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Title: Original Short Stories — Volume 05
Author: Maupassant, Guy de
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 "Original Short Stories — Volume 05" ***

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ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES, VOLUME 5 (of 13)


By Guy De Maupassant


Translated by

     ALBERT M. C. McMASTER, B.A.
     A. E. HENDERSON, B.A.
     MME. QUESADA and Others



VOLUME V.


     MONSIEUR PARENT
     QUEEN HORTENSE
     TIMBUCTOO
     TOMBSTONES
     MADEMOISELLE PEARL
     THE THIEF
     CLAIR DE LUNE
     WAITER, A “BOCK”
      AFTER
     FORGIVENESS
     IN THE SPRING
     A QUEER NIGHT IN PARIS



MONSIEUR PARENT

George’s father was sitting in an iron chair, watching his little son
with concentrated affection and attention, as little George piled up
the sand into heaps during one of their walks. He would take up the sand
with both hands, make a mound of it, and put a chestnut leaf on top. His
father saw no one but him in that public park full of people.

The sun was just disappearing behind the roofs of the Rue Saint-Lazare,
but still shed its rays obliquely on that little, overdressed crowd.
The chestnut trees were lighted up by its yellow rays, and the three
fountains before the lofty porch of the church had the appearance of
liquid silver.

Monsieur Parent, accidentally looking up at the church clock, saw that
he was five minutes late. He got up, took the child by the arm, shook
his dress, which was covered with sand, wiped his hands, and led him in
the direction of the Rue Blanche. He walked quickly, so as not to get in
after his wife, and the child could not keep up with him. He took him
up and carried him, though it made him pant when he had to walk up the
steep street. He was a man of forty, already turning gray, and rather
stout. At last he reached his house. An old servant who had brought
him up, one of those trusted servants who are the tyrants of families,
opened the door to him.

“Has madame come in yet?” he asked anxiously.

The servant shrugged her shoulders:

“When have you ever known madame to come home at half-past six,
monsieur?”

“Very well; all the better; it will give me time to change my things,
for I am very warm.”

The servant looked at him with angry and contemptuous pity. “Oh, I can
see that well enough,” she grumbled. “You are covered with perspiration,
monsieur. I suppose you walked quickly and carried the child, and only
to have to wait until half-past seven, perhaps, for madame. I have made
up my mind not to have dinner ready on time. I shall get it for eight
o’clock, and if, you have to wait, I cannot help it; roast meat ought
not to be burnt!”

Monsieur Parent pretended not to hear, but went into his own room, and
as soon as he got in, locked the door, so as to be alone, quite alone.
He was so used now to being abused and badly treated that he never
thought himself safe except when he was locked in.

What could he do? To get rid of Julie seemed to him such a formidable
thing to do that he hardly ventured to think of it, but it was just as
impossible to uphold her against his wife, and before another month the
situation would become unbearable between the two. He remained sitting
there, with his arms hanging down, vaguely trying to discover some means
to set matters straight, but without success. He said to himself: “It is
lucky that I have George; without him I should-be very miserable.”

Just then the clock struck seven, and he started up. Seven o’clock,
and he had not even changed his clothes. Nervous and breathless, he
undressed, put on a clean shirt, hastily finished his toilet, as if he
had been expected in the next room for some event of extreme importance,
and went into the drawing-room, happy at having nothing to fear. He
glanced at the newspaper, went and looked out of the window, and then
sat down again, when the door opened, and the boy came in, washed,
brushed, and smiling. Parent took him up in his arms and kissed him
passionately; then he tossed him into the air, and held him up to the
ceiling, but soon sat down again, as he was tired with all his exertion.
Then, taking George on his knee, he made him ride a-cock-horse. The
child laughed and clapped his hands and shouted with pleasure, as did
his father, who laughed until his big stomach shook, for it amused him
almost more than it did the child.

Parent loved him with all the heart of a weak, resigned, ill-used man.
He loved him with mad bursts of affection, with caresses and with all
the bashful tenderness which was hidden in him, and which had never
found an outlet, even at the early period of his married life, for his
wife had always shown herself cold and reserved.

Just then Julie came to the door, with a pale face and glistening eyes,
and said in a voice which trembled with exasperation: “It is half-past
seven, monsieur.”

Parent gave an uneasy and resigned look at the clock and replied: “Yes,
it certainly is half-past seven.”

“Well, my dinner is quite ready now.”

Seeing the storm which was coming, he tried to turn it aside. “But did
you not tell me when I came in that it would not be ready before eight?”

“Eight! what are you thinking about? You surely do not mean to let the
child dine at eight o’clock? It would ruin his stomach. Just suppose
that he only had his mother to look after him! She cares a great deal
about her child. Oh, yes, we will speak about her; she is a mother! What
a pity it is that there should be any mothers like her!”

Parent thought it was time to cut short a threatened scene. “Julie,”
 he said, “I will not allow you to speak like that of your mistress. You
understand me, do you not? Do not forget it in the future.”

The old servant, who was nearly choked with surprise, turned and went
out, slamming the door so violently after her that the lustres on the
chandelier rattled, and for some seconds it sounded as if a number of
little invisible bells were ringing in the drawing-room.

Eight o’clock struck, the door opened, and Julie came in again. She had
lost her look of exasperation, but now she put on an air of cold and
determined resolution, which was still more formidable.

“Monsieur,” she said, “I served your mother until the day of her death,
and I have attended to you from your birth until now, and I think it may
be said that I am devoted to the family.” She waited for a reply, and
Parent stammered:

“Why, yes, certainly, my good Julie.”

“You know quite well,” she continued, “that I have never done anything
for the sake of money, but always for your sake; that I have never
deceived you nor lied to you, that you have never had to find fault with
me--”

“Certainly, my good Julie.”

“Very well, then, monsieur; it cannot go on any longer like this. I have
said nothing, and left you in your ignorance, out of respect and liking
for you, but it is too much, and every one in the neighborhood is
laughing at you. Everybody knows about it, and so I must tell you also,
although I do not like to repeat it. The reason why madame comes in at
any time she chooses is that she is doing abominable things.”

He seemed stupefied and not to understand, and could only stammer out:

“Hold your tongue; you know I have forbidden you----”

But she interrupted him with irresistible resolution. “No, monsieur, I
must tell you everything now. For a long time madame has been carrying
on with Monsieur Limousin. I have seen them kiss scores of times behind
the door. Ah! you may be sure that if Monsieur Limousin had been rich,
madame would never have married Monsieur Parent. If you remember how
the marriage was brought about, you would understand the matter from
beginning to end.”

Parent had risen, and stammered out, his face livid: “Hold your tongue
--hold your tongue, or----”

She went on, however: “No, I mean to tell you everything. She married
you from interest, and she deceived you from the very first day. It was
all settled between them beforehand. You need only reflect for a few
moments to understand it, and then, as she was not satisfied with having
married you, as she did not love you, she has made your life miserable,
so miserable that it has almost broken my heart when I have seen it.”

He walked up and down the room with hands clenched, repeating: “Hold
your tongue--hold your tongue----” For he could find nothing else to
say. The old servant, however, would not yield; she seemed resolved on
everything.

George, who had been at first astonished and then frightened at those
angry voices, began to utter shrill screams, and remained behind his
father, with his face puckered up and his mouth open, roaring.

His son’s screams exasperated Parent, and filled him with rage and
courage. He rushed at Julie with both arms raised, ready to strike
her, exclaiming: “Ah! you wretch. You will drive the child out of his
senses.” He already had his hand on her, when she screamed in his face:

“Monsieur, you may beat me if you like, me who reared you, but that will
not prevent your wife from deceiving you, or alter the fact that your
child is not yours----”

He stopped suddenly, let his arms fall, and remained standing opposite
to her, so overwhelmed that he could understand nothing more.

“You need only to look at the child,” she added, “to know who is its
father! He is the very image of Monsieur Limousin. You need only look at
his eyes and forehead. Why, a blind man could not be mistaken in him.”

He had taken her by the shoulders, and was now shaking her with all his
might. “Viper, viper!” he said. “Go out the room, viper! Go out, or I
shall kill you! Go out! Go out!”

And with a desperate effort he threw her into the next room. She fell
across the table, which was laid for dinner, breaking the glasses. Then,
rising to her feet, she put the table between her master and herself.
While he was pursuing her, in order to take hold of her again, she flung
terrible words at him.

“You need only go out this evening after dinner, and come in again
immediately, and you will see! You will see whether I have been lying!
Just try it, and you will see.” She had reached the kitchen door and
escaped, but he ran after her, up the back stairs to her bedroom, into
which she had locked herself, and knocking at the door, he said:

“You will leave my house this very instant!”

“You may be certain of that, monsieur,” was her reply. “In an hour’s
time I shall not be here any longer.”

He then went slowly downstairs again, holding on to the banister so as
not to fall, and went back to the drawing-room, where little George was
sitting on the floor, crying. He fell into a chair, and looked at the
child with dull eyes. He understood nothing, knew nothing more; he felt
dazed, stupefied, mad, as if he had just fallen on his head, and he
scarcely even remembered the dreadful things the servant had told him.
Then, by degrees, his mind, like muddy water, became calmer and clearer,
and the abominable revelations began to work in his heart.

He was no longer thinking of George. The child was quiet now and sitting
on the carpet; but, seeing that no notice was being taken of him, he
began to cry. His father ran to him, took him in his arms, and covered
him with kisses. His child remained to him, at any rate! What did the
rest matter? He held him in his arms and pressed his lips to his light
hair, and, relieved and composed, he whispered:

“George--my little George--my dear little George----” But he suddenly
remembered what Julie had said! Yes, she had said that he was Limousin’s
child. Oh! it could not be possible, surely. He could not believe it,
could not doubt, even for a moment, that he was his own child. It was
one of those low scandals which spring from servants’ brains! And he
repeated: “George--my dear little George.” The youngster was quiet
again, now that his father was fondling him.

Parent felt the warmth of the little chest penetrate through his
clothes, and it filled him with love, courage, and happiness; that
gentle warmth soothed him, fortified him and saved him. Then he put
the small, curly head away from him a little, and looked at it
affectionately, still repeating: “George! Oh, my little George!” But
suddenly he thought:

“Suppose he were to resemble Limousin, after all!” He looked at him
with haggard, troubled eyes, and tried to discover whether there was any
likeness in his forehead, in his nose, mouth, or cheeks. His thoughts
wandered as they do when a person is going mad, and his child’s
face changed in his eyes, and assumed a strange look and improbable
resemblances.

The hall bell rang. Parent gave a bound as if a bullet had gone through
him. “There she is,” he said. “What shall I do?” And he ran and locked
himself up in his room, to have time to bathe his eyes. But in a few
moments another ring at the bell made him jump again, and then he
remembered that Julie had left, without the housemaid knowing it, and
so nobody would go to open the door. What was he to do? He went himself,
and suddenly he felt brave, resolute, ready for dissimulation and the
struggle. The terrible blow had matured him in a few moments. He wished
to know the truth, he desired it with the rage of a timid man, and with
the tenacity of an easy-going man who has been exasperated.

Nevertheless, he trembled. Does one know how much excited cowardice
there often is in boldness? He went to the door with furtive steps,
and stopped to listen; his heart beat furiously. Suddenly, however,
the noise of the bell over his head startled him like an explosion. He
seized the lock, turned the key, and opening the door, saw his wife and
Limousin standing before him on the stairs.

With an air of astonishment, which also betrayed a little irritation,
she said:

“So you open the door now? Where is Julie?”

His throat felt tight and his breathing was labored as he tried to.
reply, without being able to utter a word.

“Are you dumb?” she continued. “I asked you where Julie is?”

“She--she--has--gone----” he managed to stammer.

His wife began to get angry. “What do you mean by gone? Where has she
gone? Why?”

By degrees he regained his coolness. He felt an intense hatred rise up
in him for that insolent woman who was standing before him.

“Yes, she has gone altogether. I sent her away.”

“You have sent away Julie? Why, you must be mad.”

“Yes, I sent her away because she was insolent, and because--because she
was ill-using the child.”

“Julie?”

“Yes--Julie.”

“What was she insolent about?”

“About you.”

“About me?”

“Yes, because the dinner was burnt, and you did not come in.”

“And she said----”

“She said--offensive things about you--which I ought not--which I could
not listen to----”

“What did she, say?”

“It is no good repeating them.”

“I want to hear them.”

“She said it was unfortunate for a man like me to be married to a woman
like you, unpunctual, careless, disorderly, a bad mother, and a bad
wife.”

The young woman had gone into the anteroom, followed by Limousin, who
did not say a word at this unexpected condition of things. She shut the
door quickly, threw her cloak on a chair, and going straight up to her
husband, she stammered out:

“You say? You say? That I am----”

Very pale and calm, he replied: “I say nothing, my dear. I am simply
repeating what Julie said to me, as you wanted to know what it was, and
I wish you to remark that I turned her off just on account of what she
said.”

She trembled with a violent longing to tear out his beard and scratch
his face. In his voice and manner she felt that he was asserting his
position as master. Although she had nothing to say by way of reply, she
tried to assume the offensive by saying something unpleasant. “I suppose
you have had dinner?” she asked.

“No, I waited for you.”

She shrugged her shoulders impatiently. “It is very stupid of you to
wait after half-past seven,” she said. “You might have guessed that I
was detained, that I had a good many things to do, visits and shopping.”

And then, suddenly, she felt that she wanted to explain how she had
spent her time, and told him in abrupt, haughty words that, having to
buy some furniture in a shop a long distance off, very far off, in
the Rue de Rennes, she had met Limousin at past seven o’clock on the
Boulevard Saint-Germain, and that then she had gone with him to have
something to eat in a restaurant, as she did not like to go to one by
herself, although she was faint with hunger. That was how she had dined
with Limousin, if it could be called dining, for they had only some soup
and half a chicken, as they were in a great hurry to get back.

Parent replied simply: “Well, you were quite right. I am not finding
fault with you.”

Then Limousin, who, had not spoken till then, and who had been half
hidden behind Henriette, came forward and put out his hand, saying: “Are
you very well?”

Parent took his hand, and shaking it gently, replied: “Yes, I am very
well.”

But the young woman had felt a reproach in her husband’s last words.
“Finding fault! Why do you speak of finding fault? One might think that
you meant to imply something.”

“Not at all,” he replied, by way of excuse. “I simply meant that I was
not at all anxious although you were late, and that I did not find fault
with you for it.”

She, however, took the high hand, and tried to find a pretext for a
quarrel. “Although I was late? One might really think that it was one
o’clock in the morning, and that I spent my nights away from home.”

“Certainly not, my dear. I said late because I could find no other
word. You said you should be back at half-past six, and you returned at
half-past eight. That was surely being late. I understand it perfectly
well. I am not at all surprised, even. But--but--I can hardly use any
other word.”

“But you pronounce them as if I had been out all night.”

“Oh, no-oh, no!”

She saw that he would yield on every point, and she was going into her
own room, when at last she noticed that George was screaming, and then
she asked, with some feeling: “What is the matter with the child?”

“I told you that Julie had been rather unkind to him.”

“What has the wretch been doing to him?”

“Oh nothing much. She gave him a push, and he fell down.”

She wanted to see her child, and ran into the dining room, but stopped
short at the sight of the table covered with spilt wine, with broken
decanters and glasses and overturned saltcellars. “Who did all that
mischief?” she asked.

“It was Julie, who----” But she interrupted him furiously:

“That is too much, really! Julie speaks of me as if I were a shameless
woman, beats my child, breaks my plates and dishes, turns my house
upside down, and it appears that you think it all quite natural.”

“Certainly not, as I have got rid of her.”

“Really! You have got rid of her! But you ought to have given her in
charge. In such cases, one ought to call in the Commissary of Police!”

“But--my dear--I really could not. There was no reason. It would have
been very difficult----”

She shrugged her shoulders disdainfully. “There! you will never be
anything but a poor, wretched fellow, a man without a will, without any
firmness or energy. Ah! she must have said some nice things to you, your
Julie, to make you turn her off like that. I should like to have been
here for a minute, only for a minute.” Then she opened the drawing-room
door and ran to George, took him into her arms and kissed him, and said:
“Georgie, what is it, my darling, my pretty one, my treasure?”

Then, suddenly turning to another idea, she said: “But the child has had
no dinner? You have had nothing to eat, my pet?”

“No, mamma.”

Then she again turned furiously upon her husband. “Why, you must be mad,
utterly mad! It is half-past eight, and George has had no dinner!”

He excused himself as best he could, for he had nearly lost his wits
through the overwhelming scene and the explanation, and felt crushed by
this ruin of his life. “But, my dear, we were waiting for you, as I
did not wish to dine without you. As you come home late every day, I
expected you every moment.”

She threw her bonnet, which she had kept on till then, into an
easy-chair, and in an angry voice she said: “It is really intolerable
to have to do with people who can understand nothing, who can divine
nothing and do nothing by themselves. So, I suppose, if I were to come
in at twelve o’clock at night, the child would have had nothing to eat?
Just as if you could not have understood that, as it was after half-past
seven, I was prevented from coming home, that I had met with some
hindrance!”

Parent trembled, for he felt that his anger was getting the upper hand,
but Limousin interposed, and turning toward the young woman, said:

“My dear friend, you, are altogether unjust. Parent could not guess that
you would come here so late, as you never do so, and then, how could you
expect him to get over the difficulty all by himself, after having sent
away Julie?”

But Henriette was very angry, and replied:

“Well, at any rate, he must get over the difficulty himself, for I will
not help him,” she replied. “Let him settle it!” And she went into her
own room, quite forgetting that her child had not had anything to eat.

Limousin immediately set to work to help his friend. He picked up the
broken glasses which strewed the table and took them out, replaced the
plates and knives and forks, and put the child into his high chair,
while Parent went to look for the chambermaid to wait at table. The girl
came in, in great astonishment, as she had heard nothing in George’s
room, where she had been working. She soon, however, brought in the
soup, a burnt leg of mutton, and mashed potatoes.

Parent sat by the side of the child, very much upset and distressed at
all that had happened. He gave the boy his dinner, and endeavored to
eat something himself, but he could only swallow with an effort, as his
throat felt paralyzed. By degrees he was seized with an insane desire to
look at Limousin, who was sitting opposite to him, making bread pellets,
to see whether George was like him, but he did not venture to raise his
eyes for some time. At last, however, he made up his mind to do so, and
gave a quick, sharp look at the face which he knew so well, although
he almost fancied that he had never examined it carefully. It looked
so different to what he had imagined. From time to time he looked at
Limousin, trying to recognize a likeness in the smallest lines of his
face, in the slightest features, and then he looked at his son, under
the pretext of feeding him.

Two words were sounding in his ears: “His father! his father! his
father!” They buzzed in his temples at every beat of his heart. Yes,
that man, that tranquil man who was sitting on the other side of the
table, was, perhaps, the father of his son, of George, of his little
George. Parent left off eating; he could not swallow any more. A
terrible pain, one of those attacks of pain which make men scream, roll
on the ground, and bite the furniture, was tearing at his entrails,
and he felt inclined to take a knife and plunge it into his stomach. He
started when he heard the door open. His wife came in. “I am hungry,”
 she said; “are not you, Limousin?”

He hesitated a little, and then said: “Yes, I am, upon my word.” She had
the leg of mutton brought in again. Parent asked himself “Have they had
dinner? Or are they late because they have had a lovers’ meeting?”

They both ate with a very good appetite. Henriette was very calm, but
laughed and joked. Her husband watched her furtively. She had on a pink
teagown trimmed with white lace, and her fair head, her white neck and
her plump hands stood out from that coquettish and perfumed dress as
though it were a sea shell edged with foam.

What fun they must be making of him, if he had been their dupe since
the first day! Was it possible to make a fool of a man, of a worthy man,
because his father had left him a little money? Why could one not see
into people’s souls? How was it that nothing revealed to upright hearts
the deceits of infamous hearts? How was it that voices had the same
sound for adoring as for lying? Why was a false, deceptive look the same
as a sincere one? And he watched them, waiting to catch a gesture, a
word, an intonation. Then suddenly he thought: “I will surprise them
this evening,” and he said:

“My dear, as I have dismissed Julie, I will see about getting another
girl this very day. I will go at once to procure one by to-morrow
morning, so I may not be in until late.”

“Very well,” she replied; “go. I shall not stir from here. Limousin will
keep me company. We will wait for you.” Then, turning to the maid, she
said: “You had better put George to bed, and then you can clear away and
go up to your room.”

Parent had got up; he was unsteady on his legs, dazed and bewildered,
and saying, “I shall see you again later on,” he went out, holding on
to the wall, for the floor seemed to roll like a ship. George had been
carried out by his nurse, while Henriette and Limousin went into the
drawing-room.

As soon as the door was shut, he said: “You must be mad, surely, to
torment your husband as you do?”

She immediately turned on him: “Ah! Do you know that I think the habit
you have got into lately, of looking upon Parent as a martyr, is very
unpleasant?”

Limousin threw himself into an easy-chair and crossed his legs. “I am
not setting him up as a martyr in the least, but I think that, situated
as we are, it is ridiculous to defy this man as you do, from morning
till night.”

She took a cigarette from the mantelpiece, lighted it, and replied:
“But I do not defy him; quite the contrary. Only he irritates me by his
stupidity, and I treat him as he deserves.”

Limousin continued impatiently: “What you are doing is very foolish! I
am only asking you to treat your husband gently, because we both of us
require him to trust us. I think that you ought to see that.”

They were close together: he, tall, dark, with long whiskers and the
rather vulgar manners of a good-looking man who is very well satisfied
with himself; she, small, fair, and pink, a little Parisian, born in
the back room of a shop, half cocotte and half bourgeoise, brought up
to entice customers to the store by her glances, and married, in
consequence, to a simple, unsophisticated man, who saw her outside the
door every morning when he went out and every evening when he came home.

“But do you not understand; you great booby,” she said, “that I hate
him just because he married me, because he bought me, in fact; because
everything that he says and does, everything that he thinks, acts on my
nerves? He exasperates me every moment by his stupidity, which you call
his kindness; by his dullness, which you call his confidence, and then,
above all, because he is my husband, instead of you. I feel him between
us, although he does not interfere with us much. And then---and then!
No, it is, after all, too idiotic of him not to guess anything! I wish
he would, at any rate, be a little jealous. There are moments when I
feel inclined to say to him: ‘Do you not see, you stupid creature, that
Paul is my lover?’

“It is quite incomprehensible that you cannot understand how hateful
he is to me, how he irritates me. You always seem to like him, and you
shake hands with him cordially. Men are very extraordinary at times.”

“One must know how to dissimulate, my dear.”

