In the Days of My Youth
Amelia Ann Blandford Edwards
Part 8 out of 10
the plea of neighborhood. I understood her, and taking up the parcel,
followed her in silence to her door on the third story. Here she paused
and thanked me.
"Pray let me carry it in for you," I said.
Again she hesitated; but only for an instant. Too well-bred not to see
that a refusal would now be a discourtesy, she unlocked the door, and
held it open.
The first room was an ante-chamber; the second a _salon_ somewhat larger
than my own, with a door to the right, leading into what I supposed
would be her bedroom. At a glance, I took in all the details of her
home. There was her writing-table laden with books and papers, her desk,
and her pile of manuscripts. At one end of the room stood a piano doing
duty as a side-board, and looking as if it were seldom opened. Some
water-color drawings were pinned against the walls, and a well-filled
bookcase stood in a recess beside the fireplace. Nothing escaped me
--not even the shaded reading-lamp, nor the plain ebony time-piece, nor
the bronze Apollo on the bracket above the piano, nor the sword over the
mantelpiece, which seemed a strange ornament in the study of a gentle
lady. Besides all this, there were books everywhere, heaped upon the
tables, ranged on shelves, piled in corners, and scattered hither and
thither in most admired disorder. It was, however, the only
I longed to linger, but dared not. Having laid the parcel down upon the
nearest chair, there was nothing left for me to do but to take my leave.
Mademoiselle Dufresnoy still kept her hand upon the door.
"Accept my best thanks, sir," she said in English, with a pretty foreign
accent, that seemed to give new music to the dear familiar tongue.
"You have nothing to thank me for, Mademoiselle," I replied.
She smiled, proudly still, but very sweetly, and closed the door upon
I went back to my room; it had become suddenly dark and desolate. I
tried to read; but all subjects seemed alike tedious and unprofitable. I
could fix my attention to nothing; and so, becoming restless, I went out
again, and wandered about the dusky streets till evening fairly set in,
and the shops were lighted, and the tide of passers-by began to flow
faster in the direction of boulevard and theatre.
The soft light of her shaded lamp streamed from her window when I came
back, nor faded thence till two hours after midnight. I watched it all
the long evening, stealing out from time to time upon my balcony, which
adjoined her own, and welcoming the cool night air upon my brow. For I
was fevered and disquieted, I knew not why, and my heart was stirred
within me, strangely and sweetly.
Such was my first meeting with Hortense Dufresnoy. No incident of it has
since faded from my memory. Brief as it was, it had already turned all
the current of my life. I had fallen in love at first sight. Yes--in
love; for love it was--real, passionate, earnest; a love destined to be
the master-passion of all my future years.
A CHRONICLE ABOUT FROISSART.
See, Lucius, here's the book I sought for so!
But all be that he was a philosophre,
Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre,
But all that he might of his frends hente,
On bokes and on lerning he is spente.
"LOVE-IN-IDLENESS" has passed into a proverb, and lovers,
somehow, are not generally supposed to be industrious. I,
however, worked none the less zealously for being in love. I
applied only the more closely to my studies, both medical and
literary, and made better progress in both than I had made
before. I was not ambitious; but I had many incentives to
work. I was anxious to satisfy my father. I earnestly desired
to efface every unfavorable impression from the mind of Dr.
Cheron, and to gain, if possible, his esteem. I was proud of
the friendship of Madame de Courcelles, and wished to prove
the value that I placed upon her good opinion. Above all, I
had a true and passionate love of learning--not that love which
leadeth on to fame; but rather that self-abandoning devotion
which exchangeth willingly the world of action for the world of
books, and, for an uninterrupted communion with the "souls
of all that men held wise," bartereth away the society of the
Little gregarious by nature, Paris had already ceased to
delight me in the same way that it had delighted me at first. A
"retired leisure," and the society of the woman whom I loved,
grew to be the day-dream of my solitary life. And still, ever
more and more plainly, it became evident to me that for the
career of the student I was designed by nature. Bayle, Magliabecchi
of Florence, Isaac Reed, Sir Thomas Brown, Montaigne--those
were the men whose lot in life I envied--those the literary
anchorites in whose steps I would fain have followed.
But this was not to be; so I worked on, rose early, studied
late, gained experience, took out my second inscription with
credit, and had the satisfaction of knowing that I was fast
acquiring the good opinion of Dr. Cheron. Thus Christmas
passed by, and January with its bitter winds; and February set
in, bright but frosty. And still, without encouragement or
nope, I went on loving Hortense Dufresnoy.
My opportunities of seeing her were few and brief. A passing bow in the
hall, or a distant "good-evening" as we passed upon the stairs, for some
time made up the sum of our intercourse. Gradually, however, a kind of
formal acquaintance sprang up between us; an acquaintance fostered by
trifles and dependent on the idlest, or what seemed the idlest,
casualties. I say "seemed," for often that which to her appeared the
work of chance was the result of elaborate contrivance on my part. She
little knew, when I met her on the staircase, how I had been listening
for the last hour to catch the echo of her step. She little dreamed when
I encountered her at the corner of the street, how I had been concealed,
till that moment, in the _cafe_ over the way, ready to dart out as soon
as she appeared in sight. I would then affect either a polite unconcern,
or an air of judicious surprise, or pretend not to lift my eyes at all
till she was nearly past; and I think I must have been a very fair
actor, for it all succeeded capitally, and I am not aware that she ever
had the least suspicion of the truth. Let me, however, recall one
incident over which I had no control, and which did more towards
promoting our intercourse than all the rest.
It is a cold, bright morning in February. There is a brisk
exhilaration in the air. The windows and gilded balconies
sparkle in the sun, and it is pleasant to hear the frosty ring of
one's boots upon the pavement. It is a fete to-day. Nothing
is doing in the lecture-rooms, and I have the whole day before
me. Meaning, therefore, to enjoy it over the fire and a book,
I wisely begin it by a walk.
From the Cite Bergere, out along the right-hand side of the Boulevards,
down past the front of the Madeleine, across the Place de la Concorde,
and up the Champs Elysees as far as the Arc de Triomphe; this is the
route I take in going. Arrived at the arch, I cross over, and come back
by the same roads, but on the other side of the way. I have a motive in
this. There is a certain second-hand book-shop on the opposite side of
the Boulevard des Italiens, which draws me by a wholly irresistible
attraction. Had I started on that side, I should have gone no further. I
should have looked, lingered, purchased, and gone home to read. But I
know my weakness. I have reserved the book-shop for my return journey,
and now, rewarded and triumphant, compose myself for a quiet study of
And what a book-shop it is! Not only are its windows filled--not only
are its walls a very perspective of learning--but square pillars of
volumes are built up on either side of the door, and an immense
supplementary library is erected in the open air, down all the length of
a dead-wall adjoining the house.
Here then I pause, turning over the leaves of one volume, reading the
title of another, studying the personal appearance of a third, and
weighing the merits of their authors against the contents of my purse.
And when I say "personal appearance," I say it advisedly; for
book-hunters, are skilled Lavaters in their way, and books, like men,
attract or repel at first sight. Thus it happens that I love a portly
book, in a sober coat of calf, but hate a thin, smart volume, in a gaudy
binding. The one promises to be philosophic, learnedly witty, or solidly
instructive; the other is tolerably certain to be pert and shallow, and
reminds me of a coxcombical lacquey in bullion and red plush. On the
same principle, I respect leaves soiled and dog's-eared, but mistrust
gilt edges; love an old volume better than a new; prefer a spacious
book-stall to all the unpurchased stores of Paternoster Row; and buy
every book that I possess at second-hand. Nay, that it is second-hand is
in itself a pass port to my favor. Somebody has read it before;
therefore it is readable. Somebody has derived pleasure from it before;
therefore I open it with a student's sympathy, and am disposed to be
indulgent ere I have perused a single line. There are cases, however,
in which I incline to luxury of binding. Just as I had rather have my
historians in old calf and my chroniclers in black letter, so do I
delight to see my modern poets, the Benjamins of my affections, clothed
in coats of many colors. For them no moroccos are too rich, and no
"toolings" too elaborate. I love to see them smiling on me from the
shelves of my book-cases, as glowing and varied as the sunset through a
Standing here, then, to-day, dipping first into this work and
then into that, I light upon a very curious and interesting
edition of _Froissart_--an edition full of quaint engravings, and
printed in the obsolete spelling of two hundred years ago. The
book is both a treasure and a bargain, being marked up at five
and twenty francs. Only those who haunt book-stalls and
luxuriate in old editions can appreciate the satisfaction with
which I survey
"That weight of wood, with leathern coat overlaid,
Those ample clasps of solid metal made,
The close pressed leaves unclosed for many an age,
The dull red edging of the well-filled page,
And the broad back, with stubborn ridges roll'd,
Where yet the title stands in tarnished gold!"
