
Carron was a well-built and rather handsome man, of medium height,
and was then perhaps fifty years of age. He had a remarkably bright,
intelligent face, curling brown hair, and a full, wavy brown beard. He
kept a rival boarding-house, not far from Sorel’s, in a gabled wooden
house two hundred years old, which was anciently the home of an eminent
Puritan divine. In the oak-panelled room where the theologian wrote his
famous tract upon the Carpenter who Profanely undertook to Dispense the
Word in the way of Public Ministration, and was Divinely struck Dumb in
consequence, Carron now sold beer from a keg.

It was plain at a glance that his present was not of a piece with his
past I could not place him. His manners were easy and agreeable, and
yet he was not a gentleman. He was well informed, and evidently of some
mental training, and yet he was not quite an educated man. After his
first visit to me, with the cook, he, too, occasionally looked in upon
me, generally late in the afternoon, when I could call the day’s work
done and could talk French for half an hour with him, in place of taking
a walk. He was strongly dramatic, like Sorel, but in a different
way. Sorel was intense; Carron was _théâtral_. He was very fond of
declamation; and seeing from the first my wish to learn French,--which
Sorel would never very definitely recognize,--he often recited to me,
for ear practice, and in an exceedingly effective way, passages from the
Old Testament. He seemed to know the Psalms by heart. He was a good deal
of an actor, and he took the part of a Hebrew prophet with great effect.
But his fervor was all stage fire, and he would turn in an instant from
a denunciatory Psalm to a humorous story. Even his stories were of
a religious cast, like those which ministers relate when they gather
socially. He told me once about a priest who was strolling along the
bank of the Loire, when a drunken sailor accosted him and reviled him as
a lazy good-for-nothing, a _fainéant_, and slapped his face. The priest
only turned the other cheek to him. “Strike again,” he said; and the
sailor struck. “Now, my friend,” said the priest, “the Scripture tells
us that when one strikes us we are to turn the other cheek. There
it ends its instruction and leaves us to follow our own judgment.”
 Whereupon, being a powerful man, he collared the sailor and plunged him
into the water. He told me, too, with great unction, and with a roguish
gleam in his eye, a story of a small child who was directed to prepare
herself for confession, and, being given a manual for self-examination,
found the wrong places, and appeared with this array of sins: “I have
been unfaithful to my marriage vows.... I have not made the tour of my

Carron had an Irish wife (_une Irlandaise_), much younger than he, whom
he worshipped. He told me, one day, about his courtship. When he first
met her, she knew not a word of French, and he not a word of English.
He was greatly captivated (épris), and he had to contrive some mode of
communication. They were both Catholics. He had a prayer-book with Latin
and French in parallel columns; she had a similar prayer-book but in
Latin and English. They would seat themselves; Carron would find in his
prayer-book a sentence in French which would suit his turn, on a pinch,
and through the medium of the Latin would find the corresponding passage
in English in Norah’s prayer-book and point it out to her. Norah, in
her turn, would select and point out some passage in English which would
serve as a tribute to Carron’s charms, and he would discover in his
prayer-book, in French, what that tribute was. Why should we deem the
dead languages no longer a practical study, when Latin can gain for a
Frenchman an Irish wife!

Carron, as I have said, puzzled me. He had not the pensive air of one
who has seen better days. He was more than cheerful in his present life:
he was full of spirits; and yet it was plain that he had been brought
up for something different. I asked him once to tell me, for French
lessons, the story of his life. With the most charming complaisance, he
at once consented; but he proceeded in such endless detail, the first
time, in an account of his early boyhood in a strict Benedictine
monastery school, in the south of France, as to suggest that he was
talking against time. And although his spirited and amusing picture of
his childhood days only awakened my curiosity, I could never persuade
him to resume the history. It was always “the next time.”

He seemed to be poor: but he never asked a favor except for others. On
the contrary, he brought me some little business. A _Belge_ had been
cheated out of five hundred dollars; I recovered half of it for him.
A Frenchman from _le Midi_ had bought out a little business, and the
seller had immediately set up shop next door; I succeeded in shutting up
the rival. I was a prodigy.

