A Romance of Youth, v1
This etext was produced by David Widger
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the
file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an
entire meal of them. D.W.]
A ROMANCE OF YOUTH
By FRANCOIS COPPEE
With a Preface by JOSE DE HEREDIA, of the French Academy
FRANCOIS EDOUARD JOACHIM COPPEE was born in Paris, January 12, 1842. His
father was a minor 'employe' in the French War Office; and, as the family
consisted of six the parents, three daughters, and a son (the subject of
this essay)--the early years of the poet were not spent in great luxury.
After the father's death, the young man himself entered the governmental
office with its monotonous work. In the evening he studied hard at St.
Genevieve Library. He made rhymes, had them even printed (Le Reliquaire,
1866); but the public remained indifferent until 1869, when his comedy in
verse, 'Le Passant', appeared. From this period dates the reputation of
Coppee--he woke up one morning a "celebrated man."
Like many of his countrymen, he is a poet, a dramatist, a novelist, and a
writer of fiction. He was elected to the French Academy in 1884. Smooth
shaven, of placid figure, with pensive eyes, the hair brushed back
regularly, the head of an artist, Coppee can be seen any day looking over
the display of the Parisian secondhand booksellers on the Quai Malaquais;
at home on the writing-desk, a page of carefully prepared manuscript, yet
sometimes covered by cigarette-ashes; upon the wall, sketches by Jules
Lefebvre and Jules Breton; a little in the distance, the gaunt form of
his attentive sister and companion, Annette, occupied with household
cares, ever fearful of disturbing him. Within this tranquil domicile can
be heard the noise of the Parisian faubourg with its thousand different
dins; the bustle of the street; the clatter of a factory; the voice of
the workshop; the cries of the pedlers intermingled with the chimes of
the bells of a near-by convent-a confusing buzzing noise, which the
author, however, seems to enjoy; for Coppee is Parisian by birth,
Parisian by education, a Parisian of the Parisians.
If as a poet we contemplate him, Coppee belongs to the group commonly
called "Parnassiens"--not the Romantic School, the sentimental lyric
effusion of Lamartine, Hugo, or De Musset! When the poetical lute was
laid aside by the triad of 1830, it was taken up by men of quite
different stamp, of even opposed tendencies. Observation of exterior
matters was now greatly adhered to in poetry; it became especially
descriptive and scientific; the aim of every poet was now to render most
exactly, even minutely, the impressions received, or faithfully to
translate into artistic language a thesis of philosophy, a discovery of
science. With such a poetical doctrine, you will easily understand the
importance which the "naturalistic form" henceforth assumed.
Coppee, however, is not only a maker of verses, he is an artist and a
poet. Every poem seems to have sprung from a genuine inspiration. When
he sings, it is because he has something to sing about, and the result is
that his poetry is nearly always interesting. Moreover, he respects the
limits of his art; for while his friend and contemporary, M. Sully-
Prudhomme, goes astray habitually into philosophical speculation, and his
immortal senior, Victor Hugo, often declaims, if one may venture to say
so, in a manner which is tedious, Coppee sticks rigorously to what may be
called the proper regions of poetry.
Francois Coppee is not one of those superb high priests disdainful of the
throng: he is the poet of the "humble," and in his work, 'Les Humbles',
he paints with a sincere emotion his profound sympathy for the sorrows,
the miseries, and the sacrifices of the meek. Again, in his 'Grave des
Forgerons, Le Naufrage, and L'Epave', all poems of great extension and
universal reputation, he treats of simple existences, of unknown
unfortunates, and of sacrifices which the daily papers do not record.
The coloring and designing are precise, even if the tone be somewhat
sombre, and nobody will deny that Coppee most fully possesses the
technique of French poetry.
But Francois Coppee is known to fame as a prosewriter, too. His 'Contes
en prose' and his 'Vingt Contes Nouveaux' are gracefully and artistically
told; scarcely one of the 'contes' fails to have a moral motive. The
stories are short and naturally slight; some, indeed, incline rather to
the essay than to the story, but each has that enthralling interest which
justifies its existence. Coppee possesses preeminently the gift of
presenting concrete fact rather than abstraction. A sketch, for
instance, is the first tale written by him, 'Une Idylle pendant le Seige'
(1875). In a novel we require strong characterization, great grasp of
character, and the novelist should show us the human heart and intellect
in full play and activity. In 1875 appeared also 'Olivier', followed by
'L'Exilee (1876); Recits et Elegies (1878); Vingt Contes Nouveaux (1883);
and Toute une Jeunesse', mainly an autobiography, crowned by acclaim by
the Academy. 'Le Coupable' was published in 1897. Finally, in 1898,
appeared 'La Bonne Souffrance'. In the last-mentioned work it would seem
that the poet, just recovering from a severe malady, has returned to the
dogmas of the Catholic Church, wherefrom he, like so many of his
contemporaries, had become estranged when a youth. The poems of 1902,
'Dans la Priere et dans la Lutte', tend to confirm the correctness of
Thanks to the juvenile Sarah Bernhardt, Coppee became, as before
mentioned, like Byron, celebrated in one night. This happened through
the performance of 'Le Passant'.
As interludes to the plays there are "occasional" theatrical pieces,
written for the fiftieth anniversary of the performance of 'Hernani'
or the two-hundredth anniversary of the foundation of the "Comedie
Francaise." This is a wide field, indeed, which M. Coppee has cultivated
to various purposes.
Take Coppee's works in their sum and totality, and the world-decree is
that he is an artist, and an admirable one. He plays upon his instrument
with all power and grace. But he is no mere virtuoso. There is
something in him beyond the executant. Of Malibran, Alfred de Musset
says, most beautifully, that she had that "voice of the heart which alone
has power to reach the heart." Here, also, behind the skilful player on
language, the deft manipulator of rhyme and rhythm, the graceful and
earnest writer, one feels the beating of a human heart. One feels that
he is giving us personal impressions of life and its joys and sorrows;
that his imagination is powerful because it is genuinely his own; that
the flowers of his fancy spring spontaneously from the soil. Nor can I
regard it as aught but an added grace that the strings of his instrument
should vibrate so readily to what is beautiful and unselfish and delicate
in human feeling.
JOSE DE HEREDIA
de l'Academie Francaise.
A ROMANCE OF YOUTH
ON THE BALCONY
As far back as Amedee Violette can remember, he sees himself in an
infant's cap upon a fifth-floor balcony covered with convolvulus; the
child was very small, and the balcony seemed very large to him. Amedee
had received for a birthday present a box of water-colors, with which he
was sprawled out upon an old rug, earnestly intent upon his work of
coloring the woodcuts in an odd volume of the 'Magasin Pittoresque', and
wetting his brush from time to time in his mouth. The neighbors in the
next apartment had a right to one-half of the balcony. Some one in there
was playing upon the piano Marcailhou's Indiana Waltz, which was all the
rage at that time. Any man, born about the year 1845, who does not feel
the tears of homesickness rise to his eyes as he turns over the pages of
an old number of the 'Magasin Pittoresque', or who hears some one play
upon an old piano Marcailhou's Indiana Waltz, is not endowed with much
When the child was tired of putting the "flesh color" upon the faces of
all the persons in the engravings, he got up and went to peep through the
railings of the balustrade. He saw extending before him, from right to
left, with a graceful curve, the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, one of the
quietest streets in the Luxembourg quarter, then only half built up.
The branches of the trees spread over the wooden fences, which enclosed
gardens so silent and tranquil that passers by could hear the birds
singing in their cages.
It was a September afternoon, with a broad expanse of pure sky across
which large clouds, like mountains of silver, moved in majestic slowness.
Suddenly a soft voice called him:
"Amedee, your father will return from the office soon. We must wash your
hands before we sit down to the table, my darling."
His mother came out upon the balcony for him. His mother; his dear
mother, whom he knew for so short a time! It needs an effort for him to
call her to mind now, his memories are so indistinct. She was so modest
and pretty, so pale, and with such charming blue eyes, always carrying
her head on one side, as if the weight of her lovely chestnut hair was
too heavy for her to bear, and smiling the sweet, tired smile of those
who have not long to live! She made his toilette, kissed him upon his
forehead, after brushing his hair. Then she laid their modest table,
which was always decorated with a pretty vase of flowers. Soon the
father entered. He was one of those mild, unpretentious men who let
everybody run over them.
He tried to be gay when he entered his own house. He raised his little
boy aloft with one arm, before kissing him, exclaiming, "Houp la!" A
moment later he kissed his young wife and held her close to him,
tenderly, as he asked, with an anxious look:
"Have you coughed much to-day?"
She always replied, hanging her head like a child who tells an untruth,
"No, not very much."
The father would then put on an old coat--the one he took off was not
very new. Amedee was then seated in a high chair before his mug, and the
young mother, going into the kitchen, would bring in the supper. After
opening his napkin, the father would brush back behind his ear with his
hand a long lock on the right side, that always fell into his eyes.
"Is there too much of a breeze this evening? you afraid to go out upon
the balcony, Lucie? Put a shawl on, then," said M. Violette, while his
wife was pouring the water remaining in the carafe upon a box where some
nasturtiums were growing.
"No, Paul, I am sure--take Amedee down from his chair, and let us go out
upon the balcony."