“It is no question of dissimulation, but of feeling. One might think
that, when you men deceive one another, you like each other better on
that account, while we women hate a man from the moment that we have
betrayed him.”

“I do not see why one should hate an excellent fellow because one is
friendly with his wife.”

“You do not see it? You do not see it? You all of you are wanting in
refinement of feeling. However, that is one of those things which one
feels and cannot express. And then, moreover, one ought not. No, you
would not understand; it is quite useless! You men have no delicacy of
feeling.”

And smiling, with the gentle contempt of an impure woman, she put both
her hands on his shoulders and held up her lips to him. He stooped down
and clasped her closely in his arms, and their lips met. And as they
stood in front of the mantel mirror, another couple exactly like them
embraced behind the clock.

They had heard nothing, neither the noise of the key nor the creaking of
the door, but suddenly Henriette, with a loud cry, pushed Limousin away
with both her arms, and they saw Parent looking at them, livid with
rage, without his shoes on and his hat over his forehead. He looked at
each, one after the other, with a quick glance of his eyes and without
moving his head. He appeared beside himself. Then, without saying a
word, he threw himself on Limousin, seized him as if he were going to
strangle him, and flung him into the opposite corner of the room so
violently that the other lost his balance, and, beating the air with his
hand, struck his head violently against the wall.

When Henriette saw that her husband was going to murder her lover, she
threw herself on Parent, seized him by the neck, and digging her ten
delicate, rosy fingers into his neck, she squeezed him so tightly, with
all the vigor of a desperate woman, that the blood spurted out under her
nails, and she bit his shoulder, as if she wished to tear it with
her teeth. Parent, half-strangled and choking, loosened his hold on
Limousin, in order to shake off his wife, who was hanging to his neck.
Putting his arms round her waist, he flung her also to the other end of
the drawing-room.

Then, as his passion was short-lived, like that of most good-tempered
men, and his strength was soon exhausted, he remained standing between
the two, panting, worn out, not knowing what to do next. His brutal
fury had expended itself in that effort, like the froth of a bottle of
champagne, and his unwonted energy ended in a gasping for breath. As
soon as he could speak, however, he said:

“Go away--both of you--immediately! Go away!”

Limousin remained motionless in his corner, against the wall, too
startled to understand anything as yet, too frightened to move a finger;
while Henriette, with her hands resting on a small, round table, her
head bent forward, her hair hanging down, the bodice of her dress
unfastened, waited like a wild animal which is about to spring. Parent
continued in a stronger voice: “Go away immediately. Get out of the
house!”

His wife, however, seeing that he had got over his first exasperation
grew bolder, drew herself up, took two steps toward him, and, grown
almost insolent, she said: “Have you lost your head? What is the matter
with you? What is the meaning of this unjustifiable violence?”

But he turned toward her, and raising his fist to strike her, he
stammered out: “Oh--oh--this is too much, too much! I heard everything!
Everything--do you understand? Everything! You wretch--you wretch! You
are two wretches! Get out of the house, both of you! Immediately, or I
shall kill you! Leave the house!”

She saw that it was all over, and that he knew everything; that she
could not prove her innocence, and that she must comply. But all her
impudence had returned to her, and her hatred for the man, which
was aggravated now, drove her to audacity, made her feel the need of
bravado, and of defying him, and she said in a clear voice: “Come,
Limousin; as he is going to turn me out of doors, I will go to your
lodgings with you.”

But Limousin did not move, and Parent, in a fresh access of rage, cried
out: “Go, will you? Go, you wretches! Or else--or else----” He seized a
chair and whirled it over his head.

Henriette walked quickly across the room, took her lover by the arm,
dragged him from the wall, to which he appeared fixed, and led him
toward the door, saying: “Do come, my friend--you see that the man is
mad. Do come!”

As she went out she turned round to her husband, trying to think of
something that she could do, something that she could invent to wound
him to the heart as she left the house, and an idea struck her, one
of those venomous, deadly ideas in which all a woman’s perfidy shows
itself, and she said resolutely: “I am going to take my child with me.”

Parent was stupefied, and stammered: “Your--your--child? You dare
to talk of your child? You venture--you venture to ask for your
child--after-after--Oh, oh, that is too much! Go, you vile creature!
Go!”

She went up to him again, almost smiling, almost avenged already, and
defying him, standing close to him, and face to face, she said: “I want
my child, and you have no right to keep him, because he is not yours--do
you understand? He is not yours! He is Limousin’s!”

And Parent cried out in bewilderment: “You lie--you lie--worthless
woman!”

But she continued: “You fool! Everybody knows it except you. I tell you,
this is his father. You need only look at him to see it.”

Parent staggered backward, and then he suddenly turned round, took a
candle, and rushed into the next room; returning almost immediately,
carrying little George wrapped up in his bedclothes. The child, who had
been suddenly awakened, was crying from fright. Parent threw him into
his wife’s arms, and then, without speaking, he pushed her roughly out
toward the stairs, where Limousin was waiting, from motives of prudence.

Then he shut the door again, double-locked and bolted it, but had
scarcely got back into the drawing-room when he fell to the floor at
full length.

Parent lived alone, quite alone. During the five weeks that followed
their separation, the feeling of surprise at his new life prevented
him from thinking much. He had resumed his bachelor life, his habits
of lounging, about, and took his meals at a restaurant, as he had
done formerly. As he wished to avoid any scandal, he made his wife an
allowance, which was arranged by their lawyers. By degrees, however,
the thought of the child began to haunt him. Often, when he was at home
alone at night, he suddenly thought he heard George calling out “Papa,”
 and his heart would begin to beat, and he would get up quickly and open
the door, to see whether, by chance, the child might have returned,
as dogs or pigeons do. Why should a child have less instinct than
an animal? On finding that he was mistaken, he would sit down in his
armchair again and think of the boy. He would think of him for hours
and whole days. It was not only a moral, but still more a physical
obsession, a nervous longing to kiss him, to hold and fondle him, to
take him on his knees and dance him. He felt the child’s little arms
around his neck, his little mouth pressing a kiss on his beard, his soft
hair tickling his cheeks, and the remembrance of all those childish ways
made him suffer as a man might for some beloved woman who has left him.
Twenty or a hundred times a day he asked himself the question whether
he was or was not George’s father, and almost before he was in bed every
night he recommenced the same series of despairing questionings.

He especially dreaded the darkness of the evening, the melancholy
feeling of the twilight. Then a flood of sorrow invaded his heart, a
torrent of despair which seemed to overwhelm him and drive him mad. He
was as afraid of his own thoughts as men are of criminals, and he fled
before them as one does from wild beasts. Above all things, he feared
his empty, dark, horrible dwelling and the deserted streets, in which,
here and there, a gas lamp flickered, where the isolated foot passenger
whom one hears in the distance seems to be a night prowler, and makes
one walk faster or slower, according to whether he is coming toward you
or following you.

And in spite of himself, and by instinct, Parent went in the direction
of the broad, well-lighted, populous streets. The light and the crowd
attracted him, occupied his mind and distracted his thoughts, and when
he was tired of walking aimlessly about among the moving crowd, when
he saw the foot passengers becoming more scarce and the pavements less
crowded, the fear of solitude and silence drove him into some large cafe
full of drinkers and of light. He went there as flies go to a candle,
and he would sit down at one of the little round tables and ask for
a “bock,” which he would drink slowly, feeling uneasy every time a
customer got up to go. He would have liked to take him by the arm, hold
him back, and beg him to stay a little longer, so much did he dread
the time when the waiter should come up to him and say sharply: “Come,
monsieur, it is closing time!”

He thus got into the habit of going to the beer houses, where the
continual elbowing of the drinkers brings you in contact with a
familiar and silent public, where the heavy clouds of tobacco smoke lull
disquietude, while the heavy beer dulls the mind and calms the heart.
He almost lived there. He was scarcely up before he went there to find
people to distract his glances and his thoughts, and soon, as he felt
too lazy to move, he took his meals there.

After every meal, during more than an hour, he sipped three or four
small glasses of brandy, which stupefied him by degrees, and then his
head drooped on his chest, he shut his eyes, and went to sleep. Then,
awaking, he raised himself on the red velvet seat, straightened his
waistcoat, pulled down his cuffs, and took up the newspapers again,
though he had already seen them in the morning, and read them all
through again, from beginning to end. Between four and five o’clock he
went for a walk on the boulevards, to get a little fresh air, as he used
to say, and then came back to the seat which had been reserved for him,
and asked for his absinthe. He would talk to the regular customers
whose acquaintance he had made. They discussed the news of the day and
political events, and that carried him on till dinner time; and he spent
the evening as he had the afternoon, until it was time to close. That
was a terrible moment for him when he was obliged to go out into the
dark, into his empty room full of dreadful recollections, of horrible
thoughts, and of mental agony. He no longer saw any of his old friends,
none of his relatives, nobody who might remind him of his past life. But
as his apartments were a hell to him, he took a room in a large hotel,
a good room on the ground floor, so as to see the passers-by. He was no
longer alone in that great building. He felt people swarming round him,
he heard voices in the adjoining rooms, and when his former sufferings
tormented him too much at the sight of his bed, which was turned down,
and of his solitary fireplace, he went out into the wide passages and
walked up and down them like a sentinel, before all the closed doors,
and looked sadly at the shoes standing in couples outside them, women’s
little boots by the side of men’s thick ones, and he thought that, no
doubt, all these people were happy, and were sleeping in their warm
beds. Five years passed thus; five miserable years. But one day, when he
was taking his usual walk between the Madeleine and the Rue Drouot, he
suddenly saw a lady whose bearing struck him. A tall gentleman and a
child were with her, and all three were walking in front of him. He
asked himself where he had seen them before, when suddenly he recognized
a movement of her hand; it was his wife, his wife with Limousin and his
child, his little George.

His heart beat as if it would suffocate him, but he did not stop, for he
wished to see them, and he followed them. They looked like a family
of the better middle class. Henriette was leaning on Paul’s arm,
and speaking to him in a low voice, and looking at him sideways
occasionally. Parent got a side view of her and recognized her pretty
features, the movements of her lips, her smile, and her coaxing glances.
But the child chiefly took up his attention. How tall and strong he was!
Parent could not see his face, but only his long, fair curls. That tall
boy with bare legs, who was walking by his mother’s side like a little
man, was George. He saw them suddenly, all three, as they stopped in
front of a shop. Limousin had grown very gray, had aged and was thinner;
his wife, on the contrary, was as young looking as ever, and had grown
stouter. George he would not have recognized, he was so different from
what he had been formerly.

They went on again and Parent followed them. He walked on quickly,
passed them, and then turned round, so as to meet them face to face. As
he passed the child he felt a mad longing to take him into his arms and
run off with him, and he knocked against him as if by accident. The boy
turned round and looked at the clumsy man angrily, and Parent hurried
away, shocked, hurt, and pursued by that look. He went off like a thief,
seized with a horrible fear lest he should have been seen and recognized
by his wife and her lover. He went to his cafe without stopping, and
fell breathless into his chair. That evening he drank three absinthes.
For four months he felt the pain of that meeting in his heart. Every
night he saw the three again, happy and tranquil, father, mother, and
child walking on the boulevard before going in to dinner, and that new
vision effaced the old one. It was another matter, another hallucination
now, and also a fresh pain. Little George, his little George, the
child he had so much loved and so often kissed, disappeared in the far
distance, and he saw a new one, like a brother of the first, a little
boy with bare legs, who did not know him! He suffered terribly at that
thought. The child’s love was dead; there was no bond between them;
the child would not have held out his arms when he saw him. He had even
looked at him angrily.

Then, by degrees he grew calmer, his mental torture diminished, the
image that had appeared to his eyes and which haunted his nights became
more indistinct and less frequent. He began once more to live nearly
like everybody else, like all those idle people who drink beer off
marble-topped tables and wear out their clothes on the threadbare velvet
of the couches.

He grew old amid the smoke from pipes, lost his hair under the gas
lights, looked upon his weekly bath, on his fortnightly visit to the
barber’s to have his hair cut, and on the purchase of a new coat or
hat as an event. When he got to his cafe in a new hat he would look at
himself in the glass for a long time before sitting down, and take it
off and put it on again several times, and at last ask his friend, the
lady at the bar, who was watching him with interest, whether she thought
it suited him.

Two or three times a year he went to the theatre, and in the summer
he sometimes spent his evenings at one of the open-air concerts in the
Champs Elysees. And so the years followed each other slow, monotonous,
and short, because they were quite uneventful.

He very rarely now thought of the dreadful drama which had wrecked his
life; for twenty years had passed since that terrible evening. But the
life he had led since then had worn him out. The landlord of his cafe
would often say to him: “You ought to pull yourself together a little,
Monsieur Parent; you should get some fresh air and go into the country.
I assure you that you have changed very much within the last few
months.” And when his customer had gone out be used to say to the
barmaid: “That poor Monsieur Parent is booked for another world; it is
bad never to get out of Paris. Advise him to go out of town for a day
occasionally; he has confidence in you. Summer will soon be here; that
will put him straight.”

And she, full of pity and kindness for such a regular customer, said
to Parent every day: “Come, monsieur, make up your mind to get a little
fresh air. It is so charming in the country when the weather is fine.
Oh, if I could, I would spend my life there!”

By degrees he was seized with a vague desire to go just once and see
whether it was really as pleasant there as she said, outside the walls
of the great city. One morning he said to her:

“Do you know where one can get a good luncheon in the neighborhood of
Paris?”

“Go to the Terrace at Saint-Germain; it is delightful there!”

He had been there formerly, just when he became engaged. He made up his
mind to go there again, and he chose a Sunday, for no special reason,
but merely because people generally do go out on Sundays, even when they
have nothing to do all the week; and so one Sunday morning he went to
Saint-Germain. He felt low-spirited and vexed at having yielded to
that new longing, and at having broken through his usual habits. He was
thirsty; he would have liked to get out at every station and sit down in
the cafe which he saw outside and drink a “bock” or two, and then take
the first train back to Paris. The journey seemed very long to him.
He could remain sitting for whole days, as long as he had the same
motionless objects before his eyes, but he found it very trying and
fatiguing to remain sitting while he was being whirled along, and to see
the whole country fly by, while he himself was motionless.

However, he found the Seine interesting every time he crossed it. Under
the bridge at Chatou he saw some small boats going at great speed under
the vigorous strokes of the bare-armed oarsmen, and he thought: “There
are some fellows who are certainly enjoying themselves!” The train
entered the tunnel just before you get to the station at Saint-Germain,
and presently stopped at the platform. Parent got out, and walked
slowly, for he already felt tired, toward the Terrace, with his hands
behind his back, and when he got to the iron balustrade, stopped to look
at the distant horizon. The immense plain spread out before him vast as
the sea, green and studded with large villages, almost as populous as
towns. The sun bathed the whole landscape in its full, warm light. The
Seine wound like an endless serpent through the plain, flowed round the
villages and along the slopes. Parent inhaled the warm breeze, which
seemed to make his heart young again, to enliven his spirits, and to
vivify his blood, and said to himself:

“Why, it is delightful here.”

Then he went on a few steps, and stopped again to look about him. The
utter misery of his existence seemed to be brought into full relief by
the intense light which inundated the landscape. He saw his twenty years
of cafe life--dull, monotonous, heartbreaking. He might have traveled as
others did, have gone among foreigners, to unknown countries beyond the
sea, have interested himself somewhat in everything which other men are
passionately devoted to, in arts and science; he might have enjoyed life
in a thousand forms, that mysterious life which is either charming or
painful, constantly changing, always inexplicable and strange. Now,
however, it was too late. He would go on drinking “bock” after “bock”
 until he died, without any family, without friends, without hope,
without any curiosity about anything, and he was seized with a feeling
of misery and a wish to run away, to hide himself in Paris, in his cafe
and his lethargy! All the thoughts, all the dreams, all the desires
which are dormant in the slough of stagnating hearts had reawakened,
brought to life by those rays of sunlight on the plain.

Parent felt that if he were to remain there any longer he should lose
his reason, and he made haste to get to the Pavilion Henri IV for lunch,
to try and forget his troubles under--the influence of wine and alcohol,
and at any rate to have some one to speak to.

He took a small table in one of the arbors, from which one can see all
the surrounding country, ordered his lunch, and asked to be served at
once. Then some more people arrived and sat down at tables near him. He
felt more comfortable; he was no longer alone. Three persons were eating
luncheon near him. He looked at them two or three times without seeing
them clearly, as one looks at total strangers. Suddenly a woman’s voice
sent a shiver through him which seemed to penetrate to his very marrow.
“George,” it said, “will you carve the chicken?”

And another voice replied: “Yes, mamma.”

Parent looked up, and he understood; he guessed immediately who those
people were! He should certainly not have known them again. His wife had
grown quite white and very stout, an elderly, serious, respectable lady,
and she held her head forward as she ate for fear of spotting her dress,
although she had a table napkin tucked under her chin. George had become
a man. He had a slight beard, that uneven and almost colorless
beard which adorns the cheeks of youths. He wore a high hat, a white
waistcoat, and a monocle, because it looked swell, no doubt. Parent
looked at him in astonishment. Was that George, his son? No, he did
not know that young man; there could be nothing in common between them.
Limousin had his back to him, and was eating; with his shoulders rather
bent.

All three of them seemed happy and satisfied; they came and took
luncheon in the country at well-known restaurants. They had had a calm
and pleasant existence, a family existence in a warm and comfortable
house, filled with all those trifles which make life agreeable, with
affection, with all those tender words which people exchange continually
when they love each other. They had lived thus, thanks to him, Parent,
on his money, after having deceived him, robbed him, ruined him! They
had condemned him, the innocent, simple-minded, jovial man, to all the
miseries of solitude, to that abominable life which he had led, between
the pavement and a bar-room, to every mental torture and every physical
misery! They had made him a useless, aimless being, a waif in the world,
a poor old man without any pleasures, any prospects, expecting nothing
from anybody or anything. For him, the world was empty, because he loved
nothing in the world. He might go among other nations, or go about the
streets, go into all the houses in Paris, open every room, but he would
not find inside any door the beloved face, the face of wife or child
which smiles when it sees you. This idea worked upon him more than
any other, the idea of a door which one opens, to see and to embrace
somebody behind it.

And that was the fault of those three wretches! The fault of that
worthless woman, of that infamous friend, and of that tall, light-haired
lad who put on insolent airs. Now he felt as angry with the child as he
did with the other two. Was he not Limousin’s son? Would Limousin have
kept him and loved him otherwise? Would not Limousin very quickly have
got rid of the mother and of the child if he had not felt sure that it
was his, positively his? Does anybody bring up other people’s children?
And now they were there, quite close to him, those three who had made
him suffer so much.

Parent looked at them, irritated and excited at the recollection of all
his sufferings and of his despair, and was especially exasperated at
their placid and satisfied looks. He felt inclined to kill them, to
throw his siphon of Seltzer water at them, to split open Limousin’s head
as he every moment bent it over his plate, raising it again immediately.

He would have his revenge now, on the spot, as he had them under
his hand. But how? He tried to think of some means, he pictured such
dreadful things as one reads of in the newspapers occasionally, but
could not hit on anything practical. And he went on drinking to excite
himself, to give himself courage not to allow such an opportunity to
escape him, as he might never have another.

Suddenly an idea struck him, a terrible idea; and he left off drinking
to mature it. He smiled as he murmured: “I have them, I have them! We
will see; we will see!”

They finished their luncheon slowly, conversing with perfect unconcern.
Parent could not hear what they were saying, but he saw their quiet
gestures. His wife’s face especially exasperated him. She had assumed
a haughty air, the air of a comfortable, devout woman, of an
unapproachable, devout woman, sheathed in principles, iron-clad in
virtue. They paid their bill and got up from table. Parent then noticed
Limousin. He might have been taken for a retired diplomat, for he looked
a man of great importance, with his soft white whiskers, the tips of
which touched his coat collar.

They walked away. Parent rose and followed them. First they went up and
down the terrace, and calmly admired the landscape, and then they went.
into the forest. Parent followed them at a distance, hiding himself so
as not to excite their suspicion too soon.

Parent came up to them by degrees, breathing hard with emotion and
fatigue, for he was unused to walking now. He soon came up to them, but
was seized with fear, an inexplicable fear, and he passed them, so as to
turn round and meet them face to face. He walked on, his heart beating,
feeling that they were just behind him now, and he said to himself:
“Come, now is the time. Courage! courage! Now is the moment!”

He turned round. They were all three sitting on the grass, at the foot
of a huge tree, and were still chatting. He made up his mind, and walked
back rapidly; stopping in front of them in the middle of the road, he
said abruptly, in a voice broken by emotion:

“It is I! Here I am! I suppose you did not expect me?”

They all three stared at this man, who seemed to be insane. He
continued:

“One would suppose that you did not know me again. Just look at me! I
am Parent, Henri Parent. You thought it was all over, and that you would
never see me again. Ah! but here I am once more, you see, and now we
will have an explanation.”

Henriette, terrified, hid her face in her hands, murmuring: “Oh! Good
heavens!”

Seeing this stranger, who seemed to be threatening his mother, George
sprang up, ready to seize him by the collar. Limousin, thunderstruck,
looked in horror at this apparition, who, after gasping for breath,
continued:

“So now we will have an explanation; the proper moment has come! Ah! you
deceived me, you condemned me to the life of a convict, and you thought
that I should never catch you!”

The young man took him by the shoulders and pushed him back.

“Are you mad?” he asked. “What do you want? Go on your way immediately,
or I shall give you a thrashing!”

“What do I want?” replied Parent. “I want to tell you who these people
are.”

George, however, was in a rage, and shook him; and was even going to
strike him.

“Let me go,” said Parent. “I am your father. There, see whether they
recognize me now, the wretches!”

The young man, thunderstruck, unclenched his fists and turned toward his
mother. Parent, as soon as he was released, approached her.

“Well,” he said, “tell him yourself who I am! Tell him that my name is
Henri Parent, that I am his father because his name is George Parent,
because you are my wife, because you are all three living on my money,
on the allowance of ten thousand francs which I have made you since I
drove you out of my house. Will you tell him also why I drove you out?
Because I surprised you with this beggar, this wretch, your lover! Tell
him what I was, an honorable man, whom you married for money, and whom
you deceived from the very first day. Tell him who you are, and who I
am----”

He stammered and gasped for breath in his rage. The woman exclaimed in a
heartrending voice:

“Paul, Paul, stop him; make him be quiet! Do not let him say this before
my son!”

Limousin had also risen to his feet. He said in a very low voice: “Hold
your tongue! Hold your tongue! Do you understand what you are doing?”

