A Romance of Youth, v3
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
Success, which usually is as fickle as justice, took long strides and
doubled its stations in order to reach Amedee. The Cafe de Seville, and
the coterie of long-haired writers, were busying themselves with the
rising poet already. His suite of sonnets, published in La Guepe,
pleased some of the journalists, who reproduced them in portions in well-
distributed journals. Ten days after Amedee's meeting with Jocquelet,
the latter recited his poem "Before Sebastopol" at a magnificent
entertainment given at the Gaite for the benefit of an illustrious actor
who had become blind and reduced to poverty.
This "dramatic solemnity," to use the language of the advertisement,
began by being terribly tiresome. There was an audience present who were
accustomed to grand Parisian soirees, a blase and satiated public, who,
upon this warm evening in the suffocating theatre, were more fatigued and
satiated than ever. The sleepy journalists collapsed in their chairs,
and in the back part of the stage-boxes, ladies' faces, almost green
under paint, showed the excessive lassitude of a long winter of pleasure.
The Parisians had all come there from custom, without having the
slightest desire to do so, just as they always came, like galley-slaves
condemned to "first nights." They were so lifeless that they did not
even feel the slightest horror at seeing one another grow old. This
chloroformed audience was afflicted with a long and too heavy programme,
as is the custom in performances of this kind. They played fragments of
the best known pieces, and sang songs from operas long since fallen into
disuse even on street organs. This public saw the same comedians march
out; the most famous are the most monotonous; the comical ones abused
their privileges; the lover spoke distractedly through his nose; the
great coquette--the actress par excellence, the last of the Celimenes--
discharged her part in such a sluggish way that when she began an adverb
ending in "ment," one would have almost had time to go out and smoke a
cigarette or drink a glass of beer before she reached the end of the said
But at the most lethargic moment of this drowsy soirees, after the
comedians from the Francais had played in a stately manner one act
from a tragedy, Jocquelet appeared. Jocquelet, still a pupil at the
Conservatoire, showed himself to the public for the first time and by an
exceptional grace--Jocquelet, absolutely unknown, too short in his
evening clothes, in spite of the two packs of cards that he had put in
his boots. He appeared, full of audacity, riding his high horse, raising
his flat-nosed, bull-dog face toward the "gallery gods," and, in his
voice capable of making Jericho's wall fall or raising Jehoshaphat's
dead, he dashed off in one effort, but with intelligence and heroic
feeling, his comrade's poem.
The effect was prodigious. This bold, common, but powerful actor, and
these picturesque and modern verses were something entirely new to this
public satiated with old trash. What a happy surprise! Two novelties at
once! To think of discovering an unheard-of poet and an unknown
comedian! To nibble at these two green fruits! Everybody shook off his
torpor; the anaesthetized journalists aroused themselves; the colorless
and sleepy ladies plucked up a little animation; and when Jocquelet had
made the last rhyme resound like a grand flourish of trumpets, all
applauded enough to split their gloves.
In one of the theatre lobbies, behind a bill-board pasted over with old
placards, Amedee Violette heard with delight the sound of the applause
which seemed like a shower of hailstones. He dared not think of it!
Was it really his poem that produced so much excitement, which had thawed
this cold public? Soon he did not doubt it, for Jocquelet, who had just
been recalled three times, threw himself into the poet's arms and glued
his perspiring, painted face to his.
"Well, my little one, I have done it!" he exclaimed, bursting with
gratification and vanity. "You heard how I caught them!"
Immediately twenty, thirty, a hundred spectators appeared, most of them
very correct in white cravats, but all eager and with beaming
countenances, asking to see the author and the interpreter, and to be
presented to them, that they might congratulate them with an enthusiastic
word and a shake of the hand. Yes! it was a success, an instantaneous
one. It was certainly that rare tropical flower of the Parisian
greenhouse which blossoms out so seldom, but so magnificently.
One large, very common-looking man, wearing superb diamond shirt-buttons,
came in his turn to shake Amedee's hand, and in a hoarse, husky voice
which would have been excellent to propose tickets "cheaper than at the
office!" he asked for the manuscript of the poem that had just been
"It is so that I may put you upon the first page of my tomorrow's
edition, young man, and I publish eighty thousand. Victor Gaillard,
editor of 'Le Tapage'. Does that please you?"
He took the manuscript without listening to the thanks of the poet, who
trembled with joy at the thought that his work had caught the fancy of
this Barnum of the press, the foremost advertiser in France and Europe,
and that his verses would meet the eyes of two hundred thousand readers.
Yes, it was certainly a success, and he experienced the first bitterness
of it as soon as he arrived the next morning at the Cafe de Seville,
where he now went every two or three days at the hour for absinthe. His
verses had appeared in that morning's Tapage, printed in large type and
headed by a few lines of praise written by Victor Gaillard, a la Barnum.
As soon as Amedee entered the caf‚ he saw that he was the object of
general attention, and the lyric gentlemen greeted him with acclamations
and bravos; but at certain expressions of countenance, constrained looks,
and bitter smiles, the impressionable young man felt with a sudden
sadness that they already envied him.
"I warned you of it," said Paul Sillery to him, as he led him into a
corner of the cafe. "Our good friends are not pleased, and that is very
natural. The greater part of these rhymers are 'cheap jewellers,' and
they are jealous of a master workman. Above all things, pretend not to
notice it; they will never forgive you for guessing their bad sentiments.
And then you must be indulgent to them. You have your beautiful
lieutenant's epaulettes, Violette, do not be too hard upon these poor
privates. They also are fighting under the poetic flag, and ours is a
poverty-stricken regiment. Now you must profit by your good luck. Here
you are, celebrated in forty-eight hours. Do you see, even the political
people look at you with curiosity, although a poet in the estimation of
these austere persons is an inferior and useless being. It is all they
will do to accept Victor Hugo, and only on account of his 'Chatiments.'
You are the lion of the day. Lose no time. I met just now upon the
boulevard Massif, the publisher. He had read 'Le Tapage' and expects
you. Carry him all your poems to-morrow; there will be enough to make a
volume. Massif will publish it at his own expense, and you will appear
before the public in one month. You never will inveigle a second time
that big booby of a Gaillard, who took a mere passing fancy for you. But
no matter! I know your book, and it will be a success. You are
launched. Forward, march! Truly, I am better than I thought, for your
success gives me pleasure."
This amiable comrade's words easily dissipated the painful feelings
that Amedee had just experienced. However, it was one of those exalted
moments when one will not admit that evil exists. He spent some time
with the poets, forcing himself to be more gracious and friendly than
ever, and left them persuaded--the unsuspecting child!--that he had
disarmed them by his modesty; and very impatient to share his joy with
his friends, the Gerards, he quickly walked the length of Montmartre and
reached them just at their dinner hour.
They did not expect him, and only had for their dinner the remains of the
boiled beef of the night before, with some cucumbers. Amedee carried his
cake, as usual, and, what was better still, two sauces that always make
the poorest meal palatable--hope and happiness.
They had already read the journals and knew that the poem had been
applauded at the Gaite, and that it had at once been printed on the first
page of the journal; and they were all so pleased, so glad, that they
kissed Amedee on both cheeks. Mamma Gerard remembered that she had a few
bottles--five or six--of old chambertin in the cellar, and you could not
have prevented the excellent woman from taking her key and taper at once,
and going for those old bottles covered with cobwebs and dust, that they
might drink to the health of the triumphant one. As to Louise, she was
radiant, for in several houses where she gave lessons she had heard them
talk of the fine and admirable verses published in Le Tapage, and she was
very proud to think that the author was a friend of hers. What completed
Amedee's pleasure was that for the first time Maria seemed to be
interested in his poem, and said several times to him, with such a
pretty, vain little air:
"Do you know, your battle is very nice. Amedee, you are going to become
a great poet, a celebrated man! What a superb future you have before
Ah! what exquisitely sweet hopes he carried away that evening to his room
in the Faubourg St.-Jacques! They gave him beautiful dreams, and
pervaded his thoughts the next morning when the concierge brought him two
Still more happiness! The first letter contained two notes of a hundred
francs each, with Victor Gaillard's card, who congratulated Amedee anew
and asked him to write something for his journal in the way of prose; a
story, or anything he liked. The young poet gave a cry of joyful
surprise when he recognized the handwriting of Maurice Roger upon the
"I have just returned to Paris, my dear Amedee," wrote the traveller,
"and your success was my first greeting. I must embrace you quickly and
tell you how happy I am. Come to see me at four o'clock in my den in the
Rue Monsieur-le-Prince. We will dine and pass the evening together."
