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Title: Marguerite
Author: France, Anatole
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 "Marguerite" ***

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MARGUERITE

By Anatole France

Translated From The French By J. Lewis May

With Twenty-Nine Original Woodcuts By Simeon

London, John Lane Company, MCMXXI


[Illustration: titlepage 010]



PREFATORY LETTER

Publish Marguerite, dear Monsieur André Coq, if you so desire, but pray
relieve me from all responsibility in the matter.

It would argue too much literary conceit on my part were I anxious to
restore it to the light of day. It would argue, perhaps, still more did
I endeavour to keep it in obscurity. You will not succeed in wresting it
for long from the eternal oblivion where-unto it is destined. Ay me, how
old it is! I had lost all recollection of it. I have just read it over,
without fear or favour, as I should a work unknown to me, and it does
not seem to me that I have lighted upon a masterpiece. It would ill
beseem me to say more about it than that. My only pleasure as I read it
was derived from the proof it afforded that, even in those far-off days,
when I was writing this little trifle, I was no great lover of the Third
Republic with its pinchbeck virtues, its militarist imperialism, its
ideas of conquest, its love of money, its contempt for the handicrafts,
its unswerving predilection for the unlovely. Its leaders caused me
terrible misgivings. And the event has surpassed my apprehensions.

But it was not in my calculations to make myself a laughing-stock, by
taking Marguerite as a text for generalizations on French politics of
the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The specimens of type and the woodcuts you have shown me promise a very
comely little book.

Believe me, dear Monsieur Coq,

Yours sincerely,

Anatole France.

La Béchellerie, 16th April, 1920.



MARGUERITE

[Illustration: 018]



5th July

As I left the Palais-Bourbon at five o’clock that afternoon, it rejoiced
my heart to breathe in the sunny air. The sky was bland, the river
gleamed, the foliage was fresh and green. Everything seemed to whisper
an invitation to idleness. Along the Pont de la Concorde, in the
direction of the Champs-Elysées, victorias and landaus kept rolling by.
In the shadow of the lowered carriage-hoods, women’s faces gleamed clear
and radiant and I felt a thrill of pleasure as I watched them flash by
like hopes vanishing and reappearing in endless succession. Every woman
as she passed by left me with an impression of light and perfume.
I think a man, if he is wise, will not ask much more than that of a
beautiful woman. A gleam and a perfume! Many a love-affair leaves even
less behind it. Moreover, that day, if Fortune herself had run with her
wheel a-spinning before my very nose along the pavement of the Pont
de la Concorde, I should not have so much as stretched forth an arm to
pluck her by her golden hair. I lacked nothing that day; all was mine.
It was five o’clock and I was free till dinner-time. Yes, free! Free
to saunter at will, to breathe at my ease for two hours, to look on at
things and not have to talk, to let my thoughts wander as I listed. All
was mine, I say again. My happiness was making me a selfish man. I
gazed at everything about me as though it were all a picture, a splendid
moving pageant, arranged for my own particular delectation. It seemed
to me as though the sun were shining for me alone, as though it were
pouring down its torrents of flame upon the river for my special
gratification. I somehow thought that all this motley throng was
swarming gaily around me for the sole purpose of animating, without
destroying, my solitude. And so I almost got the notion that the
people about me were quite small, that their apparent size was only an
illusion, that they were but puppets; the sort of thoughts a man has
when he has nothing to think about. But you must not be angry on that
score with a poor man who has had his head crammed chock-full for ten
years on end with politics and law making and is wearing away his life
with those trivial preoccupations men call affairs of state.

In the popular imagination, a law is something abstract, without form or
colour. For me a law is a green baize table, sealing-wax, paper, pens,
ink-stains, green-shaded candles, books bound in calf, papers yet damp
from the printer’s and all smelling of printer’s ink, conversations
in green papered offices, files, bundles of documents, a stuffy smell,
speeches, newspapers; a law, in short, is all the hundred and one
things, the hundred and one tasks you have to fulfil at all hours, the
grey and gentle hours of the morning, the white hours of middle day, the
purple hours of evening, the silent, meditative hours of night;
tasks which leave you no soul to call your own and rob you of the
consciousness of your own identity.