They only can sympathize in the eagerness with which I snatch up the
precious volume, the haste with which I count out the five and twenty
francs, the delight with which I see the dealer's hand close on the sum,
and know that the book is legally and indisputably mine! Then how
lovingly I embrace it under my arm, and taking advantage of my position
as a purchaser, stroll leisurely round the inner warehouse, still
courting that literary world which (in a library at least) always turns
its back upon its worshipper!
"Pray, Monsieur," says a gentle voice at the door, "where is that old
_Froissart_ that I saw outside about a quarter of an hour ago?"
"Just sold, Madame," replies the bookseller, promptly.
"Oh, how unfortunate!--and I only went home for the money" exclaims the
lady in a tone of real disappointment.
Selfishly exultant, I hug the book more closely, turn to steal a glance
at my defeated rival, and recognise--Mademoiselle Dufresnoy.
She does not see me. I am standing in the inner gloom of the shop, and
she is already turning away. I follow her at a little distance; keep her
in sight all the way home; let her go into the house some few seconds in
advance; and then, scaling three stairs at a time, overtake her at the
door of her apartment.
Flushed and breathless, I stand beside her with _Froissart_ in my hand.
"Pardon, Mademoiselle," I say, hurriedly, "for having involuntarily
forestalled you just now. I had just bought the book you wished to
She looks at me with evident surprise and some coldness; but says
"And I am rejoiced to have this opportunity of transferring it to you."
Mademoiselle Dufresnoy makes a slight but decided gesture of refusal.
"I would not deprive you of it, Monsieur," she says promptly, "upon any
"But, Mademoiselle, unless you allow me to relinquish it in your favor,
I beg to assure you that I shall take the book back to the bookseller
and exchange it for some other."
"I cannot conceive why you should do that, Monsieur."
"In order, Mademoiselle, that you may still have it in your power to
become the purchaser."
"And yet you wished to possess the book, or you would not have bought
"I would not have bought it, Mademoiselle, if I had known that I should
disappoint a--a lady by doing so,"
I was on the point of saying, "if I had known that I should disappoint
you by so doing," but hesitated, and checked myself in time.
A half-mocking smile flitted across her lips.
"Monsieur is too self-sacrificing," she said. "Had I first bought the
book, I should have kept it--being a woman. Reverse the case as you
will, and show me any just reason why you should not do the
same--being a man?"
"Nay, the merest by-law of courtesy..." I began, hesitatingly.
"Do not think me ungracious, Monsieur," she interrupted, "if I hold that
these so-called laws of courtesy are in truth but concessions, for the
most part, from the strength of your sex to the weakness of ours."
"_Eh bien_, Mademoiselle--what then?"
"Then, Monsieur, may there not be some women---myself, for instance--who
do not care to be treated like children?"
"Pardon, Mademoiselle, but are you stating the case quite fairly? Is it
not rather that we desire not to efface the last lingering tradition of
the age of chivalry--not to reduce to prose the last faint echoes of
that poetry which tempered the sword of the Crusader and inspired the
song of the Trouvere?"
"Were it not better that the new age created a new code and a new
poetry?" said Mademoiselle Dufresnoy.
"Perhaps; but I confess I love old forms and usages, and cling to creeds
outworn. Above all, to that creed which in the age of powder and
compliment, no less than in the age of chivalry, enjoined absolute
devotion and courtesy towards women."
"Against mere courtesy reasonably exercised and in due season, I have
nothing to say," replied Mademoiselle Dufresnoy; "but the half-barbarous
homage of the Middle Ages is as little to my taste as the scarcely less
barbarous refinement of the Addison and Georgian periods. Both are alike
unsound, because both have a basis of insincerity. Just as there is a
mock refinement more vulgar than simple vulgarity, so are there
courtesies which humiliate and compliments that offend."
"Mademoiselle is pleased to talk in paradoxes," said I.
Mademoiselle unlocked her door, and turning towards me with the same
half-mocking smile and the same air of raillery, said:--
"Monsieur, it is written in your English histories that when John le Bon
was taken captive after the battle of Cressy, the Black Prince rode
bareheaded before him through the streets of London, and served him at
table as the humblest of his attendants. But for all that, was John any
the less a prisoner, or the Black Prince any the less a conqueror?"
"You mean, perhaps, that you reject all courtesy based on mere
ceremonial. Let me then put the case of this _Froissart_ more
plainly--as I would have done from the first, had I dared to speak the
"And that is...?"
"That it will give me more pleasure to resign the book to you,
Mademoiselle, than to possess it myself."
Mademoiselle Dufresnoy colors up, looks both haughty and amused, and
ends by laughing.
"In truth, Monsieur," she says merrily, "if your politeness threatened
at first to be too universal, it ends by becoming unnecessarily
"Say rather, Mademoiselle, that you will not have the book on any
terms!" I exclaim impatiently.
"Because you have not yet offered it to me upon any just or reasonable
"Well, then, bluntly and frankly, as student to student, I beg you to
spare me the trouble of carrying this book back to the Boulevard. Yours,
Mademoiselle, was the first intention. You saw the book before I saw it.
You would have bought it on the spot, but had to go home for the money.
In common equity, it is yours. In common civility, as student to
student, I offer it to you. Say, is it yes or no?"
"Since you put it so simply and so generously, and since I believe you
really wish me to accept your offer," replies Mademoiselle Dufresnoy,
taking out her purse, "I suppose I must say--yes."
And with this, she puts out her hand for the hook, and offers me in
return the sum of five and twenty francs.
Pained at having to accept the money, pained at being offered it, seeing
no way of refusing it, and feel altogether more distress than is
reasonable in a man brought up to the taking of fees; I affect not to
see the coin, and, bowing, move away in the direction of my own door.
"Pardon, Monsieur," she says, "but you forget that I am in your debt."
"And--and do you really insist..."
She looks at me, half surprised and half offended.
"If you do not take the money, Monsieur, how can I take the book?"
Bowing, I receive the unwelcome francs in my unwilling palm.
Still she lingers.
"I--I have not thanked you as I ought for your generosity," she says,
"Generosity!" I repeat, glancing with some bitterness at the five and
"True kindness, Monsieur, is neither bought nor sold," says the lady,
with the loveliest smile in the world, and closes her door.
THE OLD, OLD STORY.
What thing is Love, which nought can countervail?
Nought save itself--even such a thing is Love.
SIR W. RALEIGH.
My acquaintance with Hortense Dufresnoy progressed slowly as, ever, and
not even the Froissart incident went far towards promoting it. Absorbed
in her studies, living for the intellect only, too self-contained to
know the need for sympathy, she continued to be, at all events for me,
the most inaccessible of God's creatures. And yet, despite her
indifference, I loved her. Her pale, proud face haunted me; her voice
haunted me. I thought of her sometimes till it seemed impossible she
should not in some way be conscious of how my very soul was centred in
her. But she knew nothing--guessed nothing--cared nothing; and the
knowledge that I held no place in her life wrought in me at times till
it became almost too bitter for endurance.
And this was love--real, passionate, earnest; the first and last love of
my heart. Did I believe that I ever loved till now? Ah! no; for now only
I felt the god in his strength, and beheld him in his beauty. Was I not
blind till I had looked into her eyes and drunk of their light? Was I
not deaf till I had heard the music of her voice? Had I ever truly
lived, or breathed, or known delight till now?
I never stayed to ask myself how this would end, or whither it would
lead me. The mere act of loving was too sweet for questioning. What
cared I for the uncertainties of the future, having hope to live upon in
the present? Was it not enough "to feed for aye my lamp and flames of
love," and worship her till that worship became a religion and a rite?