Ah! how the poet loved life that morning, how good and sweet it seemed to
him! Clothed in his best, he gayly descended the Rue St.-Jacques, where
boxes of asparagus and strawberries perfumed the fruit-stalls, and went
to the Boulevard St. Michel, where he purchased an elegant gray felt hat
and a new cravat. Then he went to the Cafe Voltaire, where he lunched.
He changed his second hundred-franc bill, so that he might feel, with the
pleasure of a child, the beautiful louis d'or which he owed to his work
and its success. At the office the head clerk--a good fellow, who sang
well at dinners--complimented Amedee upon his poem. The young man had
only made his appearance to ask for leave that afternoon, so as to take
his manuscript to the publisher.
Once more in the street in the bright May sun, after the fashion of
nabobs, he took an open carriage and was carried to Massif, in the
Passage des Princes. The editor of the Jeunes was seated in his office,
which was decorated with etchings and beautiful bindings. He is well
known by his magnificent black beard and his large bald head, upon which
a wicked jester once advised him to paste his advertisements; he
publishes the works of audacious authors and sensational books, and had
the honor of sharing with Charles Bazile, the poet, an imprisonment at
St.-Pelagie. He received this thin-faced rhymer coldly. Amedee
introduced himself, and at once there was a broad smile, a handshake, and
a connoisseur's greedy sniffling. Then Massif opened the manuscript.
"Let us see! Ah, yes, with margins and false titles we can make out two
hundred and fifty pages."
The business was settled quickly. A sheet of stamped paper--an
agreement! Massif will pay all the expenses of the first edition of one
thousand, and if there is another edition--and of course there will be!
--he will give him ten cents a copy. Amedee signs without reading. All
that he asks is that the volume should be published without delay.
"Rest easy, my dear poet! You will receive the first proofs in three
days, and in one month it will appear."
Was it possible? Was Amedee not dreaming? He, poor Violette's son, the
little office clerk--his book would be published, and in a month!
Readers and unknown friends will be moved by his agitation, will suffer
in his suspense; young people will love him and find an echo of their
sentiments in his verses; women will dreamily repeat--with one finger in
his book--some favorite verse that touches their hearts! Ah! he must
have a confidant in his joy, he must tell some true friend.
"Driver, take me to the Rue Monsieur-le-Prince."
He mounted, four steps at a time, the stairs leading to Maurice's room.
The key is in the door. He enters and finds the traveller there,
standing in the midst of the disorder of open trunks.
What an embrace! How long they stood hand in hand, looking at each other
with happy smiles!
Maurice is more attractive and gracious than ever. His beauty is more
manly, and his golden moustache glistens against his sun-browned skin.
What a fine fellow! How he rejoiced at his friend's first success!
"I am certain that your book will turn everybody's head. I always told
you that you were a genuine poet. We shall see!"
As to himself, he was happy too. His mother had let him off from
studying law and allowed him to follow his vocation. He was going to
have a studio and paint. It had all been decided in Italy, where Madame
Roger had witnessed her son's enthusiasm over the great masters. Ah,
Italy! Italy! and he began to tell of his trip, show knickknacks and
souvenirs of all kinds that littered the room. He turned in his hands,
that he might show all its outlines, a little terra-cotta reduction of
the Antinous in the Museum of Naples. He opened a box, full to bursting,
of large photographs, and passed them to his friend with exclamations of
"Look! the Coliseum! the ruins of Paestum--and this antique from the
Vatican! Is it not beautiful?"
While looking at the pictures he recalled the things that he had seen and
the impressions he had experienced. There was a band of collegians in
little capes and short trousers taking their walk; they wore buckled
shoes, like the abbes of olden times, and nothing could be more droll
than to see these childish priests play leapfrog. There, upon the Riva
dei Schiavoni, he had followed a Venetian. "Shabbily dressed, and fancy,
my friend, bare-headed, in a yellow shawl with ragged green fringe! No,
I do not know whether she was pretty, but she possessed in her person all
the attractions of Giorgione's goddesses and Titian's courtesans
Maurice is still the same wicked fellow. But, bah! it suits him; he even
boasts of it with such a joyous ardor and such a youthful dash, that it
is only one charm the more in him. The clock struck seven, and they went
to dine. They started off through the Latin Quarter. Maurice gave his
arm to Amedee and told him of his adventures on the other side of the
Alps. Maurice, once started on this subject, could not stop, and while
the dinner was being served the traveller continued to describe his
escapades. This kind of conversation was dangerous for Amedee; for it
must not be forgotten that for some time the young poet's innocence had
weighed upon him, and this evening he had some pieces of gold in his
pocket that rang a chime of pleasure. While Maurice, with his elbow upon
the table, told him his tales of love, Amedee gazed out upon the sidewalk
at the women who passed by in fresh toilettes, in the gaslight which
illuminated the green foliage, giving a little nod of the head to those
whom they knew. There was voluptuousness in the very air, and it was
Amedee who arose from the table and recalled to Maurice that it was
Thursday, and that there was a fete that night at Bullier's; and he also
was the one to add, with a deliberate air:
"Shall we take a turn there?"
"Willingly," replied his gay friend. "Ah, ha! we are then beginning to
enjoy ourselves a little, Monsieur Violette! Go to Bullier's? so be it.
I am not sorry to assure myself whether or not I still love the
They started off, smoking their cigarettes. Upon the highway, going in
the same direction as themselves, were victorias carrying women in spring
costumes and wearing bonnets decked with flowers. From time to time the
friends were elbowed by students shouting popular refrains and walking in
Here is Bullier's! They step into the blazing entrance, and go thence to
the stairway which leads to the celebrated public ballroom. They are
stifled by the odor of dust, escaping gas, and human flesh. Alas! there
are in every village in France doctors in hansom cabs, country lawyers,
and any quantity of justices of the peace, who, I can assure you, regret
this stench as they take the fresh air in the open country under the
starry heavens, breathing the exquisite perfume of new-mown hay; for it
is mingled with the little poetry that they have had in their lives, with
their student's love-affairs, and their youth.
All the same, this Bullier's is a low place, a caricature of the Alhambra
in pasteboard. Three or four thousand moving heads in a cloud of
tobacco-smoke, and an exasperating orchestra playing a quadrille in which
dancers twist and turn, tossing their legs with calm faces and audacious
"What a mob!" said Amedee, already a trifle disgusted. "Let us go into
They were blinded by the gas there; the thickets looked so much like old
scenery that one almost expected to see the yellow breastplates of comic-
opera dragoons; and the jet of water recalled one of those little spurts
of a shooting-gallery upon which an empty egg-shell dances. But they
could breathe there a little.
"Boy! two sodas," said Maurice, striking the table with his cane; and the
two friends sat down near the edge of a walk where the crowd passed and
repassed. They had been there about ten minutes when two women stopped
"Good-day, Maurice," said the taller, a brunette with rich coloring, the
genuine type of a tavern girl.
"What, Margot!" exclaimed the young man. "Will you take something? Sit
down a moment, and your friend too. Do you know, your friend is
charming? What is her name?"
"Rosine," replied the stranger, modestly, for she was only about
eighteen, and, in spite of the blond frizzles over her eyes, she was not
yet bold, poor child! She was making her debut, it was easy to see.
"Well, Mademoiselle Rosine, come here, that I may see you," continued
Maurice, seating the young girl beside him with a caressing gesture.
"You, Margot, I authorize to be unfaithful to me once more in favor of my
friend Amedee. He is suffering with lovesickness, and has a heart to
let. Although he is a poet, I think he happens to have in his pocket
enough to pay for a supper."
Everywhere and always the same, the egotistical and amiable Maurice takes
the lion's share, and Amedee, listening only with one ear to the large
Margot, who is already begging him to make an acrostic for her, thinks
Rosine is charming, while Maurice says a thousand foolish things to her.
In spite of himself, the poet looks upon Maurice as his superior, and
thinks it perfectly natural that he should claim the prettier of the two
women. No matter! Amedee wanted to enjoy himself too. This Margot, who
had just taken off her gloves to drink her wine, had large, red hands,
and seemed as silly as a goose, but all the same she was a beautiful
creature, and the poet began to talk to her, while she laughed and looked
at him with a wanton's eyes. Meanwhile the orchestra burst into a polka,
and Maurice, in raising his voice to speak to his friend, called him
several times Amedee, and once only by his family name, Violette.
Suddenly little Rosine started up and looked at the poet, saying with
"What! Is your name Amedee Violette?"
"Then you are the boy with whom I played so much when I was a child."
"Yes! Do you not remember Rosine, little Rosine Combarieu, at Madame
Gerard's, the engraver's wife, in the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs? We
played games with his little girls. How odd it is, the way one meets old
What is it that Amedee feels? His entire childhood rises before him.