Yes, it is so. I have left my own _ego_ behind me there. It is scattered
up and down among all sorts of memoranda and reports. Industrious junior
clerks have put away a parcel of it in each one of their beautiful green
filing cases. And so I have had to go on living without my _ego_,
which, moreover, is how all politicians have to live. But an _ego_ is a
strangely subtle thing. And wonder of wonders! mine came back to me just
now on the Pont de la Concorde. ‘Twas he without a doubt and, would
you believe it, he had not suffered so very much from his sojourn among
those musty papers. The very moment he arrived I found myself again, I
recognized my own existence, whereof I had not been conscious these
ten years. “Ha ha!” said I to myself, “since I exist, I am just as well
pleased to know it. Behold I will set forth here and now to improve this
new acquaintance by strolling, with a lover’s thoughts in my heart, down
the Champs-Elysées.”

And this is why I am here, at this hour, beneath the sculptured
steeds of Marly, more high-spirited than those aristocratic quadrupeds
themselves; this is why I am setting foot in the avenue whose entrance
is marked by their hoofs of stone perpetually poised in air. The
carriages flow past endlessly, like a sombre scintillating stream of
lava or molten asphalt, whereon the hats of the women seem borne along
like so many flowers, and like everything else one sees in Paris, at
once extravagant and pretty. I light up a cigar and looking at nothing,
behold everything. So intense is my joy that it scares me. It is the
first cigar I have smoked for ten years. Oh yes, I grant I have begun
as many as ten a day in my room; but those I scorched, bit, chewed and
threw away; I never smoked them. This one I am really and truly smoking
and the smoke it exhales is a cloud of poesy spreading grace and charm
about it. What an interest I take in all I see. These little shops,
which display at regular intervals their motley assortment of wares,
fill me with delight. Here especially is one which I cannot forbear
stopping to look at. What I chiefly delight to contemplate there is a
decanter with lemonade in it. The decanter reflects in miniature on its
polished sides the trees around it and the women that pass by and the
skies. It has a lemon on the top of it which gives it a sort of oriental
air. However, it is not its shape nor its colour that is the attraction
in my eyes; I cannot keep my gaze from it because it reminds me of
my childhood. At the sight of it, innumerable delightful scenes come
thronging into my memory. Once again do I behold those shining hours,
those hours divine of early childhood. Ah, what would I not give to be
again the little boy of those days and to drink once more a glass of
that precious liquid!

[Illustration: 024]

In that little shop, I find once more, besides the lemonade and the
gooseberry syrup, all those divers things wherein my childhood took
delight. Here be whips, trumpets, swords, guns, cartridge-pouches,
belts, scabbards, sabretaches, all those magic toys which, from five
to nine years old, made me feel that I was fulfilling the destiny of
a Napoleon. I played that mighty rôle, in my tenpenny soldier’s kit,
I played it from start to finish, bating only Waterloo and the years of
exile. For, mark you, I was always the victor. Here, too, are coloured
prints from Épinal. It was on them that I began to spell out those signs
which to the learned reveal a few faint traces of the Mighty Riddle.
Yes, the sorriest little coloured daub that ever came out of a village
in the Vosges consists of print and pictures, and what is the sum and
substance of Science after all but just pictures and print?

From those Épinal prints I learned things far finer and more useful
than anything I ever got from the little grammar and history books my
schoolmasters gave me to pore over. Épinal prints, you see, are stories,
and stories are mirrors of destiny. Blessed is the child that is brought
up on fairy-tales. His riper years should prove rich in wisdom and
imagination. And see! here is my own favourite story _The Blue Bird_. I
know him by his outspread tail. ‘Tis he right enough. It is as much as
I can do to prevent myself flinging my arms round the old shop-woman’s
neck and kissing her flabby cheeks. The Blue Bird, ah me, what a debt
I owe him! If I have ever wrought any good in my life, it is all due to
him. Whenever we were drafting a Bill with our Chief, the memory of
the Blue Bird would steal into my mind amid the heaps of legal and
parliamentary documents by which I was hemmed in. I used to reflect
then that the human soul contained infinite desires, unimaginable
metamorphoses and hallowed sorrows, and if, under the spell of such
thoughts, I gave to the clause I chanced to be engaged upon an ampler, a
humaner sense, an added respect for the soul and its rights, and for
the universal order of things, that clause would never fail to encounter
vigorous opposition in the Chamber. The counsels of the Blue Bird seldom
prevailed in the committee stage. Howbeit some did manage to get through
Parliament.