“I quite know what I am doing,” resumed Parent, “and that is not all.
There is one thing that I will know, something that has tormented me for
twenty years.” Then, turning to George, who was leaning against a tree
in consternation, he said:

“Listen to me. When she left my house she thought it was not enough to
have deceived me, but she also wanted to drive me to despair. You were
my only consolation, and she took you with her, swearing that I was not
your father, but, that he was your father. Was she lying? I do not know.
I have been asking myself the question for the last twenty years.” He
went close up to her, tragic and terrible, and, pulling away her hands,
with which she had covered her face, he continued:

“Well, now! I call upon you to tell me which of us two is the father of
this young man; he or I, your husband or your lover. Come! Come! tell
us.”

Limousin rushed at him. Parent pushed him back, and, sneering in his
fury, he said: “Ah! you are brave now! You are braver than you were that
day when you ran downstairs because you thought I was going to murder
you. Very well! If she will not reply, tell me yourself. You ought to
know as well as she. Tell me, are you this young fellow’s father? Come!
Come! Tell me!”

He turned to his wife again. “If you will not tell me, at any rate tell
your son. He is a man, now, and he has the right to know who his father
is. I do not know, and I never did know, never, never! I cannot tell
you, my boy.”

He seemed to be losing his senses; his voice grew shrill and he worked
his arms about as if he had an epileptic ‘fit.

“Come!... Give me an answer. She does not know... I will make a bet
that she does not know... No... she does not know, by Jove! Ha! ha! ha!
Nobody knows... nobody... How can one know such things?

“You will not know either, my boy, you will not know any more than I
do ... never.... Look here... Ask her you will find that she does not
know... I do not know either... nor does he, nor do you, nobody knows.
You can choose... You can choose... yes, you can choose him or me...
Choose.

“Good evening... It is all over. If she makes up her mind to tell you,
you will come and let me know, will you not? I am living at the Hotel
des Continents... I should be glad to know... Good evening... I hope you
will enjoy yourselves very much...”

And he went away gesticulating, talking to himself under the tall trees,
in the quiet, the cool air, which was full of the fragrance of growing
plants. He did not turn round to look at them, but went straight on,
walking under the stimulus of his rage, under a storm of passion, with
that one fixed idea in his mind. All at once he found himself outside
the station. A train was about to start and he got in. During the
journey his anger calmed down, he regained his senses and returned to
Paris, astonished at his own boldness, full of aches and pains as if
he had broken some bones. Nevertheless, he went to have a “bock” at his
brewery.

When she saw him come in, Mademoiselle Zoe asked in surprise: “What!
back already? are you tired?”

“Yes--yes, I am tired... very tired... You know, when one is not used
to going out... I’ve had enough of it. I shall not go into the country
again. It would have been better to have stayed here. For the future, I
shall not stir out.”

She could not persuade him to tell her about his little excursion, much
as she wished to.

For the first time in his life he got thoroughly drunk that night, and
had to be carried home.



QUEEN HORTENSE

In Argenteuil she was called Queen Hortense. No one knew why. Perhaps it
was because she had a commanding tone of voice; perhaps because she
was tall, bony, imperious; perhaps because she governed a kingdom of
servants, chickens, dogs, cats, canaries, parrots, all so dear to an old
maid’s heart. But she did not spoil these familiar friends; she had for
them none of those endearing names, none of the foolish tenderness which
women seem to lavish on the soft fur of a purring cat. She governed
these beasts with authority; she reigned.

She was indeed an old maid--one of those old maids with a harsh voice
and angular motions, whose very soul seems to be hard. She never would
stand contradiction, argument, hesitation, indifference, laziness nor
fatigue. She had never been heard to complain, to regret anything,
to envy anyone. She would say: “Everyone has his share,” with the
conviction of a fatalist. She did not go to church, she had no use
for priests, she hardly believed in God, calling all religious things
“weeper’s wares.”

For thirty years she had lived in her little house, with its tiny
garden running along the street; she had never changed her habits, only
changing her servants pitilessly, as soon as they reached twenty-one
years of age.

When her dogs, cats and birds would die of old age, or from an accident,
she would replace them without tears and without regret; with a little
spade she would bury the dead animal in a strip of ground, throwing a
few shovelfuls of earth over it and stamping it down with her feet in an
indifferent manner.

She had a few friends in town, families of clerks who went to Paris
every day. Once in a while she would be invited out, in the evening,
to tea. She would inevitably fall asleep, and she would have to be
awakened, when it was time for her to go home. She never allowed anyone
to accompany her, fearing neither light nor darkness. She did not appear
to like children.

She kept herself busy doing countless masculine tasks--carpentering,
gardening, sawing or chopping wood, even laying bricks when it was
necessary.

She had relatives who came to see her twice a year, the Cimmes and the
Colombels, her two sisters having married, one of them a florist and the
other a retired merchant. The Cimmes had no children; the Colombels had
three: Henri, Pauline and Joseph. Henri was twenty, Pauline seventeen
and Joseph only three.

There was no love lost between the old maid and her relatives.

In the spring of the year 1882 Queen Hortense suddenly fell sick. The
neighbors called in a physician, whom she immediately drove out. A
priest then having presented himself, she jumped out of bed, in order to
throw him out of the house.

The young servant, in despair, was brewing her some tea.

After lying in bed for three days the situation appeared so serious that
the barrel-maker, who lived next door, to the right, acting on advice
from the doctor, who had forcibly returned to the house, took it upon
himself to call together the two families.

They arrived by the same train, towards ten in the morning, the
Colombels bringing little Joseph with them.

When they got to the garden gate, they saw the servant seated in the
chair against the wall, crying.

The dog was sleeping on the door mat in the broiling sun; two cats,
which looked as though they might be dead, were stretched out in front
of the two windows, their eyes closed, their paws and tails stretched
out at full length.

A big clucking hen was parading through the garden with a whole regiment
of yellow, downy chicks, and a big cage hanging from the wall and
covered with pimpernel, contained a population of birds which were
chirping away in the warmth of this beautiful spring morning.

In another cage, shaped like a chalet, two lovebirds sat motionless side
by side on their perch.

M. Cimme, a fat, puffing person, who always entered first everywhere,
pushing aside everyone else, whether man or woman, when it was
necessary, asked:

“Well, Celeste, aren’t things going well?”

The little servant moaned through her tears:

“She doesn’t even recognize me any more. The doctor says it’s the end.”

Everybody looked around.

Mme. Cimme and Mme. Colombel immediately embraced each other, without
saying a word. They locked very much alike, having always worn their
hair in Madonna bands, and loud red French cashmere shawls.

Cimme turned to his brother-in-law, a pale, sal, low-complexioned,
thin man, wasted by stomach complaints, who limped badly, and said in a
serious tone of voice:

“Gad! It was high time.”

But no one dared to enter the dying woman’s room on the ground floor.
Even Cimme made way for the others. Colombel was the first to make up
his mind, and, swaying from side to side like the mast of a ship, the
iron ferule of his cane clattering on the paved hall, he entered.

The two women were the next to venture, and M. Cimmes closed the
procession.

Little Joseph had remained outside, pleased at the sight of the dog.

A ray of sunlight seemed to cut the bed in two, shining just on the
hands, which were moving nervously, continually opening and closing. The
fingers were twitching as though moved by some thought, as though trying
to point out a meaning or idea, as though obeying the dictates of a
will. The rest of the body lay motionless under the sheets. The angular
frame showed not a single movement. The eyes remained closed.

The family spread out in a semi-circle and, without a word, they began
to watch the contracted chest and the short, gasping breathing. The
little servant had followed them and was still crying.

At last Cimme asked:

“Exactly what did the doctor say?”

The girl stammered:

“He said to leave her alone, that nothing more could be done for her.”

But suddenly the old woman’s lips began to move. She seemed to be
uttering silent words, words hidden in the brain of this dying being,
and her hands quickened their peculiar movements.

Then she began to speak in a thin, high voice, which no one had ever
heard, a voice which seemed to come from the distance, perhaps from the
depths of this heart which had always been closed.

Cimme, finding this scene painful, walked away on tiptoe. Colombel,
whose crippled leg was growing tired, sat down.

The two women remained standing.

Queen Hortense was now babbling away, and no one could understand a
word. She was pronouncing names, many names, tenderly calling imaginary
people.

“Come here, Philippe, kiss your mother. Tell me, child, do you love your
mamma? You, Rose, take care of your little sister while I am away. And
don’t leave her alone. Don’t play with matches!”

She stopped for a while, then, in a louder voice, as though she were
calling someone: “Henriette!” then waited a moment and continued:

“Tell your father that I wish to speak to him before he goes to
business.” And suddenly: “I am not feeling very well to-day, darling;
promise not to come home late. Tell your employer that I am sick. You
know, it isn’t safe to leave the children alone when I am in bed. For
dinner I will fix you up a nice dish of rice. The little ones like that
very much. Won’t Claire be happy?”

And she broke into a happy, joyous laugh, such as they had never heard:
“Look at Jean, how funny he looks! He has smeared jam all over his face,
the little pig! Look, sweetheart, look; isn’t he funny?”

Colombel, who was continually lifting his tired leg from place to place,
muttered:

“She is dreaming that she has children and a husband; it is the
beginning of the death agony.”

The two sisters had not yet moved, surprised, astounded.

The little maid exclaimed:

“You must take off your shawls and your hits! Would you like to go into
the parlor?”

They went out without having said a word. And Colombel followed them,
limping, once more leaving the dying woman alone.

When they were relieved of their travelling garments, the women finally
sat down. Then one of the cats left its window, stretched, jumped into
the room and on to Mme. Cimme’s knees. She began to pet it.

In the next room could be heard the voice of the dying woman, living, in
this last hour, the life for which she had doubtless hoped, living her
dreams themselves just when all was over for her.

Cimme, in the garden, was playing with little Joseph and the dog,
enjoying himself in the whole hearted manner of a countryman, having
completely forgotten the dying woman.

But suddenly he entered the house and said to the girl:

“I say, my girl, are we not going to have luncheon? What do you ladies
wish to eat?”

They finally agreed on an omelet, a piece of steak with new potatoes,
cheese and coffee.

As Mme. Colombel was fumbling in her pocket for her purse, Cimme stopped
her, and, turning to the maid: “Have you got any money?”

She answered:

“Yes, monsieur.”

“How much?”

“Fifteen francs.”

“That’s enough. Hustle, my girl, because I am beginning to get very
hungry:”

Mme. Cimme, looking out over the climbing vines bathed in sunlight, and
at the two turtle-doves on the roof opposite, said in an annoyed tone of
voice:

“What a pity to have had to come for such a sad occasion. It is so nice
in the country to-day.”

Her sister sighed without answering, and Colombel mumbled, thinking
perhaps of the walk ahead of him:

“My leg certainly is bothering me to-day:”

Little Joseph and the dog were making a terrible noise; one was
shrieking with pleasure, the other was barking wildly. They were playing
hide-and-seek around the three flower beds, running after each other
like mad.

The dying woman continued to call her children, talking with each one,
imagining that she was dressing them, fondling them, teaching them
how to read: “Come on! Simon repeat: A, B, C, D. You are not paying
attention, listen--D, D, D; do you hear me? Now repeat--”

Cimme exclaimed: “Funny what people say when in that condition.”

Mme. Colombel then asked:

“Wouldn’t it be better if we were to return to her?”

But Cimme dissuaded her from the idea:

“What’s the use? You can’t change anything. We are just as comfortable
here.”

Nobody insisted. Mme. Cimme observed the two green birds called
love-birds. In a few words she praised this singular faithfulness and
blamed the men for not imitating these animals. Cimme began to laugh,
looked at his wife and hummed in a teasing way: “Tra-la-la,
tra-la-la” as though to cast a good deal of doubt on his own, Cimme’s,
faithfulness:

Colombel was suffering from cramps and was rapping the floor with his
cane.

The other cat, its tail pointing upright to the sky, now came in.

They sat down to luncheon at one o’clock.

As soon as he had tasted the wine, Colombel, for whom only the best of
Bordeaux had been prescribed, called the servant back:

“I say, my girl, is this the best stuff that you have in the cellar?”

“No, monsieur; there is some better wine, which was only brought out
when you came.”

“Well, bring us three bottles of it.”

They tasted the wine and found it excellent, not because it was of a
remarkable vintage, but because it had been in the cellar fifteen years.
Cimme declared:

“That is regular invalid’s wine.”

Colombel, filled with an ardent desire to gain possession of this
Bordeaux, once more questioned the girl:

“How much of it is left?”

“Oh! Almost all, monsieur; mamz’elle never touched it. It’s in the
bottom stack.”

Then he turned to his brother-in-law:

“If you wish, Cimme, I would be willing to exchange something else for
this wine; it suits my stomach marvellously.”

The chicken had now appeared with its regiment of young ones. The two
women were enjoying themselves throwing crumbs to them.

Joseph and the dog, who had eaten enough, were sent back to the garden.

Queen Hortense was still talking, but in a low, hushed voice, so that
the words could no longer be distinguished.

When they had finished their coffee all went in to observe the condition
of the sick woman. She seemed calm.

They went outside again and seated themselves in a circle in the garden,
in order to complete their digestion.

Suddenly the dog, who was carrying something in his mouth, began to run
around the chairs at full speed. The child was chasing him wildly. Both
disappeared into the house.

Cimme fell asleep, his well-rounded paunch bathed in the glow of the
shining sun.

The dying woman once more began to talk in a loud voice. Then suddenly
she shrieked.

The two women and Colombel rushed in to see what was the matter. Cimme,
waking up, did not budge, because, he did not wish to witness such a
scene.

She was sitting up, with haggard eyes. Her dog, in order to escape being
pursued by little Joseph, had jumped up on the bed, run over the
sick woman, and entrenched behind the pillow, was looking down at his
playmate with snapping eyes, ready to jump down and begin the game
again. He was holding in his mouth one of his mistress’ slippers, which
he had torn to pieces and with which he had been playing for the last
hour.

The child, frightened by this woman who had suddenly risen in front of
him, stood motionless before the bed.

The hen had also come in, and frightened by the noise, had jumped up
on a chair and was wildly calling her chicks, who were chirping
distractedly around the four legs of the chair.

Queen Hortense was shrieking:

“No, no, I don’t want to die, I don’t want to! I don’t want to! Who will
bring up my children? Who will take care of them? Who will love them?
No, I don’t want to!--I don’t----”

She fell back. All was over.

The dog, wild with excitement, jumped about the room, barking.

Colombel ran to the window, calling his brother-in-law:

“Hurry up, hurry up! I think that she has just gone.”

Then Cimme, resigned, arose and entered the room, mumbling

“It didn’t take as long as I thought it would!”



TIMBUCTOO

The boulevard, that river of humanity, was alive with people in the
golden light of the setting sun. The whole sky was red, blinding, and
behind the Madeleine an immense bank of flaming clouds cast a shower
of light the whole length of the boulevard, vibrant as the heat from a
brazier.

The gay, animated crowd went by in this golden mist and seemed to be
glorified. Their faces were gilded, their black hats and clothes took on
purple tints, the patent leather of their shoes cast bright reflections
on the asphalt of the sidewalk.

Before the cafes a mass of men were drinking opalescent liquids that
looked like precious stones dissolved in the glasses.

In the midst of the drinkers two officers in full uniform dazzled all
eyes with their glittering gold lace. They chatted, happy without asking
why, in this glory of life, in this radiant light of sunset, and they
looked at the crowd, the leisurely men and the hurrying women who left a
bewildering odor of perfume as they passed by.

All at once an enormous negro, dressed in black, with a paunch beneath
his jean waistcoat, which was covered with charms, his face shining as
if it had been polished, passed before them with a triumphant air. He
laughed at the passers-by, at the news venders, at the dazzling sky, at
the whole of Paris. He was so tall that he overtopped everyone else, and
when he passed all the loungers turned round to look at his back.

But he suddenly perceived the officers and darted towards them, jostling
the drinkers in his path. As soon as he reached their table he fixed
his gleaming and delighted eyes upon them and the corners of his mouth
expanded to his ears, showing his dazzling white teeth like a crescent
moon in a black sky. The two men looked in astonishment at this ebony
giant, unable to understand his delight.

With a voice that made all the guests laugh, he said:

“Good-day, my lieutenant.”

One of the officers was commander of a battalion, the other was a
colonel. The former said:

“I do not know you, sir. I am at a loss to know what you want of me.”

“Me like you much, Lieutenant Vedie, siege of Bezi, much grapes, find
me.”

The officer, utterly bewildered, looked at the man intently, trying to
refresh his memory. Then he cried abruptly:

“Timbuctoo?”

The negro, radiant, slapped his thigh as he uttered a tremendous laugh
and roared:

“Yes, yes, my lieutenant; you remember Timbuctoo, ya. How do you do?”

The commandant held out his hand, laughing heartily as he did so. Then
Timbuctoo became serious. He seized the officer’s hand and, before
the other could prevent it, he kissed it, according to negro and Arab
custom. The officer embarrassed, said in a severe tone:

“Come now, Timbuctoo, we are not in Africa. Sit down there and tell me
how it is I find you here.”

Timbuctoo swelled himself out and, his words falling over one another,
replied hurriedly:

“Make much money, much, big restaurant, good food; Prussians, me, much
steal, much, French cooking; Timbuctoo cook to the emperor; two thousand
francs mine. Ha, ha, ha, ha!”

And he laughed, doubling himself up, roaring, with wild delight in his
glances.

When the officer, who understood his strange manner of expressing
himself, had questioned him he said:

“Well, au revoir, Timbuctoo. I will see you again.”

The negro rose, this time shaking the hand that was extended to him and,
smiling still, cried:

“Good-day, good-day, my lieutenant!”

He went off so happy that he gesticulated as he walked, and people
thought he was crazy.

“Who is that brute?” asked the colonel.

“A fine fellow and a brave soldier. I will tell you what I know about
him. It is funny enough.

“You know that at the commencement of the war of 1870 I was shut up
in Bezieres, that this negro calls Bezi. We were not besieged, but
blockaded. The Prussian lines surrounded us on all sides, outside the
reach of cannon, not firing on us, but slowly starving us out.

“I was then lieutenant. Our garrison consisted of soldier of all
descriptions, fragments of slaughtered regiments, some that had run
away, freebooters separated from the main army, etc. We had all kinds,
in fact even eleven Turcos [Algerian soldiers in the service of France],
who arrived one evening no one knew whence or how. They appeared at the
gates of the city, exhausted, in rags, starving and dirty. They were
handed over to me.

“I saw very soon that they were absolutely undisciplined, always in the
street and always drunk. I tried putting them in the police station,
even in prison, but nothing was of any use. They would disappear,
sometimes for days at a time, as if they had been swallowed up by the
earth, and then come back staggering drunk. They had no money. Where did
they buy drink and how and with what?

“This began to worry me greatly, all the more as these savages
interested me with their everlasting laugh and their characteristics of
overgrown frolicsome children.

“I then noticed that they blindly obeyed the largest among them, the
one you have just seen. He made them do as he pleased, planned their
mysterious expeditions with the all-powerful and undisputed authority
of a leader. I sent for him and questioned him. Our conversation lasted
fully three hours, for it was hard for me to understand his remarkable
gibberish. As for him, poor devil, he made unheard-of efforts to make
himself intelligible, invented words, gesticulated, perspired in his
anxiety, mopping his forehead, puffing, stopping and abruptly beginning
again when he thought he had found a new method of explaining what he
wanted to say.

“I gathered finally that he was the son of a big chief, a sort of negro
king of the region around Timbuctoo. I asked him his name. He repeated
something like ‘Chavaharibouhalikranafotapolara.’ It seemed simpler to
me to give him the name of his native place, ‘Timbuctoo.’ And a week
later he was known by no other name in the garrison.

“But we were all wildly anxious to find out where this African ex-prince
procured his drinks. I discovered it in a singular manner.

“I was on the ramparts one morning, watching the horizon, when I
perceived something moving about in a vineyard. It was near the time of
vintage, the grapes were ripe, but I was not thinking of that. I
thought that a spy was approaching the town, and I organized a complete
expedition to catch the prowler. I took command myself, after obtaining
permission from the general.

“I sent out by three different gates three little companies, which were
to meet at the suspected vineyard and form a cordon round it. In order
to cut off the spy’s retreat, one of these detachments had to make at
least an hour’s march. A watch on the walls signalled to me that the
person I had seen had not left the place. We went along in profound
silence, creeping, almost crawling, along the ditches. At last we
reached the spot assigned.

“I abruptly disbanded my soldiers, who darted into the vineyard and
found Timbuctoo on hands and knees travelling around among the vines and
eating grapes, or rather devouring them as a dog eats his sop, snatching
them in mouthfuls from the vine with his teeth.

“I wanted him to get up, but he could not think of it. I then understood
why he was crawling on his hands and knees. As soon as we stood him on
his feet he began to wabble, then stretched out his arms and fell down
on his nose. He was more drunk than I have ever seen anyone.

“They brought him home on two poles. He never stopped laughing all the
way back, gesticulating with his arms and legs.

“This explained the mystery. My men also drank the juice of the grapes,
and when they were so intoxicated they could not stir they went to sleep
in the vineyard. As for Timbuctoo, his love of the vineyard was beyond
all belief and all bounds. He lived in it as did the thrushes, whom he
hated with the jealous hate of a rival. He repeated incessantly: ‘The
thrushes eat all the grapes, captain!’

“One evening I was sent for. Something had been seen on the plain coming
in our direction. I had not brought my field-glass and I could not
distinguish things clearly. It looked like a great serpent uncoiling
itself--a convoy. How could I tell?

“I sent some men to meet this strange caravan, which presently made its
triumphal entry. Timbuctoo and nine of his comrades were carrying on a
sort of altar made of camp stools eight severed, grinning and bleeding
heads. The African was dragging along a horse to whose tail another
head was fastened, and six other animals followed, adorned in the same
manner.

“This is what I learned: Having started out to the vineyard, my Africans
had suddenly perceived a detachment of Prussians approaching a village.
Instead of taking to their heels, they hid themselves, and as soon as
the Prussian officers dismounted at an inn to refresh themselves, the
eleven rascals rushed on them, put to flight the lancers, who thought
they were being attacked by the main army, killed the two sentries, then
the colonel and the five officers of his escort.

“That day I kissed Timbuctoo. I saw, however, that he walked with
difficulty and thought he was wounded. He laughed and said:

“‘Me provisions for my country.’

“Timbuctoo was not fighting for glory, but for gain. Everything he found
that seemed to him to be of the slightest value, especially anything
that glistened, he put in his pocket. What a pocket! An abyss that began
at his hips and reached to his ankles. He had retained an old term used
by the troopers and called it his ‘profonde,’ and it was his ‘profonde’
in fact.