The bitterness of the thought that he had known this poor girl in her
innocence and youth, and the Gerards' name spoken in such a place, filled
the young man's heart with a singular sadness. He could only say to
Rosine, in a voice that trembled a little with pity:
"You! Is it you?"
Then she became red and very embarrassed, lowering her eyes.
Maurice had tact; he noticed that Rosine and Amedee were agitated, and,
feeling that he was de trop, he arose suddenly and said:
"Now then, Margot. Come on! these children want to talk over their
childhood, I think. Give up your acrostic, my child. Take my arm, and
come and have a turn."
When they were alone Amedee gazed at Rosine sadly. She was pretty, in
spite of her colorless complexion, a child of the faubourg, born with a
genius for dress, who could clothe herself on nothing-a linen gown, a
flower in her hat. One who lived on salads and vegetables, so as to buy
well-made shoes and eighteen-button gloves.
The pretty blonde looked at Amedee, and a timid smile shone in her nut-
"Now, Monsieur Amedee," said she, at last, "it need not trouble you to
meet at Bullier's the child whom you once played with. What would have
been astonishing would be to find that I had become a fine lady. I am
not wise, it is true, but I work, and you need not fear that I go with
the first comer. Your friend is a handsome fellow, and very amiable,
and I accepted his attentions because he knew Margot, while with you it
is very different. It gives me pleasure to talk with you. It recalls
Mamma Gerard, who was so kind to me. What has become of her, tell me?
and her husband and her daughters?"
"Monsieur Gerard is dead," replied Amedee; "but the ladies are well, and
I see them often."
"Do not tell them that you met me here, will you? It is better not.
If I had had a good 'mother, like those girls, things would have turned
out differently for me. But, you remember, papa was always interested in
his politics. When I was fifteen years old he apprenticed me to a
florist. He was a fine master, a perfect monster of a man, who ruined
me! I say, Pere Combarieu has a droll trade now; he is manager of a
Republican journal--nothing to do--only a few months in prison now and
then. I am always working in flowers, and I have a little friend, a
pupil at Val-de-Grace, but he has just left as a medical officer for
Algeria. I was lonely all by myself, and this evening big Margot, whom I
got acquainted with in the shop, brought me here to amuse myself. But
you--what are you doing? Your friend said just now that you were a poet.
Do you write songs? I always liked them. Do you remember when I used to
play airs with one finger upon the Gerards' old piano? You were such a
pretty little boy then, and as gentle as a girl. You still have your
nice blue eyes, but they are a little darker. I remember them. No, you
can not know how glad I am to see you again!"
They continued to chatter, bringing up old reminiscences, and when she
spoke of the Gerard ladies she put on a respectful little air which
pleased Amedee very much. She was a poor feather-headed little thing,
he did not doubt; but she had kept at least the poor man's treasure,
a simple heart. The young man was pleased with her prattling, and as he
looked at the young girl he thought of the past and felt a sort of
compassion for her. As she was silent for a moment, the poet said to
her, "Do you know that you have become very pretty? What a charming
complexion you have! such a lovely pallor!"
The grisette, who had known what poverty was, gave a bitter little laugh:
"Oh, my pallor! that is nothing! It is not the pallor of wealth."
Then, recovering her good-humor at once, she continued:
"Tell me, Monsieur Amedee, does this big Margot, whom you began to pay
attentions to a little while ago, please you?"
Amedee quickly denied it. "That immense creature? Never! Now then,
Rosine, I came here to amuse myself a little, I will admit. That is not
forbidden at my age, is it? But this ball disgusts me. You have no
appointment here? No? Is it truly no? Very well, take my arm and let
us go. Do you live far from here?"
"In the Avenue d'Orleans, near the Montrouge church."
"Will you allow me to escort you home, then?"
She would be happy to, and they arose and left the ball. It seemed to
the young poet as if the pretty girl's arm trembled a little in his; but
once upon the boulevard, flooded by the light from the silvery moon,
Rosine slackened her steps and became pensive, and her eyes were lowered
when Amedee sought a glance from them in the obscurity. How sweet was
this new desire that troubled the young man's heart! It was mixed with a
little sentiment; his heart beat with emotion, and Rosine was not less
moved. They could both find only insignificant things to say.
"What a beautiful night!"
"Yes! It does one good to breathe the fresh air."
They continued their walk without speaking. Oh, how fresh and sweet it
was under these trees!
At last they reached the door of Rosine's dwelling. With a slow movement
she pressed her hand upon the bell-button. Then Amedee, with a great
effort, and in a confused, husky voice, asked whether he might go up with
her and see her little room.
She looked at him steadily, with a tender sadness in her eyes, and then
said to him, softly:
"No, certainly not! One must be sensible. I please you this evening,
and you know very well that I think you are charming. It is true we knew
each other when we were young, and now that we have met again, it seems
as if it would be pleasant to love each other. But, believe me, we
should commit a great folly, perhaps a wrong. It is better, I assure
you, to forget that you ever met me at Bullier's with big Margot, and
only remember your little playmate of the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs.
It will be better than a caprice, it will be something pure that you can
keep in your heart. Do not let us spoil the remembrance of our
childhood, Monsieur Amedee, and let us part good friends."
Before the young man could find a reply, the bell pealed again, and
Rosine gave Amedee a parting smile, lightly kissing the tips of her
fingers, and disappeared behind the doer, which fell together, with a
loud bang. The poet's first movements was one of rage. Giddy weather-
cock of a woman! But he had hardly taken twenty steps upon the sidewalk
before he said to himself, with a feeling of remorse, "She was right!"
He thought that this poor girl had kept in one corner of her heart a
shadow of reserve and modesty, and he was happy to feel rise within him a
sacred respect for woman!
Amedee, my good fellow, you are quite worthless as a man of pleasure.
You had better give it up!
For one month now Amedee Violette's volume of verses, entitled Poems from
Nature, had embellished with its pale-blue covers the shelves of the
book-shops. The commotion raised by the book's success, and the
favorable criticisms given by the journals, had not yet calmed down at
the Cafe de Seville.
This emotion, let it be understood, did not exist except among the
literary men. The politicians disdained poets and poetry, and did not
trouble them selves over such commonplace matters. They had affairs of a
great deal more importance to determine the overthrow of the government
first, then to remodel the map of Europe! What was necessary to over
throw the Empire? First, conspiracy; second, barricades. Nothing was
easier than to conspire. Every body conspired at the Seville. It is the
character of the French, who are born cunning, but are light and
talkative, to conspire in public places. As soon as one of our
compatriots joins a secret society his first care is to go to his
favorite restaurant and to confide, under a bond of the most absolute
secrecy, to his most intimate friend, what he has known for about five
minutes, the aim of the conspiracy, names of the actors, the day, hour,
and place of the rendezvous, the passwords and countersigns. A little
while after he has thus relieved himself, he is surprised that the police
interfere and spoil an enterprise that has been prepared with so much
mystery and discretion. It was in this way that the "beards" dealt in
dark deeds of conspiracy at the Cafe de Seville. At the hour for
absinthe and mazagran a certain number of Fiesques and Catilines were
grouped around each table. At one of the tables in the foreground five
old "beards," whitened by political crime, were planning an infernal
machine; and in the back of the room ten robust hands had sworn upon the
billiard-table to arm themselves for regicide; only, as with all
"beards," there were necessarily some false ones among them, that is to
say, spies. All the plots planned at the Seville had miserably
The art of building barricades was also--you never would suspect it!--
very ardently and conscientiously studied. This special branch of the
science of fortification reckoned more than one Vauban and Gribeauval
among its numbers. "Professor of barricading," was a title honored at
the Cafe de Seville, and one that they would willingly have had engraved
upon their visiting-cards. Observe that the instruction was only
theoretical; doubtless out of respect for the policemen, they could not
give entirely practical lessons to the future rioters who formed the
ground-work of the business. The master or doctor of civil war could not
go out with them, for instance, and practise in the Rue Drouot. But he
had one resource, one way of getting out of it; namely, dominoes. No!
you never would believe what a revolutionary appearance these inoffensive
mutton-bones took on under the seditious hands of the habitues of the
Cafe de Seville. These miniature pavements simulated upon the marble
table the subjugation of the most complicated of barricades, with all
sorts of bastions, redans, and counterscarps. It was something after the
fashion of the small models of war-ships that one sees in marine museums.
Any one, not in the secret, would have supposed that the "beards" simply
played dominoes. Not at all! They were pursuing a course of technical
insurrection. When they roared at the top of their lungs "Five on all
sides!" certain players seemed to order a general discharge, and they had
a way of saying, "I can not!" which evidently expressed the despair of a
combatant who has burned his last cartridge. A "beard" in glasses and a
stovepipe hat, who had been refused in his youth at the Ecole
Polytechnique, was frightful in the rapidity and mathematical precision
with which he added up in three minutes his barricade of dominoes. When
this man "blocked the six," you were transported in imagination to the
Rue Transnonain, or to the Cloitre St. Merry. It was terrible!