After a time I was told something further as to Carron’s life. He had
been a Capuchin monk, in a monastery at or near Paris. The instant that
I heard this statement, I felt in my very soul that it was true. My
eye had always missed something in Carron. I now knew exactly what it
was,--a shaved crown, bare feet, and a cowl.

It was the usage for the brethren of his order to go about Paris
barefoot, begging. They were not permitted by the _concierges_ to go
into the great apartment hotels. But “Carron, _il est très fin_,” said
my informant; “you know,--‘e is var’ smart.” Carron would learn, by
careful inquiry, the name of a resident on an upper floor; then he would
appear at the _concierge’s_ door, and would mention the name of this
resident with such adroit, demure, and absolute confidence that he would
be permitted at once to ascend. Once inside, he would go the rounds of
the apartments. So he would get five times as much in a day as any of
his fellows. A certain amount of the receipts he would yield up to the
treasury of the monastery; the rest he kept for himself. After a while
this came to be suspected, and he quietly withdrew to a new country.

There was not the slightest tangible corroboration of this story. It
might have been the merest gossip or the invention of an enemy. But it
fitted Carron so perfectly, that from the day I heard it I could never,
somehow, question its substantial truth. If I had questioned it, I
should have repeated the story to him, to give him an opportunity to
answer. But something warned me not to do so.

Fidèle held on well at the custom-house, and I think that he became a
general favorite. No one who took the old soldier by the hand and looked
him in the eye could question his absolute honesty; and as for skill in
his duties,--well, it was the custom-house.

But he was not saving much money. He was free to give and free to lend
to his fellow-countrymen; and, moreover, various ways were pointed
out to him by Mr. Fox, from time to time, in which an old soldier,
delighting to aid his country, could serve her pecuniarily. The
republic,--that is, the Republicans,--it was all one.

One afternoon, late in summer, Fidèle appeared at my office. He seldom
visited me, except quarterly for his pension affidavit. As he came in
now, I saw that something had happened. His grisly face wore the same
kindly smile that it had always borne, but the light had gone out of it.
His story was short. He had lost his place. He had been notified that
his services would not be needed after Saturday. No reason had been
given him; he was simply dismissed in humiliation. There must be some
misunderstanding, such as occurs between the warmest friends. And was
not the great government his friend? Did it not send him his pension
regularly? Had it not sent a special messenger to seek him out, in his
obscurity, for this position; and was he not far better suited to it now
than at the outset?

In reply to questions from me, he told me more about Mr. Fox’s first
visit than I had hitherto known. I asked him, in a casual way, about the
ward-meetings, and whether the French citizens generally attended them.
No, they had been dropping off; they had become envious, perhaps, of
him; they had formed a club, with Carron for president, and had voted to
act in a body (_en solidarité_).

Then I told Fidèle that I knew no way to help him, and that I feared his
dismission was final. He could not understand me, but went away, leaning
on his cane, dragging his left foot sidewise behind him, with something
of the air of an old faithful officer who has been deprived of his

He had not been gone more than an hour, when the door opened again, and
Carron looked in. Seeing that I was alone, he closed the door and walked
very slowly toward my desk,--erect, demure, impassive, looking straight
forward and not at me, with an air as if he were bearing a candle in
high mass, intoning, as he came, a passage from the Psalms: “_Je me
ré-jouirai; je partagerai Sichem, et je mesurerai la vallée de Succoth.
Galaad sera à moi, Manassé sera à moi.... Moab sera le bassin où je
me laverai et je jetterai mon soulier sur Édom.... Qui est-ce qui me
conduira dans la ville forte? Qui est-ce qui me conduira jusquen Édom?_”
 (I will rejoice; I will divide Shechem and mete out the valley of
Succoth. Gilead is mine; Ma-nasseh is mine.... Moab is my washpot; over
Edom will I cast out my shoe.... Who will bring me into the strong city?
Who will lead me into Edom?)

Carron propounded the closing inquiry with great unction; his manner
expressed entire confidence that some one would be found to lead him
into the strong city, to lead him into Edom.