“He had taken the gold lace off the Prussian uniforms, the brass off
their helmets, detached their buttons, etc., and had thrown them all
into his ‘profonde,’ which was full to overflowing.

“Each day he pocketed every glistening object that came beneath his
observation, pieces of tin or pieces of silver, and sometimes his
contour was very comical.

“He intended to carry all that back to the land of ostriches, whose
brother he might have been, this son of a king, tormented with the
longing to gobble up all objects that glistened. If he had not had his
‘profonde’ what would he have done? He doubtless would have swallowed
them.

“Each morning his pocket was empty. He had, then, some general store
where his riches were piled up. But where? I could not discover it.

“The general, on being informed of Timbuctoo’s mighty act of valor,
had the headless bodies that had been left in the neighboring village
interred at once, that it might not be discovered that they were
decapitated. The Prussians returned thither the following day. The
mayor and seven prominent inhabitants were shot on the spot, by way of
reprisal, as having denounced the Prussians.

“Winter was here. We were exhausted and desperate. There were skirmishes
now every day. The famished men could no longer march. The eight
‘Turcos’ alone (three had been killed) remained fat and shiny, vigorous
and always ready to fight. Timbuctoo was even getting fatter. He said to
me one day:

“‘You much hungry; me good meat.’

“And he brought me an excellent filet. But of what? We had no more
cattle, nor sheep, nor goats, nor donkeys, nor pigs. It was impossible
to get a horse. I thought of all this after I had devoured my meat. Then
a horrible idea came to me. These negroes were born close to a country
where they eat human beings! And each day such a number of soldiers were
killed around the town! I questioned Timbuctoo. He would not answer. I
did not insist, but from that time on I declined his presents.

“He worshipped me. One night snow took us by surprise at the outposts.
We were seated, on the ground. I looked with pity at those poor negroes
shivering beneath this white frozen shower. I was very cold and began to
cough. At once I felt something fall on me like a large warm quilt. It
was Timbuctoo’s cape that he had thrown on my shoulders.

“I rose and returned his garment, saying:

“‘Keep it, my boy; you need it more than I do.’

“‘Non, my lieutenant, for you; me no need. Me hot, hot!’

“And he looked at me entreatingly.

“‘Come, obey orders. Keep your cape; I insist,’ I replied.

“He then stood up, drew his sword, which he had sharpened to an edge
like a scythe, and holding in his other hand the large cape which I had
refused, said:

“‘If you not keep cape, me cut. No one cape.’

“And he would have done it. So I yielded.

“Eight days later we capitulated. Some of us had been able to escape,
the rest were to march out of the town and give themselves up to the
conquerors.

“I went towards the exercising ground, where we were all to meet, when
I was dumfounded at the sight of a gigantic negro dressed in white
duck and wearing a straw hat. It was Timbuctoo. He was beaming and was
walking with his hands in his pockets in front of a little shop where
two plates and two glasses were displayed.

“‘What are you doing?’ I said.

“‘Me not go. Me good cook; me make food for Colonel Algeria. Me eat
Prussians; much steal, much.’

“There were ten degrees of frost. I shivered at sight of this negro in
white duck. He took me by the arm and made me go inside. I noticed an
immense flag that he was going to place outside his door as soon as we
had left, for he had some shame.”

I read this sign, traced by the hand of some accomplice

     “‘ARMY KITCHEN OF M. TIMBUCTOO,
     “‘Formerly Cook to H. M. the Emperor.
     “‘A Parisian Artist. Moderate Prices.’

“In spite of the despair that was gnawing at my heart, I could not help
laughing, and I left my negro to his new enterprise.

“Was not that better than taking him prisoner?

“You have just seen that he made a success of it, the rascal.

“Bezieres to-day belongs to the Germans. The ‘Restaurant Timbuctoo’ is
the beginning of a retaliation.”



TOMBSTONES

The five friends had finished dinner, five men of the world, mature,
rich, three married, the two others bachelors. They met like this every
month in memory of their youth, and after dinner they chatted until two
o’clock in the morning. Having remained intimate friends, and enjoying
each other’s society, they probably considered these the pleasantest
evenings of their lives. They talked on every subject, especially of
what interested and amused Parisians. Their conversation was, as in the
majority of salons elsewhere, a verbal rehash of what they had read in
the morning papers.

One of the most lively of them was Joseph de Bardon, a celibate living
the Parisian life in its fullest and most whimsical manner. He was not a
debauche nor depraved, but a singular, happy fellow, still young, for
he was scarcely forty. A man of the world in its widest and best sense,
gifted with a brilliant, but not profound, mind, with much varied
knowledge, but no true erudition, ready comprehension without true
understanding, he drew from his observations, his adventures, from
everything he saw, met with and found, anecdotes at once comical
and philosophical, and made humorous remarks that gave him a great
reputation for cleverness in society.

He was the after dinner speaker and had his own story each time, upon
which they counted, and he talked without having to be coaxed.

As he sat smoking, his elbows on the table, a petit verre half full
beside his plate, half torpid in an atmosphere of tobacco blended with
steaming coffee, he seemed to be perfectly at home. He said between two
whiffs:

“A curious thing happened to me some time ago.”

“Tell it to us,” they all exclaimed at once.

“With pleasure. You know that I wander about Paris a great deal, like
book collectors who ransack book stalls. I just look at the sights, at
the people, at all that is passing by and all that is going on.

“Toward the middle of September--it was beautiful weather--I went out
one afternoon, not knowing where I was going. One always has a vague
wish to call on some pretty woman or other. One chooses among them in
one’s mental picture gallery, compares them in one’s mind, weighs the
interest with which they inspire you, their comparative charms and
finally decides according to the influence of the day. But when the sun
is very bright and the air warm, it takes away from you all desire to
make calls.

“The sun was bright, the air warm. I lighted a cigar and sauntered
aimlessly along the outer boulevard. Then, as I strolled on, it occurred
to me to walk as far as Montmartre and go into the cemetery.

“I am very fond of cemeteries. They rest me and give me a feeling of
sadness; I need it. And, besides, I have good friends in there, those
that one no longer goes to call on, and I go there from time to time.

“It is in this cemetery of Montmartre that is buried a romance of my
life, a sweetheart who made a great impression on me, a very emotional,
charming little woman whose memory, although it causes me great sorrow,
also fills me with regrets--regrets of all kinds. And I go to dream
beside her grave. She has finished with life.

“And then I like cemeteries because they are immense cities filled to
overflowing with inhabitants. Think how many dead people there are in
this small space, think of all the generations of Parisians who are
housed there forever, veritable troglodytes enclosed in their little
vaults, in their little graves covered with a stone or marked by a
cross, while living beings take up so much room and make so much noise
--imbeciles that they are!

“Then, again, in cemeteries there are monuments almost as interesting
as in museums. The tomb of Cavaignac reminded me, I must confess
without making any comparison, of the chef d’oeuvre of Jean Goujon: the
recumbent statue of Louis de Breze in the subterranean chapel of the
Cathedral of Rouen. All modern and realistic art has originated there,
messieurs. This dead man, Louis de Breze, is more real, more terrible,
more like inanimate flesh still convulsed with the death agony than all
the tortured corpses that are distorted to-day in funeral monuments.

“But in Montmartre one can yet admire Baudin’s monument, which has a
degree of grandeur; that of Gautier, of Murger, on which I saw the other
day a simple, paltry wreath of immortelles, yellow immortelles, brought
thither by whom? Possibly by the last grisette, very old and now
janitress in the neighborhood. It is a pretty little statue by Millet,
but ruined by dirt and neglect. Sing of youth, O Murger!

“Well, there I was in Montmartre Cemetery, and was all at once filled
with sadness, a sadness that is not all pain, a kind of sadness that
makes you think when you are in good health, ‘This place is not amusing,
but my time has not come yet.’

“The feeling of autumn, of the warm moisture which is redolent of the
death of the leaves, and the weakened, weary, anaemic sun increased,
while rendering it poetical, the sensation of solitude and of finality
that hovered over this spot which savors of human mortality.

“I walked along slowly amid these streets of tombs, where the neighbors
do not visit each other, do not sleep together and do not read the
newspapers. And I began to read the epitaphs. That is the most amusing
thing in the world. Never did Labiche or Meilhac make me laugh as I have
laughed at the comical inscriptions on tombstones. Oh, how much superior
to the books of Paul de Kock for getting rid of the spleen are these
marble slabs and these crosses where the relatives of the deceased have
unburdened their sorrow, their desires for the happiness of the vanished
ones and their hope of rejoining them--humbugs!

“But I love above all in this cemetery the deserted portion, solitary,
full of great yews and cypresses, the older portion, belonging to
those dead long since, and which will soon be taken into use again; the
growing trees nourished by the human corpses cut down in order to
bury in rows beneath little slabs of marble those who have died more
recently.

“When I had sauntered about long enough to refresh my mind I felt that
I would soon have had enough of it and that I must place the faithful
homage of my remembrance on my little friend’s last resting place. I
felt a tightening of the heart as I reached her grave. Poor dear, she
was so dainty, so loving and so white and fresh--and now--if one should
open the grave--

“Leaning over the iron grating, I told her of my sorrow in a low tone,
which she doubtless did not hear, and was moving away when I saw a woman
in black, in deep mourning, kneeling on the next grave. Her crape veil
was turned back, uncovering a pretty fair head, the hair in Madonna
bands looking like rays of dawn beneath her sombre headdress. I stayed.

“Surely she must be in profound grief. She had covered her face with her
hands and, standing there in meditation, rigid as a statue, given up to
her grief, telling the sad rosary of her remembrances within the shadow
of her concealed and closed eyes, she herself seemed like a dead person
mourning another who was dead. All at once a little motion of her back,
like a flutter of wind through a willow, led me to suppose that she was
going to cry. She wept softly at first, then louder, with quick motions
of her neck and shoulders. Suddenly she uncovered her eyes. They were
full of tears and charming, the eyes of a bewildered woman, with which
she glanced about her as if awaking from a nightmare. She looked at me,
seemed abashed and hid her face completely in her hands. Then she sobbed
convulsively, and her head slowly bent down toward the marble. She
leaned her forehead on it, and her veil spreading around her, covered
the white corners of the beloved tomb, like a fresh token of mourning. I
heard her sigh, then she sank down with her cheek on the marble slab and
remained motionless, unconscious.

“I darted toward her, slapped her hands, blew on her eyelids, while I
read this simple epitaph: ‘Here lies Louis-Theodore Carrel, Captain of
Marine Infantry, killed by the enemy at Tonquin. Pray for him.’

“He had died some months before. I was affected to tears and redoubled
my attentions. They were successful. She regained consciousness. I
appeared very much moved. I am not bad looking, I am not forty. I saw
by her first glance that she would be polite and grateful. She was, and
amid more tears she told me her history in detached fragments as well
as her gasping breath would allow, how the officer was killed at Tonquin
when they had been married a year, how she had married him for love, and
being an orphan, she had only the usual dowry.

“I consoled her, I comforted her, raised her and lifted her on her feet.
Then I said:

“‘Do not stay here. Come.’

“‘I am unable to walk,’ she murmured.

“‘I will support you.’

“‘Thank you, sir; you are good. Did you also come to mourn for some
one?’

“‘Yes, madame.’

“‘A dead friend?’

“‘Yes, madame.’

“‘Your wife?’

“‘A friend.’

“‘One may love a friend as much as they love their wife. Love has no
law.’

“‘Yes, madame.’

“And we set off together, she leaning on my arm, while I almost carried
her along the paths of the cemetery. When we got outside she faltered:

“‘I feel as if I were going to be ill.’

“‘Would you like to go in anywhere, to take something?’

“‘Yes, monsieur.’

“I perceived a restaurant, one of those places where the mourners of the
dead go to celebrate the funeral. We went in. I made her drink a cup of
hot tea, which seemed to revive her. A faint smile came to her lips. She
began to talk about herself. It was sad, so sad to be always alone in
life, alone in one’s home, night and day, to have no one on whom one can
bestow affection, confidence, intimacy.

“That sounded sincere. It sounded pretty from her mouth. I was touched.
She was very young, perhaps twenty. I paid her compliments, which she
took in good part. Then, as time was passing, I suggested taking her
home in a carriage. She accepted, and in the cab we sat so close that
our shoulders touched.

“When the cab stopped at her house she murmured: ‘I do not feel equal to
going upstairs alone, for I live on the fourth floor. You have been so
good. Will you let me take your arm as far as my own door?’

“I agreed with eagerness. She ascended the stairs slowly, breathing
hard. Then, as we stood at her door, she said:

“‘Come in a few moments so that I may thank you.’

“And, by Jove, I went in. Everything was modest, even rather poor, but
simple and in good taste.

“We sat down side by side on a little sofa and she began to talk again
about her loneliness. She rang for her maid, in order to offer me some
wine. The maid did not come. I was delighted, thinking that this maid
probably came in the morning only, what one calls a charwoman.

“She had taken off her hat. She was really pretty, and she gazed at me
with her clear eyes, gazed so hard and her eyes were so clear that I
was terribly tempted. I caught her in my arms and rained kisses on her
eyelids, which she closed suddenly.

“She freed herself and pushed me away, saying:

“‘Have done, have done.’

“But I next kissed her on the mouth and she did not resist, and as our
glances met after thus outraging the memory of the captain killed in
Tonquin, I saw that she had a languid, resigned expression that set my
mind at rest.

“I became very attentive and, after chatting for some time, I said:

“‘Where do you dine?’

“‘In a little restaurant in the neighborhood:

“‘All alone?’

“‘Why, yes.’

“‘Will you dine with me?’

“‘Where?’

“‘In a good restaurant on the Boulevard.’

“She demurred a little. I insisted. She yielded, saying by way of
apology to herself: ‘I am so lonely--so lonely.’ Then she added:

“‘I must put on something less sombre, and went into her bedroom. When
she reappeared she was dressed in half-mourning, charming, dainty and
slender in a very simple gray dress. She evidently had a costume for the
cemetery and one for the town.

“The dinner was very enjoyable. She drank some champagne, brightened up,
grew lively and I went home with her.

“This friendship, begun amid the tombs, lasted about three weeks. But
one gets tired of everything, especially of women. I left her under
pretext of an imperative journey. She made me promise that I would come
and see her on my return. She seemed to be really rather attached to me.

“Other things occupied my attention, and it was about a month before
I thought much about this little cemetery friend. However, I did not
forget her. The recollection of her haunted me like a mystery, like
a psychological problem, one of those inexplicable questions whose
solution baffles us.

“I do not know why, but one day I thought I might possibly meet her in
the Montmartre Cemetery, and I went there.

“I walked about a long time without meeting any but the ordinary
visitors to this spot, those who have not yet broken off all relations
with their dead. The grave of the captain killed at Tonquin had no
mourner on its marble slab, no flowers, no wreath.

“But as I wandered in another direction of this great city of the dead
I perceived suddenly, at the end of a narrow avenue of crosses, a couple
in deep mourning walking toward me, a man and a woman. Oh, horrors! As
they approached I recognized her. It was she!

“She saw me, blushed, and as I brushed past her she gave me a little
signal, a tiny little signal with her eye, which meant: ‘Do not
recognize me!’ and also seemed to say, ‘Come back to see me again, my
dear!’

“The man was a gentleman, distingue, chic, an officer of the Legion of
Honor, about fifty years old. He was supporting her as I had supported
her myself when we were leaving the cemetery.

“I went my way, filled with amazement, asking myself what this all
meant, to what race of beings belonged this huntress of the tombs? Was
she just a common girl, one who went to seek among the tombs for men who
were in sorrow, haunted by the recollection of some woman, a wife or a
sweetheart, and still troubled by the memory of vanished caresses? Was
she unique? Are there many such? Is it a profession? Do they parade the
cemetery as they parade the street? Or else was she only impressed
with the admirable, profoundly philosophical idea of exploiting love
recollections, which are revived in these funereal places?

“And I would have liked to know whose widow she was on that special
day.”



MADEMOISELLE PEARL


I

What a strange idea it was for me to choose Mademoiselle Pearl for queen
that evening!

Every year I celebrate Twelfth Night with my old friend Chantal. My
father, who was his most intimate friend, used to take me round there
when I was a child. I continued the custom, and I doubtless shall
continue it as long as I live and as long as there is a Chantal in this
world.

The Chantals lead a peculiar existence; they live in Paris as though
they were in Grasse, Evetot, or Pont-a-Mousson.

They have a house with a little garden near the observatory. They live
there as though they were in the country. Of Paris, the real Paris, they
know nothing at all, they suspect nothing; they are so far, so far
away! However, from time to time, they take a trip into it. Mademoiselle
Chantal goes to lay in her provisions, as it is called in the family.
This is how they go to purchase their provisions:

Mademoiselle Pearl, who has the keys to the kitchen closet (for the
linen closets are administered by the mistress herself), Mademoiselle
Pearl gives warning that the supply of sugar is low, that the preserves
are giving out, that there is not much left in the bottom of the coffee
bag. Thus warned against famine, Mademoiselle Chantal passes everything
in review, taking notes on a pad. Then she puts down a lot of figures
and goes through lengthy calculations and long discussions with
Mademoiselle Pearl. At last they manage to agree, and they decide upon
the quantity of each thing of which they will lay in a three months’
provision; sugar, rice, prunes, coffee, preserves, cans of peas, beans,
lobster, salt or smoked fish, etc., etc. After which the day for the
purchasing is determined on and they go in a cab with a railing round
the top and drive to a large grocery store on the other side of the
river in the new sections of the town.

Madame Chantal and Mademoiselle Pearl make this trip together,
mysteriously, and only return at dinner time, tired out, although still
excited, and shaken up by the cab, the roof of which is covered with
bundles and bags, like an express wagon.

For the Chantals all that part of Paris situated on the other side of
the Seine constitutes the new quarter, a section inhabited by a strange,
noisy population, which cares little for honor, spends its days in
dissipation, its nights in revelry, and which throws money out of the
windows. From time to time, however, the young girls are taken to the
Opera-Comique or the Theatre Francais, when the play is recommended by
the paper which is read by M. Chantal.

At present the young ladies are respectively nineteen and seventeen.
They are two pretty girls, tall and fresh, very well brought up, in
fact, too well brought up, so much so that they pass by unperceived like
two pretty dolls. Never would the idea come to me to pay the slightest
attention or to pay court to one of the young Chantal ladies; they are
so immaculate that one hardly dares speak to them; one almost feels
indecent when bowing to them.

As for the father, he is a charming man, well educated, frank, cordial,
but he likes calm and quiet above all else, and has thus contributed
greatly to the mummifying of his family in order to live as he pleased
in stagnant quiescence. He reads a lot, loves to talk and is readily
affected. Lack of contact and of elbowing with the world has made his
moral skin very tender and sensitive. The slightest thing moves him,
excites him, and makes him suffer.

The Chantals have limited connections carefully chosen in the
neighborhood. They also exchange two or three yearly visits with
relatives who live in the distance.

As for me, I take dinner with them on the fifteenth of August and on
Twelfth Night. That is as much one of my duties as Easter communion is
for a Catholic.

On the fifteenth of August a few friends are invited, but on Twelfth
Night I am the only stranger.

Well, this year, as every former year, I went to the Chantals’ for my
Epiphany dinner.

According to my usual custom, I kissed M. Chantal, Madame Chantal and
Mademoiselle Pearl, and I made a deep bow to the Misses Louise and
Pauline. I was questioned about a thousand and one things, about what
had happened on the boulevards, about politics, about how matters
stood in Tong-King, and about our representatives in Parliament. Madame
Chantal, a fat lady, whose ideas always gave me the impression of being
carved out square like building stones, was accustomed to exclaiming at
the end of every political discussion: “All that is seed which does not
promise much for the future!” Why have I always imagined that Madame
Chantal’s ideas are square? I don’t know; but everything that she says
takes that shape in my head: a big square, with four symmetrical angles.
There are other people whose ideas always strike me as being round and
rolling like a hoop. As soon as they begin a sentence on any subject it
rolls on and on, coming out in ten, twenty, fifty round ideas, large and
small, which I see rolling along, one behind the other, to the end of
the horizon. Other people have pointed ideas--but enough of this.

We sat down as usual and finished our dinner without anything out of the
ordinary being said. At dessert the Twelfth Night cake was brought on.
Now, M. Chantal had been king every year. I don’t know whether this
was the result of continued chance or a family convention, but he
unfailingly found the bean in his piece of cake, and he would proclaim
Madame Chantal to be queen. Therefore, I was greatly surprised to find
something very hard, which almost made me break a tooth, in a mouthful
of cake. Gently I took this thing from my mouth and I saw that it was
a little porcelain doll, no bigger than a bean. Surprise caused me to
exclaim:

“Ah!” All looked at me, and Chantal clapped his hands and cried: “It’s
Gaston! It’s Gaston! Long live the king! Long live the king!”

All took up the chorus: “Long live the king!” And I blushed to the tip
of my ears, as one often does, without any reason at all, in situations
which are a little foolish. I sat there looking at my plate, with this
absurd little bit of pottery in my fingers, forcing myself to laugh and
not knowing what to do or say, when Chantal once more cried out: “Now,
you must choose a queen!”

Then I was thunderstruck. In a second a thousand thoughts and
suppositions flashed through my mind. Did they expect me to pick out one
of the young Chantal ladies? Was that a trick to make me say which one
I prefer? Was it a gentle, light, direct hint of the parents toward a
possible marriage? The idea of marriage roams continually in houses with
grown-up girls, and takes every shape and disguise, and employs every
subterfuge. A dread of compromising myself took hold of me as well as an
extreme timidity before the obstinately correct and reserved attitude
of the Misses Louise and Pauline. To choose one of them in preference
to the other seemed to me as difficult as choosing between two drops of
water; and then the fear of launching myself into an affair which might,
in spite of me, lead me gently into matrimonial ties, by means as wary
and imperceptible and as calm as this insignificant royalty--the fear of
all this haunted me.

Suddenly I had an inspiration, and I held out to Mademoiselle Pearl the
symbolical emblem. At first every one was surprised, then they doubtless
appreciated my delicacy and discretion, for they applauded furiously.
Everybody was crying: “Long live the queen! Long live the queen!”

As for herself, poor old maid, she was so amazed that she completely
lost control of herself; she was trembling and stammering: “No--no--oh!
no--not me--please--not me--I beg of you----”

Then for the first time in my life I looked at Mademoiselle Pearl and
wondered what she was.