I now perceive that I am not the only one inspecting the little stall:
a little girl has come to a halt in front of the brilliant display. I
am looking at her from behind. Her long, bright hair comes tumbling in
cascades from under her red velvet hood and spreads out on her broad
lace collar and on her dress, which is the same colour as her hood.
Impossible to say what is the colour of her hair (there is no colour so
beautiful) but one can describe the lights in it; they are bright and
pure and changing, fair as the sun’s rays, pale as a beam of starlight.
Nay, more than that, they shine, yes; but they flow also. They possess
the splendour of light, and the charm of pleasant waters. Methinks that,
were I a poet, I should write as many sonnets on those tresses as M.
José Maria de Heredia composed concerning the Conquerors of Castille
d’Or. They would not be so fine, but they would be sweeter. The child,
so far as I can judge, is between four and five years old. All I can see
of her face is the tip of her ear, daintier than the daintiest jewel,
and the innocent curve of her cheek. She does not stir; she is holding
her hoop in her left hand; her right is at her lips as though she were
biting her nails in her eager contemplation. What is it she is gazing
at so longingly? The shop contains other things besides the arms and the
gear of fighting men. Balls and skipping ropes are suspended from the
awning. On the stall are baby dolls with bodies made of grey cardboard,
smiling after the manner of idols, monstrous and serene as they. Little
six-penny dolls, dressed like servant girls, stretch out their arms,
little stumpy arms so flimsy that the least breath of air sets them
a-tremble. But the little maid whose hair is made of liquid light, has
no eyes for these dolls and puppets. Her whole soul hangs upon the lips
of a beautiful baby doll that seems to be calling her his mummy. He
is hitched on to one of the poles of the booth all by himself. He
dominates, he effaces everything else. Once you have beheld him, you see
naught else save him.

Bolt upright in his warm wraps, a little swansdown tucker under his
chin, he is stretching out his little chubby arms for some one to take
him. He speaks straight to the little maid’s heart. He appeals to her
by every maternal instinct she possesses. He is enchanting. His face has
three little dots, two black ones for the eyes, and one red one for the
mouth. But his eyes speak, his mouth invites you. He is alive.

Philosophers are a heedless race. They pass by dolls with never a
thought. Nevertheless the doll is more than the statue, more than the
idol. It finds its way to the heart of woman, long ere she be a woman.
It gives her the first thrill of maternity. The doll is a thing august.
Wherefore cannot one of our great sculptors be so very kind as to take
the trouble to model dolls whose lineaments, coming to life beneath his
fingers, would tell of wisdom and of beauty?

At last the little girl awakens from her silent day-dream. She turns
round and shows her violet eyes made bigger still with wonder, her nose
which makes you smile to look at it, her tiny nose, quite white, that
reminds you of a little pug dog’s black one, her solemn mouth, her
shapely but too delicate chin, her cheeks a shade too pale. I recognize
her. Oh yes! I recognize her with that instinctive certainty that is
stronger than all convictions supported by all the proofs imaginable. Oh
yes, ‘tis she, ‘tis indeed she and all that remains of the most charming
of women. I try to hasten away but I cannot leave her. That hair of
living gold, it is her mother’s hair; those violet eyes, they are her
mother’s own; Oh, child of my dreams, child of my despair! I long to
gather you to my arms, to steal you, to bear you away.

But a governess draws near, calls the child and leads her away: “Come,
Marguerite, come along, it’s time to go home.”

And Marguerite, casting a look of sad farewell at the baby with its
outstretched arms, reluctantly follows in the footsteps of a tall woman
clad in black with ostrich feathers in her hat.

[Illustration: Endpiece 033]


[Illustration: 034]



10th July

“Jean, bring me file 117.... Now then, M. Boscheron, let’s get this
circular done. Take this down: _I draw your special attention, M. le
Préfet, to the following point. An end must be put at the earliest
possible moment to an abuse which, if suffered to continue, would tend
to--tend to--I draw your special attention to the following point, M. le
Préfet. An end must be put as soon as possible to an abuse_. Take that
down, M. Boscheron.”

But M. Boscheron, my secretary, respectfully remarks that I keep on
dictating the same sentence. Jean deferentially places a file on my
table.

“What’s that, Jean?”

“File number 117. You asked me to fetch it, sir.”

“I asked you for file number 117?”

“Yes, sir.”

Jean gives me an anxious glance and retires.

“Where were we, M. Boscheron?”

“An end must be put as soon as possible to an abuse . . . .”

“That’s right... _an abuse which would tend to diminish popular respect
for government servants and to transform_... transform, what a wealth
of hidden things that word conceals. I cannot so much as pronounce it
but a world of ideas and sentiments come thronging pell-mell to invade
the secret recesses of my being.” “I beg pardon, monsieur?” “What did
you say, M. Boscheron?” “Please repeat, monsieur; I didn’t quite follow
you.”