I had lost something of my interest in Carron since I had heard the
story of his Parisian exploits; but I could not help being amused at his
manner. It portended something. He made no disclosure, however. Whatever
he had to tell, he went away without telling it, contenting himself
for the present with intimating by his triumphal manner that great good
fortune was in the air.

On Saturday afternoon, as I was about closing my desk,--a little earlier
than usual, for it was a most tempting late September day, and the waves
of the harbor, which I could just see from my office window, called
loudly to me,--Sorel appeared. I held out my hand, but he affected not
to see it, and he sat down without a word. He was plainly disturbed and
somewhat excited.

Of course I knew that it was his old friend’s misfortune which weighed
upon him; he was proud and fond of Fidèle.

I seated myself, and waited for him to speak. In a moment he began, with
a low, hard laugh: “_Semble que notre bon Fidèle a sa démission_: you
know,--our Fidèle got bounced!”

Yes, I said, Fidèle had told me so, and I was very sorry to hear it.

“_Evidemment_” (this in a tone of irony) “_il faut un homme plus juste,
plus loyale, que le pauvre Fidèle!_ (You know,--they got to ‘ave one more
honester man!) _Bien!_ You know who goin’ ‘ave ‘is place?”

I shook my head.

Sorel laid down his hat, and wiped his brow with his handkerchief. Then
he went on, no longer speaking in French and then translating,--his
usual concession to my supposed desires,--but mostly now in
quasi-English: “_Mais_, you thing this great _gouvernement_ wan’ hones’
men work for her, _n’est-ce pas?_”

“The government ought to have the most honest men,” I said.

“_Bien_. Now you thing the _gouvernement_ boun’ to ‘ave some men w’at
mos’ know the business, _n’est-ce pas?_”

“It ought to have them.”

Sorel wiped his brow again. “Now, w’ich you thing the mos’ honestes’
man,--Fidèle, or-- _Carron?_ W’ich you thing know the business
bes’,--Fidèle, w’at been there, or Carron, w’at ain’ been there?”

“Fidèle, of course.”

“Then tell me, w’at for they bounce’ our Fidèle, and let Carron got ‘is
place?” and he burst into a harsh, resonant, contemptuous laugh. In
a moment he resumed: “Now,” he said, “I only got one more thing to ax
you,” and taking his felt hat in his hands, he held it on his knees,
before him, and stooping a little forward, eyed me closely: “You know
w’at we talk sometimes, you an’ me, ‘bout our Frensh _république_--some
_Orléanistes_, some _Légitimistes_, some _Bonapartistes?_ You merember
‘ow we talk, you and me?”

I nodded,

“We ain’ got no _Orléanistes_, no _Bonapartistes’ ici_, in this
_gouvernement, n’est-ce pas?_”

I intimated that I had never met any.

“Now,” he proceeded, with an increased bitterness in his tone and his
hard smile, “I use’ thing you one good frien’ to me, _mais_, you been
makin’ fool of me all that time!”

“You don’t think any such thing,” I said.

“You know,” he went on, “who bounce our Fidèle?”


Sorel received my reply with a low, incredulous laugh. Then he laid his
hat down on the floor, drew his chair closer, held out his finger,
and, with the air of one who shows another that he knows his secret he

“_Qu’est-ce que c’est qu’un ‘Boss’?_”

I sat silent for a moment, looking at him, not knowing just what to say.

“_Mais_,” he went on, “all the _Américains_” (they were chiefly Irish)
“roun’ my ‘ouse been tellin’ me, long time, ‘_Le_ Boss goin’ bounce
Fidèle.’ Me, I laugh w’en they say so. I say, ‘_Le Boss? C’est un
créature d’imagination, pour nous effrayer,’ you know, make us scart
‘_C’est un loup-garou,’ you know,--w’at make ‘fraid li’l chil’ren.
That’s w’at I tell them. I thing then you would n’t been makin’ fool of

“They don’t know what they are talking about,” I said. “How can they
know why Fidèle is removed?”