And now, longing to achieve something which should extort at least her
admiration, if not her love, I wished I were a soldier, that I might win
glory for her--or a poet, that I might write verses in her praise which
should be deathless--or a painter, that I might spend years of my life
in copying the dear perfection of her face. Ah! and I would so copy it
that all the world should be in love with it. Not a wave of her brown
hair that I would not patiently follow through all its windings. Not the
tender tracery of a blue vein upon her temples that I would not lovingly
render through its transparent veil of skin. Not a depth of her dark
eyes that I would not study, "deep drinking of the infinite." Alas!
those eyes, so grave, so luminous, so steadfast:--
"Eyes not down-dropt, not over-bright, but fed
With the clear-pointed flame of chastity,"
--eyes wherein dwelt "thought folded over thought," what painter need
ever hope to copy them?
And still she never dreamed how dear she had grown to me. She never
knew how the very air seemed purer to me because she breathed it. She
never guessed how I watched the light from her window night after
night--how I listened to every murmur in her chamber--how I watched and
waited for the merest glimpse of her as she passed by--how her lightest
glance hurried the pulses through my heart--how her coldest word was
garnered up in the treasure-house of my memory! What cared she, though
to her I had dedicated all the "book and volume of my brain;" hallowed
its every page with blazonings of her name; and illuminated it, for love
of her, with fair images, and holy thoughts, and forms of saints
"Innumerable, of stains and splendid dyes
As are the tiger-moth's deep damask'd wings?"
Ah me! her hand was never yet outstretched to undo its golden
clasps--her eye had never yet deigned to rest upon its records. To her I
was nothing, or less than nothing--a fellow-student, a fellow-lodger,
And yet I loved her "with a love that was more than love"--with a love
dearer than life and stronger than death--a love that, day after day,
struck its roots deeper and farther into my very soul, never thence to
be torn up here or hereafter.
ON A WINTER'S EVENING.
After a more than usually severe winter, the early spring came, crowned
with rime instead of primroses. Paris was intensely cold. In March the
Seine was still frozen, and snow lay thickly on the house-tops. Quiet at
all times, the little nook in which I lived became monastically still,
and at night, when the great gates were closed, and the footsteps of the
passers-by fell noiselessly upon the trodden snow, you might have heard
a whisper from one side of the street to the other. There was to me
something indescribably delightful about this silent solitude in the
heart of a great city.
Sitting beside the fire one evening, enjoying the profound calm of the
place, attending from time to time to my little coffee-pot on the hob,
and slowly turning the pages of a favorite author, I luxuriate in a
state of mind half idle, half studious. Leaving off presently to listen
to some sound which I hear, or fancy I hear, in the adjoining room, I
wonder for the twentieth time whether Hortense has yet returned from her
long day's teaching; and so rise--open my window--and look out. Yes; the
light from her reading-lamp streams out at last across the snow-laden
balcony. Heigho! it is something even to know that she is there so near
me--divided only by a thin partition!
Trying to comfort myself with this thought, I close the window again and
return to my book, more restless and absent than before. Sitting thus,
with the unturned leaf lingering between my thumb and forefinger, I hear
a rapid footfall on the stairs, and a musical whistle which, growing
louder as it draws nearer, breaks off at my door, and is followed by a
prolonged assault and battery of the outer panels.
"Welcome, noisiest of visitors!" I exclaim, knowing it to be Mueller
before I even open the door. "You are quite a stranger. You have not
been near me for a fortnight."
"It will not be your fault, Signor Book-worm, if I don't become a
stranger _au pied de la lettre_" replies he, cheerily. "Why, man, it is
close upon three weeks since you have crossed the threshold of my door.
The Quartier Latin is aggrieved by your neglect, and the fine arts
t'other side of the water languish and are forlorn."
So saying, he shakes the snow from his coat like a St. Bernard mastiff,
perches his cap on the head of the plaster Niobe that adorns my
chimney-piece, and lays aside the folio which he had been carrying under
his arm. I, in the meanwhile, have wheeled an easy-chair to the fire,
brought out a bottle of Chambertin, and piled on more wood in honor
of my guest.
"You can't think," said I, shaking hands with him for the second time,
"how glad I am that you have come round to-night."
"I quite believe it," replied he. "You must be bored to death, if these
old busts are all the society you keep. _Sacre nom d'une pipe_! how can
a fellow keep up his conviviality by the perpetual contemplation of
Niobe and Jupiter Tonans? What do you mean by living such a life as
this? Have you turned Trappist? Shall I head a subscription to present
you with a skull and an hour-glass?"
"I'll have the skull made into a drinking-cup, if you do. Take some
Mueller filled his glass, tasted with the air of a connoisseur, and
"Chambertin, by the god Bacchus!" said he. "Napoleon's favorite wine,
and mine--evidence of the sympathy that exists between the truly great."
And, draining the glass, he burst into a song in praise of French wines,
"Le Chambertin rend joyeux,
Le Nuits rend infatigable,
Le Volnay rend amoureux,
Le Champagne rend amiable.
Grisons-nous, mes chers amis,
Vaut la richesse;
Pour moi, des que le suis gris,
Je possede tout Paris!"
"Oh hush!" said I, uneasily; "not so loud, pray!"
"The--the neighbors, you know. We cannot do as we would in the Quartier
"Nonsense, my dear fellow. You don't swear yourself to silence when you
take apartments in a _hotel meuble_! You might as well live in a
'De bouchons faisons un tas,
Et s'il faut avoir la goutte,
Au moins que ce ne soit pas
Pour n'avoir bu qu'une goutte!'"
"Nay, I implore you!" I interposed again. "The landlord ..."
"Hang the landlord!
"Well, but--but there is a lady in the next room ..."
Mueller laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks.
"_Allons done_!" said he, "why not have told the truth at first? Oh, you
sly rogue! You _gaillard_! This is your seclusion, is it? This is your
love of learning--this the secret of your researches into science and
art! What art, pray? Ovid's 'Art of Love,' I'll be sworn!"
"Laugh on, pray," I said, feeling my face and my temper growing hot;
"but that lady, who is a stranger to me"....
"Oh--oh--oh!" cried Mueller.
"Who is a stranger to me," I repeated, "and who passes her evenings in
study, must not be annoyed by noises in my room. Surely, my dear fellow,
you know me well enough to understand whether I am in jest or
Mueller laid his hand upon my sleeve.
"Enough--enough," he said, smiling good-naturedly. "You are right, and I
will be as dumb as Plato. What is the lady's name."
"Dufresnoy," I answered, somewhat reluctantly. "Mademoiselle Dufresnoy."
"Ay, but her Christian name!"
"Her Christian name," I faltered, more reluctant still. "I--I--"
"Don't say you don't know," said Mueller, maliciously. "It isn't worth
while. After all, what does it matter? Here's to her health, all the
same--_a votre sante_, Mademoiselle Dufresnoy! What! not drink her
health, though I have filled your glass on purpose?"
There was no help for it, so I took the glass and drank the toast with
the best grace I could.
"And now, tell me," continued my companion, drawing nearer to the fire
and settling himself with a confidential air that was peculiarly
provoking, "what is she like? Young or old? Dark or fair? Plain
"Old," said I, desperately. "Old and ugly. Fifty at the least. Squints
Then, thinking that I had been a little too emphatic, I added:--
"But a very ladylike person, and exceedingly well-informed,"
Mueller looked at me gravely, and filled his glass again.
"I think I know the lady," said he.
"Yes--by your description. You forgot to add, however, that she is
"To be sure--as a badger."
"To say nothing of a club foot, an impediment in her speech, a voice
like a raven's, and a hump like a dromedary's! Ah! my dear friend, what
an amazingly comic fellow you are!"
And the student burst again into a peal of laughter so hearty and
infectious that I could not have helped joining in it to save my life.
"And now," said he, when we had laughed ourselves out of breath, "now to
the object of my visit. Do you remember asking me, months ago, to make
you a copy of an old portrait that you had taken a fancy to in some
tumble-down chateau near Montlhery!"
"To be sure; and I have intended, over and over again, to remind you of
it. Did you ever take the trouble to go over there and look at it?"