It was cool upon this high balcony. The sun had set, and now the great
clouds resembled mountains of gold, and a fresh odor came up from the
"Good-evening, Monsieur Violette," suddenly said a cordial voice. "What
a fine evening!"
It was their neighbor, M. Gerard, an engraver, who had also come to take
breath upon his end of the balcony, having spent the entire day bent over
his work. He was large and bald-headed, with a good-natured face, a red
beard sprinkled with white hairs, and he wore a short, loose coat. As he
spoke he lighted his clay pipe, the bowl of which represented Abd-el-
Kader's face, very much colored, save the eyes and turban, which were of
The engraver's wife, a dumpy little woman with merry eyes, soon joined
her husband, pushing before her two little girls; one, the smaller of the
two, was two years younger than Amedee; the other was ten years old, and
already had a wise little air. She was the pianist who practised one
hour a day Marcailhou's Indiana Waltz.
The children chattered through the trellis that divided the balcony in
two parts. Louise, the elder of the girls, knew how to read, and told
the two little ones very beautiful stories: Joseph sold by his brethren;
Robinson Crusoe discovering the footprints of human beings.
Amedee, who now has gray hair upon his temples, can still remember the
chills that ran down his back at the moment when the wolf, hidden under
coverings and the grandmother's cap, said, with a gnashing of teeth, to
little Red Riding Hood: "All the better to eat you with, my child."
It was almost dark then upon the terrace. It was all delightfully
During this time the two families, in their respective parts of the
balcony, were talking familiarly together. The Violettes were quiet
people, and preferred rather to listen to their neighbors than to talk
themselves, making brief replies for politeness' sake--"Ah!" "Is it
possible?" "You are right."
The Gerards liked to talk. Madame Gerard, who was a good housekeeper,
discussed questions of domestic economy; telling, for example, how she
had been out that day, and had seen, upon the Rue du Bac, some merino:
"A very good bargain, I assure you, Madame, and very wide!" Or perhaps
the engraver, who was a simple politician, after the fashion of 1848,
would declare that we must accept the Republic, "Oh, not the red-hot, you
know, but the true, the real one!" Or he would wish that Cavaignac had
been elected President at the September balloting; although he himself
was then engraving--one must live, after all--a portrait of Prince Louis
Napoleon, destined for the electoral platform. M. and Madame Violette
let them talk; perhaps even they did not always pay attention to the
conversation. When it was dark they held each other's hands and gazed at
These lovely, cool, autumnal evenings, upon the balcony, under the starry
heavens, are the most distant of all Amedee's memories. Then there was a
break in his memory, like a book with several leaves torn out, after
which he recalls many sad days.
Winter had come, and they no longer spent their evenings upon the
balcony. One could see nothing now through the windows but a dull, gray
sky. Amedee's mother was ill and always remained in her bed. When he
was installed near the bed, before a little table, cutting out with
scissors the hussars from a sheet of Epinal, his poor mamma almost
frightened him, as she leaned her elbow upon the pillow and gazed at him
so long and so sadly, while her thin white hands restlessly pushed back
her beautiful, disordered hair, and two red hectic spots burned under her
It was not she who now came to take him from his bed in the morning, but
an old woman in a short jacket, who did not kiss him, and who smelled
horribly of snuff.
His father, too, did not pay much attention to him now. When he returned
in the evening from the office he always brought bottles and little
packages from the apothecary. Sometimes he was accompanied by the
physician, a large man, very much dressed and perfumed, who panted for
breath after climbing the five flights of stairs. Once Amedee saw this
stranger put his arms around his mother as she sat in her bed, and lay
his head for a long time against her back. The child asked, "What for,
M. Violette, more nervous than ever, and continually throwing back the
rebellious lock behind his ear, would accompany the doctor to the door
and stop there to talk with him. Then Amedee's mother would call to him,
and he would climb upon the bed, where she would gaze at him with her
bright eyes and press him to her breast, saying, in a sad tone, as if she
pitied him: "My poor little Medee! My poor little Medee!" Why was it?
What did it all mean?
His father would return with a forced smile which was pitiful to see.
"Well, what did the doctor say?"
"Oh, nothing, nothing! You are much better. Only, my poor Lucie, we
must put on another blister to-night."
Oh, how monotonous and slow these days were to the little Amedee, near
the drowsy invalid, in the close room smelling of drugs, where only the
old snuff-taker entered once an hour to bring a cup of tea or put
charcoal upon the fire!
Sometimes their neighbor, Madame Gerard, would come to inquire after the
"Still very feeble, my good Madame Gerard," his mother would respond.
"Ah, I am beginning to get discouraged."
But Madame Gerard would not let her be despondent.
"You see, Madame Violette, it is this horrible, endless winter. It is
almost March now; they are already selling boxes of primroses in little
carts on the sidewalks. You will surely be better as soon as the sun
shines. If you like, I will take little Amedee back with me to play with
my little girls. It will amuse the child."
So it happened that the good neighbor kept the child every afternoon, and
he became very fond of the little Gerard children.
Four little rooms, that is all; but with a quantity of old, picturesque
furniture; engravings, casts, and pictures painted by comrades were on
the walls; the doors were always open, and the children could always play
where they liked, chase each other through the apartments or pillage
them. In the drawing-room, which had been transformed into a work-room,
the artist sat upon a high stool, point in hand; the light from a
curtainless window, sifting through the transparent paper, made the
worthy man's skull shine as he leaned over his copper plate. He worked
hard all day; with an expensive house and two girls to bring up, it was
necessary. In spite of his advanced opinions, he continued to engrave
his Prince Louis--"A rogue who is trying to juggle us out of a Republic."
At the very most, he stopped only two or three times a day to smoke his
Abu-el-Kader. Nothing distracted him from his work; not even the little
ones, who, tired of playing their piece for four hands upon the piano,
would organize, with Amedee, a game of hide-and-seek close by their
father, behind the old Empire sofa ornamented with bronze lions' heads.
But Madame Gerard, in her kitchen, where she was always cooking something
good for dinner, sometimes thought they made too great an uproar. Then
Maria, a real hoyden, in trying to catch her sister, would push an old
armchair against a Renaissance chest and make all the Rouen crockery
"Now then, now then, children!" exclaimed Madame Gerard, from the depths
of her lair, from which escaped a delicious odor of bacon. "Let your
father have a little quiet, and go and play in the dining-room."
They obeyed; for there they could move chairs as they liked, build houses
of them, and play at making calls. Did ever anybody have such wild ideas
at five years of age as this Maria? She took the arm of Amedee, whom she
called her little husband, and went to call upon her sister and show her
her little child, a pasteboard doll with a large head, wrapped up in a
"As you see, Madame, it is a boy."
"What do you intend to make of him when he grows up?" asked Louise, who
lent herself complacently to the play, for she was ten years old and
quite a young lady, if you please.
"Why, Madame," replied Maria, gravely, "he will be a soldier."
At that moment the engraver, who had left his bench to stretch his legs a
little and to light his Abd-el-Kader for the third time, came and stood
at the threshold of his room. Madame Gerard, reassured as to the state
of her stew, which was slowly cooking--and oh, how good it smelled in the
kitchen!--entered the dining-room. Both looked at the children, so
comical and so graceful, as they made their little grimaces! Then the
husband glanced at his wife, and the wife at the husband, and both burst
out into hearty laughter.
There never was any laughter in the apartment of the Violettes. It was
cough! cough! cough! almost to suffocation, almost to death! This gentle
young woman with the heavy hair was about to die! When the beautiful
starry evenings should come again, she would no longer linger on the
balcony, or press her husband's hand as they gazed at the stars. Little
Amedee did not understand it; but he felt a vague terror of something
dreadful happening in the house. Everything alarmed him now. He was
afraid of the old woman who smelled of snuff, and who, when she dressed
him in the morning, looked at him with a pitying air; he was afraid of
the doctor, who climbed the five flights of stairs twice a day now, and
left a whiff of perfume behind him; afraid of his father, who did not go
to his office any more, whose beard was often three days old, and who
feverishly paced the little parlor, tossing back with a distracted
gesture the lock of hair behind his ear. He was afraid of his mother,
alas! of his mother, whom he had seen that evening, by the light from the
night-lamp, buried in the pillows, her delicate nose and chin thrown up,
and who did not seem to recognize him, in spite of her wide-open eyes,
when his father took her child in his arms and leaned over her with him
that he might kiss her cold forehead covered with sweat!
At last the terrible day arrived, a day that Amedee never will forget,
although he was then a very small child.
What awakened him that morning was his father's embrace as he came and
took him from his bed. His father's eyes were wild and bloodshot from so
much crying. Why was their neighbor, M. Gerard, there so early in the
morning, and with great tears rolling down his cheeks too? He kept
beside M. Violette, as if watching him, and patted him upon the back
"Now then, my poor friend! Have courage, courage!"
But the poor friend had no more. He let M. Gerard take the child from
him, and then his head fell like a dead person's upon the good engraver's
shoulder, and he began to weep with heavy sobs that shook his whole body.
"Mamma! See mamma!" cried the little Amedee, full of terror.
Alas! he never will see her again! At the Gerards, where they carried
him and the kind neighbor dressed him, they told him that his mother had
gone for a long time, a very long time; that he must love his papa very
much and think only of him; and other things that he could not understand
and dared not ask the meaning of, but which filled him with
It was strange! The engraver and his wife busied themselves entirely
with him, watching him every moment. The little ones, too, treated him
in a singular, almost respectful manner. What had caused such a change?