“_Mais_, you jus’ wait; I goin’ tell you. I fin they do know. Fidèle
take he sol’ier-papers, an’ he go see _le chef_” (here Sorel rose, and
acted Fidèle). “Fidèle, ‘e show ‘is papers to _le chef_; ‘e say, ‘Now
you boun’ tell me why _le bon gouvernement_, w’at ‘s been my frien’,
bounce me now.’ ‘E say _le chef_ boun’ to tell ‘im,--_il faut
absolument!_ ‘E say ‘e won’ go, way if _le chef_ don’ tell ‘im; an’ you
know, no man can’t scare our Fidèle!”

“Very well,” I said; “what did the collector, the _chef_ tell him?
Fidèle is too lame, I suppose?”

“_Mais, non_,” with a suspicious smile. “_Le chef_, he mos’ cry,--yas,
sar,--an’ ‘e say ‘e ain’ got no trouble ‘gainst Fidèle; _la république_,
she ain’ got no trouble ‘gainst Fidèle. ‘E say ‘e di’n want Fidèle to
go; _le gouvernement_, she d’n want ‘im to go. _Mais_, ‘e say, ‘e can’t
help hisself; _le gouvernement_, she can’t help herself. Yas, sar. Then
Fidèle know w’at evarybody been tellin’ us was true,--‘e ‘Boss,’ ‘e make
‘im go!” And Sorel sat back in his chair.

“Now, I ax you one time more,” he resumed: “_qu’est-ce que c’est qu’un

What could I say! How could I explain, offhand, to this stranger, the
big boss, the little boss, the State boss, the ward boss, the county
boss, all burrowing underneath our theoretical government! How could
I explain to him that Fidèle’s department in the custom-house had been
allotted to a Congressman about to run for a second term, who needed it
to control a few more ward-meetings,--needed, in the third ward caucus,
those very French votes which Carron had been shrewd enough to steal
away and organize! What could I say to Sorel which he, innocent as he
was, would not misconstrue as inconsistent with our past glorifications
of our republic! What did I say! I do not know. I only remember that he
interrupted me, harshly and abruptly, as he rose to go.

“You an’ me got great _pitié_, ain’ we,” he said, “for _notre France, la
pauvre France_, ‘cause she got so many folks w’at _tourbillonnent sous
la surface,--les Orléanistes les Bonapartistes_; don’ we say so? _Mais,
il n’y en a pas, ici_,--you know, we ain’ got none here; don’ we say
so? We ain’ got no _factionnaires_ here! _Mais non!_” Then, lowering his
voice to a hoarse whisper: “_Votre bonne république,_” he said,--“_c’est
une république du théâtre!_”

He had hardly closed the door behind him, when he opened it again, and
put in his head, and with his hard, mocking laugh, demanded, “_Qu’est-ce
que c’est qu’un ‘Boss’?_” And as he walked down the hall, I could still
hear his scornful laughter.

He never came to see me again. I sometimes heard of him through Carron,
who had succeeded to Fidèle’s position and had elevated a considerable
part of his following: for several weeks they were employed at three
dollars a day in the navy-yard, where, to their utter mystification,
they moved, with a certain planetary regularity, ship-timber from the
west to the east side of the yard, and then back from the east side to
the west. You remember reading about this in the published accounts of
our late congressional contest.

Though Sorel never visited me again, I occasionally saw him: once near
the evening-school, when I went as a guest; once in the long market;
once in the post-office; and once he touched me on the shoulder, as
I was leaning over the street railing, by the dock, looking down at a
Swedish bark. Each time he had but one thing to say; and having said it,
he would break into his harsh, ironical laugh, and pass along:--

“_Qu’est-ce que c’est qu’un ‘Boss’?_”

And Fidèle?

Still, if you will go to Madeira Place at sunset, you may see the cap
and blouse come slowly in. Still the old sergeant sits at the head of
the table. But his ideal is gone; his idol has clay feet. No longer does
he describe to new-comers from France the receipt of his pension. All
the old fond pride in it is gone, and he takes the money now as dollars
and cents.

In the conversation, however, around the table the great government at
Washington is by no means forgotten. Sometimes Sorel tells his guests
about the Boss.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "In Madeira Place - 1887" ***

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