I was accustomed to seeing her in this house, just as one sees old
upholstered armchairs on which one has been sitting since childhood
without ever noticing them. One day, with no reason at all, because a
ray of sunshine happens to strike the seat, you suddenly think: “Why,
that chair is very curious”; and then you discover that the wood has
been worked by a real artist and that the material is remarkable. I had
never taken any notice of Mademoiselle Pearl.

She was a part of the Chantal family, that was all. But how? By
what right? She was a tall, thin person who tried to remain in the
background, but who was by no means insignificant. She was treated in a
friendly manner, better than a housekeeper, not so well as a relative.
I suddenly observed several shades of distinction which I had never
noticed before. Madame Chantal said: “Pearl.” The young ladies:
“Mademoiselle Pearl,” and Chantal only addressed her as “Mademoiselle,”
 with an air of greater respect, perhaps.

I began to observe her. How old could she be? Forty? Yes, forty. She was
not old, she made herself old. I was suddenly struck by this fact. She
fixed her hair and dressed in a ridiculous manner, and, notwithstanding
all that, she was not in the least ridiculous, she had such simple,
natural gracefulness, veiled and hidden. Truly, what a strange creature!
How was it I had never observed her before? She dressed her hair in a
grotesque manner with little old maid curls, most absurd; but beneath
this one could see a large, calm brow, cut by two deep lines, two
wrinkles of long sadness, then two blue eyes, large and tender, so
timid, so bashful, so humble, two beautiful eyes which had kept the
expression of naive wonder of a young girl, of youthful sensations, and
also of sorrow, which had softened without spoiling them.

Her whole face was refined and discreet, a face the expression of which
seemed to have gone out without being used up or faded by the fatigues
and great emotions of life.

What a dainty mouth! and such pretty teeth! But one would have thought
that she did not dare smile.

Suddenly I compared her to Madame Chantal! Undoubtedly Mademoiselle
Pearl was the better of the two, a hundred times better, daintier,
prouder, more noble. I was surprised at my observation. They were
pouring out champagne. I held my glass up to the queen and, with a
well-turned compliment, I drank to her health. I could see that she felt
inclined to hide her head in her napkin. Then, as she was dipping her
lips in the clear wine, everybody cried: “The queen drinks! the queen
drinks!” She almost turned purple and choked. Everybody was laughing;
but I could see that all loved her.

As soon as dinner was over Chantal took me by the arm. It was time
for his cigar, a sacred hour. When alone he would smoke it out in the
street; when guests came to dinner he would take them to the billiard
room and smoke while playing. That evening they had built a fire to
celebrate Twelfth Night; my old friend took his cue, a very fine one,
and chalked it with great care; then he said:

“You break, my boy!”

He called me “my boy,” although I was twenty-five, but he had known me
as a young child.

I started the game and made a few carroms. I missed some others, but as
the thought of Mademoiselle Pearl kept returning to my mind, I suddenly
asked:

“By the way, Monsieur Chantal, is Mademoiselle Pearl a relative of
yours?”

Greatly surprised, he stopped playing and looked at me:

“What! Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard about Mademoiselle Pearl?”

“No.”

“Didn’t your father ever tell you?”

“No.”

“Well, well, that’s funny! That certainly is funny! Why, it’s a regular
romance!”

He paused, and then continued:

“And if you only knew how peculiar it is that you should ask me that
to-day, on Twelfth Night!”

“Why?”

“Why? Well, listen. Forty-one years ago to day, the day of the Epiphany,
the following events occurred: We were then living at Roily-le-Tors, on
the ramparts; but in order that you may understand, I must first explain
the house. Roily is built on a hill, or, rather, on a mound which
overlooks a great stretch of prairie. We had a house there with a
beautiful hanging garden supported by the old battlemented wall; so that
the house was in the town on the streets, while the garden overlooked
the plain. There was a door leading from the garden to the open country,
at the bottom of a secret stairway in the thick wall--the kind you read
about in novels. A road passed in front of this door, which was provided
with a big bell; for the peasants, in order to avoid the roundabout way,
would bring their provisions up this way.

“You now understand the place, don’t you? Well, this year, at Epiphany,
it had been snowing for a week. One might have thought that the world
was coming to an end. When we went to the ramparts to look over the
plain, this immense white, frozen country, which shone like varnish,
would chill our very souls. One might have thought that the Lord had
packed the world in cotton to put it away in the storeroom for old
worlds. I can assure you that it was dreary looking.

“We were a very numerous family at that time my father, my mother,
my uncle and aunt, my two brothers and four cousins; they were pretty
little girls; I married the youngest. Of all that crowd, there are
only three of us left: my wife, I, and my sister-in-law, who lives in
Marseilles. Zounds! how quickly a family like that dwindles away! I
tremble when I think of it! I was fifteen years old then, since I am
fifty-six now.

“We were going to celebrate the Epiphany, and we were all happy, very
happy! Everybody was in the parlor, awaiting dinner, and my oldest
brother, Jacques, said: ‘There has been a dog howling out in the plain
for about ten minutes; the poor beast must be lost.’

“He had hardly stopped talking when the garden bell began to ring. It
had the deep sound of a church bell, which made one think of death. A
shiver ran through everybody. My father called the servant and told him
to go outside and look. We waited in complete silence; we were thinking
of the snow which covered the ground. When the man returned he declared
that he had seen nothing. The dog kept up its ceaseless howling, and
always from the same spot.

“We sat down to dinner; but we were all uneasy, especially the young
people. Everything went well up to the roast, then the bell began to
ring again, three times in succession, three heavy, long strokes which
vibrated to the tips of our fingers and which stopped our conversation
short. We sat there looking at each other, fork in the air, still
listening, and shaken by a kind of supernatural fear.

“At last my mother spoke: ‘It’s surprising that they should have waited
so long to come back. Do not go alone, Baptiste; one of these gentlemen
will accompany you.’

“My Uncle Francois arose. He was a kind of Hercules, very proud of his
strength, and feared nothing in the world. My father said to him: ‘Take
a gun. There is no telling what it might be.’

“But my uncle only took a cane and went out with the servant.

“We others remained there trembling with fear and apprehension, without
eating or speaking. My father tried to reassure us: ‘Just wait and see,’
he said; ‘it will be some beggar or some traveller lost in the snow.
After ringing once, seeing that the door was not immediately opened, he
attempted again to find his way, and being unable to, he has returned to
our door.’

“Our uncle seemed to stay away an hour. At last he came back, furious,
swearing: ‘Nothing at all; it’s some practical joker! There is nothing
but that damned dog howling away at about a hundred yards from the
walls. If I had taken a gun I would have killed him to make him keep
quiet.’

“We sat down to dinner again, but every one was excited; we felt that
all was not over, that something was going to happen, that the bell
would soon ring again.

“It rang just as the Twelfth Night cake was being cut. All the men
jumped up together. My Uncle, Francois, who had been drinking champagne,
swore so furiously that he would murder it, whatever it might be, that
my mother and my aunt threw themselves on him to prevent his going. My
father, although very calm and a little helpless (he limped ever since
he had broken his leg when thrown by a horse), declared, in turn, that
he wished to find out what was the matter and that he was going. My
brothers, aged eighteen and twenty, ran to get their guns; and as no
one was paying any attention to me I snatched up a little rifle that was
used in the garden and got ready to accompany the expedition.

“It started out immediately. My father and uncle were walking ahead with
Baptiste, who was carrying a lantern. My brothers, Jacques and Paul,
followed, and I trailed on behind in spite of the prayers of my mother,
who stood in front of the house with her sister and my cousins.

“It had been snowing again for the last hour, and the trees were
weighted down. The pines were bending under this heavy, white garment,
and looked like white pyramids or enormous sugar cones, and through the
gray curtains of small hurrying flakes could be seen the lighter bushes
which stood out pale in the shadow. The snow was falling so thick that
we could hardly see ten feet ahead of us. But the lantern threw a bright
light around us. When we began to go down the winding stairway in the
wall I really grew frightened. I felt as though some one were walking
behind me, were going to grab me by the shoulders and carry me away, and
I felt a strong desire to return; but, as I would have had to cross
the garden all alone, I did not dare. I heard some one opening the door
leading to the plain; my uncle began to swear again, exclaiming: ‘By---!
He has gone again! If I can catch sight of even his shadow, I’ll take
care not to miss him, the swine!’

“It was a discouraging thing to see this great expanse of plain, or,
rather, to feel it before us, for we could not see it; we could only see
a thick, endless veil of snow, above, below, opposite us, to the right,
to the left, everywhere. My uncle continued:

“‘Listen! There is the dog howling again; I will teach him how I shoot.
That will be something gained, anyhow.’

“But my father, who was kind-hearted, went on:

“‘It will be much better to go on and get the poor animal, who is crying
for hunger. The poor fellow is barking for help; he is calling like a
man in distress. Let us go to him.’

“So we started out through this mist, through this thick continuous fall
of snow, which filled the air, which moved, floated, fell, and chilled
the skin with a burning sensation like a sharp, rapid pain as each flake
melted. We were sinking in up to our knees in this soft, cold mass, and
we had to lift our feet very high in order to walk. As we advanced the
dog’s voice became clearer and stronger. My uncle cried: ‘Here he is!’
We stopped to observe him as one does when he meets an enemy at night.

“I could see nothing, so I ran up to the others, and I caught sight of
him; he was frightful and weird-looking; he was a big black shepherd’s
dog with long hair and a wolf’s head, standing just within the gleam of
light cast by our lantern on the snow. He did not move; he was silently
watching us.

“My uncle said: ‘That’s peculiar, he is neither advancing nor
retreating. I feel like taking a shot at him.’

“My father answered in a firm voice: ‘No, we must capture him.’

“Then my brother Jacques added: ‘But he is not alone. There is something
behind him.”

“There was indeed something behind him, something gray, impossible to
distinguish. We started out again cautiously. When he saw us approaching
the dog sat down. He did not look wicked. Instead, he seemed pleased at
having been able to attract the attention of some one.

“My father went straight to him and petted him. The dog licked his
hands. We saw that he was tied to the wheel of a little carriage, a sort
of toy carriage entirely wrapped up in three or four woolen blankets.
We carefully took off these coverings, and as Baptiste approached his
lantern to the front of this little vehicle, which looked like a rolling
kennel, we saw in it a little baby sleeping peacefully.

“We were so astonished that we couldn’t speak.

“My father was the first to collect his wits, and as he had a warm heart
and a broad mind, he stretched his hand over the roof of the carriage
and said: ‘Poor little waif, you shall be one of us!’ And he ordered my
brother Jacques to roll the foundling ahead of us. Thinking out loud, my
father continued:

“‘Some child of love whose poor mother rang at my door on this night of
Epiphany in memory of the Child of God.’

“He once more stopped and called at the top of his lungs through the
night to the four corners of the heavens: ‘We have found it!’ Then,
putting his hand on his brother’s shoulder, he murmured: ‘What if you
had shot the dog, Francois?’

“My uncle did not answer, but in the darkness he crossed himself, for,
notwithstanding his blustering manner, he was very religious.

“The dog, which had been untied, was following us.

“Ah! But you should have seen us when we got to the house! At first
we had a lot of trouble in getting the carriage up through the winding
stairway; but we succeeded and even rolled it into the vestibule.

“How funny mamma was! How happy and astonished! And my four little
cousins (the youngest was only six), they looked like four chickens
around a nest. At last we took the child from the carriage. It was still
sleeping. It was a girl about six weeks old. In its clothes we found ten
thousand francs in gold, yes, my boy, ten thousand francs!--which papa
saved for her dowry. Therefore, it was not a child of poor people,
but, perhaps, the child of some nobleman and a little bourgeoise of the
town--or again--we made a thousand suppositions, but we never found out
anything-never the slightest clue. The dog himself was recognized by no
one. He was a stranger in the country. At any rate, the person who rang
three times at our door must have known my parents well, to have chosen
them thus.

“That is how, at the age of six weeks, Mademoiselle Pearl entered the
Chantal household.

“It was not until later that she was called Mademoiselle Pearl. She was
at first baptized ‘Marie Simonne Claire,’ Claire being intended, for her
family name.

“I can assure you that our return to the diningroom was amusing, with
this baby now awake and looking round her at these people and these
lights with her vague blue questioning eyes.

“We sat down to dinner again and the cake was cut. I was king, and for
queen I took Mademoiselle Pearl, just as you did to-day. On that day she
did not appreciate the honor that was being shown her.

“Well, the child was adopted and brought up in the family. She grew, and
the years flew by. She was so gentle and loving and minded so well that
every one would have spoiled her abominably had not my mother prevented
it.

“My mother was an orderly woman with a great respect for class
distinctions. She consented to treat little Claire as she did her own
sons, but, nevertheless, she wished the distance which separated us to
be well marked, and our positions well established. Therefore, as soon
as the child could understand, she acquainted her with her story and
gently, even tenderly, impressed on the little one’s mind that, for the
Chantals, she was an adopted daughter, taken in, but, nevertheless, a
stranger. Claire understood the situation with peculiar intelligence
and with surprising instinct; she knew how to take the place which
was allotted her, and to keep it with so much tact, gracefulness and
gentleness that she often brought tears to my father’s eyes. My mother
herself was often moved by the passionate gratitude and timid devotion
of this dainty and loving little creature that she began calling her:
‘My daughter.’ At times, when the little one had done something kind
and good, my mother would raise her spectacles on her forehead, a thing
which always indicated emotion with her, and she would repeat: ‘This
child is a pearl, a perfect pearl!’ This name stuck to the little
Claire, who became and remained for us Mademoiselle Pearl.”



II

M. Chantal stopped. He was sitting on the edge of the billiard table,
his feet hanging, and was playing with a ball with his left hand, while
with his right he crumpled a rag which served to rub the chalk marks
from the slate. A little red in the face, his voice thick, he was
talking away to himself now, lost in his memories, gently drifting
through the old scenes and events which awoke in his mind, just as we
walk through old family gardens where we were brought up and where each
tree, each walk, each hedge reminds us of some occurrence.

I stood opposite him leaning against the wall, my hands resting on my
idle cue.

After a slight pause he continued:

“By Jove! She was pretty at eighteen--and graceful--and perfect. Ah!
She was so sweet--and good and true--and charming! She had such
eyes--blue-transparent--clear--such eyes as I have never seen since!”

He was once more silent. I asked: “Why did she never marry?”

He answered, not to me, but to the word “marry” which had caught his
ear: “Why? why? She never would--she never would! She had a dowry of
thirty thousand francs, and she received several offers--but she never
would! She seemed sad at that time. That was when I married my cousin,
little Charlotte, my wife, to whom I had been engaged for six years.”

I looked at M. Chantal, and it seemed to me that I was looking into his
very soul, and I was suddenly witnessing one of those humble and cruel
tragedies of honest, straightforward, blameless hearts, one of those
secret tragedies known to no one, not even the silent and resigned
victims. A rash curiosity suddenly impelled me to exclaim:

“You should have married her, Monsieur Chantal!”

He started, looked at me, and said:

“I? Marry whom?”

“Mademoiselle Pearl.”

“Why?”

“Because you loved her more than your cousin.”

He stared at me with strange, round, bewildered eyes and stammered:

“I loved her--I? How? Who told you that?”

“Why, anyone can see that--and it’s even on account of her that you
delayed for so long your marriage to your cousin who had been waiting
for you for six years.”

He dropped the ball which he was holding in his left hand, and, seizing
the chalk rag in both hands, he buried his face in it and began to sob.
He was weeping with his eyes, nose and mouth in a heartbreaking yet
ridiculous manner, like a sponge which one squeezes. He was coughing,
spitting and blowing his nose in the chalk rag, wiping his eyes and
sneezing; then the tears would again begin to flow down the wrinkles
on his face and he would make a strange gurgling noise in his throat.
I felt bewildered, ashamed; I wanted to run away, and I no longer knew
what to say, do, or attempt.

Suddenly Madame Chantal’s voice sounded on the stairs. “Haven’t you men
almost finished smoking your cigars?”

I opened the door and cried: “Yes, madame, we are coming right down.”

Then I rushed to her husband, and, seizing him by the shoulders, I
cried: “Monsieur Chantal, my friend Chantal, listen to me; your wife is
calling; pull yourself together, we must go downstairs.”

He stammered: “Yes--yes--I am coming--poor girl! I am coming--tell her
that I am coming.”

He began conscientiously to wipe his face on the cloth which, for the
last two or three years, had been used for marking off the chalk from
the slate; then he appeared, half white and half red, his forehead,
nose, cheeks and chin covered with chalk, and his eyes swollen, still
full of tears.

I caught him by the hands and dragged him into his bedroom, muttering:
“I beg your pardon, I beg your pardon, Monsieur Chantal, for having
caused you such sorrow--but--I did not know--you--you understand.”

He squeezed my hand, saying: “Yes--yes--there are difficult moments.”

Then he plunged his face into a bowl of water. When he emerged from it
he did not yet seem to me to be presentable; but I thought of a little
stratagem. As he was growing worried, looking at himself in the mirror,
I said to him: “All you have to do is to say that a little dust flew
into your eye and you can cry before everybody to your heart’s content.”

He went downstairs rubbing his eyes with his handkerchief. All were
worried; each one wished to look for the speck, which could not
be found; and stories were told of similar cases where it had been
necessary to call in a physician.

I went over to Mademoiselle Pearl and watched her, tormented by an
ardent curiosity, which was turning to positive suffering. She must
indeed have been pretty, with her gentle, calm eyes, so large that it
looked as though she never closed them like other mortals. Her gown
was a little ridiculous, a real old maid’s gown, which was unbecoming
without appearing clumsy.

It seemed to me as though I were looking into her soul, just as I had
into Monsieur Chantal’s; that I was looking right from one end to the
other of this humble life, so simple and devoted. I felt an irresistible
longing to question her, to find out whether she, too, had loved him;
whether she also had suffered, as he had, from this long, secret,
poignant grief, which one cannot see, know, or guess, but which breaks
forth at night in the loneliness of the dark room. I was watching her,
and I could observe her heart beating under her waist, and I wondered
whether this sweet, candid face had wept on the soft pillow and she had
sobbed, her whole body shaken by the violence of her anguish.

I said to her in a low voice, like a child who is breaking a toy to see
what is inside: “If you could have seen Monsieur Chantal crying a while
ago it would have moved you.”

She started, asking: “What? He was weeping?”

“Ah, yes, he was indeed weeping!”

“Why?”

She seemed deeply moved. I answered:

“On your account.”

“On my account?”

“Yes. He was telling me how much he had loved you in the days gone by;
and what a pang it had given him to marry his cousin instead of you.”

Her pale face seemed to grow a little longer; her calm eyes, which
always remained open, suddenly closed so quickly that they seemed shut
forever. She slipped from her chair to the floor, and slowly, gently
sank down as would a fallen garment.

I cried: “Help! help! Mademoiselle Pearl is ill.”

Madame Chantal and her daughters rushed forward, and while they were
looking for towels, water and vinegar, I grabbed my hat and ran away.

I walked away with rapid strides, my heart heavy, my mind full of
remorse and regret. And yet sometimes I felt pleased; I felt as though
I had done a praiseworthy and necessary act. I was asking myself: “Did I
do wrong or right?” They had that shut up in their hearts, just as some
people carry a bullet in a closed wound. Will they not be happier now?
It was too late for their torture to begin over again and early enough
for them to remember it with tenderness.

And perhaps some evening next spring, moved by a beam of moonlight
falling through the branches on the grass at their feet, they will
join and press their hands in memory of all this cruel and suppressed
suffering; and, perhaps, also this short embrace may infuse in their
veins a little of this thrill which they would not have known without
it, and will give to those two dead souls, brought to life in a second,
the rapid and divine sensation of this intoxication, of this madness
which gives to lovers more happiness in an instant than other men can
gather during a whole lifetime!



THE THIEF

While apparently thinking of something else, Dr. Sorbier had been
listening quietly to those amazing accounts of burglaries and
daring deeds that might have been taken from the trial of Cartouche.
“Assuredly,” he exclaimed, “assuredly, I know of no viler fault nor
any meaner action than to attack a girl’s innocence, to corrupt her,
to profit by a moment of unconscious weakness and of madness, when her
heart is beating like that of a frightened fawn, and her pure lips seek
those of her tempter; when she abandons herself without thinking of the
irremediable stain, nor of her fall, nor of the morrow.

“The man who has brought this about slowly, viciously, who can tell with
what science of evil, and who, in such a case, has not steadiness and
self-restraint enough to quench that flame by some icy words, who has
not sense enough for two, who cannot recover his self-possession and
master the runaway brute within him, and who loses his head on the edge
of the precipice over which she is going to fall, is as contemptible as
any man who breaks open a lock, or as any rascal on the lookout for a
house left defenceless and unprotected or for some easy and dishonest
stroke of business, or as that thief whose various exploits you have
just related to us.

“I, for my part, utterly refuse to absolve him, even when extenuating
circumstances plead in his favor, even when he is carrying on a
dangerous flirtation, in which a man tries in vain to keep his balance,
not to exceed the limits of the game, any more than at lawn tennis; even
when the parts are inverted and a man’s adversary is some precocious,
curious, seductive girl, who shows you immediately that she has nothing
to learn and nothing to experience, except the last chapter of love, one
of those girls from whom may fate always preserve our sons, and whom a
psychological novel writer has christened ‘The Semi-Virgins.’

“It is, of course, difficult and painful for that coarse and
unfathomable vanity which is characteristic of every man, and which
might be called ‘malism’, not to stir such a charming fire, difficult to
act the Joseph and the fool, to turn away his eyes, and, as it were,
to put wax into his ears, like the companions of Ulysses when they were
attracted by the divine, seductive songs of the Sirens, difficult only
to touch that pretty table covered with a perfectly new cloth, at which
you are invited to take a seat before any one else, in such a suggestive
voice, and are requested to quench your thirst and to taste that new
wine, whose fresh and strange flavor you will never forget. But who
would hesitate to exercise such self-restraint if, when he rapidly
examines his conscience, in one of those instinctive returns to his
sober self in which a man thinks clearly and recovers his head, he
were to measure the gravity of his fault, consider it, think of its
consequences, of the reprisals, of the uneasiness which he would always
feel in the future, and which would destroy the repose and happiness of
his life?

“You may guess that behind all these moral reflections, such as a
graybeard like myself may indulge in, there is a story hidden, and,
sad as it is, I am sure it will interest you on account of the strange
heroism it shows.”