"Look at it, indeed! I should rather think so--and here is the proof.
What does your connoisseurship say to it?"
Say to it! Good heavens! what could I say, what could I do, but flush up
all suddenly with pleasure, and stare at it without power at first to
utter a single word?
For it was like _her_--so like that it might have been her very
portrait. The features were cast in the same mould--the brow, perhaps,
was a little less lofty--the smile a little less cold; but the eyes,
the beautiful, lustrous, soul-lighted eyes were the same--the
If she were to wear an old-fashioned dress, and deck her fair neck and
arms with pearls, and put powder on her hair, and stand just so, with
her hand upon one of the old stone urns in the garden of that deserted
chateau, she would seem to be standing for the portrait.
Well might I feel, when I first saw her, that the beauty of her face was
not wholly unfamiliar to me! Well might I fancy I had seen her in some
dream of long ago!
So this was the secret of it--and this picture was mine. Mine to hang
before my desk when I was at work--mine to place at my bed's foot, where
I might see it on first waking--mine to worship and adore, to weave
fancies and build hopes upon, and "burn out the day in idle phantasies"
of passionate devotion!
"Well," said Mueller impatiently, "what do you think of it?"
I looked up, like one dreaming.
"Think of it!" I repeated.
"Yes--do you think it like?"
"So like that it might be her por ... I mean that it might be the
"Oh, that's satisfactory. I was afraid you were disappointed."
"I was only silent from surprise and pleasure."
"Well, however faithful the copy maybe, you know, in these things one
always misses the tone of age."
"I would not have it look a day older!" I exclaimed, never lifting my
eyes from the canvas.
Mueller came and looked down at it over my shoulder.
"It is an interesting head," said he. "I have a great mind to introduce
it into my next year's competition picture."
I started as if he had struck me. The thought was sacrilege!
"For Heaven's sake do no such thing!" I ejaculated.
"Why not?" said he, opening his eyes in astonishment.
"I cannot tell you why--at least not yet; but to--to confer a very
particular obligation upon me, will you waive this point?" Mueller rubbed
his head all over with both hands, and sat down in the utmost
"Upon my soul and conscience," said he, "you are the most
incomprehensible fellow I ever knew in my life!"
"I am. I grant it. What then? Let us see, I am to give you a hundred and
fifty francs for this copy ..."
"I won't take it," said Mueller. "I mean you to accept it as a pledge of
friendship and good-will."
"Nay, I insist on paying for it. I shall be proud to pay for it; but a
hundred and fifty are not enough. Let me give you three hundred, and
promise me that you will not put the head into your picture!"
Mueller laughed, and shook his own head resolutely. "I will give you both
the portrait and the promise," said he; "but I won't take your money, if
I know it."
"But I won't--and so, if you don't like me well enough to accept such a
trifle from me, I'll e'en carry the thing home again!"
And, snatching up his cap and cloak, he made a feint of putting the
portrait back into the folio.
"Not for the world!" I exclaimed, taking possession of it without
further remonstrance. "I would sooner part from all I possess. How can I
ever thank you enough?"
"By never thanking me at all! What little time the thing has cost me is
overpaid, not only by the sight of your pleasure, but by my own
satisfaction in copying it. To copy a good work is to have a lesson from
the painter, though he were dead a hundred years before; and the man who
painted that portrait, be he who he might, has taught me a trick or two
that I never knew before. _Sapristi_! see if I don't dazzle you some day
with an effect of white satin and pearls against a fair skin!"
"An ingenious argument; but it leaves me unconvinced, all the same. How!
you are not going to run away already? Here's another bottle of
Chambertin waiting to be opened; and it is yet quite early."
"Impossible! I have promised to meet a couple of men up at the Prado,
and have, besides, invited them afterwards to supper."
"What is the Prado?"
"The Prado! Why, is it possible that I have never yet introduced you to
the Prado? It's one of the joiliest places in all the Quartier
Latin--it's close to the Palais de Justice. You can dance there, or
practise pistol-shooting, or play billiards, or sup--or anything you
please. Everybody smokes--ladies not excepted."
"How very delightful!"
"Oh, magnificent! Won't you come with me? I know a dozen pretty girls
who will be delighted to be introduced to you."
"Not to-night, thank you," said I, laughing.
"Well, another time?"
"Yes, to be sure--another time."
"Good-night, and thank you again, a thousand times over."
But he would not stay to hear me thank him, and was half way down the
first flight before my sentence was finished. Just as I was going back
into my room, and about to close the door, he called after me from
"_Hola, amigo_! When my picture is done, I mean to give a bachelor's
supper-party--chiefly students and _chicards_. Will you come?"
"Adieu, then. I will let you know in time."
And with this, he broke out into a fragment of Beranger, gave a cheerful
good-night to Madame Bouisse in the hall, and was gone.
And now to enjoy my picture. Now to lock the door, and trim the lamp,
and place it up against a pile of books, and sit down before it in
silent rapture, like a devotee before the portrait of his patron saint.
Now I can gaze, unreproved, into those eyes, and fancy they are hers.
Now press my lips, unforbidden, upon that exquisite mouth, and believe
it warm. Ah, will her eyes ever so give back the look of love in mine?
Will her lips ever suffer mine to come so near? Would she, if she knew
the treasure I possessed, be displeased that I so worshipped it?
Hanging over it thus, and suffering my thoughts to stray on at their own
will and pleasure, I am startled by the fall of some heavy object in the
adjoining chamber. The fall is followed by a stifled cry, and then all
is again silent.
To unlock my door and rush to hers--to try vainly to open it--to cry
"Hortense! Hortense! what has happened? For Heaven's sake, what has
happened?" is the work of but an instant.
The antechamber lay between, and I remembered that she could not hear
me. I ran back, knocked against the wall, and repeated:--
"What has happened? Tell me what has happened?"
Again I listened, and in that interval of suspense heard her garments
rustle along the ground, then a deep sigh, and then the words:--
"Nothing serious. I have hurt my hand."
"Can you open the door?"
There was another long silence.
"I cannot," she said at length, but more faintly.
"In God's name, try!"
"Shall I get over the balcony?"
I waited another instant, heard nothing, and then, without, further
hesitation, opened my own window and climbed the iron rail that
separated her balcony from mine, leaving my footsteps trampled in
I found her sitting on the floor, with her body bent forward and her
head resting against the corner of a fallen bookcase. The scattered
volumes lay all about. A half-filled portmanteau stood close by on a
chair. A travelling-cloak and a passport-case lay on the table.
Seeing, yet scarcely noting all this, I flung myself on my knees beside
her, and found that one hand and arm lay imprisoned under the bookcase.
She was not insensible, but pain had deprived her of the power of
speech. I raised her head tenderly, and supported it against a chair;
then lifted the heavy bookcase, and, one by one, removed the volumes
that had fallen upon her.
Alas! the white little hand all crushed and bleeding--the powerless
arm--the brave mouth striving to be firm!
I took the poor maimed arm, made a temporary sling for it with my
cravat, and, taking her up in my arms as if she had been an infant,
carried her to the sofa. Then I closed the window; ran back to my own
room for hot water; tore up some old handkerchiefs for bandages; and so
dressed and bound her wounds--blessing (for the first time in my life)
the destiny that had made me a surgeon.
"Are you in much pain?" I asked, when all was done.
"Not now--but I feel very faint,"
I remembered my coffee in the next room, and brought it to her. I lifted
her head, and supported her with my arm while she drank it.
"You are much better now," I said, when she had again lain down. "Tell
me how it happened."
She smiled languidly.
"It was not my fault," she said, "but Froissart's. Do you remember that
Remember it! I should think so.
"Froissart!" I exclaimed. "Why, what had he to do with it?"
"Only this. I usually kept him on the top of the bookcase that fell down
this evening. Just now, while preparing for a journey upon which I must
start to-morrow morning, I thought to remove the book to a safer place;
and so, instead of standing on a chair, I tried to reach up, and,
reaching up, disturbed the balance of the bookcase, and brought
"Could you not have got out of the way when you saw it falling?"
"Yes--but I tried to prevent it, and so was knocked down and imprisoned
as you found me."
"Merciful Heaven! it might have killed you."