As to foreign politics, or the remodelling of the map of Europe, it was,
properly speaking, only sport and recreation to the "beards." It added
interest to the game, that was all. Is it not agreeable, when you are
preparing a discard, at the decisive moment, with one hundred at piquet,
which gives you 'quinte' or 'quatorze', to deliver unhappy Poland; and
when one has the satisfaction to score a king and take every trick, what
does it cost to let the Russians enter Constantinople?
Nevertheless, some of the most solemn "beards" of the Cafe de Seville
attached themselves to international questions, to the great problem of
European equilibrium. One of the most profound of these diplomats--who
probably had nothing to buy suspenders with, for his shirt always hung
out between his waistcoat and trousers--was persuaded that an indemnity
of two million francs would suffice to obtain from the Pope the transfer
of Rome to the Italians; and another Metternich on a small scale assumed
for his specialty the business of offering a serious affront to England
and threatening her, if she did not listen to his advice, with a loss in
a short time of her Indian Empire and other colonial possessions.
Thus the "beards," absorbed by such grave speculations, did not trouble
themselves about the vanity called literature, and did not care a pin for
Amedee Violette's book. Among the long-haired ones, however, we repeat,
the emotion was great. They were furious, they were agitated, and
bristled up; the first enthusiasm over Amedee Violette's verses could not
be lasting and had been only a mere flash. The young man saw these
Merovingians as they really were toward a man who succeeded, that is,
severe almost to cruelty. What! the first edition of Poems from Nature
was exhausted and Massif had another in press! What! the bourgeoisie,
far from being "astonished" at this book, declared themselves delighted
with it, bought it, read it, and perhaps had it rebound! They spoke
favorably of it in all the bourgeois journals, that is to say, in those
that had subscribers! Did they not say that Violette, incited by
Jocquelet, was working at a grand comedy in verse, and that the Theatre-
Francais had made very flattering offers to the poet? But then, if he
pleased the bourgeoisie so much he was--oh, horror!--a bourgeois himself.
That was obvious. How blind they had been not to see it sooner! When
Amedee had read his verses not long since at Sillery's, by what
aberration had they confounded this platitude with simplicity, this
whining with sincere emotion, these stage tricks with art? Ah! you may
rest assured, they never will be caught again!
As the poets' tables at the Cafe de Seville had been for some time
transformed into beds of torture upon which Amedee Violette's poems were
stretched out and racked every day from five to seven, the amiable Paul
Sillery, with a jeering smile upon his lips, tried occasionally to cry
pity for his friend's verses, given up to such ferocious executioners.
But these literary murderers, ready to destroy a comrade's book, are
more pitiless than the Inquisition. There were two inquisitors more
relentless than the others; first, the little scrubby fellow who claimed
for his share all the houris of a Mussulman's palace; another, the great
elegist from the provinces. Truly, his heartaches must have made him
gain flesh, for very soon he was obliged to let out the strap on his
Of course, when Amedee appeared, the conversation was immediately
changed, and they began to talk of insignificant things that they had
read in the journals; for example, the fire-damp, which had killed
twenty-five working-men in a mine, in a department of the north; or of
the shipwreck of a transatlantic steamer in which everything was lost,
with one hundred and fifty passengers and forty sailors--events of no
importance, we must admit, if one compares them to the recent discovery
made by the poet inquisitors of two incorrect phrases and five weak
rhymes in their comrade's work.
Amedee's sensitive nature soon remarked the secret hostility of which he
was the object in this group of poets, and he now came to the Cafe de
Seville only on rare occasions, in order to take Paul Sillery by the
hand, who, in spite of his ironical air, had always shown himself a good
and faithful friend.
It was there that he recognized one evening his classmate of the Lycee,
Arthur Papillon, seated at one of the political tables. The poet
wondered to himself how this fine lawyer, with his temperate opinions,
happened to be among these hot-headed revolutionists, and what interest
in common could unite this correct pair of blond whiskers to the
uncultivated, bushy ones. Papillon, as soon as he saw Amedee, took leave
of the group with whom he was talking and came and offered his hearty
congratulations to the author of Poems from Nature, leading him out upon
the boulevard and giving him the key to the mystery.
All the old parties were united against the Empire, in view of the coming
elections; Orleanists and Republicans were, for the time being, close
friends. He, Papillon, had just taken his degree, and had attached
himself to the fortunes of an old wreck of the July government; who,
having rested in oblivion since 1852, had consented to run as candidate
for the Liberal opposition in Seine-et-Oise. Papillon was flying around
like a hen with her head cut off, to make his companion win the day. He
came to the Seville to assure himself of the neutral goodwill of the
unreconciled journalists, and he was full of hope.
"Oh! my dear friend, how difficult it is to struggle against an official
candidate! But our candidate is an astonishing man. He goes about all
day upon the railroads in our department, unfolding his programme before
the travelling countrymen and changing compartments at each station.
What a stroke of genius! a perambulating public assembling. This idea
came to him from seeing a harpist make the trip from Havre to Honfleur,
playing 'Il Bacio' all the time. Ah, one must look alive! The prefect
does not shrink from any way of fighting us. Did he not spread through
one of our most Catholic cantons the report that we were Voltairians,
enemies to religion and devourers of priests? Fortunately, we have yet
four Sundays before us, from now until the voting-day, and the patron
will go to high mass and communion in our four more important parishes.
That will be a response! If such a man is not elected, universal
suffrage is hopeless!"
Amedee was not at that time so disenchanted with political matters as he
became later, and he asked himself with an uneasy feeling whether this
model candidate, who was perhaps about to give. himself sacrilgious
indigestion, and who showed his profession of faith as a cutler shows his
knives, was not simply a quack.
Arthur Papillon did not give him time to devote himself to such
unpleasant reflections, but said to him, in a frank, protecting tone:
"And you, my boy, let us see, where do you stand? You have been very
successful, have you not? The other evening at the house of Madame la
Comtesse Fontaine, you know--the widow of one of Louis Philippe's
ministers and daughter of Marshal Lefievre--Jocquelet recited your
'Sebastopol' with enormous success. What a voice that Jocquelet has!
We have not his like at the Paris bar. Fortunate poet! I have seen your
book lying about in the boudoir of more than one beautiful woman. Well,
I hope that you will leave the Cafe de Seville and not linger with all
these badly combed fellows. You must go into society; it is
indispensable to a man of letters, and I will present you whenever you
For the time being Amedee's ardor was a little dampened concerning the
Bohemians with whom he enjoyed so short a favor, and who had also in many
ways shocked his delicacy. He was not desirous to be called "thou" by
But to go into society! His education had been so modest! Should he
know how to appear, how to conduct himself properly? He asked this of
Papillon. Our poet was proud, he feared ridicule, and would not consent
to play an inferior role anywhere; and then his success just then was
entirely platonic. He was still very poor and lived in the Faubourg St.-
Jacques. Massif ought to pay him in a few days five hundred francs for
the second edition of his book; but what is a handful of napoleons?
"It is enough," said the advocate, who thought of his friend's dress.
"It is all that is necessary to buy fine linen, and a well cut dress-
coat, that is the essential thing. Good form consists, above all things,
in keeping silent. With your fine and yielding nature you will become at
once a gentleman; better still, you are not a bad-looking fellow; you
have an interesting pallor. I am convinced that you will please. It is
now the beginning of July, and Paris is almost empty, but Madame la
Comtesse Fontaine does not go away until the vacations, as she is looking
after her little son, who is finishing his studies at the Lycee
Bonaparte. The Countess's drawing-rooms are open every evening until the
end of the month, and one meets there all the chic people who are delayed
in Paris, or who stop here between two journeys. Madame Fontaine is a
very amiable and influential old lady; she has a fancy for writers when
they are good company. Do not be silly, but go and order yourself some
evening clothes. By presenting you there, my dear fellow, I assure you,
perhaps in fifteen years, a seat in the Academy. It is agreed! Get
ready for next week."