He was silent for a few moments, as if to classify his recollections,
and, with his elbows resting on the arms of his easy-chair and his
eyes looking into space, he continued in the slow voice of a hospital
professor who is explaining a case to his class of medical students, at
a bedside:

“He was one of those men who, as our grandfathers used to say, never met
with a cruel woman, the type of the adventurous knight who was always
foraging, who had something of the scamp about him, but who despised
danger and was bold even to rashness. He was ardent in the pursuit of
pleasure, and had an irresistible charm about him, one of those men in
whom we excuse the greatest excesses as the most natural things in the
world. He had run through all his money at gambling and with pretty
girls, and so became, as it were, a soldier of fortune. He amused
himself whenever and however he could, and was at that time quartered at
Versailles.

“I knew him to the very depths of his childlike heart, which was
only too easily seen through and sounded, and I loved him as some old
bachelor uncle loves a nephew who plays him tricks, but who knows how to
coax him. He had made me his confidant rather than his adviser, kept
me informed of his slightest pranks, though he always pretended to be
speaking about one of his friends, and not about himself; and I must
confess that his youthful impetuosity, his careless gaiety, and his
amorous ardor sometimes distracted my thoughts and made me envy the
handsome, vigorous young fellow who was so happy at being alive, that
I had not the courage to check him, to show him the right road, and to
call out to him: ‘Take care!’ as children do at blind man’s buff.

“And one day, after one of those interminable cotillons, where the
couples do not leave each other for hours, and can disappear together
without anybody thinking of noticing them, the poor fellow at last
discovered what love was, that real love which takes up its abode in the
very centre of the heart and in the brain, and is proud of being there,
and which rules like a sovereign and a tyrannous master, and he became
desperately enamored of a pretty but badly brought up girl, who was as
disquieting and wayward as she was pretty.

“She loved him, however, or rather she idolized him despotically,
madly, with all her enraptured soul and all her being. Left to do as she
pleased by imprudent and frivolous parents, suffering from neurosis, in
consequence of the unwholesome friendships which she contracted at the
convent school, instructed by what she saw and heard and knew was going
on around her, in spite of her deceitful and artificial conduct, knowing
that neither her father nor her mother, who were very proud of their
race as well as avaricious, would ever agree to let her marry the man
whom she had taken a liking to, that handsome fellow who had little
besides vision, ideas and debts, and who belonged to the middle-class,
she laid aside all scruples, thought of nothing but of becoming his, no
matter what might be the cost.

“By degrees, the unfortunate man’s strength gave way, his heart
softened, and he allowed himself to be carried away by that current
which buffeted him, surrounded him, and left him on the shore like a
waif and a stray.

“They wrote letters full of madness to each other, and not a day passed
without their meeting, either accidentally, as it seemed, or at parties
and balls. She had yielded her lips to him in long, ardent caresses,
which had sealed their compact of mutual passion.”

The doctor stopped, and his eyes suddenly filled with tears, as these
former troubles came back to his mind; and then, in a hoarse voice, he
went on, full of the horror of what he was going to relate:

“For months he scaled the garden wall, and, holding his breath and
listening for the slightest noise, like a burglar who is going to break
into a house, he went in by the servants’ entrance, which she had left
open, slunk barefoot down a long passage and up the broad staircase,
which creaked occasionally, to the second story, where his sweetheart’s
room was, and stayed there for hours.

“One night, when it was darker than usual, and he was hurrying lest he
should be later than the time agreed on, he knocked up against a piece
of furniture in the anteroom and upset it. It so happened that the
girl’s mother had not gone to sleep, either because she had a sick
headache, or else be cause she had sat up late over some novel, and,
frightened at that unusual noise which disturbed the silence of the
house, she jumped out of bed, opened the door, saw some one indistinctly
running away and keeping close to the wall, and, immediately thinking
that there were burglars in the house, she aroused her husband and the
servants by her frantic screams. The unfortunate man understood the
situation; and, seeing what a terrible fix he was in, and preferring to
be taken for a common thief to dishonoring his adored one’s name, he
ran into the drawing-room, felt on the tables and what-nots, filled
his pockets at random with valuable bric-a-brac, and then cowered down
behind the grand piano, which barred the corner of a large room.

“The servants, who had run in with lighted candles, found him, and,
overwhelming him with abuse, seized him by the collar and dragged him,
panting and apparently half dead with shame and terror, to the nearest
police station. He defended himself with intentional awkwardness when
he was brought up for trial, kept up his part with the most perfect
self-possession and without any signs of the despair and anguish that
he felt in his heart, and, condemned and degraded and made to suffer
martyrdom in his honor as a man and a soldier--he was an officer--he did
not protest, but went to prison as one of those criminals whom society
gets rid of like noxious vermin.

“He died there of misery and of bitterness of spirit, with the name of
the fair-haired idol, for whom he had sacrificed himself, on his lips,
as if it had been an ecstatic prayer, and he intrusted his will ‘to the
priest who administered extreme unction to him, and requested him to
give it to me. In it, without mentioning anybody, and without in the
least lifting the veil, he at last explained the enigma, and cleared
himself of those accusations the terrible burden of which he had borne
until his last breath.

“I have always thought myself, though I do not know why, that the girl
married and had several charming children, whom she brought up with the
austere strictness and in the serious piety of former days!”



CLAIR DE LUNE

Abbe Marignan’s martial name suited him well. He was a tall, thin
priest, fanatic, excitable, yet upright. All his beliefs were fixed,
never varying. He believed sincerely that he knew his God, understood
His plans, desires and intentions.

When he walked with long strides along the garden walk of his little
country parsonage, he would sometimes ask himself the question: “Why has
God done this?” And he would dwell on this continually, putting himself
in the place of God, and he almost invariably found an answer. He would
never have cried out in an outburst of pious humility: “Thy ways, O
Lord, are past finding out.”

He said to himself: “I am the servant of God; it is right for me to know
the reason of His deeds, or to guess it if I do not know it.”

Everything in nature seemed to him to have been created in accordance
with an admirable and absolute logic. The “whys” and “becauses” always
balanced. Dawn was given to make our awakening pleasant, the days to
ripen the harvest, the rains to moisten it, the evenings for preparation
for slumber, and the dark nights for sleep.

The four seasons corresponded perfectly to the needs of agriculture, and
no suspicion had ever come to the priest of the fact that nature has no
intentions; that, on the contrary, everything which exists must conform
to the hard demands of seasons, climates and matter.

But he hated woman--hated her unconsciously, and despised her by
instinct. He often repeated the words of Christ: “Woman, what have I to
do with thee?” and he would add: “It seems as though God, Himself, were
dissatisfied with this work of His.” She was the tempter who led the
first man astray, and who since then had ever been busy with her work
of damnation, the feeble creature, dangerous and mysteriously affecting
one. And even more than their sinful bodies, he hated their loving
hearts.

He had often felt their tenderness directed toward himself, and though
he knew that he was invulnerable, he grew angry at this need of love
that is always vibrating in them.

According to his belief, God had created woman for the sole purpose of
tempting and testing man. One must not approach her without defensive
precautions and fear of possible snares. She was, indeed, just like a
snare, with her lips open and her arms stretched out to man.

He had no indulgence except for nuns, whom their vows had rendered
inoffensive; but he was stern with them, nevertheless, because he felt
that at the bottom of their fettered and humble hearts the everlasting
tenderness was burning brightly--that tenderness which was shown even to
him, a priest.

He felt this cursed tenderness, even in their docility, in the low tones
of their voices when speaking to him, in their lowered eyes, and in
their resigned tears when he reproved them roughly. And he would shake
his cassock on leaving the convent doors, and walk off, lengthening his
stride as though flying from danger.

He had a niece who lived with her mother in a little house near him. He
was bent upon making a sister of charity of her.

She was a pretty, brainless madcap. When the abbe preached she laughed,
and when he was angry with her she would give him a hug, drawing him to
her heart, while he sought unconsciously to release himself from this
embrace which nevertheless filled him with a sweet pleasure, awakening
in his depths the sensation of paternity which slumbers in every man.

Often, when walking by her side, along the country road, he would speak
to her of God, of his God. She never listened to him, but looked about
her at the sky, the grass and flowers, and one could see the joy of life
sparkling in her eyes. Sometimes she would dart forward to catch some
flying creature, crying out as she brought it back: “Look, uncle, how
pretty it is! I want to hug it!” And this desire to “hug” flies or lilac
blossoms disquieted, angered, and roused the priest, who saw, even in
this, the ineradicable tenderness that is always budding in women’s
hearts.

Then there came a day when the sexton’s wife, who kept house for Abbe
Marignan, told him, with caution, that his niece had a lover.

Almost suffocated by the fearful emotion this news roused in him,
he stood there, his face covered with soap, for he was in the act of
shaving.

When he had sufficiently recovered to think and speak he cried: “It is
not true; you lie, Melanie!”

But the peasant woman put her hand on her heart, saying: “May our Lord
judge me if I lie, Monsieur le Cure! I tell you, she goes there every
night when your sister has gone to bed. They meet by the river side; you
have only to go there and see, between ten o’clock and midnight.”

He ceased scraping his chin, and began to walk up and down impetuously,
as he always did when he was in deep thought. When he began shaving
again he cut himself three times from his nose to his ear.

All day long he was silent, full of anger and indignation. To his
priestly hatred of this invincible love was added the exasperation of
her spiritual father, of her guardian and pastor, deceived and tricked
by a child, and the selfish emotion shown by parents when their daughter
announces that she has chosen a husband without them, and in spite of
them.

After dinner he tried to read a little, but could not, growing more and,
more angry. When ten o’clock struck he seized his cane, a formidable
oak stick, which he was accustomed to carry in his nocturnal walks when
visiting the sick. And he smiled at the enormous club which he twirled
in a threatening manner in his strong, country fist. Then he raised it
suddenly and, gritting his teeth, brought it down on a chair, the broken
back of which fell over on the floor.

He opened the door to go out, but stopped on the sill, surprised by the
splendid moonlight, of such brilliance as is seldom seen.

And, as he was gifted with an emotional nature, one such as had all
those poetic dreamers, the Fathers of the Church, he felt suddenly
distracted and moved by all the grand and serene beauty of this pale
night.

In his little garden, all bathed in soft light, his fruit trees in a
row cast on the ground the shadow of their slender branches, scarcely
in full leaf, while the giant honeysuckle, clinging to the wall of
his house, exhaled a delicious sweetness, filling the warm moonlit
atmosphere with a kind of perfumed soul.

He began to take long breaths, drinking in the air as drunkards
drink wine, and he walked along slowly, delighted, marveling, almost
forgetting his niece.

As soon as he was outside of the garden, he stopped to gaze upon the
plain all flooded with the caressing light, bathed in that tender,
languishing charm of serene nights. At each moment was heard the short,
metallic note of the cricket, and distant nightingales shook out their
scattered notes--their light, vibrant music that sets one dreaming,
without thinking, a music made for kisses, for the seduction of
moonlight.

The abbe walked on again, his heart failing, though he knew not why.
He seemed weakened, suddenly exhausted; he wanted to sit down, to rest
there, to think, to admire God in His works.

Down yonder, following the undulations of the little river, a great line
of poplars wound in and out. A fine mist, a white haze through which
the moonbeams passed, silvering it and making it gleam, hung around and
above the mountains, covering all the tortuous course of the water with
a kind of light and transparent cotton.

The priest stopped once again, his soul filled with a growing and
irresistible tenderness.

And a doubt, a vague feeling of disquiet came over him; he was asking
one of those questions that he sometimes put to himself.

“Why did God make this? Since the night is destined for sleep,
unconsciousness, repose, forgetfulness of everything, why make it
more charming than day, softer than dawn or evening? And does why this
seductive planet, more poetic than the sun, that seems destined, so
discreet is it, to illuminate things too delicate and mysterious for the
light of day, make the darkness so transparent?

“Why does not the greatest of feathered songsters sleep like the others?
Why does it pour forth its voice in the mysterious night?

“Why this half-veil cast over the world? Why these tremblings of the
heart, this emotion of the spirit, this enervation of the body? Why this
display of enchantments that human beings do not see, since they are
lying in their beds? For whom is destined this sublime spectacle, this
abundance of poetry cast from heaven to earth?”

And the abbe could not understand.

But see, out there, on the edge of the meadow, under the arch of trees
bathed in a shining mist, two figures are walking side by side.

The man was the taller, and held his arm about his sweetheart’s neck and
kissed her brow every little while. They imparted life, all at once, to
the placid landscape in which they were framed as by a heavenly hand.
The two seemed but a single being, the being for whom was destined
this calm and silent night, and they came toward the priest as a living
answer, the response his Master sent to his questionings.

He stood still, his heart beating, all upset; and it seemed to him that
he saw before him some biblical scene, like the loves of Ruth and Boaz,
the accomplishment of the will of the Lord, in some of those glorious
stories of which the sacred books tell. The verses of the Song of Songs
began to ring in his ears, the appeal of passion, all the poetry of this
poem replete with tenderness.

And he said unto himself: “Perhaps God has made such nights as these to
idealize the love of men.”

He shrank back from this couple that still advanced with arms
intertwined. Yet it was his niece. But he asked himself now if he would
not be disobeying God. And does not God permit love, since He surrounds
it with such visible splendor?

And he went back musing, almost ashamed, as if he had intruded into a
temple where he had, no right to enter.



WAITER, A “BOCK”

Why did I go into that beer hall on that particular evening? I do not
know. It was cold; a fine rain, a flying mist, veiled the gas lamps with
a transparent fog, made the side walks reflect the light that streamed
from the shop windows--lighting up the soft slush and the muddy feet of
the passers-by.

I was going nowhere in particular; was simply having a short walk after
dinner. I had passed the Credit Lyonnais, the Rue Vivienne, and several
other streets. I suddenly descried a large beer hall which was more than
half full. I walked inside, with no object in view. I was not the least
thirsty.

I glanced round to find a place that was not too crowded, and went and
sat down by the side of a man who seemed to me to be old, and who was
smoking a two-sous clay pipe, which was as black as coal. From six to
eight glasses piled up on the table in front of him indicated the
number of “bocks” he had already absorbed. At a glance I recognized
a “regular,” one of those frequenters of beer houses who come in the
morning when the place opens, and do not leave till evening when it is
about to close. He was dirty, bald on top of his head, with a fringe
of iron-gray hair falling on the collar of his frock coat. His clothes,
much too large for him, appeared to have been made for him at a time
when he was corpulent. One could guess that he did not wear suspenders,
for he could not take ten steps without having to stop to pull up his
trousers. Did he wear a vest? The mere thought of his boots and of
that which they covered filled me with horror. The frayed cuffs were
perfectly black at the edges, as were his nails.

As soon as I had seated myself beside him, this individual said to me in
a quiet tone of voice:

“How goes it?”

I turned sharply round and closely scanned his features, whereupon he
continued:

“I see you do not recognize me.”

“No, I do not.”

“Des Barrets.”

I was stupefied. It was Count Jean des Barrets, my old college chum.

I seized him by the hand, and was so dumbfounded that I could find
nothing to say. At length I managed to stammer out:

“And you, how goes it with you?”

He responded placidly:

“I get along as I can.”

“What are you doing now?” I asked.

“You see what I am doing,” he answered quit resignedly.

I felt my face getting red. I insisted:

“But every day?”

“Every day it is the same thing,” was his reply, accompanied with a
thick puff of tobacco smoke.

He then tapped with a sou on the top of the marble table, to attract the
attention of the waiter, and called out:

“Waiter, two ‘bocks.’”

A voice in the distance repeated:

“Two bocks for the fourth table.”

Another voice, more distant still, shouted out:

“Here they are!”

Immediately a man with a white apron appeared, carrying two “bocks,”
 which he set down, foaming, on the table, spilling some of the yellow
liquid on the sandy floor in his haste.

Des Barrets emptied his glass at a single draught and replaced it on the
table, while he sucked in the foam that had been left on his mustache.
He next asked:

“What is there new?”

I really had nothing new to tell him. I stammered:

“Nothing, old man. I am a business man.”

In his monotonous tone of voice he said:

“Indeed, does it amuse you?”

“No, but what can I do? One must do something!”

“Why should one?”

“So as to have occupation.”

“What’s the use of an occupation? For my part, I do nothing at all, as
you see, never anything. When one has not a sou I can understand why one
should work. But when one has enough to live on, what’s the use? What
is the good of working? Do you work for yourself, or for others? If you
work for yourself, you do it for your own amusement, which is all right;
if you work for others, you are a fool.”

Then, laying his pipe on the marble table, he called out anew:

“Waiter, a ‘bock.’” And continued: “It makes me thirsty to keep calling
so. I am not accustomed to that sort of thing. Yes, yes, I do nothing. I
let things slide, and I am growing old. In dying I shall have nothing
to regret. My only remembrance will be this beer hall. No wife, no
children, no cares, no sorrows, nothing. That is best.”

He then emptied the glass which had been brought him, passed his tongue
over his lips, and resumed his pipe.

I looked at him in astonishment, and said:

“But you have not always been like that?”

“Pardon me; ever since I left college.”

“That is not a proper life to lead, my dear fellow; it is simply
horrible. Come, you must have something to do, you must love something,
you must have friends.”

“No, I get up at noon, I come here, I have my breakfast, I drink my
beer, I remain until the evening, I have my dinner, I drink beer. Then
about half-past one in the morning, I go home to bed, because the place
closes up; that annoys me more than anything. In the last ten years I
have passed fully six years on this bench, in my corner; and the
other four in my bed, nowhere else. I sometimes chat with the regular
customers.”

“But when you came to Paris what did you do at first?”

“I paid my devoirs to the Cafe de Medicis.”

“What next?”

“Next I crossed the water and came here.”

“Why did you take that trouble?”

“What do you mean? One cannot remain all one’s life in the Latin
Quarter. The students make too much noise. Now I shall not move again.
Waiter, a ‘bock.’”

I began to think that he was making fun of me, and I continued:

“Come now, be frank. You have been the victim of some great sorrow; some
disappointment in love, no doubt! It is easy to see that you are a man
who has had some trouble. What age are you?”

“I am thirty, but I look forty-five, at least.”

I looked him straight in the face. His wrinkled, ill-shaven face gave
one the impression that he was an old man. On the top of his head a few
long hairs waved over a skin of doubtful cleanliness. He had enormous
eyelashes, a heavy mustache, and a thick beard. Suddenly I had a kind of
vision, I know not why, of a basin filled with dirty water in which all
that hair had been washed. I said to him:

“You certainly look older than your age. You surely must have
experienced some great sorrow.”

He replied:

“I tell you that I have not. I am old because I never go out into the
air. Nothing makes a man deteriorate more than the life of a cafe.”

I still could not believe him.

“You must surely also have been married? One could not get as
bald-headed as you are without having been in love.”

He shook his head, shaking dandruff down on his coat as he did so.

“No, I have always been virtuous.”

And, raising his eyes toward the chandelier which heated our heads, he
said:

“If I am bald, it is the fault of the gas. It destroys the hair. Waiter,
a ‘bock.’ Are you not thirsty?”

“No, thank you. But you really interest me. Since when have you been so
morbid? Your life is not normal, it is not natural. There is something
beneath it all.”

“Yes, and it dates from my infancy. I received a great shock when I was
very young, and that turned my life into darkness which will last to the
end.”

“What was it?”

“You wish to know about it? Well, then, listen. You recall, of course,
the castle in which I was brought up, for you used to spend five or six
months there during vacation. You remember that large gray building, in
the middle of a great park, and the long avenues of oaks which opened to
the four points of the compass. You remember my father and mother, both
of whom were ceremonious, solemn, and severe.

“I worshipped my mother; I was afraid of my father; but I respected
both, accustomed always as I was to see every one bow before them. They
were Monsieur le Comte and Madame la Comtesse to all the country round,
and our neighbors, the Tannemares, the Ravelets, the Brennevilles,
showed them the utmost consideration.

“I was then thirteen years old. I was happy, pleased with everything, as
one is at that age, full of the joy of life.

“Well, toward the end of September, a few days before returning to
college, as I was playing about in the shrubbery of the park, among
the branches and leaves, as I was crossing a path, I saw my father and
mother, who were walking along.

“I recall it as though it were yesterday. It was a very windy day. The
whole line of trees swayed beneath the gusts of wind, groaning, and
seeming to utter cries-those dull, deep cries that forests give out
during a tempest.

“The falling leaves, turning yellow, flew away like birds, circling and
falling, and then running along the path like swift animals.

“Evening came on. It was dark in the thickets. The motion of the wind
and of the branches excited me, made me tear about as if I were crazy,
and howl in imitation of the wolves.

“As soon as I perceived my parents, I crept furtively toward them,
under the branches, in order to surprise them, as though I had been
a veritable prowler. But I stopped in fear a few paces from them. My
father, who was in a terrible passion, cried:

“‘Your mother is a fool; moreover, it is not a question of your mother.
It is you. I tell you that I need this money, and I want you to sign
this.’

“My mother replied in a firm voice:

“‘I will not sign it. It is Jean’s fortune. I shall guard it for him and
I will not allow you to squander it with strange women, as you have your
own heritage.’

“Then my father, trembling with rage, wheeled round and, seizing his
wife by the throat, began to slap her with all his might full in the
face with his disengaged hand.

“My mother’s hat fell off, her hair became loosened and fell over her
shoulders; she tried to parry the blows, but she could not do so. And
my father, like a madman, kept on striking her. My mother rolled over on
the ground, covering her face with her hands. Then he turned her over on
her back in order to slap her still more, pulling away her hands, which
were covering her face.

“As for me, my friend, it seemed as though the world was coming to an
end, that the eternal laws had changed. I experienced the overwhelming
dread that one has in presence of things supernatural, in presence of
irreparable disasters. My childish mind was bewildered, distracted. I
began to cry with all my might, without knowing why; a prey to a fearful
dread, sorrow, and astonishment. My father heard me, turned round, and,
on seeing me, started toward me. I believe that he wanted to kill
me, and I fled like a hunted animal, running straight ahead into the
thicket.

“I ran perhaps for an hour, perhaps for two. I know not. Darkness set
in. I sank on the grass, exhausted, and lay there dismayed, frantic with
fear, and devoured by a sorrow capable of breaking forever the heart of
a poor child. I was cold, hungry, perhaps. At length day broke. I was
afraid to get up, to walk, to return home, to run farther, fearing to
encounter my father, whom I did not wish to see again.

“I should probably have died of misery and of hunger at the foot of a
tree if the park guard had not discovered me and led me home by force.

“I found my parents looking as usual. My mother alone spoke to me “‘How
you frightened me, you naughty boy. I lay awake the whole night.’

“I did not answer, but began to weep. My father did not utter a single
word.

“Eight days later I returned to school.