Louise did not open her piano, and when little Maria wished to take her
"menagerie" from the lower part of the buffet, Madame Gerard said
sharply, as she wiped the tears from her eyes: "You must not play to-
After breakfast Madame Gerard put on her hat and shawl and went out,
taking Amedee with her. They got into a carriage that took them through
streets that the child did not know, across a bridge in the middle of
which stood a large brass horseman, with his head crowned with laurel,
and stopped before a large house and entered with the crowd, where a very
agile and rapid young man put some black clothes on Amedee.
On their return the child found his father seated at the dining-room
table with M. Gerard, and both of them were writing addresses upon large
sheets of paper bordered with black. M. Violette was not crying, but his
face showed deep lines of grief, and he let his lock of hair fall over
his right eye.
At the sight of little Amedee, in his black clothes, he uttered a groan,
and arose, staggering like a drunken man, bursting into tears again.
Oh, no! he never will forget that day, nor the horrible next day, when
Madame Gerard came and dressed him in the morning in his black clothes,
while he listened to the noise of heavy feet and blows from a hammer in
the next room. He suddenly remembered that he had not seen his mother
since two days before.
"Mamma! I want to see mamma!"
It was necessary then to try to make him understand the truth. Madame
Gerard repeated to him that he ought to be very wise and good, and try to
console his father, who had much to grieve him; for his mother had gone
away forever; that she was in heaven.
In heaven! heaven is very high up and far off. If his mother was in
heaven, what was it that those porters dressed in black carried away in
the heavy box that they knocked at every turn of the staircase? What did
that solemn carriage, which he followed through all the rain, quickening
his childish steps, with his little hand tightly clasped in his father's,
carry away? What did they bury in that hole, from which an odor of
freshly dug earth was emitted--in that hole surrounded by men in black,
and from which his father turned away his head in horror? What was it
that they hid in this ditch, in this garden full of crosses and stone
urns, where the newly budded trees shone in the March sun after the
shower, large drops of water still falling from their branches like
His mother was in heaven! On the evening of that dreadful day Amedee
dared not ask to "see mamma" when he was seated before his father at the
table, where, for a long time, the old woman in a short jacket had placed
only two plates. The poor widower, who had just wiped his eyes with his
napkin, had put upon one of the plates a little meat cut up in bits for
Amedee. He was very pale, and as Amedee sat in his high chair, he asked
himself whether he should recognize his mother's sweet, caressing look,
some day, in one of those stars that she loved to watch, seated upon the
balcony on cool September nights, pressing her husband's hand in the
Trees are like men; there are some that have no luck. A genuinely
unfortunate tree was the poor sycamore which grew in the playground of an
institution for boys on the Rue de la Grande-Chaumiere, directed by
Chance might just as well have made it grow upon the banks of a river,
upon some pretty bluff, where it might have seen the boats pass; or,
better still, upon the mall in some garrison village, where it could have
had the pleasure of listening twice a week to military music. But, no!
it was written in the book of fate that this unlucky sycamore should lose
its bark every summer, as a serpent changes its skin, and should scatter
the ground with its dead leaves at the first frost, in the playground of
the Batifol institution, which was a place without any distractions.
This solitary tree, which was like any other sycamore, middle-aged and
without any singularities, ought to have had the painful feeling that it
served in a measure to deceive the public. In fact, upon the
advertisement of the Batifol institution (Cours du lycee Henri IV.
Preparation au baccalaureat et aux ecoles de l'Etat), one read these
fallacious words, "There is a garden;" when in reality it was only a
vulgar court graveled with stones from the river, with a paved gutter in
which one could gather half a dozen of lost marbles, a broken top, and a
certain number of shoe-nails, and after recreation hours still more.
This solitary sycamore was supposed to justify the illusion and fiction
of the garden promised in the advertisement; but as trees certainly have
common sense, this one should have been conscious that it was not a
garden of itself.
It was a very unjust fate for an inoffensive tree which never had harmed
anybody; only expanding, at one side of the gymnasium portico, in a
perfect rectangle formed by a prison wall, bristling with the glass of
broken bottles, and by three buildings of distressing similarity,
showing, above the numerous doors on the ground floor, inscriptions which
merely to read induced a yawn: Hall 1, Hall 2, Hall 3, Hall 4, Stairway
A, Stairway B, Entrance to the Dormitories, Dining-room, Laboratory.
The poor sycamore was dying of ennui in this dismal place. Its only
happy seasons--the recreation hours, when the court echoed with the
shouts and the laughter of the boys--were spoiled for it by the sight of
two or three pupils who were punished by being made to stand at the foot
of its trunk. Parisian birds, who are not fastidious, rarely lighted
upon the tree, and never built their nests there. It might even be
imagined that this disenchanted tree, when the wind agitated its foliage,
would charitably say, "Believe me! the place is good for nothing. Go
and make love elsewhere!"
In the shade of this sycamore, planted under an unlucky star, the greater
part of Amedee's infancy was passed.
M. Violette was an employe of the Ministry, and was obliged to work seven
hours a day, one or two hours of which were devoted to going wearily
through a bundle of probably superfluous papers and documents. The rest
of the time was given to other occupations as varied as they were
intellectual; such as yawning, filing his nails, talking about his
chiefs, groaning over the slowness of promotion, cooking a potato or a
sausage in the stove for his luncheon, reading the newspaper down to the
editor's signature, and advertisements in which some country cure
expresses his artless gratitude at being cured at last of an obstinate
disease. In recompense for this daily captivity, M. Violette received,
at the end of the month, a sum exactly sufficient to secure his household
soup and beef, with a few vegetables.
In order that his son might attain such a distinguished position,
M. Violette's father, a watch-maker in Chartres, had sacrificed
everything, and died penniless. The Silvio Pellico official, during
these exasperating and tiresome hours, sometimes regretted not having
simply succeeded his father. He could see himself, in imagination, in
the light little shop near the cathedral, with a magnifying-glass fixed
in his eye, ready to inspect some farmer's old "turnip," and suspended
over his bench thirty silver and gold watches left by farmers the week
before, who would profit by the next market-day to come and get them, all
going together with a merry tick. It may be questioned whether a trade
as low as this would have been fitting for a young man of education, a
Bachelor of Arts, crammed with Greek roots and quotations, able to prove
the existence of God, and to recite without hesitation the dates of the
reigns of Nabonassar and of Nabopolassar. This watch-maker, this simple
artisan, understood modern genius better. This modest shopkeeper acted
according to the democratic law and followed the instinct of a noble and
wise ambition. He made of his son--a sensible and intelligent boy--a
machine to copy documents, and spend his days guessing the conundrums in
the illustrated newspapers, which he read as easily as M. Ledrain would
decipher the cuneiform inscriptions on an Assyrian brick. Also--
an admirable result, which should rejoice the old watch-maker's shade--
his son had become a gentleman, a functionary, so splendidly remunerated
by the State that he was obliged to wear patches of cloth, as near like
the trousers as possible, on their seat; and his poor young wife, during
her life, had always been obliged, as rent-day drew near, to carry the
soup-ladle and six silver covers to the pawn-shop.
At all events, M. Violette was a widower now, and being busy all day was
very much embarrassed with the care of his little son. His neighbors,
the Gerards, were very kind to Amedee, and continued to keep him with
them all the afternoon. This state of affairs could not always continue,
and M. Violette hesitated to abuse his worthy friends' kindness in that
However, Amedee gave them little trouble, and Mamma Gerard loved him as
if he were her own. The orphan was now inseparable from little Maria, a
perfect little witch, who became prettier every day. The engraver,
having found in a cupboard the old bearskin cap which he had worn as a
grenadier in the National Guard, a headdress that had been suppressed
since '98, gave it to the children. What a magnificent plaything it was,
and how well calculated to excite their imagination! It was immediately
transformed in their minds into a frightfully large and ferocious bear,
which they chased through the apartment, lying in wait for it behind
armchairs, striking at it with sticks, and puffing out their little
cheeks with all their might to say "Boum!" imitating the report of a
gun. This hunting diversion completed the destruction of the old
furniture. Tranquil in the midst of the joyous uproar and disorder, the
engraver was busily at work finishing off the broad ribbon of the Legion
of Honor, and the large bullion epaulettes of the Prince President, whom,
as a suspicious republican and foreseeing the 'coup d'etat', he detested
with all his heart.
"Truly, Monsieur Violette," said Mother Gerard to the employe, when he
came for his little son upon his return from the office, and excused
himself for the trouble that the child must give his neighbors, "truly, I
assure you, he does not disturb us in the least. Wait a little before
you send him to school. He is very quiet, and if Maria did not excite
him so--upon my word, she is more of a boy than he--your Amedee would
always be looking at the pictures. My Louise hears him read every day
two pages in the Moral Tales, and yesterday he amused Gerard by telling
him the story of the grateful elephant. He can go to school later--wait
But M. Violette had decided to send Amedee to M. Batifol's. "Oh, yes, as
a day scholar, of course! It is so convenient; not two steps' distance.
This will not prevent little Amedee from seeing his friends often. He is
nearly seven years old, and very backward; he hardly knows how to make
his letters. One can not begin with children too soon," and much more to
the same effect.