“Really, Monsieur Boscheron? Possibly I was not very clear. Well, well!
we will stop there if you like. Give me what I have dictated, I will
finish it myself.”

[Illustration: 036]

M. Boscheron gives me his notes, gathers up his papers, bows and
retires. Left alone in my office, I fall to examining the wallpaper with
a sort of idiotic minuteness. It has the appearance of green felt with
here and there a yellow stain; I begin to draw little men on my paper;
I make an effort to write; for the fact is my Chief has asked for the
circular three times and has promised the government deputies that it
shall go to the prefects forthwith. I am bound to let him have it. I
begin reading it through: _to diminish popular respect for government
servants and to transform them_. I make a blot; then with my pen I
adorn it with hair. I transform it into a comet. I dream of Marguerite’s
tresses. The other day, in the Champs-Elysées, little filaments of gold,
little delicate spirals stood out from the rest of her graceful tresses,
with a singular brightness. You can see their like in fifteenth century
miniatures, also in some of an earlier date. Dante says in his _Vita
Nuova_: “One day when I was busy drawing angel’s heads . . .” And now
here am I trying to draw angels’ heads on a government circular. Come
now, we must get on with it: _government servants and to transform
them--transform them_ . . . How is it I simply cannot write a single
word after that? How is it I am here dreaming still, as I have been ever
since I rediscovered my _ego_ on the Pont de la Concorde that evening
of the lovely sunset? Transform, did I say? O God of mystery, nature,
truth, if she whose name even now after four years I dare not utter, if
she died in giving life to Marguerite, I should believe, I should know
with the certainty of instinct, that the soul of the mother had passed
into the daughter and that they are one and the same being.

[Illustration: 040]


[Illustration: 042]



1st November

All’s well. I have lost my _ego_ again. It has gone back into the green
filing cases. Number 117 contains a good part of it. I have finished my
circular. It is drawn up in good official style. We have a fine piece of
legislation to get off before the holidays. My Chief speaks every day in
the House. Every night I correct the proofs of his speeches. If the
Blue Bird comes to see me now and again in the small hall of the Palais
Bourbon, it is merely to advise me to tone down some rather too forcible
expression and he never addresses himself to my imagination. I don’t
know whether I am living happily or unhappily since I don’t know that
I am living at all. I do not even recognize my own clothes. I picked up
the hat of the Comte de Mérodac a little while ago and wore it for three
days without knowing it, yet it is a romantic sombrero-like
sort of thing worn nowadays by no one save this elderly nobleman. I cut
an astounding figure they told me, but I never noticed myself, and,
if by chance I had, I should not have heeded what I saw since it had
nothing to do with politics. I am no longer a person; I am a piece of
the official machine. To-night I have neither proofs to correct nor
official reception to attend. I have put on my slippers. There is always
a tiny bit of my _ego_ hidden away in these slippers. I am in my room
seated by the fire and I am conscious of being there. By heaven I wonder
whether I should know myself in the glass. Let’s have a look. Hum! not
so very ... I didn’t think I was so grave and respectable looking. I
quite see that I shall have to take myself seriously. I have been a long
time about it, but then it wasn’t for me to begin.

I am a man of weight and I account myself such. But, alas, I do not know
myself. And I am not anxious to acquire the knowledge; it would be a
tedious business. No, I haven’t the smallest desire to hold converse
with the grave and frigid gentleman who mimics all my movements. On the
other hand, did I but dare, what a happy time I should have with that
little fellow whose miniature I see there in that locket hanging against
the frame of the mirror. He is building a house with dominoes. What a
nice little chap. I feel like calling him and saying “Let’s go and have
a game together shall we?” But, alas, he is far away, very far away. That
little boy is myself as I was forty years ago. He is dead, just as dead
as if I were lying beneath the sod, sealed up in a leaden coffin. For
what have we in common, he and I? In what respect does he survive in me
to-day? In what do my castles of cards resemble his tower of dominoes?

We say that we live, we miserable beings, because we keep dying over and
over again.