Attention! Amedee Violette is about to make his first appearance in
Although his concierge, who aided him to finish his toilette and saw him
put on his white cravat, had just said to him, "What a love of a husband
you would make!" the poet's heart beat rapidly when the carriage in
which he was seated beside Arthur Papillon stopped before the steps of an
old house in the Rue de Bellechasse, where Madame la Comtesse Fontaine
In the vestibule he tried to imitate the advocate's bearing, which was
full of authority; but quickly despaired of knowing how to swell out his
starched shirt-front under the severe looks of four tall lackeys in silk
stockings. Amedee was as much embarrassed as if he were presented naked
before an examining board. But they doubtless found him "good for
service," for the door opened into a brightly lighted drawing-room into
which he followed Arthur Papillon, like a frail sloop towed in by an
imposing three-master, and behold the timid Amedee presented in due form
to the mistress of the house! She was a lady of elephantine proportions,
in her sixtieth year, and wore a white camellia stuck in her rosewood-
colored hair. Her face and arms were plastered with enough flour to make
a plate of fritters; but for all that, she had a grand air and superb
eyes, whose commanding glance was softened by so kindly a smile that
Amedee was a trifle reassured.
She had much applauded M. Violette's beautiful verse, she said, that
Jocquelet had recited at her house on the last Thursday of her season;
and she had just read with the greatest pleasure his Poems from Nature.
She thanked M. Papillon--who bows his head and lets his monocle fall--for
having brought M. Violette. She was charmed to make his acquaintance.
Amedee was very much embarrassed to know what to reply to this
commonplace compliment which was paid so gracefully. Fortunately he was
spared this duty by the arrival of a very much dressed, tall, bony woman,
toward whom the Countess darted off with astonishing vivacity,
exclaiming, joyfully: "Madame la Marechale!" and Amedee, still following
in the wake of his comrade, sailed along toward the corner of the
drawing-room, and then cast anchor before a whole flotilla of black
coats. Amedee's spirits began to revive, and he examined the place, so
entirely new to him, where his growing reputation had admitted him.
It was a vast drawing-room after the First Empire style, hung and
furnished in yellow satin, whose high white panels were decorated with
trophies of antique weapons carved in wood and gilded. A dauber from the
Ecole des Beaux-Arts would have branded with the epithet "sham" the
armchairs and sofas ornamented with sphinx heads in bronze, as well as
the massive green marble clock upon which stood, all in gold, a favorite
court personage, clothed in a cap, sword, and fig-leaf, who seemed to be
making love to a young person in a floating tunic, with her hair dressed
exactly like that of the Empress Josephine. But the dauber would have
been wrong, for this massive splendor was wanting neither in grandeur nor
character. Two pictures only lighted up the cold walls; one, signed by
Gros, was an equestrian portrait of the Marshal, Madame Fontaine's
father, the old drummer of Pont de Lodi, one of the bravest of Napoleon's
lieutenants. He was represented in full-dress uniform, with an enormous
black-plumed hat, brandishing his blue velvet baton, sprinkled with
golden bees, and under the rearing horse's legs one could see in the dim
distance a grand battle in the snow, and mouths of burning cannons. The
other picture, placed upon an easel and lighted by a lamp with a
reflector, was one of Ingre's the 'chef-d'oeuvres'. It was the portrait
of the mistress of the house at the age of eighteen, a portrait of which
the Countess was now but an old and horrible caricature.
Arthur Papillon talked in a low voice with Amedee, explaining to him how
Madame Fontaine's drawing-room was neutral ground, open to people of all
parties. As daughter of a Marshal of the First Empire, the Countess
preserved the highest regard for the people at the Tuileries, although
she was the widow of Count Fontaine, who was one of the brood of Royer-
Collard's conservatives, a parliamentarian ennobled by Louis-Philippe,
twice a colleague of Guizot on the ministerial bench, who died of spite
and suppressed ambition after '48 and the coup d'etat. Besides, the
Countess's brother, the Duc d'Eylau, married, in 1829, one of the
greatest heiresses in the Faubourg St. Germain; for his father, the
Marshal, whose character did not equal his bravery, attached himself to
every government, and carried his candle in the processions on Corpus
Christi Day under Charles X, and had ended by being manager of the
Invalides at the beginning of the July monarchy. Thanks to this
fortunate combination of circumstances, one met several great lords,
many Orleanists, a certain number of official persons, and even some
republicans of high rank, in this liberal drawing-room, where the
Countess, who was an admirable hostess, knew how to attract learned men,
writers, artists, and celebrities of all kinds, as well as young and
pretty women. As the season was late, the gathering this evening was not
large. However, neglecting the unimportant gentlemen whose ancestors had
perhaps been fabricated by Pere Issacar, Papillon pointed out to his
friend a few celebrities. One, with the badge of the Legion of Honor
upon his coat, which looked as if it had come from the stall of an old-
clothes man, was Forgerol, the great geologist, the most grasping of
scientific men; Forgerol, rich from his twenty fat sinecures, for whom
one of his confreres composed this epitaph in advance: "Here lies
Forgerol, in the only place he did not solicit."
That grand old man, with the venerable, shaky head, whose white, silky
hair seemed to shed blessings and benedictions, was M. Dussant du Fosse,
a philanthropist by profession, honorary president of all charitable
works; senator, of course, since he was one of France's peers, and who
in a few years after the Prussians had left, and the battles were over,
would sink into suspicious affairs and end in the police courts.
That old statesman, whose rough, gray hairs were like brushes for
removing cobwebs, a pedant from head to foot, leaning in his favorite
attitude against the mantel decorated only with flowers, by his mulish
obstinacy contributed much to the fall of the last monarchy. He was
respectfully listened to and called "dear master" by a republican orator,
whose red-hot convictions began to ooze away, and who, soon after, as
minister of the Liberal empire, did his best to hasten the government's
Although Amedee was of an age to respect these notabilities, whom
Papillon pointed out to him with so much deference, they did not impress
him so much as certain visitors who belonged to the world of art and
letters. In considering them the young man was much surprised and a
little saddened at the want of harmony that he discovered between the
appearance of the men and the nature of their talents. The poet Leroy
des Saules had the haughty attitude and the Apollo face corresponding to
the noble and perfect beauty of his verses; but Edouard Durocher, the
fashionable painter of the nineteenth century, was a large, common-
looking man with a huge moustache, like that of a book agent; and
Theophile de Sonis, the elegant story-writer, the worldly romancer, had a
copper-colored nose, and his harsh beard was like that of a chief in a
What attracted Amedee's attention, above all things, were the women--the
fashionable women that he saw close by for the first time. Some of them
were old, and horrified him. The jewels with which they were loaded made
their fatigued looks, dark-ringed eyes, heavy profiles, thick flabby
lips, like a dromedary's, still more distressing; and with their bare
necks and arms--it was etiquette at Madame Fontaine's receptions--which
allowed one to see through filmy lace their flabby flesh or bony
skeletons, they were as ridiculous as an elegant cloak would be upon an
As he saw these decrepit, painted creatures, the young man felt the
respect that he should have for the old leave him. He would look only at
the young and beautiful women, those with graceful figures and triumphant
smiles upon their lips, flowers in their hair, and diamonds upon their
necks. All this bare flesh intimidated Amedee; for he had been brought
up so privately and strictly that he was distressed enough to lower his
eyes at the sight of so many arms, necks, and shoulders. He thought of
Maria Gerard as she looked the other day, when he met her going to work
in the Louvre, so pretty in her short high-necked dress, her magnificent
hair flying out from her close bonnet, and her box of pastels in her
hand. How much more he preferred this simple rose, concealed among
thorns, to all these too full-blown peonies!
Soon the enormous and amiable Countess came to the poet and begged him,
to his great confusion, to recite a few verses. He was forced to do it.
It was his turn to lean upon the mantel. Fortunately it was a success
for him; all the full-blown peonies, who did not understand much of his
poetry, thought him a handsome man, with his blue eyes, and their ardent,
melancholy glance; and they applauded him as much as they could without
bursting their very tight gloves. They surrounded him and complimented
him. Madame Fontaine presented him to the poet Leroy des Saules, who
congratulated him with the right word, and invited him with a paternal
air to come and see him. It would have been a very happy moment for
Amedee, if one of the old maids with camel-like lips, whose stockings
were probably as blue as her eyelids, had not monopolized him for a
quarter of an hour, putting him through a sort of an examination on
contemporary poets. At last the poet retired, after receiving a cup of
tea and an invitation to dinner for the next Tuesday. Then he was once
more seated in the carriage with Arthur Papillon, who gave him a slap on
the thigh, exclaiming, joyfully:
"Well, you are launched!"
It was true; he was launched, and he will wear out more than one suit of
evening clothes before he learns all that this action "going into
society," which seems nothing at all at first, and which really is
nothing, implies, to an industrious man and artist, of useless activity
and lost time. He is launched! He has made a successful debut! A
dinner in the city! At Madame Fontaine's dinner on the next Tuesday,
some abominable wine and aged salmon was served to Amedee by a butler
named Adolphe, who ought rather to have been called Exili or Castaing,
and who, after fifteen years' service to the Countess, already owned two
good paying houses in Paris. At the time, however, all went well, for
Amedee had a good healthy stomach and could digest buttons from a
uniform; but when all the Borgias, in black-silk stockings and white-silk
gloves, who wish to become house-owners, have cooked their favorite
dishes for him, and have practised only half a dozen winters, two or
three times a week upon him, we shall know more as to his digestion.