"That was what flashed across my mind when I saw it coming," she
replied, with a faint smile.
"You spoke of a journey," I said presently, turning my face away lest
she should read its story too plainly; "but now, of course, you must not
move for a few days."
"I must travel to-morrow," she said, with quiet decision.
"I have no alternative."
"But think of the danger--the imprudence--the suffering."
"Danger there cannot be," she replied, with a touch of impatience in her
voice. "Imprudent it may possibly be; but of that I have no time to
think. And as for the suffering, that concerns myself alone. There are
mental pains harder to bear than the pains of the body, and the
consciousness of a duty unfulfilled is one of the keenest of them. You
urge in vain; I must go. And now, since it is time you bade me
good-night, let me thank you for your ready help and say good-bye."
"But may I do no more for you?"
"Nothing--unless you will have the goodness to bid Madame Bouisse to
come up-stairs, and finish packing my portmanteau for me."
"At what hour do you start?"
"May I not go with you to the station, and see that you get a
"Many thanks," she replied, coldly; "but I do not go by rail, and my
seat in the diligence is already taken."
"You will want some one to see to your luggage--to carry your cloaks."
"Madame Bouisse has promised to go with me to the Messageries."
Silenced, and perhaps a little hurt, I rose to take my leave.
"I wish you a safe journey, mademoiselle," I said, "and a safe return,"
"And think me, at the same time, an ungrateful patient."
"I did not say that."
"No--but you thought so. After all, it is possible that I seem so. I am
undemonstrative--unused to the amenities of life--in short, I am only
half-civilized. Pray, forgive me."
"Mademoiselle," I said, "your apology pains me. I have nothing to
forgive. I will send Madame Bouisse to you immediately."
And with this I had almost left the room, but paused upon the threshold.
"Shall you be long away?" I asked, with assumed indifference.
"Shall I be long away?" she repeated, dreamily. "How can I tell?" Then,
correcting herself, "Oh, not long," she added. "Not long. Perhaps a
fortnight--perhaps a week."
"Once more, then, good-night."
"Good-night," she answered, absently; and I withdrew.
I then went down, sent Madame Bouisse to wait upon her, and sat up
anxiously listening more than half the night. Next morning, at seven, I
heard Madame Bouisse go in again. I dared not even go to her door to
inquire how she had slept, lest I should seem too persistent; but when
they left the room and went downstairs together, I flew to my window.
I saw her cross the street in the gray morning. She walked feebly, and
wore a large cloak, that hid the disabled arm and covered her to the
feet. Madame Bouisse trotted beside her with a bundle of cloaks and
umbrellas; a porter followed with her little portmanteau on
And so they passed under the archway across the trampled snow, and
vanished out of sight.
A week went by--a fortnight went by--and still Hortense prolonged her
mysterious absence. Where could she be gone? Was she ill? Had any
accident befallen her on the road? What if the wounded hand had failed
to heal? What if inflammation had set in, and she were lying, even now,
sick and helpless, among strangers? These terrors came back upon me at
every moment, and drove me almost to despair. In vain I interrogated
Madame Bouisse. The good-natured _concierge_ knew no more than myself,
and the little she had to tell only increased my uneasiness.
Hortense, it appeared, had taken two such journeys before, and had, on
both occasions, started apparently at a moment's notice, and with every
indication of anxiety and haste. From the first she returned after an
interval of more than three weeks; from the second after about four or
five days. Each absence had been followed by a long season of
despondency and lassitude, during which, said the _concierge_,
Mademoiselle scarcely spoke, or ate, or slept, but, silent and pale as a
ghost, sat up later than ever with her books and papers. As for this
last journey, all she knew about it was that Mam'selle had had her
passport regulated for foreign parts the afternoon of the day before
"But can you not remember in what direction the diligence was going?" I
asked, again and again.
"No, M'sieur--not in the least,"
"Nor the name of the town to which her place was taken?"
"I don't know that I ever heard it, M'sieur."
"But at least you must have seen the address on the portmanteau?"
"Not I, M'sieur--I never thought of looking at it."
"Did she say nothing to account for the suddenness of her departure?"
"Nothing at all."
"Nor about her return either. Madame Bouisse? Just think a
moment--surely she said something about when you might expect her
"Nothing, M'sieur, except, by the way--"
"_Dame_! only this--as she was just going to step into the diligence,
she turned back and shook hands with me--Mam'selle Hortense, proud as
she is, is never above shaking hands with me, I can tell you, M'sieur."
"No, no--I can well believe it. Pray, go on!"
"Well, M'sieur," she shakes hands with me, and she says, "Thank you,
good Madame Bouisse, for all your kindness to me.... Hear that, M'sieur,
'good Madame Bouisse,'--the dear child!"
"Bah! how impatient you are! Well, then, she says (after thanking me,
you observe)--'I have paid you my rent, Madame Bouisse, up to the end of
the present month, and if, when the time has expired, I have neither
written nor returned, consider me still as your tenant. If, however, I
do not come back at all, I will let you know further respecting the care
of my books and other property."
If she did not come back at all! Oh, Heaven! I had never contemplated
such a possibility. I left Madame Bouisse without another word, and
going up to my own rooms, flung myself upon my bed, as if I were
All that night, all the next day, those words haunted me. They seemed to
have burned themselves into my brain in letters of fire. Dreaming, I
woke up with them upon my lips; reading, they started out upon me from
the page. "If I never come back at all!"
At last, when the fifth day came round--the fifth day of the third week
of her absence--I became so languid and desponding that I lost all power
Even Dr. Cheron noticed it, and calling me in the afternoon to his
private room, said:--
"Basil Arbuthnot, you look ill. Are you working too hard?"
"I don't think so, sir."
"Humph! Are you out much at night?"
"Yes--don't echo my words--do you go into society: frequent balls,
theatres, and so forth?"
"I have not done so, sir, for several months past."
"What is it, then? Do you read late?"
"Really, sir, I hardly know--up to about one or two o'clock; on the
average, I believe."
"Let me feel your pulse."
I put out my wrist, and he held it for some seconds, looking keenly at
me all the time.
"Got anything on your mind?" he asked, after he had dropped it again.
"Want money, eh?"
"No, sir, thank you."
"Not in the least."
"Hah! want amusement. Can't work perpetually--not reasonable to suppose
it. There, _mon garcon_," (taking a folded paper from his pocket-book)
"there's a prescription for you. Make the most of it."
It was a stall-ticket for the opera. Too restless and unhappy to reject
any chance of relief, however temporary, I accepted it, and went.
I had not been to a theatre since that night with Josephine, nor to the
Italian Opera since I used to go with Madame de Marignan. As I went in
listlessly and took my place, the lights, the noise, the multitude of
faces, confused and dazzled me. Presently the curtain rose, and the
piece began. The opera was _I Capuletti_. I do not remember who the
singers were, I am not sure that I ever knew. To me they were Romeo and
Juliet, and I was a dweller in Verona. The story, the music, the
scenery, took a vivid hold upon my imagination. From the moment the
curtain rose, I saw only the stage, and, except that I in some sort
established a dim comparison between Romeo's sorrows and my own
disquietude of mind, I seemed to lose all recollection of time and
place, and almost of my own identity.
It seemed quite natural that that ill-fated pair of lovers should go
through life, love, wed, and die singing. And why not? Are they not airy
nothings, "born of romance, cradled in poetry, thinking other thoughts,
and doing other deeds than ours?" As they live in poetry, so may they
not with perfect fitness speak in song?
I went home in a dream, with the melodies ringing in my ears and the
story lying heavy at my heart. I passed upstairs in the dark, went over
to the window, and saw, oh joy! the light--the dear, familiar, welcome,
blessed light, streaming forth, as of old, from Hortense's
To thank Heaven that she was safe was my first impulse--to step out on
the balcony, and watch the light as though it were a part of herself,
was the second. I had not been there many moments when it was obscured
by a passing shadow. The window opened and she came out.
"Good-evening," she said, in her calm, clear voice. "I heard you out
here, and thought you might like to know that, thanks to your treatment
in the first instance, and such care as I have been able since to give
it, my hand is once more in working order."
"You are kind to come out and tell me so," I said. "I had no hope of
seeing you to-night. How long is it since you arrived?"