[Illustration: 046]

I remember, it is true, how I used to play my games of an evening what
time my mother sat sewing at the table and gazed at me, now and again,
with a look full of that beautiful and simple tenderness that makes one
adore life, bless God and gives one courage enough to fight a score of
battles. Ah yes, hallowed memories, I shall treasure you in my heart
like a precious balm which, till my days are done, will have power to
soothe all bitterness and soften the very agony of death. But does the
child that I then was survive in me today? No. He is a stranger to me;
I feel that I can love him without selfishness and weep for him without
unmanliness. He is dead and gone, and has taken away with him my
innocent simplicities and my boundless hopes. We all of us die in
swaddling clothes. Little Marguerite, that delightful image of unfolding
life, how many times has she not died and what profound depths of
irrevocable memories, what a grave of dead thoughts and emotions has not
already been delved within her, though she is but five years old. I,
a stranger, a passer-by, know more of her life than she does and, in
consequence, I am more truly she than she herself. After that let him
who will prate of the feeling of identity and the consciousness of self.

Oh, gracious Heaven, what things we mortals be and into what an abyss
of terrors we should be for ever plunging if we had but time to think,
instead of making laws or planting cabbages. I feel like pulling my
slippers off my feet and pitching them out of the window, since they
have called me back to the consciousness of my existence. Our lives are
only bearable provided we do not think about them.

[Illustration: 049]


[Illustration: 050]



5th July

It is a year ago to-day since I fell in with that little girl in front
of a toyshop in the Champs-Elysées, the child of her who first awakened
in me the sense of beauty.

I was happy before I saw her; but the poetry of the wide world was
unknown to me, nor had I had experience of the dolorous joys of love.
The first time I saw Marie was one Good Friday at a classical concert
to which her father, an old diplomat with a passion for music, who had
heard the finest orchestras of every Court in Europe, had conducted her
attired in stately weeds of solemn black. Her mourning garb only
served to accentuate her radiant beauty. The sight of her aroused in
me feelings which bore, I think, a close resemblance to religious
exaltation. I was no longer very young. The uncertainty of my worldly
position, dependent as it then was upon the vicissitudes of a political
party, combined with my natural timidity to deprive me of all hope of
figuring as a successful suitor. I often saw her at her father’s and she
treated me with an air of open friendliness that did not encourage me to
foster higher ambitions. It was clear I did not impress her as the sort
of man with whom she could fall in love. As for me, the sight of her
and the sound of her voice produced in me such a state of delicious
agitation that the mere memory of it, mingled though it be with grief,
still avails to make me in love with life.

[Illustration: 052]

Nevertheless, shall I avow it? I longed to hear her and to see her
always; I would have died in rapture at her side, but I was never fain
to wed her. No, some instinct of harmony held desire remote from my
heart. “It was not love then,” some one will say. I know not what it
was, but I know that it filled my soul.

Clearly, however, the feelings I experienced cannot have been strange
to the heart of man, since I have found them expressed with power and
sweetness in the works of the poets, in Virgil, in Racine and Lamartine.
They have given utterance to the emotions which I but felt. I could not
break silence. The miracles wrought in my soul by this young girl will
remain for ever unrevealed. For two years I lived an enchanted life;
then, one day, she told me she was going to be married. My feelings, as
I have said, bear a strong resemblance to religious emotion. They
are sad, but in their sadness they still preserve their charm. Grief
corrupts them not. From suffering they derive a wholesome bitterness
that lends them strength. I listened to her with that gentle courage
which comes with renunciation. She was marrying a man senior to myself,
a widower, almost an old man, whose birth and fortune had marked him
out for the public career in which he had displayed a haughtiness of
disposition and much misplaced courage. Although I moved in a lower
sphere, I came in contact with him on several important occasions. I
belonged to a political group with views very similar to his own, but we
had never been able to meet without considerable friction and, although
the newspapers treated us with the same approval or, as was more often
the case, with the same hostility, we were not friends, far from it, and
we avoided each other with sedulous care.

I was present at the wedding. I saw, and I shall ever see Marie, wearing
her white dress and lace veil. She was a little pale and very lovely. I
was struck, without apparent reason, by the impression of fragility with
which this girl who was animated by so poetic a soul seemed to give one.
This impression, which I think occurred to no one but myself, was only
too well founded. I never saw Marie again.

She died after three years of married life, leaving a little girl ten
months old. An indescribable feeling of tender affection has always
drawn me to this child, to Marie’s Marguerite. An unconquerable desire
to see her took possession of me.