This was the reason why, one fine spring day, M. Violette was ushered
into M. Batifol's office, who, the servant said, would be there directly.
M. Batifol's office was hideous. In the three bookcases which the master
of the house--a snob and a greedy schoolmaster--never opened, were some
of those books that one can buy upon the quays by the running yard; for
example, Laharpe's Cours de Litterature, and an endless edition of
Rollin, whose tediousness seems to ooze out through their bindings. The
cylindrical office-table, one of those masterpieces of veneered mahogany
which the Faubourg St. Antoine still keeps the secret of making, was
surmounted by a globe of the world.
Suddenly, through the open window, little Amedee saw the sycamore in the
yard. A young blackbird, who did not know the place, came and perched
for an instant only upon one of its branches.
We may fancy the tree saying to it:
"What are you doing here? The Luxembourg is only a short distance from
here, and is charming. Children are there, making mud-pies, nurses upon
the seats chattering with the military, lovers promenading, holding
hands. Go there, you simpleton!"
The blackbird flew away, and the university tree, once more solitary and
alone, drooped its dispirited leaves. Amedee, in his confused childish
desire for information, was just ready to ask why this sycamore looked so
morose, when the door opened and M. Batifol appeared. The master of the
school had a severe aspect, in spite of his almost indecorous name.
He resembled a hippopotamus clothed in an ample black coat. He entered
slowly and bowed in a dignified way to M. Violette, then seated himself
in a leather armchair before his papers, and, taking off his velvet
skull-cap, revealed such a voluminous round, yellow baldness that little
Amedee compared it with terror to the globe on the top of his desk.
It was just the same thing! These two round balls were twins! There was
even upon M. Batifol's cranium an eruption of little red pimples, grouped
almost exactly like an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean.
"Whom have I the honor--?" asked the schoolmaster, in an unctuous voice,
an excellent voice for proclaiming names at the distribution of prizes.
M. Violette was not a brave man. It was very foolish, but when the
senior clerk called him into his office to do some work, he was always
seized with a sort of stammering and shaking of the limbs. A person so
imposing as M. Batifol was not calculated to give him assurance. Amedee
was timid, too, like his father, and while the child, frightened by the
resemblance of the sphere to M. Batifol's bald head, was already
trembling, M. Violette, much agitated, was trying to think of something
to say, consequently, he said nothing of any account. However, he ended
by repeating almost the same things he had said to Mamma Gerard: "My son
is nearly seven years old, and very backward, etc."
The teacher appeared to listen to M. Violette with benevolent interest,
inclining his geographical cranium every few seconds. In reality, he was
observing and judging his visitors. The father's scanty overcoat, the
rather pale face of the little boy, all betokened poverty. It simply
meant a day scholar at thirty francs a month, nothing more.
So M. Batifol shortened the "speech" that under like circumstances he
addressed to his new pupils.
He would take charge of his "young friend" (thirty francs a month, that
is understood, and the child will bring his own luncheon in a little
basket) who would first be placed in an elementary class. Certain
fathers prefer, and they have reason to do so, that their sons should be
half-boarders, with a healthful and abundant repast at noon. But M.
Batifol did not insist upon it. His young friend would then be placed in
the infant class, at first; but he would be prepared there at once, 'ab
ovo', one day to receive lessons in this University of France, 'alma
parens' (instruction in foreign languages not included in the ordinary
price, naturally), which by daily study, competition between scholars
(accomplishments, such as dancing, music, and fencing, to be paid for
separately; that goes without saying) prepare children for social life,
and make men and citizens of them.
M. Violette contented himself with the day school at thirty francs, and
for a good reason. The affair was settled. Early the next morning
Amedee would enter the "ninth preparatory."
"Give me your hand, my young friend," said the master, as father and son
arose to take their leave.
Amedee reached out his hand, and M. Batifol took it in his, which was so
heavy, large, and cold that the child shivered at the contact, and
fancied he was touching a leg of mutton of six or seven pounds' weight,
freshly killed, and sent from the butcher's.
Finally they left. Early the next morning, Amedee, provided with a
little basket, in which the old snuff-taker had put a little bottle of
red wine, and some sliced veal, and jam tarts, presented himself at the
boarding-school, to be prepared without delay for the teaching of the
The hippopotamus clothed in black did not take off his skullcap this
time, to the child's great regret, for he wished to assure himself if the
degrees of latitude and longitude were checked off in squares on M.
Batifol's cranium as they were on the terrestrial globe. He conducted
his pupil to his class at once and presented him to the master.
"Here is a new day scholar, Monsieur Tavernier. You will find out how
far advanced he is in reading and writing, if you please." M. Tavernier
was a tall young man with a sallow complexion, a bachelor who, had he
been living like his late father, a sergeant of the gendarmes, in a
pretty house surrounded by apple trees and green grass, would not,
perhaps, have had that 'papier-mache' appearance, and would not have been
dressed at eight o'clock in the morning in a black coat of the kind we
see hanging in the Morgue. M. Tavernier received the newcomer with a
sickly smile, which disappeared as soon as M. Batifol left the room.
"Go and take your place in that empty seat there, in the third row," said
M. Tavernier, in an indifferent tone.
He deigned, however, to conduct Amedee to the seat which he was to
occupy. Amedee's neighbor, one of the future citizens preparing for
social life--several with patches upon their trousers--had been naughty
enough to bring into class a handful of cockchafers. He was punished by
a quarter of an hour's standing up, which he did soon after, sulking at
the foot of the sycamore-tree in the large court.
"You will soon see what a cur he is," whispered the pupil in disgrace;
as soon as the teacher had returned to his seat.
M. Tavernier struck his ruler on the edge of his chair, and, having
reestablished silence, invited pupil Godard to recite his lesson.
Pupil Godard, who was a chubby-faced fellow with sleepy eyes, rose
automatically and in one single stream, like a running tap, recited,
without stopping to take breath, "The Wolf and the Lamb," rolling off La
Fontaine's fable like the thread from a bobbin run by steam.
Suddenly Godard was confused, he hesitated. The machine had been badly
oiled. Something obstructed the bobbin.
Then he stopped short, the tap was closed. Godard did not know his
lesson, and he, too, was condemned to remain on guard under the sycamore
After pupil Godard came pupil Grosdidier; then Blanc, then Moreau
(Gaston), then Moreau (Ernest), then Malepert; then another, and another,
who babbled with the same intelligence and volubility, with the same
piping voice, this cruel and wonderful fable. It was as irritating and
monotonous as a fine rain. All the pupils in the "ninth preparatory"
were disgusted for fifteen years, at least, with this most exquisite of
Little Amedee wanted to cry; he listened with stupefaction blended with
fright as the scholars by turns unwound their bobbins. To think that
to-morrow he must do the same! He never would be able. M. Tavernier
frightened him very much, too. The yellow-complexioned usher, seated
nonchalantly in his armchair, was not without pretension; in spite of his
black coat with the "take-me-out-of-pawn" air, polished his nails, and
only opened his mouth at times to utter a reprimand or pronounce sentence
This was school, then! Amedee recalled the pleasant reading-lessons that
the eldest of the Gerards had given him--that good Louise, so wise and
serious and only ten years old, pointing out his letters to him in a
picture alphabet with a knitting-needle, always so patient and kind.
The child was overcome at the very first with a disgust for school,
and gazed through the window which lighted the room at the noiselessly
moving, large, indented leaves of the melancholy sycamore.
PAPA AND MAMMA GERARD
One, two, three years rolled by without anything very remarkable
happening to the inhabitants of the fifth story.
The quarter had not changed, and it still had the appearance of a
suburban faubourg. They had just erected, within gunshot of the house
where the Violettes and Gerards lived, a large five-story building,
upon whose roof still trembled in the wind the masons' withered bouquets.
But that was all. In front of them, on the lot "For Sale," enclosed by
rotten boards, where one could always see tufts of nettles and a goat
tied to a stake, and upon the high wall above which by the end of April
the lilacs hung in their perfumed clusters, the rains had not effaced
this brutal declaration of love, scraped with a knife in the plaster:
"When Melie wishes she can have me," and signed "Eugene."
Three years had passed, and little Amedee had grown a trifle. At that
time a child born in the centre of Paris--for example, in the labyrinth
of infected streets about the Halles--would have grown up without having
any idea of the change of seasons other than by the state of the
temperature and the narrow strip of sky which he could see by raising his
head. Even today certain poor children--the poor never budge from their
hiding-places--learn of the arrival of winter only by the odor of roasted
chestnuts; of spring, by the boxes of gilly-flowers in the fruiterer's
stall; of summer, by the water-carts passing, and of autumn, by the heaps
of oyster-shells at the doors of wine-shops. The broad sky, with its
confused shapes of cloud architecture, the burning gold of the setting
sun behind the masses of trees, the enchanting stillness of moonlight
upon the river, all these grand and magnificent spectacles are for the
delight of those who live in suburban quarters, or play there sometimes.
The sons of people who work in buttons and jet spend their infancy
playing on staircases that smell of lead, or in courts that resemble
wells, and do not suspect that nature exists. At the outside they
suspect that nature may exist when they see the horses on Palm Sunday
decorated with bits of boxwood behind each ear. What matters it, after
all, if the child has imagination? A star reflected in a gutter will
reveal to him an immense nocturnal poem; and he will breathe all the
intoxication of summer in the full-blown rose which the grisette from the
next house lets fall from her hair.