"About two hours," she replied, carelessly.
"And you have been nearly three weeks away!"
"Have I?" said she, leaning her cheek upon her hand, and looking up
dreamily into the night. "I did not count the days."
"That proves you passed them happily," I said; not without some secret
"Happily!" she echoed. "What is happiness?"
"A word that we all translate differently," I replied.
"And your own reading of it?" she said, interrogatively.
"Do you inquire what is my need, individually?" I asked, "or do you want
my general definition?"
"I think, then, that the first requirement of happiness is work; the
"I accept your definition," she said, "and hope that you may realize it
to the full in your own experience. For myself, I have toiled and
failed--sought, and found not. Judge, then, how I came to leave the days
The sadness of her attitude, the melancholy import of her words, the
abstraction of her manner, filled me with a vague uneasiness.
"Failure is often the forerunner of success," I replied, for want,
perhaps, of something better to say.
She shook her head drearily, and stood looking up at the sky, where,
every now and then, the moon shone out fitfully between the
"It is not the first time," she murmured, "nor will it be the last--and
yet they say that God is merciful."
She had forgotten my presence. These words were not spoken to me, but in
answer to her own thoughts. I said nothing, but watched her upturned
face. It was pale as the wan moon overhead; thinner than before she went
away; and sadder--oh, how much sadder!
She roused herself presently, and turning to me, said:--"I beg your
pardon. I am very absent; but I am greatly fatigued. I have been
travelling incessantly for two days and nights."
"Then I will wish you good-night at once," I said.
"Good-night," she replied; and went back into her room.
The next morning Dr. Cheron smiled one of his cold smiles, and said:--
"You look better to-day, my young friend. I knew how it was with you--no
worse malady, after all, than _ennui_. I shall take care to repeat the
medicine from time to time."
UNDER THE STARS.
Hoping, yet scarcely expecting to see her, I went out upon my balcony
the next night at the same hour; but the light of her lamp was bright
within, no shadow obscured it, and no window opened. So, after waiting
for more than an hour, I gave her up, and returned to my work. I did
this for six nights in succession. On the seventh she came.
"You are fond of your balcony, fellow-student," said she. "I often hear
you out here."
"My room gets heated," I replied, "and my eyes weary, after several
hours of hard reading; and this keen, clear air puts new life into
"Yes, it is delicious," said she, looking up into the night. "How dark
the space of heaven is, and, how bright are the stars! What a night for
the Alps! What a night to be upon some Alpine height, watching the moon
through a good telescope, and waiting for the sunrise!"
"Defer that wish for a few months," I replied smiling. "You would
scarcely like Switzerland in her winter robes."
"Nay, I prefer Switzerland in winter," she said. "I passed through part
of the Jura about ten days ago, and saw nothing but snow. It was
magnificent--like a paradise of pure marble awaiting the souls of all
the sculptors of all the ages."
"A fantastic idea," said I, "and spoken like an artist."
"Like an artist!" she repeated, musingly. "Well, are not all students
"Not those who study the exact sciences--not the student of law or
divinity--nor he who, like myself, is a student of medicine. He is the
slave of Fact, and Art is the Eden of his banishment. His imagination is
for ever captive. His horizon is for ever bounded. He is fettered by
routine, and paralyzed by tradition. His very ideas must put on the
livery of his predecessors; for in a profession where originality of
thought stands for the blackest shade of original sin, skill--mere
skill--must be the end of his ambition."
She looked at me, and the moonlight showed me that sad smile which her
lips so often wore.
"You do not love your profession," she said.
"I do not, indeed."
"And yet you labor zealously to acquire it--how is that?"
"How is it with hundreds of others? My profession was chosen for me. I
am not my own master."
"But are you sure you would be happier in some other pursuit? Supposing,
for instance, that you were free to begin again, what career do you
think you would prefer?"
"I scarcely know, and I should scarcely care, so long as there was
freedom of thought and speculation in it."
"Geology, perhaps--or astronomy," she suggested, laughingly.
"Merci! The bowels of the earth are too profound, and the heavens too
lofty for me. I should choose some pursuit that would set the Ariel of
the imagination free. That is to say, I could be very happy if my life
were devoted to Science, but my soul echoes to the name of Art."
"'The artist creates--the man of science discovers," said Hortense.
"Beware lest you fancy you would prefer the work of creation only
because you lack patience to pursue the work of discovery. Pardon me, if
I suggest that you may, perhaps, be fitted for neither. Your sphere, I
fancy, is reflection--comparison--criticism. You are not made for
action, or work. Your taste is higher than your ambition, and you love
learning better than fame. Am I right?"
"So right that I regret I can be read so easily."
"And therefore, it may be that you would find yourself no happier with
Art than with Science. You might even fall into deeper discouragement;
for in Science every onward step is at least certain gain, but in Art
every step is groping, and success is only another form of effort. Art,
in so far as it is more divine, is more unattainable, more evanescent,
more unsubstantial. It needs as much patience as Science, and the
passionate devotion of an entire life is as nothing in comparison with
the magnitude of the work. Self-sacrifice, self-distrust, infinite
patience, infinite disappointment--such is the lot of the artist, such
the law of aspiration."
"A melancholy creed."
"But a true one. The divine is doomed to suffering, and under the hays
of the poet lurk ever the thorns of the self-immolator."
"But, amid all this record of his pains, do you render no account of his
pleasures?" I asked. "You forget that he has moments of enjoyment lofty
as his aims, and deep as his devotion.
"I do not forget it," she said. "I know it but too well. Alas! is not
the catalogue of his pleasures the more melancholy record of the two?
Hopes which sharpen disappointment; visions which cheat while they
enrapture; dreams that embitter his waking hours--fellow-student, do you
envy him these?"
"I do; believing that he would not forego them for a life of
common-place annoyances and placid pleasures."
"Forego them! Never. Who that had once been the guest of the gods would
forego the Divine for the Human? No--it is better to suffer than to
stagnate. The artist and poet is overpaid in his brief snatches of joy.
While they last, his soul sings 'at heaven's gate,' and his forehead
strikes the stars."
She spoke with a rare and passionate enthusiasm; sometimes pacing to and
fro; sometimes pausing with upturned face--
"A dauntless muse who eyes a dreadful fate!"
There was a long, long silence--she looking at the stars, I upon her
By-and-by she came over to where I stood, and leaned upon the railing
that divided our separate territories.
"Friend," said she, gravely, "be content. Art is the Sphinx, and to
question her is destruction. Enjoy books, pictures, music,
statues--rifle the world of beauty to satiety, if satiety be
possible--but there pause Drink the wine; seek not to crush the grape.
Be happy, be useful, labor honestly upon the task that is thine, and be
assured that the work will itself achieve its reward. Is it nothing to
relieve pain--to prolong the days of the sickly--to restore health to
the suffering--to soothe the last pangs of the dying? Is it nothing to
be followed by the prayers and blessing of those whom you have restored
to love, to fame, to the world's service? To my thinking, the
physician's trade hath something god-like in it. Be content. Harvey's
discovery was as sublime as Newton's, and it were hard to say which did
God's work best--Shakespeare or Jenner."
"And you," I said, the passion that I could not conceal trembling in my
voice; "and you--what are you, poet, or painter, or musician, that you
know and reason of all these things?"
She laughed with a sudden change of mood, and shook her head.
"I am a woman," said she. "Simply a woman--no more. One of the inferior
sex; and, as I told you long ago, only half civilized."
"You are unlike every other woman!"
"Possibly, because I am more useless. Strange as it may seem, do you
know I love art better than sewing, or gossip, or dress; and hold my
liberty to be a dower more precious than either beauty or riches? And
yet--I am a woman!"
"The wisest, virtuousest, discreetest, best!"
"By no means. You are comparing me with Eve; but I am not in the least
like Eve, I assure you. She was an excellent housewife, and, if we may
believe Milton, knew how to prepare 'dulcet creams,' and all sorts of
Paradisaical dainties for her husband's dinner. I, on the contrary,
could not make a cream if Adam's life depended on it."
"_Eh bien!_ of the theology of creams I know nothing. I only know that
Eve was the first and fairest of her sex, and that you are as wise as
you are beautiful."