She was being brought up at ------ near Melun, where her father had a
château standing in the midst of a magnificent park. One day I went to
------ and wandered for hours, like a thief, about the park bound-aries.
At last, through a gap in the trees, I caught sight of Marguerite in the
arms of her nurse, who was dressed in black. She was wearing a hat with
white plumes and an embroidered pelisse. I cannot say in what respect
she differed from any other child, but I thought she was the fairest
in the world. It was autumn. The wind that was sighing in the trees
was whirling the dead leaves about in little eddies as they floated
to earth. Dead leaves covered all the long avenue in which the little
white-robed child was being carried up and down. An immense sadness
took possession of me. At the edge of a bed of flowers as white as the
raiment of Marguerite, an old gardener who was gathering up the fallen
leaves saluted his little mistress with a smile and, with his hand on
his rake and hat in hand, spoke to her with the gentle gaiety of old men
who are not overburdened with their thoughts. But she paid no heed to
him. With her little hand like to a star she sought her nurse’s breast.
As I hurried away with grief in my heart, the nurse resumed her walk
and I heard the sound of the dead leaves sighing sorrowfully beneath her
steps.

[Illustration: 058]


[Illustration: 060]



10th July

The President of the Chamber rises and says: “The motion proposed by
Messrs. ------ and ------ is now put.”

The Prime Minister, without quitting his seat says: “The Government does
not assent to the motion.”

The President rings his bell and says: “A ballot has been demanded. A
ballot will therefore be taken. Those in favour of Messrs. ------ and
------‘s motion must place a white paper in the urn; those who are
against it, a blue paper.”

There was a great movement in the hall. The deputies poured out in a
disorderly mob into the corridors, while the ushers passed the white
metal urn along the tiers of seats. The corridors were full of the
sound of shuffling feet, and of shouting and gesticulating people. Grave
looking young men and excited old ones went passing by. The air was
pierced with the sound of voices calling out figures:

“Eleven votes.”

“No, nine.”

“They are being checked.”

“Eight against.”

“No, not at all; eight for.”

“What, the amendment is carried?”

“Yes.”

“The Government is beaten?”

“Yes.”

“Ah!”

The President’s bell is heard in the corridors.

Slowly the hall fills again.

The President standing up with a paper in his hand rings his bell for
the last time and says:

“The following is the result of the ballot on the motion proposed by
Messrs. ------ and ------. Number of votes 470; for the motion 239 ;
against 231. The motion is carried.”

There is an immense sensation. The Ministers get up and leave their
seats. Two or three friends shake them timidly by the hand. It’s all
over, they are beaten. They go under and I with them. I no longer count.
I make up my mind to it. To say that I am happy would be to go too
far. But it spells the end of my worries and bothers and toils. I have
regained my freedom, but not voluntarily. Repose and liberty, I’ve got
them back again, but it is to my defeat that I owe them. An honourable
defeat it is true, but painful all the same because our ideas suffer
with ourselves. How many things are involved in our fall, alas.
Economy, public security, tranquillity of conscience and that spirit of
prudence, that continuity of policy, which gives a nation its strength.
I hurried away to shake hands with the Chief of my department, proud of
having rendered faithful service to so upright a leader. Then, pushing
my way through the crowd that had gathered about the precincts of the
Palais Bourbon, I crossed the Seine and made my way slowly towards the
Madeleine. At the top of the boulevard there was a barrow of flowers
drawn up alongside the kerb. Between the two shafts was a young girl
making up bunches of violets. I went up to her and asked her for a
bunch. I then saw a little girl of four sitting on the barrow amid the
flowers. With her baby fingers she was trying to make bunches like her
mother. She raised her head at my approach and, with a smile, held out
all the flowers she had in her hands. When she had given them all to me,
she blew kisses.

[Illustration: 064]

I was extremely flattered. “I must have a kindly look about me,” I said
to myself, “for a child to smile a welcome at me like that. What is your
name?” I asked her.

“Marguerite,” replied her mother.

It was half-past six. There was a news-vendor’s hard by. I bought a
paper. As soon as I glanced at it I saw that I was in for a wigging. The
political editor, having referred to my Chief as an individual of ill
omen, spoke of me too, on the first page, as a sinister creature. But,
after Marguerite’s kisses, I could not believe it. I felt at once a
lightness and a sort of emptiness at heart; both glad and sorrowful.

A week later found me on my way, to ------ near Melun, where I had taken
a little house hard by the Château of Marguerite’s upbringing. In my
eyes it was the fairest region in the world.

As we approached the station I looked out of the carriage window.
The silver river flowed in graceful curves between willows, until it
vanished from the sight. But long after it was lost to view one could
divine its course by the rows of poplars which lined its banks. A
weathercock and two towers visible amid the trees marked the site of the
town. Then I exclaimed, “Here is the resting place for me, here will I
lay my head.”