“Well, my friend, it was all over with me. I had witnessed the other
side of things, the bad side. I have not been able to perceive the
good side since that day. What has taken place in my mind, what strange
phenomenon has warped my ideas, I do not know. But I no longer had a
taste for anything, a wish for anything, a love for anybody, a desire
for anything whatever, any ambition, or any hope. And I always see my
poor mother on the ground, in the park, my father beating her. My mother
died some years later; my father still lives. I have not seen him since.
Waiter, a ‘bock.’”

A waiter brought him his “bock,” which he swallowed at a gulp. But, in
taking up his pipe again, trembling as he was, he broke it. “Confound
it!” he said, with a gesture of annoyance. “That is a real sorrow. It
will take me a month to color another!”

And he called out across the vast hall, now reeking with smoke and full
of men drinking, his everlasting: “Garcon, un ‘bock’--and a new pipe.”



AFTER

“My darlings,” said the comtesse, “you might go to bed.”

The three children, two girls and a boy, rose and kissed their
grandmother. Then they said good-night to M. le Cure, who had dined at
the chateau, as was his custom every Thursday.

The Abbe Mauduit lifted two of the children on his knees, passing his
long arms clad in black round their necks, and kissing them tenderly on
the forehead as he drew their heads toward him as a father might.

Then he set them down on the ground, and the little beings went off, the
boy ahead, and the girls following.

“You are fond of children, M. le Cure,” said the comtesse.

“Very fond, madame.”

The old woman raised her bright eyes toward the priest.

“And--has your solitude never weighed too heavily on you?”

“Yes, sometimes.”

He became silent, hesitated, and then added: “But I was never made for
ordinary life.”

“What do you know about it?”

“Oh! I know very well. I was made to be a priest; I followed my
vocation.”

The comtesse kept staring at him:

“Come now, M. le Cure, tell me this--tell me how it was you resolved
to renounce forever all that makes the rest of us love life--all that
consoles and sustains us? What is it that drove you, impelled you,
to separate yourself from the great natural path of marriage and the
family? You are neither an enthusiast nor a fanatic, neither a gloomy
person nor a sad person. Was it some incident, some sorrow, that led you
to take life vows?”

The Abbe Mauduit rose and approached the fire, then, holding toward the
flame his big shoes, such as country priests generally wear, he seemed
still hesitating as to what reply he should make.

He was a tall old man with white hair, and for the last twenty years had
been pastor of the parish of Saint-Antoine-du-Rocher. The peasants said
of him: “There’s a good man for you!” And indeed he was a good man,
benevolent, friendly to all, gentle, and, to crown all, generous. Like
Saint Martin, he would have cut his cloak in two. He laughed readily,
and wept also, on slight provocation, just like a woman--which
prejudiced him more or less in the hard minds of the country folk.

The old Comtesse de Saville, living in retirement in her chateau of
Rocher, in order to bring up her grandchildren, after the successive
deaths of her son and her daughter-in-law, was very much attached to her
cure, and used to say of him: “What a heart he has!”

He came every Thursday to spend the evening with the comtesse, and they
were close friends, with the frank and honest friendship of old people.

She persisted:

“Look here, M. le Cure! it is your turn now to make a confession!”

He repeated: “I was not made for ordinary life. I saw it fortunately
in time, and I have had many proofs since that I made no mistake on the
point:

“My parents, who were mercers in Verdiers, and were quite well to do,
had great ambitions for me. They sent me to a boarding school while I
was very young. No one knows what a boy may suffer at school through
the mere fact of separation, of isolation. This monotonous life without
affection is good for some, and detestable for others. Young people are
often more sensitive than one supposes, and by shutting them up thus too
soon, far from those they love, we may develop to an exaggerated
extent a sensitiveness which is overwrought and may become sickly and
dangerous.

“I scarcely ever played; I had no companions; I passed my hours in
homesickness; I spent the whole night weeping in my bed. I sought to
bring before my mind recollections of home, trifling memories of little
things, little events. I thought incessantly of all I had left behind
there. I became almost imperceptibly an over-sensitive youth to whom the
slightest annoyances were terrible griefs.

“In this way I remained taciturn, self-absorbed, without expansion,
without confidants. This mental excitement was going on secretly and
surely. The nerves of children are quickly affected, and one should
see to it that they live a tranquil life until they are almost fully
developed. But who ever reflects that, for certain boys, an unjust
imposition may be as great a pang as the death of a friend in later
years? Who can explain why certain young temperaments are liable to
terrible emotions for the slightest cause, and may eventually become
morbid and incurable?

“This was my case. This faculty of regret developed in me to such an
extent that my existence became a martyrdom.

“I did not speak about it; I said nothing about it; but gradually I
became so sensitive that my soul resembled an open wound. Everything
that affected me gave me painful twitchings, frightful shocks, and
consequently impaired my health. Happy are the men whom nature has
buttressed with indifference and armed with stoicism.

“I reached my sixteenth year. An excessive timidity had arisen from this
abnormal sensitiveness. Feeling myself unprotected from all the attacks
of chance or fate, I feared every contact, every approach, every
current. I lived as though I were threatened by an unknown and always
expected misfortune. I did not venture either to speak or do anything
in public. I had, indeed, the feeling that life, is a battle, a dreadful
conflict in which one receives terrible blows, grievous, mortal wounds.
In place of cherishing, like all men, a cheerful anticipation of the
morrow, I had only a confused fear of it, and felt in my own mind
a desire to conceal myself to avoid that combat in which I would be
vanquished and slain.

“As soon as my studies were finished, they gave me six months’ time to
choose a career. A very simple occurrence showed me clearly, all of
a sudden, the diseased condition of my mind, made me understand the
danger, and determined me to flee from it.

“Verdiers is a little town surrounded with plains and woods. In the
central street stands my parents’ house. I now passed my days far from
this dwelling which I had so much regretted, so much desired. Dreams had
reawakened in me, and I walked alone in the fields in order to let them
escape and fly away. My father and mother, quite occupied with business,
and anxious about my future, talked to me only about their profits
or about my possible plans. They were fond of me after the manner of
hardheaded, practical people; they had more reason than heart in their
affection for me. I lived imprisoned in my thoughts, and vibrating with
my eternal sensitiveness.

“Now, one evening, after a long walk, as I was making my way home with
great strides so as not to be late, I saw a dog trotting toward me. He
was a species of red spaniel, very lean, with long curly ears.

“When he was ten paces away from me he stopped. I did the same. Then he
began wagging his tail, and came over to me with short steps and nervous
movements of his whole body, bending down on his paws as if appealing to
me, and softly shaking his head. I spoke to him. He then began to crawl
along in such a sad, humble, suppliant manner that I felt the tears
coming into my eyes. I approached him; he ran away, then he came back
again; and I bent down on one knee trying to coax him to approach me,
with soft words. At last, he was within reach of my hands, and I gently
and very carefully stroked him.

“He gained courage, gradually rose and, placing his paws on my
shoulders, began to lick my face. He followed me to the house.

“This was really the first being I had passionately loved, because
he returned my affection. My attachment to this animal was certainly
exaggerated and ridiculous. It seemed to me in a confused sort of way
that we were two brothers, lost on this earth, and therefore isolated
and without defense, one as well as the other. He never again quitted my
side. He slept at the foot of my bed, ate at the table in spite of the
objections of my parents, and followed me in my solitary walks.

“I often stopped at the side of a ditch, and sat down in the grass. Sam
immediately rushed up, lay down at my feet, and lifted up my hand with
his muzzle that I might caress him.

“One day toward the end of June, as we were on the road from
Saint-Pierre de Chavrol, I saw the diligence from Pavereau coming along.
Its four horses were going at a gallop, with its yellow body, and its
imperial with the black leather hood. The coachman cracked his whip;
a cloud of dust rose up under the wheels of the heavy vehicle, then
floated behind, just as a cloud would do.

“Suddenly, as the vehicle came close to me, Sam, perhaps frightened by
the noise and wishing to join me, jumped in front of it. A horse’s
hoof knocked him down. I saw him roll over, turn round, fall back again
beneath the horses’ feet, then the coach gave two jolts, and behind it
I saw something quivering in the dust on the road. He was nearly cut in
two; all his intestines were hanging out and blood was spurting from the
wound. He tried to get up, to walk, but he could only move his two front
paws, and scratch the ground with them, as if to make a hole. The two
others were already dead. And he howled dreadfully, mad with pain.

“He died in a few minutes. I cannot describe how much I felt and
suffered. I was confined to my room for a month.

“One night, my father, enraged at seeing me so affected by such a
trifling occurrence, exclaimed:

“‘How will it be when you have real griefs--if you lose your wife or
children?’

“His words haunted me and I began to see my condition clearly. I
understood why all the small miseries of each day assumed in my eyes the
importance of a catastrophe; I saw that I was organized in such a
way that I suffered dreadfully from everything, that every painful
impression was multiplied by my diseased sensibility, and an atrocious
fear of life took possession of me. I was without passions, without
ambitions; I resolved to sacrifice possible joys in order to avoid sure
sorrows. Existence is short, but I made up my mind to spend it in
the service of others, in relieving their troubles and enjoying their
happiness. Having no direct experience of either one or the other, I
should only experience a milder form of emotion.

“And if you only knew how, in spite of this, misery tortures me, ravages
me! But what would formerly have been an intolerable affliction has
become commiseration, pity.

“These sorrows which cross my path at every moment, I could not endure
if they affected me directly. I could not have seen one of my children
die without dying myself. And I have, in spite of everything, preserved
such a mysterious, overwhelming fear of events that the sight of the
postman entering my house makes a shiver pass every day through my
veins, and yet I have nothing to be afraid of now.”

The Abbe Mauduit ceased speaking. He stared into the fire in the huge
grate, as if he saw there mysterious things, all the unknown of the
existence he might have passed had he been more fearless in the face of
suffering.

He added, then, in a subdued tone:

“I was right. I was not made for this world.”

The comtesse said nothing at first; but at length, after a long silence,
she remarked:

“For my part, if I had not my grandchildren, I believe I would not have
the courage to live.”

And the cure rose up without saying another word.

As the servants were asleep in the kitchen, she accompanied him herself
to the door, which looked out on the garden, and she saw his tall
shadow, lit up by the reflection of the lamp, disappearing through the
gloom of night.

Then she came back and sat down before the fire, and pondered over many
things we never think of when we are young.



FORGIVENESS

She had been brought up in one of those families who live entirely to
themselves, apart from all the rest of the world. Such families know
nothing of political events, although they are discussed at table; for
changes in the Government take place at such a distance from them that
they are spoken of as one speaks of a historical event, such as the
death of Louis XVI or the landing of Napoleon.

Customs are modified in course of time, fashions succeed one another,
but such variations are taken no account of in the placid family circle
where traditional usages prevail year after year. And if some scandalous
episode or other occurs in the neighborhood, the disreputable story dies
a natural death when it reaches the threshold of the house. The father
and mother may, perhaps, exchange a few words on the subject when alone
together some evening, but they speak in hushed tones--for even walls
have ears. The father says, with bated breath:

“You’ve heard of that terrible affair in the Rivoil family?”

And the mother answers:

“Who would have dreamed of such a thing? It’s dreadful.”

The children suspected nothing, and arrive in their turn at years of
discretion with eyes and mind blindfolded, ignorant of the real side
of life, not knowing that people do not think as they speak, and do
not speak as they act; or aware that they should live at war, or at
all events, in a state of armed peace, with the rest of mankind; not
suspecting the fact that the simple are always deceived, the sincere
made sport of, the good maltreated.

Some go on till the day of their death in this blind probity and loyalty
and honor, so pure-minded that nothing can open their eyes.

Others, undeceived, but without fully understanding, make mistakes, are
dismayed, and become desperate, believing themselves the playthings of
a cruel fate, the wretched victims of adverse circumstances, and
exceptionally wicked men.

The Savignols married their daughter Bertha at the age of eighteen. She
wedded a young Parisian, George Baron by name, who had dealings on the
Stock Exchange. He was handsome, well-mannered, and apparently all that
could be desired. But in the depths of his heart he somewhat despised
his old-fashioned parents-in-law, whom he spoke of among his intimates
as “my dear old fossils.”

He belonged to a good family, and the girl was rich. They settled down
in Paris.

She became one of those provincial Parisians whose name is legion. She
remained in complete ignorance of the great city, of its social side,
its pleasures and its customs--just as she remained ignorant also of
life, its perfidy and its mysteries.

Devoted to her house, she knew scarcely anything beyond her own street;
and when she ventured into another part of Paris it seemed to her that
she had accomplished a long and arduous journey into some unknown,
unexplored city. She would then say to her husband in the evening:

“I have been through the boulevards to-day.”

Two or three times a year her husband took her to the theatre. These
were events the remembrance of which never grew dim; they provided
subjects of conversation for long afterward.

Sometimes three months afterward she would suddenly burst into laughter,
and exclaim:

“Do you remember that actor dressed up as a general, who crowed like a
cock?”

Her friends were limited to two families related to her own. She spoke
of them as “the Martinets” and “the Michelins.”

Her husband lived as he pleased, coming home when it suited him
--sometimes not until dawn--alleging business, but not putting himself
out overmuch to account for his movements, well aware that no suspicion
would ever enter his wife’s guileless soul.

But one morning she received an anonymous letter.

She was thunderstruck--too simple-minded to understand the infamy of
unsigned information and to despise the letter, the writer of which
declared himself inspired by interest in her happiness, hatred of evil,
and love of truth.

This missive told her that her husband had had for two years past, a
sweetheart, a young widow named Madame Rosset, with whom he spent all
his evenings.

Bertha knew neither how to dissemble her grief nor how to spy on her
husband. When he came in for lunch she threw the letter down before him,
burst into tears, and fled to her room.

He had time to take in the situation and to prepare his reply. He
knocked at his wife’s door. She opened it at once, but dared not look at
him. He smiled, sat down, drew her to his knee, and in a tone of light
raillery began:

“My dear child, as a matter of fact, I have a friend named Madame
Rosset, whom I have known for the last ten years, and of whom I have a
very high opinion. I may add that I know scores of other people whose
names I have never mentioned to you, seeing that you do not care for
society, or fresh acquaintances, or functions of any sort. But, to make
short work of such vile accusations as this, I want you to put on your
things after lunch, and we’ll go together and call on this lady, who
will very soon become a friend of yours, too, I am quite sure.”

She embraced her husband warmly, and, moved by that feminine spirit of
curiosity which will not be lulled once it is aroused, consented to go
and see this unknown widow, of whom she was, in spite of everything,
just the least bit jealous. She felt instinctively that to know a danger
is to be already armed against it.

She entered a small, tastefully furnished flat on the fourth floor of an
attractive house. After waiting five minutes in a drawing-room rendered
somewhat dark by its many curtains and hangings, a door opened, and
a very dark, short, rather plump young woman appeared, surprised and
smiling.

George introduced them:

“My wife--Madame Julie Rosset.”

The young widow uttered a half-suppressed cry of astonishment and joy,
and ran forward with hands outstretched. She had not hoped, she said, to
have this pleasure, knowing that Madame Baron never saw any one, but she
was delighted to make her acquaintance. She was so fond of George (she
said “George” in a familiar, sisterly sort of way) that, she had been
most anxious to know his young wife and to make friends with her, too.

By the end of a month the two new friends were inseparable. They saw
each other every day, sometimes twice a day, and dined together every
evening, sometimes at one house, sometimes at the other. George no
longer deserted his home, no longer talked of pressing business. He
adored his own fireside, he said.

When, after a time, a flat in the house where Madame Rosset lived became
vacant Madame Baron hastened to take it, in order to be near her friend
and spend even more time with her than hitherto.

And for two whole years their friendship was without a cloud, a
friendship of heart and mind--absolute, tender, devoted. Bertha could
hardly speak without bringing in Julie’s name. To her Madame Rosset
represented perfection.

She was utterly happy, calm and contented.

But Madame Rosset fell ill. Bertha hardly left her side. She spent
her nights with her, distracted with grief; even her husband seemed
inconsolable.

One morning the doctor, after leaving the invalid’s bedside, took George
and his wife aside, and told them that he considered Julie’s condition
very grave.

As soon as he had gone the grief-stricken husband and wife sat down
opposite each other and gave way to tears. That night they both sat up
with the patient. Bertha tenderly kissed her friend from time to time,
while George stood at the foot of the bed, his eyes gazing steadfastly
on the invalid’s face.

The next day she was worse.

But toward evening she declared she felt better, and insisted that her
friends should go back to their own apartment to dinner.

They were sitting sadly in the dining-room, scarcely even attempting
to eat, when the maid gave George a note. He opened it, turned pale as
death, and, rising from the table, said to his wife in a constrained
voice:

“Wait for me. I must leave you a moment. I shall be back in ten minutes.
Don’t go away on any account.”

And he hurried to his room to get his hat.

Bertha waited for him, a prey to fresh anxiety. But, docile in
everything, she would not go back to her friend till he returned.

At length, as he did not reappear, it occurred to her to visit his room
and see if he had taken his gloves. This would show whether or not he
had had a call to make.

She saw them at the first glance. Beside them lay a crumpled paper,
evidently thrown down in haste.

She recognized it at once as the note George had received.

And a burning temptation, the first that had ever assailed her urged her
to read it and discover the cause of her husband’s abrupt departure. Her
rebellious conscience protester’ but a devouring and fearful curiosity
prevailed. She seized the paper, smoothed it out, recognized the
tremulous, penciled writing as Julie’s, and read:

“Come alone and kiss me, my poor dear. I am dying.”

At first she did not understand, the idea of Julie’s death being her
uppermost thought. But all at once the true meaning of what she read
burst in a flash upon her; this penciled note threw a lurid light
upon her whole existence, revealed the whole infamous truth, all the
treachery and perfidy of which she had been the victim. She understood
the long years of deceit, the way in which she had been made their
puppet. She saw them again, sitting side by side in the evening, reading
by lamplight out of the same book, glancing at each other at the end of
each page.

And her poor, indignant, suffering, bleeding heart was cast into the
depths of a despair which knew no bounds.

Footsteps drew near; she fled, and shut herself in her own room.

Presently her husband called her:

“Come quickly! Madame Rosset is dying.”

Bertha appeared at her door, and with trembling lips replied:

“Go back to her alone; she does not need me.”

He looked at her stupidly, dazed with grief, and repeated:

“Come at once! She’s dying, I tell you!”

Bertha answered:

“You would rather it were I.”

Then at last he understood, and returned alone to the dying woman’s
bedside.

He mourned her openly, shamelessly, indifferent to the sorrow of the
wife who no longer spoke to him, no longer looked at him; who passed her
life in solitude, hedged round with disgust, with indignant anger, and
praying night and day to God.

They still lived in the same house, however, and sat opposite each other
at table, in silence and despair.

Gradually his sorrow grew less acute; but she did not forgive him.

And so their life went on, hard and bitter for them both.

For a whole year they remained as complete strangers to each other as if
they had never met. Bertha nearly lost her reason.

At last one morning she went out very early, and returned about eight
o’clock bearing in her hands an enormous bouquet of white roses. And
she sent word to her husband that she wanted to speak to him. He
came-anxious and uneasy.

“We are going out together,” she said. “Please carry these flowers; they
are too heavy for me.”

A carriage took them to the gate of the cemetery, where they alighted.
Then, her eyes filling with tears, she said to George:

“Take me to her grave.”

He trembled, and could not understand her motive; but he led the way,
still carrying the flowers. At last he stopped before a white marble
slab, to which he pointed without a word.

She took the bouquet from him, and, kneeling down, placed it on the
grave. Then she offered up a silent, heartfelt prayer.

Behind her stood her husband, overcome by recollections of the past.

She rose, and held out her hands to him.

“If you wish it, we will be friends,” she said.



IN THE SPRING

With the first day of spring, when the awakening earth puts on its
garment of green, and the warm, fragrant air fans our faces and fills
our lungs and appears even to penetrate to our hearts, we experience a
vague, undefined longing for freedom, for happiness, a desire to run, to
wander aimlessly, to breathe in the spring. The previous winter
having been unusually severe, this spring feeling was like a form of
intoxication in May, as if there were an overabundant supply of sap.

One morning on waking I saw from my window the blue sky glowing in the
sun above the neighboring houses. The canaries hanging in the windows
were singing loudly, and so were the servants on every floor; a cheerful
noise rose up from the streets, and I went out, my spirits as bright as
the day, to go--I did not exactly know where. Everybody I met seemed to
be smiling; an air of happiness appeared to pervade everything in the
warm light of returning spring. One might almost have said that a breeze
of love was blowing through the city, and the sight of the young women
whom I saw in the streets in their morning toilets, in the depths of
whose eyes there lurked a hidden tenderness, and who walked with languid
grace, filled my heart with agitation.

Without knowing how or why, I found myself on the banks of the Seine.
Steamboats were starting for Suresnes, and suddenly I was seized by an
unconquerable desire to take a walk through the woods. The deck of the
Mouche was covered with passengers, for the sun in early spring draws
one out of the house, in spite of themselves, and everybody moves about,
goes and comes and talks to his neighbor.

I had a girl neighbor; a little work-girl, no doubt, who possessed the
true Parisian charm: a little head, with light curly hair, which looked
like a shimmer of light as it danced in the wind, came down to her
ears, and descended to the nape of her neck, where it became such
fine, light-colored clown that one could scarcely see it, but felt an
irresistible desire to shower kisses on it.

Under my persistent gaze, she turned her head toward me, and then
immediately looked down, while a slight crease at the side of her mouth,
that was ready to break out into a smile, also showed a fine, silky,
pale down which the sun was gilding a little.

The calm river grew wider; the atmosphere was warm and perfectly still,
but a murmur of life seemed to fill all space.

My neighbor raised her eyes again, and this time, as I was still looking
at her, she smiled decidedly. She was charming, and in her passing
glance I saw a thousand things, which I had hitherto been ignorant of,
for I perceived unknown depths, all the charm of tenderness, all the
poetry which we dream of, all the happiness which we are continually in
search of. I felt an insane longing to open my arms and to carry her off
somewhere, so as to whisper the sweet music of words of love into her
ears.

I was just about to address her when somebody touched me on
the shoulder, and as I turned round in some surprise, I saw an
ordinary-looking man, who was neither young nor old, and who gazed at me
sadly.

“I should like to speak to you,” he said.

I made a grimace, which he no doubt saw, for he added:

“It is a matter of importance.”

I got up, therefore, and followed him to the other end of the boat and
then he said:

“Monsieur, when winter comes, with its cold, wet and snowy weather,
your doctor says to you constantly: ‘Keep your feet warm, guard against
chills, colds, bronchitis, rheumatism and pleurisy.’