"Nay, that is what Titania said to the ass," laughed Hortense. "Your
compliments become equivocal, fellow-student. But hush! what hour
She stood with uplifted finger. The air was keen, and over the silence
of the house-tops chimed the church-clocks--Two.
"It is late, and cold," said she, drawing her cloak more closely round
"Not later than you usually sit up," I replied. "Don't go yet. 'Tis now
the very witching hour of night, when churchyards yawn--"
"I beg your pardon," she interrupted. "The churchyards have done yawning
by this time, and, like other respectable citizens, are sound asleep.
Let us follow their example. Good-night."
"Good-night," I replied, reluctantly; but almost before I had said it,
she was gone.
After this, as the winter wore away, and spring drew on, Hortense's
balcony became once more a garden, and she used to attend to her flowers
every evening. She always found me on my balcony when she came out, and
soon our open-air meetings became such an established fact that, instead
of parting with "good-night," we said "_au revoir_--till to-morrow." At
these times we talked of many things; sometimes of subjects abstract and
mystical--of futurity, of death, of the spiritual life--but oftenest of
Art in its manifold developments. And sometimes our speculations
wandered on into the late hours of the night.
And yet, for all our talking and all our community of tastes, we became
not one jot more intimate. I still loved in silence--she still lived in
a world apart.
How dreary 'tis for women to sit still
On winter nights by solitary fires,
And hear the nations praising them far off.
Abolished by the National Convention of 1793, re-established in 1795,
reformed by the first Napoleon in 1803, and remodelled in 1816 on the
restoration of the Bourbons, the Academie Francaise, despite its changes
of fortune, name, and government, is a liberal and splendid institution.
It consists of forty members, whose office it is to compile the great
dictionary, and to enrich, purify, and preserve the language. It assists
authors in distress. It awards prizes for poetry, eloquence, and virtue;
and it bestows those honors with a noble impartiality that observes no
distinction of sex, rank, or party. To fill one of the forty fauteuils
of the Academie Francaise is the darling ambition of every eminent
Frenchman of letters. There the poet, the philosopher, the historian,
the man of science, sit side by side, and meet on equal ground. When a
seat falls vacant, when a prize is to be awarded, when an anniversary is
to be celebrated, the interest and excitement become intense. To the
political, the fashionable, or the commercial world, these events are
perhaps of little moment. They affect neither the Bourse nor the Budget.
They exercise no perceptible influence on the Longchamps toilettes. But
to the striving author, to the rising orator, to all earnest workers in
the broad fields of literature, they are serious and significant
Living out of society as I now did, I knew little and cared less for
these academic crises. The success of one candidate was as unimportant
to me as the failure of another; and I had more than once read the
crowned poem of the prize essay without even glancing at the name or the
Now it happened that, pacing to and fro under the budding acacias of the
Palais Royal garden one sunny spring-like morning, some three or four
weeks after the conversation last recorded, I was pursued by a
persecuting newsvender with a hungry eye, mittened fingers, and a shrill
voice, who persisted in reiterating close against my ear:--
"News of the day, M'sieur!--news of the day. Frightful murder in the Rue
du Faubourg St. Antoine--state of the Bourse--latest despatches from the
seat of war--prize poem crowned by the Academie Francaise--news of the
day, M'sieur! Only forty centimes! News of the day!"
I refused, however, to be interested in any of those topics, turned a
deaf ear to his allurements, and peremptorily dismissed him. I then
continued my walk in solitary silence.
At the further extremity of the square, near the _Galerie Vitree_ and
close beside the little newspaper kiosk, stood a large tree since cut
down, which at that time served as an advertising medium, and was daily
decorated with a written placard, descriptive of the contents of the
_Moniteur_, the _Presse_, and other leading papers. This placard was
generally surrounded by a crowd of readers, and to-day the crowd of
readers was more than usually dense.
I seldom cared in these days for what was going on in the busy outside
world; but this morning, my attention having been drawn to the subject,
I amused myself, as I paced to and fro, by watching the eager faces of
the little throng of idlers. Presently I fell in with the rest, and
found myself conning the placard on the tree.
The name that met my astonished eyes on that placard was the name of
The sentence ran thus:--
"Grand Biennial Prize for Poetry--Subject: _The Pass of
Thermopylae_,--Successful Candidate, _Mademoiselle Hortense Dufresnoy_."
Breathless, I read the passage twice; then, hearing at a little distance
the shrill voice of the importunate newsvender, I plunged after him and
stopped him, just as he came to the--
"Frightful murder in the Rue du Faubourg Saint ..."
"Here," said I, tapping him on the shoulder; "give me one of your
The man's eyes glittered.
"Only forty centimes, M'sieur," said he. "'Tis the first I've sold
He looked poor and wretched. I dropped into his hand a coin that would
have purchased all his little sheaf of journals, and hurried away, not
to take the change or hear his thanks. He was silent for some moments;
then took up his cry at the point where he had broken off, and started
--"Antoine!--state of the Bourse--latest despatches from the seat of
war--news of the day--only forty centimes!"
I took my paper to a quiet bench near the fountain, and read the whole
account. There had been eighteen anonymous poems submitted to the
Academy. Three out of the eighteen had come under discussion; one out of
the three had been warmly advocated by Beranger, one by Lebrun, and the
third by some other academician. The poem selected by Beranger was at
length chosen; the sealed enclosure opened; and the name of the
successful competitor found to be Hortense Dufresnoy. To Hortense
Dufresnoy, therefore, the prize and crown were awarded.
I read the article through, and then went home, hoping to be the first
to congratulate her. Timidly, and with a fast-beating heart, I rang the
bell at her outer door; for we all had our bells at Madame Bouisse's,
and lived in our rooms as if they were little private houses.
She opened the door, and, seeing me, looked surprised; for I had never
before ventured to pay her a visit in her apartment.
"I have come to wish you joy," said I, not venturing to cross the
"To wish me joy?"
"You have not seen a morning paper?"
"A morning paper!"
And, echoing me thus, her color changed, and a strange vague look--it
might be of hope, it might be of fear--came into her face.
"There is something in the _Moniteur_" I went on, smiling, 'that
concerns you nearly."
"That concerns me?" she exclaimed. "_Me_? For Heaven's sake, speak
plainly. I do not understand you. Has--has anything been discovered?"
"Yes--it has been discovered at the Academie Francaise that Mademoiselle
Hortense Dufresnoy has written the best poem on Thermopylae."
She drew a deep breath, pressed her hands tightly together, and
"Alas! is that all?"
"All! Nay--is it not enough to step at once into fame--to have been
advocated by Beranger--to have the poem crowned in the Theatre of the
She stood silent, with drooping head and listless hands, all
disappointment and despondency. Presently she looked up.
"Where did you learn this?" she asked.
I handed her the journal.
"Come in, fellow-student," said she, and held the door wide for me to
For the second time I found myself in her little _salon_, and found
everything in the self-same order.
"Well," I said, "are you not happy?"
She shook her head.
"Success is not happiness," she replied, smiling mournfully. "That
Beranger should have advocated my poem is an honor beyond price;
but--but I need more than this to make me happy."
And her eyes wandered, with a strange, yearning look, to the sword over
Seeing that look, my heart sank, and the tears sprang unbidden to my
eyes. Whose was the sword? For whose sake was her life so lonely and
secluded? For whom was she waiting? Surely here, if one could but read
it aright, lay the secret of her strange and sudden journeys--here I
touched unawares upon the mystery of her life!
I did not speak. I shaded my face with my hand, and sat looking on the
ground. Then, the silence remaining unbroken, I rose, and examined the
drawings on the walls.
They were water-colors for the most part, and treated in a masterly but
quite peculiar style. The skies were sombre, the foregrounds singularly
elaborate, the color stern and forcible. Angry sunsets barred by lines
of purple cirrus stratus; sweeps of desolate heath bounded by jagged
peaks; steep mountain passes crimson with faded ferns and half-obscured
by rain-clouds; strange studies of weeds, and rivers, and lonely reaches
of desolate sea-shore ... these were some of the subjects, and all were
evidently by the same hand.
"Ah," said Hortense, "you are criticizing my sketches!"