[Illustration: 067]


[Illustration: 068]



25th July

The walk I love best is the walk to Saint-Jean, for there, about
a hundred yards from the town is a little wood, or rather a little
half-wild cluster of hornbeams, maples, limes and lilac bushes, a
bouquet that murmurs in the breeze. The very first day I discovered it,
I felt its charm. I determined to make love to it; I made up my mind to
know it tree by tree, to search out its humblest plants, its vetches,
its saxifrages, and to see whether there was no Solomon’s seal to be
found growing beneath the shade of the big trees. I kept my word and
now I am beginning to make acquaintance with the flora and fauna of my
little wood. I had been reclining on the grass to-day for the space of
an hour, book in hand, when I heard some one crying in a faint voice.
I looked up and beheld a little girl standing beside an elderly man and
weeping. The man was undeniably old. His face was long and pallid.
There was an expression of sadness in his eyes and his mouth drooped
mournfully. He had a skipping-rope in his hand and was looking fixedly
at the child. Then he turned aside to brush away a tear from his cheek.
It was then that I beheld him full face and saw that he was Marguerite’s
father. I was shocked at the great change that illness and sorrow had
wrought in his haughty mien. Despair was graven on his countenance and
he seemed to be calling for help.

[Illustration: 070]

I went up to him and, in response to my offer to assist him in any way
possible, he explained with some embarrassment that a ball with which
his little girl had been playing had got caught in a tree and that
his stick, which he had thrown up in order to dislodge it, had become
entangled in the branches. He was at his wit’s end.

Only a few years before, this same man had circumvented the policy of
England and imparted a vigorous stimulus to French diplomacy in Europe.
Then he fell with honour, and was followed in his retirement by a
profound but honourable unpopularity. And now, behold his powers are
unequal to the task of dislodging a ball from a tree. Such is the
frailty of man. As for his daughter, Marie’s daughter, a sort of
presentiment forbade me to look in her face. And then when at length
I did look at her, I could not tear myself away from such a sorrowful
object of contemplation. She was no longer the little pink and white
child I had seen in the Champs-Elysées; she had grown taller and
thinner, and her face was wan as a waxen taper. Her languid eyes were
encircled with blue rings. And her temples . . . what invisible hand had
laid those two sad violets upon her temples?

“There! there! there!” cried the old man as he stretched forth a
trembling arm which pointed aimlessly in all directions.

The first thing to be done was to help him. By means of a stone which I
threw up into the tree, I soon managed to bring the ball down. X . . .
witnessed its fall with childish delight. He had not recognized me. I
hurriedly escaped to spare him the trouble of thanking me and myself the
agony of seeing the change that had taken place in Marie’s daughter.

[Illustration: 074]


[Illustration: 076]



10th August

I seldom go out. I am no longer moved by the beauty of things. Or to
speak more truly, the more pleasurable and splendid aspects of nature
give me pain. All day long I sully sheet after sheet of paper and
beguile the tedious hours with the half-faded recollections of my
childhood. What I am writing will be burned. I should be ashamed that
pages, tear-stained and dream-haunted, should fall beneath the eyes
of grave, sober-minded folk. What would they see in them? Naught but
childish faces.

[Illustration: 078]



20th August

To-dau I went for a stroll by the river in whose blue waters are
mirrored the willows and the houses that befringe its banks. There is a
seductive charm about running waters. They bear along with them as they
flow all those idlers who love to dream their time away.

The river lured me as far as the château de- ------ which had witnessed
the betrothal and the death of Marie, and the birth of Marguerite. My
heart tolled a knell within me when I saw once more that peaceful abode,
which, despite the scenes of sorrow enacted within its walls, speaks,
with its white pillared façade, of naught save elegant opulence and
luxurious repose. I was so overcome that, to save myself from falling,
I clung to the bars of the park gate and gazed at the wide lawns which
stretched away as far as the flight of steps which the hem of Marie’s
robe had kissed so often. I had been there some minutes when the gate
was opened and X ... came out.

On this occasion, also, he was accompanied by his child: but this time
she was not walking. She was lying in a perambulator which was being
pushed by a governess. With her head resting on an embroidered pillow in
the shadow of the lowered hood, she resembled one of those little waxen
images of saint or martyr, embellished with silver filigree, on whose
wounds and gems the nuns of Spain are wont to pore in the solitude of
their cells.

[Illustration: 080]

Her father, elegantly dressed, presented a faded, tear-stained
countenance. He advanced towards me with little faltering steps, took me
by the hand and led me to his little girl.