Amedee had had the good fortune of being born in that delicious and
melancholy suburb of Paris which had not yet become "Haussmannized,"
and was full of wild and charming nooks.
His father, the widower, could not be consoled, and tried to wear out his
grief in long promenades, going out on clear evenings, holding his little
boy by the hand, toward the more solitary places. They followed those
fine boulevards, formerly in the suburbs, where there were giant elms,
planted in the time of Louis XIV, ditches full of grass, ruined
palisades, showing through their opening market-gardens where melons
glistened in the rays of the setting sun. Both were silent; the father
lost in reveries, Amedee absorbed in the confused dreams of a child.
They went long distances, passing the Barriere d'Enfer, reaching unknown
parts, which produced the same effect upon an inhabitant of Rue
Montmartre as the places upon an old map of the world, marked with the
mysterious words 'Mare ignotum', would upon a savant of the Middle Ages.
There were many houses in this ancient suburb; curious old buildings,
nearly all of one story.
Sometimes they would pass a public-house painted in a sinister wine-
color; or else a garden hedged in by acacias, at the fork of two roads,
with arbors and a sign consisting of a very small windmill at the end of
a pole, turning in the fresh evening breeze. It was almost country; the
grass grew upon the sidewalks, springing up in the road between the
broken pavements. A poppy flashed here and there upon the tops of the
low walls. They met very few people; now and then some poor person, a
woman in a cap dragging along a crying child, a workman burdened with his
tools, a belated invalid, and sometimes in the middle. of the sidewalk,
in a cloud of dust, a flock of exhausted sheep, bleating desperately, and
nipped in the legs by dogs hurrying them toward the abattoir. The father
and son would walk straight ahead until it was dark under the trees;
then they would retrace their steps, the sharp air stinging their faces.
Those ancient hanging street-lamps, the tragic lanterns of the time of
the Terror, were suspended at long intervals in the avenue, mingling
their dismal twinkle with the pale gleams of the green twilight sky.
These sorrowful promenades with his melancholy companion would commonly
end a tiresome day at Batifol's school. Amedee was now in the "seventh,"
and knew already that the phrase, "the will of God," could not be turned
into Latin by 'bonitas divina', and that the word 'cornu' was not
declinable. These long, silent hours spent at his school-desk, or beside
a person absorbed in grief, might have become fatal to the child's
disposition, had it not been for his good friends, the Gerards. He went
to see them as often as he was able, a spare hour now and then, and most
of the day on Thursdays. The engraver's house was always full of good-
nature and gayety, and Amedee felt comfortable and really happy there.
The good Gerards, besides their Louise and Maria, to say nothing of
Amedee, whom they looked upon as one of the family, had now taken charge
of a fourth child, a little girl, named Rosine, who was precisely the
same age as their youngest.
This was the way it happened. Above the Gerards, in one of the mansards
upon the sixth floor, lived a printer named Combarieu, with his wife or
mistress--the concierge did not know which, nor did it matter much. The
woman had just deserted him, leaving a child of eight years. One could
expect nothing better of a creature who, according to the concierge,
fed her husband upon pork-butcher's meat, to spare herself the trouble
of getting dinner, and passed the entire day with uncombed hair, in a
dressing-sacque, reading novels, and telling her fortune with cards.
The grocer's daughter declared she had met her one evening, at a dancing-
hall, seated with a fireman before a salad-bowl full of wine, prepared in
the French fashion.
During the day Combarieu, although a red-hot Republican, sent his little
girl to the Sisters; but he went out every evening with a mysterious air
and left the child alone. The concierge even uttered in a low voice,
with the romantic admiration which that class of people have for
conspirators, the terrible word "secret society," and asserted that the
printer had a musket concealed under his straw bed.
These revelations were of a nature to excite M. Gerard's sympathy in
favor of his neighbor, for the coup d'etat and the proclamation of the
Empire had irritated him very much. Had it not been his melancholy duty
to engrave, the day after the second of December--he must feed his family
first of all--a Bonapartist allegory entitled, "The Uncle and the
Nephew," where one saw France extending its hand to Napoleon I and Prince
Louis, while soaring above the group was an eagle with spreading wings,
holding in one of his claws the cross of the Legion of Honor?
One day the engraver asked his wife, as he lighted his pipe--he had given
up Abd-el-Kader and smoked now a Barbes--if they ought not to interest
themselves a little in the abandoned child. It needed nothing more to
arouse the good woman, who had already said more than once: "What a
pity!" as she saw little Rosine waiting for her father in the lodge of
the concierge, asleep in a chair before the stove. She coaxed the child
to play with her children. Rosine was very pretty, with bright eyes,
a droll little Parisian nose, and a mass of straw-colored curly hair
escaping from her cap. The little rogue let fly quite often some gutter
expression, such as "Hang it!" or "Tol-derol-dol!" at which Madame
Gerard would exclaim, "What do I hear, Mademoiselle?" but she was
intelligent and soon corrected herself.
One Sunday morning, Combarieu, having learned of their kindness to his
child, made a visit to thank them.
Very dark, with a livid complexion, all hair and beard, and trying to
look like the head of Jesus Christ, in his long black blouse he embodied
the type of a club conspirator, a representative of the workingmen.
A Freemason, probably; a solemn drunkard, who became intoxicated oftener
on big words than on native wine, and spoke in a loud, pretentious voice,
gazing before him with large, stupid eyes swimming in a sort of ecstasy;
his whole person made one think of a boozy preacher. He immediately
inspired the engraver with respect, and dazzled him by the fascination
which the audacious exert over the timid. M. Gerard thought he discerned
in Combarieu one of those superior men whom a cruel fate had caused to be
born among the lower class and in whom poverty had stifled genius.
Enlightened as to the artist's political preferences by the bowl of his
pipe, Combarieu complacently eulogized himself. Upon his own admission
he had at first been foolish enough to dream of a universal brotherhood,
a holy alliance of the people. He had even written poems which he had
published himself, notably an "Ode to Poland," and an "Epistle to
Beranger," which latter had evoked an autograph letter from the
illustrious song-writer. But he was no longer such a simpleton.
"When one has seen what we have seen during June, and on the second of
December, there is no longer any question of sentiment." Here the
engraver, as a hospitable host, brought a bottle of wine and two glasses.
"No, Monsieur Gerard, I thank you, I take nothing between my meals. The
workingmen have been deceived too often, and at the next election we
shall not let the bourgeoisie strangle the Republic." (M. Gerard had now
uncorked the bottle.) "Only a finger! Enough! Enough! simply so as not
to refuse you. While waiting, let us prepare ourselves. Just now the
Eastern question muddles us, and behold 'Badinguet,'--[A nickname given
to Napoleon III.]--with a big affair upon his hands. You have some wine
here that is worth drinking. If he loses one battle he is done for. One
glass more? Ah! you make me depart from my usual custom--absolutely
done for. But this time we shall keep our eyes open. No half measures!
We will return to the great methods of 'ninety-three--the Committee of
Public Safety, the Law of Suspects, the Revolutionary Tribunal, every
damned one of them! and, if it is necessary, a permanent guillotine! To
your good health!"
So much energy frightened Father Gerard a little; for in spite of his
Barbes pipe-bowl he was not a genuine red-hot Republican. He dared not
protest, however, and blushed a little as he thought that the night
before an editor had proposed to him to engrave a portrait of the new
Empress, very decollete, and showing her famous shoulders, and that he
had not said No; for his daughters needed new shoes, and his wife had
declared the day before that she had not a gown to put on.
So for several months he had four children--Amedee, Louise, Maria, and
little Rose Combarieu--to make a racket in his apartment. Certainly they
were no longer babies; they did not play at making calls nor chase the
old fur hat around the room; they were more sensible, and the old
furniture had a little rest. And it was time, for all the chairs were
lame, two of the larger ones had lost an arm each, and the Empire sofa
had lost the greater part of its hair through the rents in its dark-green
velvet covering. The unfortunate square piano had had no pity shown it;
more out of tune and asthmatic than ever, it was now always open, and one
could read above the yellow and worn-out keyboard a once famous name-
"Sebastian Erard, Manufacturer of Pianos and Harps for S.A.R. Madame la
Duchesse de Berri." Not only Louise, the eldest of the Gerards--a large
girl now, having been to her first communion, dressing her hair in bands,
and wearing white waists--not only Louise, who had become a good
musician, had made the piano submit to long tortures, but her sister
Maria, and Amedee also, already played the 'Bouquet de Bal' or 'Papa,
les p'tits bateaux'. Rosine, too, in her character of street urchin,
knew all the popular songs, and spent entire hours in picking out the
airs with one finger upon the old instrument.