“Then you are very careful, you wear flannel, a heavy greatcoat and
thick shoes, but all this does not prevent you from passing two months
in bed. But when spring returns, with its leaves and flowers, its warm,
soft breezes and its smell of the fields, all of which causes you vague
disquiet and causeless emotion, nobody says to you:

“‘Monsieur, beware of love! It is lying in ambush everywhere; it is
watching for you at every corner; all its snares are laid, all its
weapons are sharpened, all its guiles are prepared! Beware of love!
Beware of love! It is more dangerous than brandy, bronchitis or
pleurisy! It never forgives and makes everybody commit irreparable
follies.’

“Yes, monsieur, I say that the French Government ought to put large
public notices on the walls, with these words: ‘Return of spring. French
citizens, beware of love!’ just as they put: ‘Beware of paint:

“However, as the government will not do this, I must supply its place,
and I say to you: ‘Beware of love!’ for it is just going to seize you,
and it is my duty to inform you of it, just as in Russia they inform any
one that his nose is frozen.”

I was much astonished at this individual, and assuming a dignified
manner, I said:

“Really, monsieur, you appear to me to be interfering in a matter which
is no concern of yours.”

He made an abrupt movement and replied:

“Ah! monsieur, monsieur! If I see that a man is in danger of being
drowned at a dangerous spot, ought I to let him perish? So just listen
to my story and you will see why I ventured to speak to you like this.

“It was about this time last year that it occurred. But, first of all, I
must tell you that I am a clerk in the Admiralty, where our chiefs,
the commissioners, take their gold lace as quill-driving officials
seriously, and treat us like forecastle men on board a ship. Well, from
my office I could see a small bit of blue sky and the swallows, and I
felt inclined to dance among my portfolios.

“My yearning for freedom grew so intense that, in spite of my
repugnance, I went to see my chief, a short, bad-tempered man, who was
always in a rage. When I told him that I was not well, he looked at me
and said: ‘I do not believe it, monsieur, but be off with you! Do you
think that any office can go on with clerks like you?’ I started at once
and went down the Seine. It was a day like this, and I took the Mouche,
to go as far as Saint Cloud. Ah! what a good thing it would have been if
my chief had refused me permission to leave the office that day!

“I seemed to myself to expand in the sun. I loved everything--the
steamer, the river, the trees, the houses and my fellow-passengers. I
felt inclined to kiss something, no matter what; it was love, laying its
snare. Presently, at the Trocadero, a girl, with a small parcel in her
hand, came on board and sat down opposite me. She was decidedly pretty,
but it is surprising, monsieur, how much prettier women seem to us
when the day is fine at the beginning of the spring. Then they have an
intoxicating charm, something quite peculiar about them. It is just like
drinking wine after cheese.

“I looked at her and she also looked at me, but only occasionally, as
that girl did at you, just now; but at last, by dint of looking at each
other constantly, it seemed to me that we knew each other well enough
to enter into conversation, and I spoke to her and she replied. She was
decidedly pretty and nice and she intoxicated me, monsieur!

“She got out at Saint-Cloud, and I followed her. She went and delivered
her parcel, and when she returned the boat had just started. I walked
by her side, and the warmth of the ‘air made us both sigh. ‘It would be
very nice in the woods,’ I said. ‘Indeed, it would!’ she replied. ‘Shall
we go there for a walk, mademoiselie?’

“She gave me a quick upward look, as if to see exactly what I was like,
and then, after a little hesitation, she accepted my proposal, and soon
we were there, walking side by side. Under the foliage, which was still
rather scanty, the tall, thick, bright green grass was inundated by the
sun, and the air was full of insects that were also making love to one
another, and birds were singing in all directions. My companion began
to jump and to run, intoxicated by the air and the smell of the country,
and I ran and jumped, following her example. How silly we are at times,
monsieur!

“Then she sang unrestrainedly a thousand things, opera airs and the song
of Musette! The song of Musette! How poetical it seemed to me, then! I
almost cried over it. Ah! Those silly songs make us lose our heads; and,
believe me, never marry a woman who sings in the country, especially if
she sings the song of Musette!

“She soon grew tired, and sat down on a grassy slope, and I sat at her
feet and took her hands, her little hands, that were so marked with the
needle, and that filled me with emotion. I said to myself:

“‘These are the sacred marks of toil.’ Oh! monsieur, do you know
what those sacred marks of toil mean? They mean all the gossip of the
workroom, the whispered scandal, the mind soiled by all the filth
that is talked; they mean lost chastity, foolish chatter, all the
wretchedness of their everyday life, all the narrowness of ideas which
belongs to women of the lower orders, combined to their fullest extent
in the girl whose fingers bear the sacred marks of toil.

“Then we looked into each other’s eyes for a long while. Oh! what power
a woman’s eye has! How it agitates us, how it invades our very being,
takes possession of us, and dominates us! How profound it seems, how
full of infinite promises! People call that looking into each other’s
souls! Oh! monsieur, what humbug! If we could see into each other’s
souls, we should be more careful of what we did. However, I was
captivated and was crazy about her and tried to take her into my arms,
but she said: ‘Paws off!’. Then I knelt down and opened my heart to her
and poured out all the affection that was suffocating me. She seemed
surprised at my change of manner and gave me a sidelong glance, as if to
say, ‘Ah! so that is the way women make a fool of you, old fellow! Very
well, we will see.’

“In love, monsieur, we are always novices, and women artful dealers.

“No doubt I could have had her, and I saw my own stupidity later, but
what I wanted was not a woman’s person, it was love, it was the ideal.
I was sentimental, when I ought to have been using my time to a better
purpose.

“As soon as she had had enough of my declarations of affection, she got
up, and we returned to Saint-Cloud, and I did not leave her until we got
to Paris; but she had looked so sad as we were returning, that at last I
asked her what was the matter. ‘I am thinking,’ she replied, ‘that this
has been one of those days of which we have but few in life.’ My heart
beat so that it felt as if it would break my ribs.

“I saw her on the following Sunday, and the next Sunday, and every
Sunday. I took her to Bougival, Saint-Germain, Maisons-Lafitte, Poissy;
to every suburban resort of lovers.

“The little jade, in turn, pretended to love me, until, at last, I
altogether lost my head, and three months later I married her.

“What can you expect, monsieur, when a man is a clerk, living alone,
without any relations, or any one to advise him? One says to one’s self:
‘How sweet life would be with a wife!’

“And so one gets married and she calls you names from morning till
night, understands nothing, knows nothing, chatters continually, sings
the song of Musette at the top of her voice (oh! that song of Musette,
how tired one gets of it!); quarrels with the charcoal dealer, tells
the janitor all her domestic details, confides all the secrets of
her bedroom to the neighbor’s servant, discusses her husband with the
tradespeople and has her head so stuffed with stupid stories,
with idiotic superstitions, with extraordinary ideas and monstrous
prejudices, that I--for what I have said applies more particularly to
myself--shed tears of discouragement every time I talk to her.”

He stopped, as he was rather out of breath and very much moved, and I
looked at him, for I felt pity for this poor, artless devil, and I was
just going to give him some sort of answer, when the boat stopped. We
were at Saint-Cloud.

The little woman who had so taken my fancy rose from her seat in order
to land. She passed close to me, and gave me a sidelong glance and a
furtive smile, one of those smiles that drive you wild. Then she jumped
on the landing-stage. I sprang forward to follow her, but my neighbor
laid hold of my arm. I shook myself loose, however, whereupon he seized
the skirt of my coat and pulled me back, exclaiming: “You shall not go!
you shall not go!” in such a loud voice that everybody turned round and
laughed, and I remained standing motionless and furious, but without
venturing to face scandal and ridicule, and the steamboat started.

The little woman on the landing-stage looked at me as I went off with
an air of disappointment, while my persecutor rubbed his hands and
whispered to me:

“You must acknowledge that I have done you a great service.”



A QUEER NIGHT IN PARIS

Mattre Saval, notary at Vernon, was passionately fond of music. Although
still young he was already bald; he was always carefully shaven, was
somewhat corpulent as was suitable, and wore a gold pince-nez instead of
spectacles. He was active, gallant and cheerful and was considered
quite an artist in Vernon. He played the piano and the violin, and gave
musicals where the new operas were interpreted.

He had even what is called a bit of a voice; nothing but a bit, very
little bit of a voice; but he managed it with so much taste that cries
of “Bravo!” “Exquisite!” “Surprising!” “Adorable!” issued from every
throat as soon as he had murmured the last note.

He subscribed to a music publishing house in Paris, and they sent him
the latest music, and from time to time he sent invitations after this
fashion to the elite of the town:

“You are invited to be present on Monday evening at the house of M.
Saval, notary, Vernon, at the first rendering of ‘Sais.’”

A few officers, gifted with good voices, formed the chorus. Two or three
lady amateurs also sang. The notary filled the part of leader of the
orchestra with so much correctness that the bandmaster of the 190th
regiment of the line said of him, one day, at the Cafe de l’Europe.

“Oh! M. Saval is a master. It is a great pity that he did not adopt the
career of an artist.”

When his name was mentioned in a drawing-room, there was always somebody
found to declare: “He is not an amateur; he is an artist, a genuine
artist.”

And two or three persons repeated, in a tone of profound conviction:

“Oh! yes, a genuine artist,” laying particular stress on the word
“genuine.”

Every time that a new work was interpreted at a big Parisian theatre M.
Saval paid a visit to the capital.

Now, last year, according to his custom, he went to hear Henri VIII. He
then took the express which arrives in Paris at 4:30 P.M., intending to
return by the 12:35 A.M. train, so as not to have to sleep at a hotel.
He had put on evening dress, a black coat and white tie, which he
concealed under his overcoat with the collar turned up.

As soon as he set foot on the Rue d’Amsterdam, he felt himself in quite
jovial mood. He said to himself:

“Decidedly, the air of Paris does not resemble any other air. It has in
it something indescribably stimulating, exciting, intoxicating, which
fills you with a strange longing to dance about and to do many other
things. As soon as I arrive here, it seems to me, all of a sudden, that
I have taken a bottle of champagne. What a life one can lead in this
city in the midst of artists! Happy are the elect, the great men who
make themselves a reputation in such a city! What an existence is
theirs!”

And he made plans; he would have liked to know some of these celebrated
men, to talk about them in Vernon, and to spend an evening with them
from time to time in Paris.

But suddenly an idea struck him. He had heard allusions to little cafes
in the outer boulevards at which well-known painters, men of letters,
and even musicians gathered, and he proceeded to go up to Montmartre at
a slow pace.

He had two hours before him. He wanted to look about him. He passed
in front of taverns frequented by belated bohemians, gazing at the
different faces, seeking to discover the artists. Finally, he came to
the sign of “The Dead Rat,” and, allured by the name, he entered.

Five or six women, with their elbows resting on the marble tables, were
talking in low tones about their love affairs, the quarrels of Lucie
and Hortense, and the scoundrelism of Octave. They were no longer young,
were too fat or too thin, tired out, used up. You could see that they
were almost bald; and they drank beer like men.

M. Saval sat down at some distance from them and waited, for the hour
for taking absinthe was at hand.

A tall young man soon came in and took a seat beside him. The landlady
called him M. “Romantin.” The notary quivered. Was this the Romantin who
had taken a medal at the last Salon?

The young man made a sign to the waiter.

“You will bring up my dinner at once, and then carry to my new studio,
15 Boulevard de Clichy, thirty bottles of beer, and the ham I ordered
this morning. We are going to have a housewarming.”

M. Saval immediately ordered dinner. Then, he took off his overcoat, so
that his dress suit and his white tie could be seen. His neighbor did
not seem to notice him. He had taken up a newspaper, and was reading it.
M. Saval glanced sideways at him, burning with the desire to speak to
him.

Two young men entered, in red vests and with peaked beards, in the
fashion of Henry III. They sat down opposite Romantin.

The first of the pair said:

“Is it for this evening?”

Romantin pressed his hand.

“I believe you, old chap, and everyone will be there. I have Bonnat,
Guillemet, Gervex, Beraud, Hebert, Duez, Clairin, and Jean-Paul Laurens.
It will be a stunning affair! And women, too! Wait till you see! Every
actress without exception--of course I mean, you know, all those who
have nothing to do this evening.”

The landlord of the establishment came across.

“Do you often have this housewarming?”

The painter replied:

“I believe you, every three months, each quarter.”

M. Saval could not restrain himself any longer, and in a hesitating
voice said:

“I beg your pardon for intruding on you, monsieur, but I heard your
name mentioned, and I would be very glad to know if you really are M.
Romantin, whose work in the last Salon I have so much admired?”

The painter answered:

“I am the very person, monsieur.”

The notary then paid the artist a very well-turned compliment, showing
that he was a man of culture.

The painter, gratified, thanked him politely in reply.

Then they chattered. Romantin returned to the subject of his
house-warming, going into details as to the magnificence of the
forthcoming entertainment.

M. Saval questioned him as to all the men he was going to receive,
adding:

“It would be an extraordinary piece of good fortune for a stranger
to meet at one time so many celebrities assembled in the studio of an
artist of your rank.”

Romantin, vanquished, replied:

“If it would be agreeable to you, come.”

M. Saval accepted the invitation with enthusiasm, reflecting:

“I shall have time enough to see Henri VIII.”

Both of them had finished their meal. The notary insisted on paying the
two bills, wishing to repay his neighbor’s civilities. He also paid
for the drinks of the young fellows in red velvet; then he left the
establishment with the painter.

They stopped in front of a very long, low house, the first story having
the appearance of an interminable conservatory. Six studios stood in a
row with their fronts facing the boulevards.

Romantin was the first to enter, and, ascending the stairs, he opened a
door, and lighted a match and then a candle.

They found themselves in an immense apartment, the furniture of which
consisted of three chairs, two easels, and a few sketches standing
on the ground along the walls. M. Saval remained standing at the door
somewhat astonished.

The painter remarked:

“Here you are! we’ve got to the spot; but everything has yet to be
done.”

Then, examining the high, bare apartment, its ceiling disappearing in
the darkness, he said:

“We might make a great deal out of this studio.”

He walked round it, surveying it with the utmost attention, then went
on:

“I know someone who might easily give a helping hand. Women are
incomparable for hanging drapery. But I sent her to the country for
to-day in order to get her off my hands this evening. It is not that she
bores me, but she is too much lacking in the ways of good society. It
would be embarrassing to my guests.”

He reflected for a few seconds, and then added:

“She is a good girl, but not easy to deal with. If she knew that I was
holding a reception, she would tear out my eyes.”

M. Saval had not even moved; he did not understand.

The artist came over to him.

“Since I have invited you, you will assist ma about something.”

The notary said emphatically:

“Make any use of me you please. I am at your disposal.”

Romantin took off his jacket.

“Well, citizen, to work!’ We are first going to clean up.”

He went to the back of the easel, on which there was a canvas
representing a cat, and seized a very worn-out broom.

“I say! Just brush up while I look after the lighting.”

M. Saval took the broom, inspected it, and then began to sweep the floor
very awkwardly, raising a whirlwind of dust.

Romantin, disgusted, stopped him: “Deuce take it! you don’t know how to
sweep the floor! Look at me!”

And he began to roll before him a heap of grayish sweepings, as if he
had done nothing else all his life. Then, he gave bark the broom to the
notary, who imitated him.

In five minutes, such a cloud of dust filled the studio that Rormantin
asked:

“Where are you? I can’t see you any longer.”

M. Saval, who was coughing, came near to him. The painter said:

“How would you set about making a chandelier?”

The other, surprised, asked:

“What chandelier?”

“Why, a chandelier to light the room--a chandelier with wax-candles.”

The notary did not understand.

He answered: “I don’t know.”

The painter began to jump about, cracking his fingers.

“Well, monseigneur, I have found out a way.”

Then he went on more calmly:

“Have you got five francs about you?”

M. Saval replied:

“Why, yes.”

The artist said: “Well! you’ll go out and buy for me five francs’ worth
of wax-candles while I go and see the cooper.”

And he pushed the notary in his evening coat into the street. At the end
of five minutes, they had returned, one of them with the wax-candles and
the other with the hoop of a cask. Then Romantin plunged his hand into
a cupboard, and drew forth twenty empty bottles, which he fixed in the
form of a crown around the hoop.

He then went downstairs to borrow a ladder from the janitress, after
having explained that he had made interest with the old woman by
painting the portrait of her cat, exhibited on the easel.

When he returned with the ladder, he said to M. Saval:

“Are you active?”

The other, without understanding, answered:

“Why, yes.”

“Well, you just climb up there, and fasten this chandelier for me to
the ring of the ceiling. Then, you put a wax-candle in each bottle, and
light it. I tell you I have a genius for lighting up. But off with your
coat, damn it! You are just like a Jeames.”

The door was opened brusquely. A woman appeared, her eyes flashing, and
remained standing on the threshold.

Romantin gazed at her with a look of terror.

She waited some seconds, crossing her arms over her breast, and then in
a shrill, vibrating, exasperated voice said:

“Ha! you dirty scoundrel, is this the way you leave me?”

Romantin made no reply. She went on:

“Ha! you scoundrel! You did a nice thing in parking me off to the
country. You’ll soon see the way I’ll settle your jollification. Yes,
I’m going to receive your friends.”

She grew warmer.

“I’m going to slap their faces with the bottles and the wax-candles----”

Romantin said in a soft tone:

“Mathilde----”

But she did not pay any attention to him; she went on:

“Wait a little, my fine fellow! wait a little!”

Romantin went over to her, and tried to take her by the hands.

“Mathilde----”

But she was now fairly under way; and on she went, emptying the vials of
her wrath with strong words and reproaches. They flowed out of her mouth
like, a stream sweeping a heap of filth along with it. The words pouring
forth seemed struggling for exit. She stuttered, stammered, yelled,
suddenly recovering her voice to cast forth an insult or a curse.

He seized her hands without her having noticed it. She did not seem
to see anything, so taken up was she in scolding and relieving her
feelings. And suddenly she began to weep. The tears flowed from her
eyes, but this did not stop her complaints. But her words were uttered
in a screaming falsetto voice with tears in it and interrupted by
sobs. She commenced afresh twice or three times, till she stopped as if
something were choking her, and at last she ceased with a regular flood
of tears.

Then he clasped her in his arms and kissed her hair, affected himself.

“Mathilde, my little Mathilde, listen. You must be reasonable. You know,
if I give a supper-party to my friends, it is to thank these gentlemen
for the medal I got at the Salon. I cannot receive women. You ought to
understand that. It is not the same with artists as with other people.”

She stammered, in the midst of her tears:

“Why didn’t you tell me this?”

He replied:

“It was in order not to annoy you, not to give you pain. Listen, I’m
going to see you home. You will be very sensible, very nice; you will
remain quietly waiting for me in bed, and I’ll come back as soon as it’s
over.”

She murmured:

“Yes, but you will not begin over again?”

“No, I swear to you!”

He turned towards M. Saval, who had at last hooked on the chandelier:

“My dear friend, I am coming back in five minutes. If anyone arrives in
my absence, do the honors for me, will you not?”

And he carried off Mathilde, who kept drying her eyes with her
handkerchief as she went along.

Left to himself, M. Saval succeeded in putting everything around him in
order. Then he lighted the wax-candles, and waited.

He waited for a quarter of an hour, half an hour, an hour. Romantin did
not return. Then, suddenly there was a dreadful noise on the stairs,
a song shouted out in chorus by twenty mouths and a regular march like
that of a Prussian regiment. The whole house was shaken by the steady
tramp of feet. The door flew open, and a motley throng appeared--men and
women in file, two and two holding each other by the arm and stamping
their heels on the ground to mark time, advanced into the studio like a
snake uncoiling itself. They howled:

     “Come, and let us all be merry,
     Pretty maids and soldiers gay!”

M. Saval, thunderstruck, remained standing in evening dress under the
chandelier. The procession of revellers caught sight of him, and uttered
a shout:

“A Jeames! A Jeames!”

And they began whirling round him, surrounding him with a circle of
vociferations. Then they took each other by the hand and went dancing
about madly.

He attempted to explain:

“Messieurs--messieurs--mesdames----”

But they did not listen to him. They whirled about, they jumped, they
brawled.

At last, the dancing ceased. M. Saval said:

“Gentlemen----”

A tall young fellow, fair-haired and bearded to the nose, interrupted
him:

“What’s your name, my friend?”

The notary, quite scared, said:

“I am M. Saval.”

A voice exclaimed:

“You mean Baptiste.”

A woman said:

“Let the poor waiter alone! You’ll end by making him get angry. He’s
paid to wait on us, and not to be laughed at by us.”

Then, M. Saval noticed that each guest had brought his own provisions.
One held a bottle of wine, and the other a pie. This one had a loaf of
bread, and one a ham.

The tall, fair young fellow placed in his hands an enormous sausage, and
gave orders:

“Here, go and arrange the sideboard in the corner over there. Put the
bottles at the left and the provisions at the right.”

Saval, getting quite distracted, exclaimed: “But, messieurs, I am a
notary!”

There was a moment’s silence and then a wild outburst of laughter. One
suspicious gentleman asked:

“How came you to be here?”

He explained, telling about his project of going to the opera, his
departure from Vernon, his arrival in Paris, and the way in which he had
spent the evening.

They sat around him to listen to him; they greeted him with words of
applause, and called him Scheherazade.

Romantin did not return. Other guests arrived. M. Saval was presented
to them so that he might begin his story over again. He declined; they
forced him to relate it. They seated and tied him on one of three chairs
between two women who kept constantly filling his glass. He drank; he
laughed; he talked; he sang, too. He tried to waltz with his chair, and
fell on the ground.

From that moment, he forgot everything. It seemed to him, however, that
they undressed him, put him to bed, and that he was nauseated.

When he awoke, it was broad daylight, and he lay stretched with his feet
against a cupboard, in a strange bed.

An old woman with a broom in her hand was glaring angrily at him. At
last, she said:

“Clear out, you blackguard! Clear out! What right has anyone to get
drunk like this?”

He sat up in bed, feeling very ill at ease. He asked:

“Where am I?”

“Where are you, you dirty scamp? You are drunk. Take your rotten carcass
out of here as quick as you can--and lose no time about it!”

He wanted to get up. He found that he was in no condition to do so. His
clothes had disappeared. He blurted out:

“Madame, I----Then he remembered. What was he to do? He asked:

“Did Monsieur Romantin come back?”

The doorkeeper shouted:

“Will you take your dirty carcass out of this, so that he at any rate
may not catch you here?”

M. Saval said, in a state of confusion:

“I haven’t got my clothes; they have been taken away from me.”

He had to wait, to explain his situation, give notice to his friends,
and borrow some money to buy clothes. He did not leave Paris till
evening. And when people talk about music to him in his beautiful
drawing-room in Vernon, he declares with an air of authority that
painting is a very inferior art.





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