“Tell me,” he said in the tone of a child asking a favour, “you don’t
think she has changed since you last saw her, do you? It was the day she
threw her ball up into the tree.”

The perambulator which we were following in silence came to a halt in
the Bois Saint-Jean. The governess lowered the hood. Marguerite lay with
her head thrown back, her eyes big with terror, and she was stretching
out her arms to push aside something that we could not see. Oh, I
guessed well enough what invisible hand it was. The same hand that had
touched the mother was now laid upon the child. I fell on my knees.
But the phantom departed and Marguerite, raising her head, lay resting
peacefully. I gathered some flowers and laid them reverently beside her.
She smiled. Seeing her come back to life I gave her more flowers and
sang to her, endeavouring to beguile her. The air and the feeling of
happiness she now experienced brought back to her that desire to live
which had forsaken her. At the end of an hour her cheeks were almost
rosy. When it grew cool and we had to take the little suffering child
back to the château again, her father took my hand as we parted and,
pressing it, said in suppliant tones:

“Come again to-morrow.”

[Illustration: 084]


[Illustration: 086]



21 st August

I returned next day. On the steps of the Empire château I encountered
the family doctor. He is a spare, elderly man whom you meet wherever
there is good music to be heard. He seems like a man perpetually
listening to the harmonies of some inward concert. He is for ever under
the spell of sounds and lives by his ear alone. He is specially noted
for his treatment of nervous complaints. Some say he is a genius;
others that he is mad. Certainly there is something peculiar about him.
When I saw him he was coming down the steps; his feet, his finger and
his lips moving in time to some intricate measure.

“Well, doctor,” I said with an involuntary quaver in my voice, “and how
is your little patient?”

“She means to live,” he answered.

“You will pull her through for us, won’t you?” I said eagerly.

“I tell you she means to live.”

“And you think, doctor, that people live just as long as they really
want to and that we do not die save with our own consent?”

“Certainly.”

I walked with him along the gravel path. He stopped for a moment at the
gate, his head bowed as if in thought.

“Certainly,” he said again, “but they must really want to and not merely
think they want to. Conscious will is an illusion that can deceive none
save the vulgar. People who believe they will a thing because they say
they will it, are fools. The only genuine act of volition is that in
which all the obscure forces of our nature take part. That will is
unconscious, it is divine. It moulds the world. By it we exist, and
when it fails we cease to be. The world _wills_, otherwise it would not
exist.”

We walked on a few steps farther.

“Look here,” he exclaimed, tapping his stick against the bark of an oak
tree that spread out its broad canopy of grey branches above our heads,
“if that fellow there had not _willed_ to grow, I should like to know
what power could have made him do so.”

But I had ceased to listen.

“So you have hopes,” I said at length, “that Marguerite . . .”

But he was a stubborn little old fellow.

He murmured as he walked away: “The Will’s crowning Victory is Love.”

And I stood and watched him as he departed with little quick steps,
beating time to a tune that was running in his head.

I went quickly back to the château and found little Marguerite. The
moment I saw her, I realized that she had the will to live. She was
still very pale and very thin, but her eyes had more colour in them and
were not so big, and her lips, lately so dead-looking and so silent,
were gay with prattling talk.

“You are late,” she said. “Come here, see! I have a theatre and actors.
Play me a beautiful piece. They say that ‘Hop o’ my Thumb’ is nice. Play
‘Hop o’ my Thumb’ for me.”

[Illustration: 090]

You may be sure I did not refuse. However, I encountered great
difficulties at the very outset of my undertaking. I pointed out to
Marguerite that the only actors she had were princes and princesses,
and that we wanted woodmen, cooks and a certain number of folks of all
sorts.

She thought for a moment and then said:

“A prince dressed like a cook; that one there looks like a cook, don’t
you think?”

“Yes, I think so too.”

“Well, then, we’ll make woodmen and cooks out of all the princes we have
over.”

And that’s what we did. O Wisdom, what a day we spent together!

Many others like it followed in its train. I watched Marguerite taking
an ever firmer hold on life. Now she is quite well again. I had a share
in this miracle. I discovered a tiny portion of that gift wherein the
apostles so richly abounded when they healed the sick by the laying on
of hands.


_Editor’s Note_.--I found this manuscript in a train on the Northern
Railway. I give it to the public without alteration of any sort, save
that, as the names were those of well-known persons, I have thought it
well to suppress them.

Anatole France.

[Illustration: 093]





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