Ah! the songs of those days, the last of romanticism, the make-believe
'Orientales'; 'Odes' and 'Ballads', by the dozen; 'Comes d'Espagne et
d'Italie', with their pages, turrets, chatelaines; bull-fighters, Spanish
ladies; vivandieres, beguiled away from their homes under the pale of the
church, "near a stream of running water, by a gay and handsome
chevalier," and many other such silly things--Amedee will remember them
always! They bring back to him, clearly and strongly, certain happy
hours in his childhood! They make him smell again at times even the odor
that pervaded the Gerards' house. A mule-driver's song will bring up
before his vision the engraver working at his plate before the
curtainless window on a winter's day. It snows in the streets, and large
white flakes are slowly falling behind the glass; but the room,
ornamented with pictures and busts, is lighted and heated by a bright
coke fire. Amedee can see himself seated in a corner by the fire,
learning by heart a page of the "Epitome" which he must recite the next
morning at M. Batifol's. Maria and Rosine are crouched at his feet, with
a box of glass beads, which they are stringing into a necklace. It was
comfortable; the whole apartment smelled of the engraver's pipe, and in
the dining-room, whose door is half opened, Louise is at the piano,
singing, in a fresh voice, some lines where "Castilla" rhymes with
"mantilla," and "Andalousie" with "jealousy," while her agile fingers
played on the old instrument an accompaniment supposed to imitate bells
Or perhaps it is a radiant morning in June, and they are in the dining-
room; the balcony door is open wide, and a large hornet buzzes loudly in
the vine. Louise is still at the piano; she is singing this time, and
trying to reach the low tones of a dramatic romance where a Corsican
child is urged on to vengeance by his father:
Tiens, prends ma carabiue!
Sur toi veillera Dieu--
This is a great day, the day when Mamma Gerard makes her gooseberry
preserves. There is a large basin already full of it on the table. What
a delicious odor! A perfume of roses mingled with that of warm sugar.
Maria and Rosine have just slipped into the kitchen, the gourmands! But
Louise is a serious person, and will not interrupt her singing for such a
trifle. She continues to sing in a low voice: and at the moment when
Amedee stands speechless with admiration before her, as she is scolding
in a terrible tone and playing dreadful chords, to and behold! here come
the children, both with pink moustaches, and licking their lips
Ah! these were happy hours to Amedee. They consoled him for the
interminable days at M. Batifol's.
Having passed the ninth preparatory grade, under the direction of the
indolent M. Tavernier, always busy polishing his nails, like a Chinese
mandarin, the child had for a professor in the eighth grade Pere
Montandeuil, a poor fellow stupefied by thirty years of teaching, who
secretly employed all his spare hours in composing five-act tragedies,
and who, by dint of carrying to and going for his manuscripts at the
Odeon, ended by marrying the stagedoor-keeper's daughter. In the seventh
grade Amedee groaned under the tyranny of M. Prudhommod, a man from the
country, with a smattering of Latin and a terribly violent temper,
throwing at the pupils the insults of a plowboy. Now he had entered the
sixth grade, under M. Bance, an unfortunate fellow about twenty years
old, ugly, lame, and foolishly timid, whom M. Batifol reproached severely
with not having made himself respected, and whose eyes filled with tears
every morning when, upon entering the schoolroom, he was obliged to
efface with a cloth a caricature of himself made by some of his pupils.
Everything in M. Batifol's school--the grotesque and miserable teachers,
the ferocious and cynical pupils, the dingy, dusty, and ink-stained
rooms--saddened and displeased Amedee. Although very intelligent, he was
disgusted with the sort of instruction there, which was served out in
portions, like soldier's rations, and would have lost courage but for his
little friend, Louise Gerard, who out of sheer kindness constituted
herself his school-mistress, guiding and inspiriting him, and working
hard at the rudiments of L'homond's Grammar and Alexandre's Dictionary,
to help the child struggle with his 'De Viris'. Unfortunate indeed is he
who has not had, during his infancy, a petticoat near him--the sweet
influence of a woman. He will always have something coarse in his mind
and hard in his heart. Without this excellent and kind Louise, Amedee
would have been exposed to this danger. His mother was dead, and M.
Violette, alas! was always overwhelmed with his grief, and, it must be
admitted, somewhat neglected his little son.
The widower could not be consoled. Since his wife's death he had grown
ten years older, and his refractory lock of hair had become perfectly
white. His Lucie had been the sole joy in his commonplace and obscure
life. She was so pretty, so sweet! such a good manager, dressing upon
nothing, and making things seem luxurious with only one flower!
M. Violette existed only on this dear and cruel souvenir, living his
humble idyll over again in his mind.
He had had six years of this happiness. One of his comrades took him to
pass an evening with an old friend who was captain in the Invalides. The
worthy man had lost an arm at Waterloo; he was a relative of Lucie, a
good-natured old fellow, amiable and lively, delighting in arranging his
apartments into a sort of Bonapartist chapel and giving little
entertainments with cake and punch, while Lucie's mother, a cousin of the
captain, did the honors. M. Violette immediately observed the young
girl, seated under a "Bataille des Pyramides" with two swords crossed
above it, a carnation in her hair. It was in midsummer, and through the
open window one could see the magnificent moonlight, which shone upon the
esplanade and made the huge cannon shine. They were playing charades,
and when it came Lucie's turn to be questioned among all the guests, M.
Violette, to relieve her of her embarrassment, replied so awkwardly that
they all exclaimed, "Now, then, that is cheating!" With what naive grace
and bashful coquetry she served the tea, going from one table to another,
cup in hand, followed by the one-armed captain with silver epaulets,
carrying the plum-cake! In order to see her again, M. Violette paid the
captain visit after visit. But the greater part of the time he saw only
the old soldier, who told him of his victories and conquests, of the
attack of the redoubt at Borodino, and the frightful swearing of the
dashing Murat, King of Naples, as he urged the squadrons on to the
rescue. At last, one beautiful Sunday in autumn, he found himself alone
with the young girl in the private garden of the veteran of the Old
Guard. He seated himself beside Lucie on a stone bench: he told her his
love, with the profound gaze of the Little Corporal, in bronzed plaster,
resting upon them; and, full of delicious confusion, she replied, "Speak
to mamma," dropping her bewildered eyes and gazing at the bed of china-
asters, whose boxwood border traced the form of a cross of the Legion of
And all this was effaced, lost forever! The captain was dead; Lucie's
mother was dead, and Lucie herself, his beloved Lucie, was dead, after
giving him six years of cloudless happiness.
Certainly, he would never marry again. Oh, never!
No woman had ever existed or ever would exist for him but his poor
darling, sleeping in the Montparnasse Cemetery, whose grave he visited
every Sunday with a little watering-pot concealed under his coat.
He recalled, with a shiver of disgust, how, a few months after Lucie's
death, one stifling evening in July, he was seated upon a bench in the
Luxembourg, listening to the drums beating a retreat under the trees,
when a woman came and took a seat beside him and looked at him steadily.
Surprised by her significant look, he replied, to the question that she
addressed to him, timidly and at the same time boldly: "So this is the
way that you take the air?" And when she ended by asking him, "Come to
my house," he had followed her. But he had hardly entered when the past
all came back to him, and he felt a stifled feeling of distress. Falling
into a chair, he sobbed, burying his face in his hands. His grief was so
violent that, by a feminine instinct of pity, the wretched creature took
his head in her arms, saying, in a consoling tone, "There, cry, cry, it
will do you good!" and rocked him like an infant. At last he disengaged
himself from this caress, which made him ashamed of himself, and throwing
what little money he had about him upon the top of the bureau, he went
away and returned to his home, where he went hastily to bed and wept to
his heart's content, as he gnawed his pillow. Oh, horrible memories!
No! never a wife, no mistress, nothing! Now his grief was his wife, and
lived with him.
The widower's morning awakening was frightful above all things else-his
awakening in the large bed that now had but one pillow. It was there
that he had once had the exquisite pleasure of watching his dear Lucie
every morning when asleep; for she did not like to get up early, and
sometimes he had jokingly scolded her for it. What serenity upon this
delicate, sweet face, with its closed eyes, nestling among her beautiful,
disordered hair! How chaste this lovely young wife was in her
unconstraint! She had thrown one of her arms outside of the covering,
and the neck of her nightrobe, having slipped down, showed such a pure
white shoulder and delicate neck. He leaned over the half-opened mouth,
which exhaled a warm and living odor, something like the perfume of a
flower, to inhale it, and a tender pride swept over him when he thought
that she was his, his wife, this delicious creature who was almost a
child yet, and that her heart was given to him forever. He could not
resist it; he touched his young wife's lips with his own. She trembled
under the kiss and opened her eyes, when the astonishment of the
awakening was at once transformed into a happy smile as she met her
husband's glance. Oh, blissful moment! But in spite of all, one must be
sensible. He recalled that the milk-maid had left at daybreak her pot of
milk at the door of their apartment; that the fire was not lighted, and
that he must be at the office early, as the time for promotions was
drawing near. Giving another kiss to the half-asleep Lucie, he said to
her, in a coaxing tone, "Now then, Lucie, my child, it is half-past
eight. Up, up with you, lazy little one!"
How could he console himself for such lost happiness? He had his son,
yes--and he loved him very much--but the sight of Amedee increased
M. Violette's grief; for the child grew to look more like his mother
THE DEMON ABSINTHE
Three or four times a year M. Violette, accompanied by his son, paid a
visit to an uncle of his deceased wife, whose heir Amedee might some day
M. Isidore Gaufre had founded and made successful a large house for
Catholic books and pictures, to which he had added an important agency
for the sale of all kinds of religious objects. This vast establishment
was called, by a stroke of genius of its proprietor, "Bon Marche des
Paroisses," and was famous among all the French clergy. At last it
occupied the principal part of the house and all the out-buildings of an
old hotel on the Rue Servandoni, constructed in the pompous and
magnificent style of the latter part of the seventeenth century. He did
a great business there.