Still that dinner was enjoyable. Beginning with the suspicious salmon,
the statesman with the brush-broom head, the one who had overthrown
Louis-Philippe without suspecting it, started to explain how, if they had
listened to his advice, this constitutional king's dynasty would yet be
upon the throne; and at the moment when the wretched butler poured out
his most poisonous wine, the old lady who looked like a dromedary with
rings in its ears, made Amedee--her unfortunate neighbor--undergo a new
oral examination upon the poets of the nineteenth century, and asked him
what he thought of Lamartine's clamorous debts, and Victor Hugo's foolish
pride, and Alfred de Musset's intemperate habits.
The worthy Amedee is launched! He will go and pay visits of indigestion;
appear one day at Madame such a one's, and at the houses of several other
"Madames." At first he will stay there a half-hour, the simpleton!
until he sees that the cunning ones only come in and go out exactly as
one does in a booth at a fair. He will see pass before him--but this
time in corsages of velvet or satin-all the necks and shoulders of his
acquaintances, those that he turned away from with disgust and those that
made him blush. Each Madame this one, entering Madame that one's house,
will seat herself upon the edge of a chair, and will always say the same
inevitable thing, the only thing that can be or should be said that day;
for example, "So the poor General is dead!" or "Have you heard the new
piece at the Francais? It is not very strong, but it is well played!"
"This will be delicious;" and Amedee will admire, above all things,
Madame this one's play of countenance, when Madame G------ tells her that
Madame B-------'s daughter is to marry Madame C-----'s nephew. While she
hardly knows these people, she will manifest as lively a joy as if they
had announced the death of an old aunt, whose money she is waiting for to
renew the furniture in her house. And, on the contrary, when Madame D---
announces that Madame E-----'s little son has the whooping-cough, at
once, without transition, by a change of expression that would make the
fortune of an actress, the lady of the house puts on an air of
consternation, as if the cholera had broken out the night before in the
Amedee is launched, I repeat it. He is still a little green and will
become the dupe, for a long time, of all the shams, grimaces, acting, and
false smiles, which cover so many artificial teeth. At first sight all
is elegance, harmony, and delicacy. Since Amedee does not know that the
Princess Krazinska's celebrated head of hair was cut from the heads of
the Breton girls, how could he suspect that the austere defender of the
clergy, M. Lemarguillier, had been gravely compromised in a love affair,
and had thrown himself at the feet of the chief of police, exclaiming,
"Do not ruin me!" When the king of society is announced, the young Duc
de la Tour-Prends-Garde, whose one ancestor was at the battle of the
bridge, and who is just now introducing a new style in trousers, Amedee
could not suspect that the favorite amusement of this fashionable rake
consisted in drinking in the morning upon an empty stomach, with his
coachman, at a grog-shop on the corner. When the pretty Baroness des
Nenuphars blushed up to her ears because someone spoke the word "tea-
spoon" before her, and she considered it to be an unwarrantable
indelicacy--nobody knows why--it is assuredly not our young friend who
will suspect that, in order to pay the gambling debts of her third lover,
this modest person had just sold secretly her family jewels.
Rest assured Amedee will lose all these illusions in time. The day will
come when he will not take in earnest this grand comedy in white cravats.
He will not have the bad taste to show his indignation. No! he will
pity these unfortunate society people condemned to hypocrisy and
falsehood. He will even excuse their whims and vices as he thinks of the
frightful ennui that overwhelms them. Yes, he will understand how the
unhappy Duc de la Tour-Prends-Garde, who is condemned to hear La Favorita
seventeen times during the winter, may feel at times the need of a
violent distraction, and go to drink white wine with his servant. Amedee
will be full of indulgence, only one must pardon him for his plebeian
heart and native uncouthness; for at the moment when he shall have
fathomed the emptiness and vanity of this worldly farce, he will keep
all of his sympathy for those who retain something like nature. He will
esteem infinitely more the poorest of the workmen--a wood-sawyer or a
bell-hanger--than a politician haranguing from the mantel, or an old
literary dame who sparkles like a window in the Palais-Royal, and is
tattooed like a Caribbean; he will prefer an old; wrinkled, village
grand-dame in her white cap, who still hoes, although sixty years old,
her little field of potatoes.
A SERPENT AT THE FIRESIDE
A little more than a year has passed. It is now the first days of
October; and when the morning mist is dissipated, the sky is of so limpid
a blue and the air so pure and fresh, that Amedee Violette is almost
tempted to make a paper kite and fly it over the fortifications, as he
did in his youth. But the age for that has passed; Amedee's real kite is
more fragile than if it had been made of sticks and pieces of old paper
pasted on one over another; it does not ascend very high yet, and the
thread that sails it is not very strong. Amedee's kite is his growing
reputation. He must work to sustain it; and always with the secret hope
of making little Maria his wife. Amedee works. He is not so poor now,
since he earns at the ministry two hundred francs a month, and from time
to time publishes a prose story in journals where his copy is paid for.
He has also left his garret in the Faubourg St.-Jacques and lives on the
Ile St. Louis, in one room only, but large and bright, from whose window
he can see, as he leans out, the coming and going of boats on the river
and the sun as it sets behind Notre-Dame.
Amedee has been working mostly upon his drama, for the Comedie-Francaise
this summer, and it is nearly done; it is a modern drama in verse,
entitled L'Atelier. The action is very simple, like that of a tragedy,
but he believes it is sympathetic and touching, and it ends in a popular
way. Amedee thinks he has used for his dialogue familiar but
nevertheless poetic lines, in which he has not feared to put in certain
graphic words and energetic speeches from the mouths of working-people.
The grateful poet has destined the principal role for Jocquelet, who has
made a successful debut in the 'Fourberies de Scapin', and who, since
then, has won success after success. Jocquelet, like all comic actors,
aspires to play also in drama. He can do so in reality, but under
particular conditions; for in spite of his grotesque nose, he has strong
and spirited qualities, and recites verses very well. He is to represent
an old mechanic, in his friend's work, a sort of faubourg Nestor, and
this type will accommodate itself very well to the not very aristocratic
face of Jocquelet, who more and more proves his cleverness at "making-
up." However, at first the actor was not satisfied with his part. He
fondles the not well defined dream of all actors, he wishes, like all the
others, the "leading part." They do not exactly know what they mean by
it, but in their dreams is vaguely visible a wonderful Almanzor, who
makes his first entrance in an open barouche drawn by four horses
harnessed a la Daumont, and descends from it dressed in tight-fitting
gray clothes, tasselled boots, and decorations. This personage is as
attractive as Don Juan, brave as Murat, a poet like Shakespeare, and as
charitable as St. Vincent de Paul. He should have, before the end of the
first act, crushed with love by one single glance, the young leading
actress; dispersed a dozen assassins with his sword; addressed to the
stars--that is to say, the spectators in the upper gallery--a long speech
of eighty or a hundred lines, and gathered up two lost children under the
folds of his cloak.
A "fine leading part" should also, during the rest of the piece,
accomplish a certain number of sublime acts, address the multitude from
the top of a staircase, insult a powerful monarch to his face, dash into
the midst of a conflagration--always in the long-topped boots. The ideal
part would be for him to discover America, like Christopher Columbus; win
pitched battles, like Bonaparte, or some other equally senseless thing;
but the essential point is, never to leave the stage and to talk all the
time--the work, in reality, should be a monologue in five acts.
This role of an old workman, offered to Jocquelet by Amedee, obtained
only a grimace of displeasure from the actor. However, it ended by his
being reconciled to the part, studying it, and, to use his own
expression, "racking his brains over it," until one day he ran to
Violette's, all excited, exclaiming:
"I have the right idea of my old man now! I will dress him in a tricot
waistcoat with ragged sleeves and dirty blue overalls. He is an
apprentice, is he not? A fellow with a beard! Very well! in the great
scene where they tell him that his son is a thief and he defies the whole
of the workmen, he struggles and his clothes are torn open, showing a
hairy chest. I am not hairy, but I will make myself so--does that fill
the bill? You will see the effect."
While reserving the right to dissuade Jocquelet from making himself up in
this way, Amedee carried his manuscript to the director of the Theatre
Francais, who asked a little time to look it over, and also promised the
young poet that he would read it aloud to the committee.
Amedee is very anxious, although Maurice Roger, to whom he has read the
piece, act by act, predicts an enthusiastic acceptance.
The handsome Maurice has been installed for more than a year in a studio
on the Rue d'Assas and leads a jolly, free life there. Does he work?
Sometimes; by fits and starts. And although he abandons his sketches at
the first attack of idleness, there is a charm about these sketches,
suspended upon the wall; and he will some day show his talent. One of
his greatest pleasures is to see pass before him all his beautiful
models, at ten francs an hour. With palette in hand, he talks with the
young women, tells them amusing stories, and makes them relate all their
love-affairs. When friends come to see him, they can always see a model
just disappearing behind a curtain. Amedee prefers to visit his friend
on Sunday afternoons, and thus avoid meeting these models; and then, too,
he meets there on that day Arthur Papillon, who paves the way for his
political career by pleading lawsuits for the press. Although he is, at
heart, only a very moderate Liberalist, this young man, with the very
chic side whiskers, defends the most republican of "beards," if it can be
called defending; for in spite of his fine oratorical efforts, his
clients are regularly favored with the maximum of punishment. But they
are all delighted with it, for the title of "political convict" is one
very much in demand among the irreconcilables. They are all convinced
that the time is near when they will overthrow the Empire, without
suspecting, alas! that in order to do that twelve hundred thousand
German bayonets will be necessary. The day after the triumph, the month
of imprisonment will be taken into account, and St. Pelagie is not the
'carcere duro'. Papillon is cunning and wishes to have a finger in every
pie, so he goes to dine once a week with those who owe their sojourn in
this easy-going jail to him, and regularly carries them a lobster.
Paul Sillery, who has also made Maurice's acquaintance, loiters in this
studio. The amiable Bohemian has not yet paid his bill to Pere Lebuffle,
but he has cut his red fleece close to his head, and publishes every
Sunday, in the journals, news full of grace and humor. Of course they
will never pardon him at the Cafe de Seville; the "long-haired" ones have
disowned this traitor who has gone over to the enemy, and is now only a
sickening and fetid bourgeois; and if the poetical club were able to
enforce its decrees, Paul Sillery, like an apostate Jew in the times of
the Inquisition, would have been scourged and burned alive. Paul Sillery
does not trouble himself about it, however; and from time to time returns
to the "Seville" and treats its members to a bumper all around, which he
pays for with the gold of his dishonor. Sometimes Jocquelet appears,
with his smooth-shaved face; but only rarely, for he is at present a very
busy man and already celebrated. His audacious nose is reproduced in all
positions and displayed in photographers' windows, where he has for
neighbors the negatives most in demand; for instance, the fatherly and
benevolent face of the pope; Pius IX, or the international limbs of
Mademoiselle Ketty, the majestic fairy, in tights. The journals, which
print Jocquelet's name, treat him sympathetically and conspicuously, and
are full of his praises. "He is good to his old aunt," "gives alms,"
"picked up a lost dog in the street the other evening." An artist such
as he, who stamps immortality on all the comic repertory, and takes
Moliere under his wing, has no time to go to visit friends, that is
understood. However, he still honors Maurice Roger with short visits.
He only has time to make all the knickknacks and china on the sideboard
tremble with the noise of his terrible voice; only time to tell how, on
the night before, in the greenroom, when still clothed in Scapin's
striped cloak, he deigned to receive, with the coldest dignity, the
compliments of a Royal Highness, or some other person of high rank. A
prominent society lady has been dying of love for him the past six
months; she occupies stage box Number Six--and then off he goes. Good
Amedee enjoys himself in his friend's studio, where gay and witty artists
come to talk. They laugh and amuse themselves, and this Sunday resting-
place is the most agreeable of the hard-working poet's recreations.
Amedee prolongs them as long as possible, until at last he is alone with
his friend; then the young men stretch themselves out upon the Turkish
cushions, and they talk freely of their hopes, ambitions, and dreams for
Amedee, however, keeps one secret to himself; he never has told of his
love for Maria Gerard. Upon his return from Italy the traveller inquired
several times for the Gerards, sympathized politely with their
misfortune, and wished to be remembered to them through Amedee. The
latter had been very reserved in his replies, and Maurice no longer
broaches the subject in their conversation. Is it through neglect?
After all, he hardly knew the ladies; still, Amedee is not sorry to talk
of them no longer with his friend, and it is never without a little
embarrassment and unacknowledged jealousy that he replies to Maria when
she asks for news of Maurice.
She no longer inquires. The pretty Maria is cross and melancholy, for
now they talk only of one thing at the Gerards; it is always the same,
the vulgar and cruel thought, obtaining the means to live; and within a
short time they have descended a few steps lower on the slippery ladder
of poverty. It is not possible to earn enough to feed three mouths with
a piano method and a box of pastels--or, at least, it does not hold out.
Louise has fewer pupils, and Pere Issacar has lessened his orders. Mamma
Gerard, who has become almost an old woman, redoubles her efforts; but
they can no longer make both ends meet. Amedee sees it, and how it makes
The poor women are proud, and complain as little as possible; but the
decay inside this house, already so modest, is manifested in many ways.
Two beautiful engravings, the last of their father's souvenirs, had been
sold in an hour of extreme want; and one could see, by the clean spots
upon the wall, where the frames once hung. Madame Gerard's and her
daughters' mourning seemed to grow rusty, and at the Sunday dinner Amedee
now brings, instead of a cake, a pastry pie, which sometimes constitutes
the entire meal. There is only one bottle of old wine in the cellar,
and they drink wine by the pot from the grocer's. Each new detail that
proves his friends' distress troubles the sensitive Amedee. Once, having
earned ten Louis from some literary work, he took the poor mother aside
and forced her to accept one hundred francs. The unfortunate woman,
trembling with emotion, while two large tears rolled down her cheeks,
admitted that the night before, in order to pay the washerwoman, they had
pawned the only clock in the house.
What can he do to assist them, to help them to lead a less terrible life?
Ah! if Maria would have it so, they could be married at once, without any
other expense than the white dress, as other poor people do; and they
would all live together. He has his salary of twenty-four hundred
francs, besides a thousand francs that he has earned in other ways. With
Louise's lessons this little income would be almost sufficient. Then he
would exert himself to sell his writings; he would work hard, and they
could manage. Of course it would be quite an undertaking on his part to
take all this family under his charge. Children might be born to them.
Had he not begun to gain a reputation; had he not a future before him?
His piece might be played and meet with success. This would be their
salvation. Oh! the happy life that the four would lead together! Yes,
if Maria could love him a little, if he persisted in hoping, if she had
the courage, it was the only step to take.
Becoming enthusiastic upon this subject, Amedee decided to submit the
question to the excellent Louise, in whom he had perfect confidence, and
considered to be goodness and truth personified. Every Thursday, at six
o'clock, she left a boarding-school in the Rue de la Rochechouart, where
she gave lessons to young ladies in singing. He would go and wait for
her as she came out that very evening. And there he met her. Poor
Louise! her dress was lamentable; and what a sad countenance! What a
tired, distressed look!
"What, you, Amedee!" said she, with a happy smile, as he met her.
"Yes, my dear Louise. Take my arm and let me accompany you part of the
way. We will talk as we walk; I have something very serious to say to
you, confidentially--important advice to ask of you."
The poet then began to make his confession. He recalled their childhood
days in the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, when they played together; it was
as long ago as that that he had first begun to be charmed by little
Maria. As soon as he became a young man he felt that he loved the dear
child, and had always cherished the hope that he might inspire her with a
tender sentiment and marry her some day. If he had not spoken sooner it
was because he was too poor, but he had always loved her, he loved her
now, and never should love any other woman. He then explained his plan
of life in simple and touching terms; he would become Madame Gerard's son
and his dear Louise's brother; the union of their two poverties would
become almost comfort. Was it not very simple and reasonable? He was
very sure that she would approve of it, and she was wisdom itself and the
head of the family.
While he was talking Louise lowered her eyes and looked at her feet.
He did not feel that she was trembling violently. Blind, blind Amedee!
You do not see, you will never see, that she is the one who loves you!
Without hope! she knows that very well; she is older than you, she is
not pretty, and she will always be in your eyes an adopted elder sister,
who once showed you your alphabet letters with the point of her knitting-
needle. She has suspected for a long time your love for Maria; she
suffers, but she is resigned to it, and she will help you, the brave
girl! But this confession that you make, Maria's name that you murmur
into her ear in such loving accents, this dream of happiness in which,
in your artless egotism, you reserve for her the role of an old maid who
will bring up your children, is cruel, oh! how cruel! They have reached
the Boulevard Pigalle; the sun has set; the sky is clear and bright as a
turquoise, and the sharp autumn wind detaches the last of the dried
leaves from the trees. Amedee is silent, but his anxious glance solicits
and waits for Louise's reply.