All day long, priests and clerical-looking gentlemen mounted the long
flight of steps that led to a spacious first floor, lighted by large,
high windows surmounted by grotesque heads. There the long-bearded
missionaries came to purchase their cargoes of glass beads or imitation
coral rosaries, before embarking for the East, or the Gaboon, to convert
the negroes and the Chinese.
The member of the third estate, draped in a long chocolate-colored,
straight frock-coat, holding a gigantic umbrella under his arm, procured,
dirt cheap and by the thousand, pamphlets of religious tenets. The
country curate, visiting Paris, arranged for the immediate delivery of a
remonstrance, in electrotype, Byzantine style, signing a series of long-
dated bills, contracting, by zeal supplemented by some ready cash, to
fulfil his liabilities, through the generosity of the faithful ones.
There, likewise, a young director of consciences came to look for some
devotional work--for example, the 12mo entitled "Widows' Tears Wiped
Away," by St. Francois de Sales--for some penitent. The representative
from some deputation from a devoutly Catholic district would solicit a
reduction upon a purchase of the "Twelve Stations of the Cross,"
hideously daubed, which he proposed to present to the parishes which his
adversaries had accused of being Voltairians. A brother of the Christian
Doctrine, or a sister of St. Vincent de Paul, would bargain for
catechisms for their schools. From time to time, even a prince of the
church, a bishop with aristocratic mien, enveloped in an ample gown, with
his hat surrounded with a green cord and golden tassels, would
mysteriously shut himself up in M. Isidore Gaufre's office for an hour;
and then would be reconducted to the top of the steps by the cringing
proprietor, profuse with his "Monseigneur," and obsequiously bowing under
the haughty benediction of two fingers in a violet glove.
It was certainly not from sympathy that M. Violette had kept up his
relations with his wife's uncle; for M. Gaufre, who was servilely polite
to all those in whom he had an interest, was usually disdainful,
sometimes even insolent, to those who were of no use to him. During his
niece's life he had troubled himself very little about her, and had given
her for a wedding present only an ivory crucifix with a shell for holy
water, such as he sold by the gross to be used in convents. A self-made
man, having already amassed--so they said--a considerable fortune,
M. Gaufre held in very low estimation this poor devil of a commonplace
employe whose slow advancement was doubtless due to the fact that he was
lazy and incapable. From the greeting that he received, M. Violette
suspected the poor opinion that M. Gaufre had of him. If he went there
in spite of his natural pride it was only on his son's account. For M.
Gaufre was rich, and he was not young. Perhaps--who could tell?--he
might not forget Amedee, his nephew, in his will? It was necessary for
him to see the child occasionally, and M. Violette, in pursuance of his
paternal duty, condemned himself, three or four times a year, to the
infliction of a visit at the "Bon Marche des Paroisses."
The hopes that M. Violette had formed as to his son's inheriting from M.
Gaufre were very problematical; for the father, whom M. Gaufre had not
been able to avoid receiving at his table occasionally, had been struck,
even shocked, by the familiar and despotic tone of the old merchant's
servant, a superb Normandy woman of about twenty-five years, answering to
the royal name of Berenice. The impertinent ways of this robust woman
betrayed her position in her master's house, as much as the diamonds that
glittered in her ears. This creature would surely watch the will of her
patron, a sexagenarian with an apoplectic neck, which became the color of
dregs of wine after a glass of brandy.
M. Gaufre, although very practical and a churchwarden at St. Sulpice, had
always had a taste for liaisons. His wife, during her life--he had been
a widower for a dozen years--had been one of those unfortunate beings of
whom people said, "That poor lady is to be pitied; she never can keep a
servant." She had in vain taken girls from the provinces, without beauty
and certified to be virtuous. One by one--a Flemish girl, an Alsatian,
three Nivernaise, two from Picardy; even a young girl from Beauce, hired
on account of her certificate as "the best-behaved girl in the village"--
they were unsparingly devoured by the minotaur of the Rue Servandoni.
All were turned out of doors, with a conscientious blow in the face, by
the justly irritated spouse. When he became a widower he gave himself up
to his liaisons in perfect security, but without scandal, of course, as
to his passion for servants. New country-girls, wearing strange
headdresses, responded favorably, in various patois, to his propositions.
An Alsatian bow reigned six months; a Breton cap more than a year; but at
last what must inevitably take place happened. The beautiful Berenice
definitely bound with fetters of iron the old libertine. She was now
all-powerful in the house, where she reigned supreme through her beauty
and her talent for cooking; and as she saw her master's face grow more
congested at each repast, she made her preparations for the future. Who
could say but that M. Gaufre, a real devotee after all, would develop
conscientious scruples some day, and end in a marriage, in extremis?
M. Violette knew all this; nevertheless it was important that Amedee
should not be forgotten by his old relative, and sometimes, though
rarely, he would leave his office a little earlier than usual, call for
his son as he left the Batifol boarding-school, and take him to the Rue
The large drawing-rooms, transformed into a shop, where one could still
see, upon forgotten panels, rococo shepherds offering doves to their
shepherdesses, were always a new subject of surprise to little Amedee.
After passing through the book-shop, where thousands of little volumes
with figured gray and yellow covers crowded the shelves, and boys in ecru
linen blouses were rapidly tying up bundles, one entered the jewellery
department. There, under beautiful glass cases, sparkled all the
glittering display and showy luxury of the Church, golden tabernacles
where the Paschal Lamb reposed in a flaming triangle, censers with
quadruple chains, stoles and chasubles, heavy with embroidery, enormous
candelabra, ostensories and drinking-cups incrusted with enamel and false
precious stones-before all these splendors the child, who had read the
Arabian Nights, believed that he had entered Aladdin's cave, or Aboul-
Cassem's pit. From this glittering array one passed, without transition,
into the sombre depot of ecclesiastical vestments. Here all was black.
One saw only piles of cassocks and pyramids of black hats. Two manikins,
one clothed in a cardinal's purple robe, the other in episcopalian
violet, threw a little color over the gloomy show.
But the large hall with painted statues amazed Amedee. They were all
there, statues of all the saints in little chapels placed promiscuously
upon the shelves in rows.
No more hierarchy. The Evangelist had, for a neighbor a little Jesuit
saint--an upstart of yesterday. The unfortunate Fourier had at his side
the Virgin Mary. The Saviour of men elbowed St. Labre. They were of
plaster run into moulds, or roughly carved in wood, and were colored with
paint as glaring as the red and blue of a barber's pole, and covered with
vulgar gildings. Chins in the air, ecstatic eyes shining with varnish,
horribly ugly and all new, they were drawn up in line like recruits at
the roll-call, the mitred bishop, the martyr carrying his palm, St.
Agnes embracing her lamb, St. Roch with his dog and shells, St. John the
Baptist in his sheepskin, and, most ridiculous of all, poor Vincent de
Paul carrying three naked children in his arms, like a midwife's
This frightful exhibition, which was of the nature of the Tussaud Museum
or a masquerade, positively frightened Amedee. He had recently been to
his first communion, and was still burning with the mystical fever, but
so much ugliness offended his already fastidious taste and threw him into
his first doubt.
One day, about five o'clock, M. Violette and his son arrived at the "Bon
Marche des Paroisses," and found Uncle Isidore in the room where the
painted statues were kept, superintending--the packing of a St. Michel.
The last customer of the day was just leaving, the Bishop 'in partibus'
of Trebizonde, blessing M. Gaufre. The little apoplectic man, the giver
of holy water, left alone with his clerks, felt under restraint no
"Pay attention, you confounded idiot!" he cried to the young man just
ready to lay the archangel in the shavings. "You almost broke the
Then, noticing Amedee and M. Violette who had just entered:
"Ah! It is you, Violate! Good-day! Good-day, Amedee! You come at an
unlucky time. It is shipping-day with us. I am in a great hurry--Eh!
Monsieur Combier, by your leave, Monsieur Combier! Do not forget the
three dozen of the Apparition de la Salette in stucco for Grenoble, with
twenty-five per cent. reduction upon the bill. Are you working hard,
Amedee? What do you say? He was first and assisted at the feast of St.
Charlemagne! So much the better!--Jules, did you send the six
chandeliers and the plated pyx and the Stations of the Cross, Number Two,
to the Dames du Sacre-Coeur d'Alencons? What, not yet? But the order
came three days ago! You must hurry, I tell you!--You can see, Violette,
I am overflowing with work--but come in here a moment."
And once more ordering his bookkeeper, a captive in his glass case, to
send the officers the notes that the cure of Sourdeval had allowed to go
to protest, Uncle Isidore ushered M. Violette and his son into his
It was an ancient room, and M. Gaufre, who aimed at the austere, had made
it gloomier still by a safe, and black haircloth furniture, which looked
as if taken from a vestryroom. The pretty, high, and oval apartment,
with its large window, opening upon a garden, its ceiling painted in
light rosy clouds, its woodwork ornamented with wreaths and quivers,
still preserved some of the charm and elegance of former days. Amedee
would have been amused there, had not Uncle Isidore, who had seated
himself before his desk, launched at once an unkind question at M.