"Dear Amedee," said she, raising her frank, pure eyes to his face, "you
have the most generous and best of hearts. I suspected that you loved
Maria, and I would be glad to tell you at once that she loves you, so
that we might hereafter be but one family--but frankly I can not.
Although the dear child is a little frivolous, her woman's instinct must
suspect your feeling for her, but she has never spoken of it to mamma or
to me. Have confidence; I do not see anything that augurs ill for you in
that. She is so young and so innocent that she might love you without
suspecting it herself. It is very possible, probable even, that your
avowal will enlighten her as to the state of her own heart. She will be
touched by your love, I am sure, as well as by your devotion to the whole
family. I hope, with all my heart, Amedee, that you will succeed; for,
I can say it to you, some pleasure must happen in poor Maria's life soon.
She has moments of the deepest sadness and attacks of weeping that have
made me uneasy for some time. You must have noticed, too, that she is
overwhelmed with ennui. I can see that she suffers more than mamma or I,
at the hard life that we lead. It is not strange that she feels as she
does, for she is pretty and attractive, and made for happiness; and to
see the present and the future so sad! How hard it is! You can
understand, my friend, how much I desire this marriage to take place.
You are so good and noble, you will make Maria happy; but you have said
it, I am the one who represents wisdom in our house. Let me have then a
few days in which to observe Maria, to obtain her confidence, to discover
perhaps a sentiment in her heart of which she is ignorant; and remember
that you have a sure and faithful ally in me."
"Take your own time, dear Louise," replied the poet. "I leave everything
to you. Whatever you do will be for the best."
He thanked her and they parted at the foot of the Rue Lepic. It was a
bitter pleasure for the slighted one to give the young man her poor,
deformed, pianist's hand, and to feel that he pressed it with hope and
She desired and must urge this marriage. She said this over and over
again to herself, as she walked up the steep street, where crowds of
people were swarming at the end of their day's work. No! no! Maria did
not care for Amedee. Louise was very sure of it; but at all events it
was necessary that she should try to snatch her young sister from the
discouragements and bad counsel of poverty. Amedee loved her and would
know how to make her love him. In order to assure their happiness these
two young people must be united. As to herself, what matter! If they
had children she would accept in advance her duties as coddling aunt and
old godmother. Provided, of course, that Maria would be guided, or, at
least, that she would consent. She was so pretty that she was a trifle
vain. She was nourishing, perhaps, nobody knew what fancy or vain hope,
based upon her beauty and youth. Louise had grave fears. The poor girl,
with her thin, bent shoulders wrapped up in an old black shawl, had
already forgotten her own grief and only thought of the happiness of
others, as she slowly dragged herself up Montmartre Hill. When she
reached the butcher's shop in front of the mayor's office, she remembered
a request of her mother's; and as is always the case with the poor, a
trivial detail is mixed with the drama of life. Louise, without
forgetting her thoughts, while sacrificing her own heart, went into the
shop and picked out two breaded cutlets and had them done up in brown
paper, for their evening's repast.
The day after his conversation with Louise, Amedee felt that distressing
impatience that waiting causes nervous people. The day at the office
seemed unending, and in order to escape solitude, at five o'clock he went
to Maurice's studio, where he had not been for fifteen days. He found
him alone, and the young artist also seemed preoccupied. While Amedee
congratulated him upon a study placed upon an easel, Maurice walked up
and down the room with his hands in his pocket, and eyes upon the floor,
making no reply to his friend's compliments. Suddenly he stopped and
looking at Amedee said:
"Have you seen the Gerard ladies during the past few days?"
Maurice had not spoken of these ladies for several months, and the poet
was a trifle surprised.
"Yes," he replied. "Not later than yesterday I met Mademoiselle Louise."
"And," replied Maurice, in a hesitating manner, "were all the family
"Ah!" said the artist, in a strange voice, and he resumed his silent
Amedee always had a slightly unpleasant sensation when Maurice spoke the
name of the Gerards, but this time the suspicious look and singular tone
of the young painter, as he inquired about them, made the poet feel
genuinely uneasy. He was impressed, above all, by Maurice's simple
exclamation, "Ah!" which seemed to him to be enigmatical and mysterious.
But nonsense! all this was foolish; his friend's questions were
"Shall we pass the evening together, my dear Maurice?"
"It is impossible this evening," replied Maurice, still continuing his
walk. "A duty--I have an engagement."
Amedee had the feeling that he had come at an unfortunate time, and
discreetly took his departure. Maurice had seemed indifferent and less
cordial than usual.
"What is the matter with him?" said the poet to himself several times,
while dining in the little restaurant in the Latin Quarter. He afterward
went to the Comedie Francaise, to kill time, as well as to inquire after
his drama of Jocquelet, who played that evening in 'Le Legataire
The comedian received him in his dressing-room, being already arrayed in
Crispin's long boots and black trousers. He was seated in his shirt-
sleeves be fore his toilet-table, and had just pasted over his smooth
lips the bristling moustache of this traditional personage. Without
rising, or even saying "Good-day," he cried out to the poet as he
recognized him in the mirror.
"No news as to your piece! The manager has not one moment to himself;
we are getting ready for the revival of Camaraderie. But we shall be
through with it in two days, and then--"
And immediately, talking to hear himself talk, and to exercise his
terrible organ, he belched out, like the noise from an opened dam, a
torrent of commonplace things. He praised Scribe's works, which they had
put on the stage again; he announced that the famous Guillery, his senior
in the comedy line, would be execrable in this performance, and would
make a bungle of it. He complained of being worried to death by the
pursuit of a great lady--"You know, stage box Number Six," and showed,
with a conceited gesture, a letter, tossed in among the jars of paint and
pomade, which smelled of musk. Then, ascending to subjects of a more
elevated order, he scored the politics of the Tuileries, and scornfully
exposed the imperial corruption while recognizing that this "poor
Badingue," who, three days before, had paid a little compliment to the
actor, was of more account than his surroundings.
The poet went home and retired, bewildered by such gossip. When he
awoke, the agony of his thoughts about Maria had become still more
painful. When should he see Louise again? Would her reply be favorable?
In spite of the fine autumn morning his heart was troubled, and he felt
that he had no courage. His administrative work had never seemed more
loathsome than on that day. His fellow-clerk, an amateur in hunting,
had just had two days' absence, and inflicted upon him, in an unmerciful
manner, his stories of slaughtered partridges, and dogs who pointed,
so wonderfully well, and of course punctuated all this with numerous
Pan-Pans! to imitate the report of a double-barrelled gun.
When he left the office Amedee regained his serenity a little; he
returned home by the quays, hunting after old books and enjoying the
pleasures of a beautiful evening, watching, in the golden sky, around the
spires of Ste.-Chapelle, a large flock of swallows assembling for their
At nightfall, after dining, he resolved to baffle his impatience by
working all the evening and retouching one act of his drama with which he
was not perfectly content. He went to his room, lighted his lamp, and
seated himself before his open manuscript. Now, then! to work! He had
been silly ever since the night before. Why should he imagine that
misfortune was in the air? Do such things as presentiments exist?
Suddenly, three light, but hasty and sharp knocks were struck upon his
door. Amedee arose, took his lamp, and opened it. He jumped back--there
stood Louise Gerard in her deep mourning!
"You?--At my rooms?--At this hour?--What has happened?"
She entered and dropped into the poet's armchair. While he put the lamp
upon the table he noticed that the young girl was as white as wax. Then
she seized his hands and pressing them with all her strength, she said,
in a voice unlike her own--a voice hoarse with despair:
"Amedee, I come to you by instinct, as toward our only friend, as to a
brother, as to the only man who will be able to help us repair the
frightful misfortune which overwhelms us!" She stopped, stifled with
"A misfortune!" exclaimed the young man. "What misfortune? Maria?"
"An accident?--An illness?"
Louise made a rapid gesture with her arm and head which signified: "If it
were only that!" With her mouth distorted by a bitter smile and with
lowered eyes, talking confusedly, she said:
"Monsieur Maurice Roger--yes--your friend Maurice! A miserable wretch!--
he has deceived and ruined the unhappy child! Oh! what infamy!--and now
Her deathly pale face flushed and became purple to the roots of her hair.
"Now Maria will become a mother!"
At these words the poet gave a cry like some enraged beast; he reeled,
and would have fallen had the table not been near. He sat down on the
edge of it, supporting himself with his hands, completely frozen as if
from a great chill. Louise, overcome with shame, sat in the armchair,
hiding her face in her hands while great tears rolled down between the
fingers of her ragged gloves.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Good form consists, above all things, in keeping silent
Intimate friend, whom he has known for about five minutes
My good fellow, you are quite worthless as a man of pleasure
Society people condemned to hypocrisy and falsehood
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