"By the way, have you obtained the promotion that you counted so much
upon last year?"
"Unfortunately, no, Monsieur Gaufre. You know what the Administration
"Yes, it is slow; but you are not overwhelmed with work, however. While
in a business like this--what cares, what annoyances! I sometimes envy
you. You can take an hour to cut your pens. Well, what is wanted of me
The head of a clerk with a pencil behind his ear, appeared through the
"Monsieur le Superieur of Foreign Missions wishes to speak with
"You can see! Not one minute to myself. Another time, my dear Violette.
Adieu, my little man--it is astonishing how much he grows to look like
Lucie! You must come and dine with me some Sunday, without ceremony.
Berenice's 'souffle au fromage' is something delicious! Let Monsieur le
Superieur come in."
M. Violette took his departure, displeased at his useless visit and
irritated against Uncle Isidore, who had been hardly civil.
"That man is a perfect egotist," thought he, sadly; "and that girl has
him in her clutches. My poor Amedee will have nothing from him."
Amedee himself was not interested in his uncle's fortune. He was just
then a pupil in the fourth grade, which follows the same studies as at
the Lycee Henri IV. Having suddenly grown tall, he was annoyed at
wearing short trousers, and had already renounced all infantile games.
The dangling crows which illustrated the pages of his Burnouf grammar
were all dated the previous year, and he had entirely renounced feeding
silkworms in his desk. Everything pointed to his not being a very
practical man. Geometry disgusted him, and as for dates, he could not
remember one. On holidays he liked to walk by himself through quiet
streets; he read poems at the bookstalls, and lingered in the Luxembourg
Gardens to see the sun set. Destined to be a dreamer and a
sentimentalist--so much the worse for you, poor Amedee!
He went very often to the Gerards, but he no longer called his little
friends "thou." Louise was now seventeen years old, thin, without color,
and with a lank figure; decidedly far from pretty. People, in speaking
of her, began to say, "She has beautiful eyes and is an excellent
musician." Her sister Maria was twelve years old and a perfect little
As to the neighbor's little girl, Rosine Combarieu, she had disappeared.
One day the printer suddenly departed without saying a word to anybody,
and took his child with him. The concierge said that he was concerned in
some political plot, and was obliged to leave the house in the night.
They believed him to be concealed in some small town.
Accordingly, Father Gerard was not angry with him for fleeing without
taking leave of him. The conspirator had kept all his prestige in the
eyes of the engraver, who, by a special run of ill-luck, was always
engaged by a publisher of Bonapartist works, and was busy at that moment
upon a portrait of the Prince Imperial, in the uniform of a corporal of
the Guards, with an immense bearskin cap upon his childish head.
Father Gerard was growing old. His beard, formerly of a reddish shade,
and what little hair there was remaining upon his head, had become
silvery white; that wonderful white which, like a tardy recompense to
red-faced persons, becomes their full-blooded faces so well. The good
man felt the weight of years, as did his wife, whose flesh increased in
such a troublesome way that she was forced to pant heavily when she
seated herself after climbing the five flights. Father Gerard grew old,
like everything that surrounded him; like the house opposite, that he had
seen built, and that no longer had the air of a new building; like his
curious old furniture, his mended crockery, and his engravings, yellow
with age, the frames of which had turned red; like the old Erard piano,
upon which Louise, an accomplished performer, now was playing a set of
Beethoven's waltzes and Mendelssohn's "Songs Without Words." This poor
old servant now had only the shrill, trembling tones of a harmonica.
The poor artist grew old, and he was uneasy as to the future; for he had
not known how to manage like his school-friend, the intriguing
Damourette, who had formerly cheated him out of the 'prix de Rome' by a
favor, and who now played the gentleman at the Institute, in his
embroidered coat, and received all the good orders. He, the simpleton,
had saddled himself with a family, and although he had drudged like a
slave he had laid nothing aside. One day he might be stricken with
apoplexy and leave his widow without resources, and his two daughters
without a dowry. He sometimes thought of all this as he filled his pipe,
and it was not pleasant.
If M. Gerard grew gloomy as he grew older, M. Violette became mournful.
He was more than forty years old now. What a decline! Does grief make
the years count double? The widower was a mere wreck. His rebellious
lock of hair had become a dirty gray, and always hung over his right eye,
and he no longer took the trouble to toss it behind his ear. His hands
trembled and he felt his memory leaving him. He grew more taciturn and
silent than ever, and seemed interested in nothing, not even in his son's
studies. He returned home late, ate little at dinner, and then went out
again with a tottering step to pace the dark, gloomy streets. At the
office, where he still did his work mechanically, he was a doomed man;
he never would be elected chief assistant. "What depravity!" said one
of his fellow clerks, a young man with a bright future, protected by the
head of the department, who went to the races and had not his equal in
imitating the "Gnouf! gnouf!" of Grassot, the actor. "A man of his age
does not decline so rapidly without good cause. It is not natural!"
What is it, then, that has reduced M. Violette to such a degree of
dejection and wretchedness?
Alas! we must admit it. The unhappy man lacked courage, and he sought
consolation in his despair, and found it in a vice.
Every evening when he left his office he went into a filthy little cafe
on the Rue du Four. He would seat himself upon a bench in the back of
the room, in the darkest corner, as if ashamed; and would ask in a low
tone for his first glass of absinthe. His first! Yes, for he drank two,
three even. He drank them in little sips, feeling slowly rise within him
the cerebral rapture of the powerful liquor. Let those who are happy
blame him if they will! It was there, leaning upon the marble table,
looking at, without seeing her, through the pyramids of lump sugar and
bowls of punch, the lady cashier with her well oiled hair reflected in
the glass behind her--it was there that the inconsolable widower found
forgetfulness of his trouble. It was there that for one hour he lived
over again his former happiness.
For, by a phenomenon well known to drinkers of absinthe, he regulated and
governed his intoxication, and it gave him the dream that he desired.
"Boy, one glass of absinthe!"
And once more he became the young husband, who adores his dear Lucie and
is adored by her.
It is winter, he is seated in the corner by the fire, and before him,
sitting in the light reflected by a green lampshade upon which dark
silhouettes of jockey-riders are running at full speed, his wife is
busying herself with some embroidery. Every few moments they look at
each other and smile, he over his book and she over her work; the lover
never tired of admiring Lucie's delicate fingers. She is too pretty!
Suddenly he falls at her feet, slips his arm about her waist, and gives
her a long kiss; then, overcome with languor, he puts his head upon his
beloved's knees and hears her say to him, in a low voice: "That is right!
Go to sleep!" and her soft hands lightly stroke his hair.
"Boy, one glass of absinthe!"
They are in that beautiful field filled with flowers, near the woods in
Verrieres, upon a fine June afternoon when the sun is low. She has made
a magnificent bouquet of field flowers. She stops at intervals to add a
cornflower, and he follows, carrying her mantle and umbrella. How
beautiful is summer and how sweet it is to love! They are a little
tired; for during the whole of this bright Sunday they have wandered
through the meadows. It is the hour for dinner, and here is a little
tavern under some lindens, where the whiteness of the napkins rivals the
blossoming thickets. They choose a table and order their repast of a
moustached youth. While waiting for their soup, Lucie, rosy from being
out all day in the open air and silent from hunger, amuses herself in
looking at the blue designs on the plates, which represented battles in
Africa. What a joyous dinner! There were mushrooms in the omelet,
mushrooms in the stewed kidneys, mushrooms in the filet. But so much the
better! They are very fond of them. And the good wine! The dear child
is almost intoxicated at dessert! She takes it into her head to squeeze
a cherry-stone between her thumb and first finger and makes it pop-slap!
into her husband's face! And the naughty creature laughs! But he will
have his revenge--wait a little! He rises, and leaning over the table
buries two fingers between her collar and her neck, and the mischievous
creature draws her head down into her shoulders as far as she can,
begging him, with a nervous laugh, "No, no, I beseech you!" for she is
afraid of being tickled. But the best time of all is the return through
the country at night, the exquisite odor of new-mown hay, the road
lighted by a summer sky where the whole zodiac twinkles, and through
which, like a silent stream, the Chemin de St. Jacques rolls its diamond
Tired and happy she hangs upon her husband's arm. How he loves her!
It seems to him that his love for Lucie is as deep and profound as the
night. "Nobody is coming let me kiss your dear mouth!" and their kisses
are so pure, so sincere, and so sweet, that they ought to rejoice the
"Another glass of absinthe, boy--one more!"
And the unhappy man would forget for a few moments longer that he ought
to go back to his lonely lodging, where the servant had laid the table
some time before, and his little son awaited him, yawning with hunger and
reading a book placed beside his plate. He forgot the horrible moment of
returning, when he would try to hide his intoxicated condition under a
feint of bad humor, and when he would seat himself at table without even
kissing Amedee, in order that the child should not smell his breath.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Break in his memory, like a book with several leaves torn out
Inoffensive tree which never had harmed anybody
It was all delightfully terrible!
Mild, unpretentious men who let everybody run over them
Now his grief was his wife, and lived with him
Tediousness seems to ooze out through their bindings
Tired smile of those who have not long to live
Trees are like men; there are some that have no luck
Voice of the heart which alone has power to reach the heart
When he sings, it is because he has something to sing about
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