"Your sketches!" I exclaimed. "Are these your work?"
"Certainly," she replied, smiling. "Why not? What do you think of them?"
"What do I think of them! Well, I think that if you had not been a poet
you ought to have been a painter. How fortunate you are in being able to
express yourself so variously! Are these compositions, or studies
"All studies from Nature--mere records of fact. I do not presume to
create--I am content humbly and from a distance to copy the changing
moods of Nature."
"Pray be your own catalogue, then, and tell me where these places are."
"Willingly. This coast-line with the run of breaking surf was taken on
the shores of Normandy, some few miles from Dieppe. This sunset is a
recollection of a glorious evening near Frankfort, and those purple
mountains in the distance are part of the Taunus range. Here is an old
mediaeval gateway at Solothurn, in Switzerland. This wild heath near the
sea is in the neighborhood of Biscay. This quaint knot of ruinous houses
in a weed-grown Court was sketched at Bruges. Do you see that milk-girl
with her scarlet petticoat and Flemish _faille?_ She supplied us with
milk, and her dairy was up that dark archway. She stood for me several
times, when I wanted a foreground figure."
"You have travelled a great deal," I said. "Were you long in Belgium?"
"Yes; I lived there for some years. I was first pupil, then teacher, in
a large school in Brussels. I was afterwards governess in a private
family in Bruges. Of late, however, I have preferred to live in Paris,
and give morning lessons. I have more liberty thus, and more leisure."
"And these two little quaint bronze figures?"
"Hans Sachs and Peter Vischer. I brought them from Nuremberg. Hans
Sachs, you see, wears a furred robe, and presses a book to his breast.
He does not look in the least like a cobbler. Peter Vischer, on the
contrary, wears his leather apron and carries his mallet in his hand.
Artist and iron-smith, he glories in his trade, and looks as sturdy a
little burgher as one would wish to see."
"And this statuette in green marble?"
"A copy of the celebrated 'Pensiero' of Michel Angelo--in other words,
the famous sitting statue of Lorenzo de Medici, in the Medicean chapel
in Florence. I had it executed for me on the spot by Bazzanti."
"A noble figure!"
"Indeed it is--a noble figure, instinct with life, and strength, and
meditation. My first thought on seeing the original was that I would not
for worlds be condemned to pass a night alone with it. I should every
moment expect the musing hand to drop away from the stern mouth, and the
eyes to turn upon me!"
"These," said I, pausing at the chimney-piece, "are _souvenirs_ of
Switzerland. How delicately those chamois are carved out of the hard
wood! They almost seem to snuff the mountain air! But here is a rapier
with a hilt of ornamented steel--where did this come from?"
I had purposely led up the conversation to this point. I had patiently
questioned and examined for the sake of this one inquiry, and I waited
her reply as if my life hung on it.
Her whole countenance changed. She took it down, and her eyes filled
"It was my father's," she said, tenderly.
"Your father's!" I exclaimed, joyfully. "Heaven be thanked! Did you say
She looked up surprised, then smiled, and faintly blushed.
"I did," she replied.
"And was your father a soldier?" I asked; for the sword looked more like
a sword of ceremony than a sword for service.
But to this question she gave no direct reply.
"It was his sword," she said, "and he had the best of all rights to wear
With this she kissed the weapon reverently, and restored it to its
I kissed her hand quite as reverently that day at parting, and she did
not withdraw it.
ALL ABOUT ART.
Art's a service.
"God sent art, and the devil sent critics," said Mueller, dismally
paraphrasing a popular proverb. "My picture is rejected!"
"Rejected!" I echoed, surprised to find him sitting on the floor, like a
tailor, in front of an acre of canvas. "By whom?"
"By the Hanging Committee."
"Hang the Hanging Committee!"
"A pious prayer, my friend. Would that it could be carried into
"What cause do they assign?"
"Cause! Do you suppose they trouble themselves to find one? Not a bit of
it. They simply scrawl a great R in chalk on the back of it, and send
you a printed notice to carry it home again. What is it to them, if a
poor devil has been painting his very heart and hopes out, day after
day, for a whole year, upon that piece of canvas? Nothing, and less than
I drew a chair before the picture, and set myself to a patient study of
the details. He had chosen a difficult subject--the death of Louis XI.
The scene represented a spacious chamber in the Castle of
Plessisles-Tours. To the left, in a great oak chair beside the bed from
which he had just risen, sat the dying king, with a rich, furred mantle
loosely thrown around him. At his feet, his face buried in his hands,
kneeled the Dauphin. Behind his chair, holding up the crucifix to enjoin
silence, stood the king's confessor. A physician, a couple of
councillors in scarlet robes, and a captain of archers, stood somewhat
back, whispering together and watching the countenance of the dying man;
while through the outer door was seen a crowd of courtiers and pages,
waiting to congratulate King Charles VIII. It was an ambitious subject,
and Mueller had conceived it in a grand spirit. The heads were
expressive; and the textures of the velvets, tapestries, oak carvings,
and so forth, had been executed with more than ordinary finish and
fidelity. For all this, however, there was more of promise than of
achievement in the work. The lights were scattered; the attitudes were
stiff; there was too evident an attempt at effect. One could see that it
was the work of a young painter, who had yet much to learn, and
something of the Academy to forget.
"Well," said Mueller, still sitting ruefully on the floor, "what do you
think of it? Am I rightly served? Shall I send for a big pail of
whitewash, and blot it all out?"
"Not for the world!"
"What shall I do, then?"
"But, if I have done my best already?"
"Still do better; and when you have done that, do better again. So
genius toils higher and ever higher, and like the climber of the
glacier, plants his foot where only his hand clung the moment before."
"Humph! but what of my picture?"
"Well," I said, hesitatingly, "I am no critic--"
"Thank Heaven!" muttered Mueller, parenthetically.
"But there is something noble in the disposition of the figures. I
should say, however, that you had set to work upon too large a scale."
"A question of focus," said the painter, hastily. "A mere question of
"How can that be, when you have finished some parts laboriously, and in
others seem scarcely to have troubled yourself to cover the canvas?"
"I don't know. I'm impatient, you see, and--and I think I got tired of
it towards the last."
"Would that have been the case if you had allowed yourself but half the
"I'll take to enamel," exclaimed Mueller, with a grin of hyperbolical
despair. "I'll immortalize myself in miniature. I'll paint henceforward
with the aid of a microscope, and never again look at nature unless
through the wrong end of a telescope!"
"Pshaw!--be in earnest, man, and talk sensibly! Do you conceive that for
every failure you are to change your style? Give yourself, heart and
soul, to the school in which you have begun, and make up your mind
"Do you believe, then, that a man may succeed by force of will alone?"
said Mueller, musingly.
"Yes, because force of will proceeds from force of character, and the
two together, warp and woof, make the stuff out of which Nature clothes
"Oh, but I am not talking of heroes," said Mueller.
"By heroes, I do not mean only soldiers. Captain Pen is as good a hero
as Captain Sword, any day; and Captain Brush, to my thinking, is as fine
a fellow as either."
"Ay; but do they come, as you would seem to imply, of the same stock?"
said Mueller. "Force of will and force of character are famous clays in
which to mould a Wellington or a Columbus; but is not something more--at
all events, something different--necessary to the modelling of a
"I don't fancy so. Power is the first requisite of genius. Give power in
equal quantity to your Columbus and your Raffaelle, and circumstance
shall decide which will achieve the New World, and which the
"Circumstance!" cried the painter, impatiently. "Good heavens! do you
make no account of the spontaneous tendencies of genius? Is Nature a
mere vulgar cook, turning out men, like soups, from one common stock,
with only a dash of flavoring here and there to give them variety?
No--Nature is a subtle chemist, and her workshop, depend on it, is
stored with delicate elixirs, volatile spirits, and precious fires of
genius. Certain of these are kneaded with the clay of the poet, others
with the clay of the painter, the astronomer, the mathematician, the
legislator, the soldier. Raffaelle had in him some of 'the stuff that
dreams are made of.' Never tell me that that same stuff, differently
treated, would equally well have furnished forth an Archimedes or a
"Men are what their age calls upon them to be," I replied, after a
moment's consideration. "Be that demand what it may, the supply is ever
equal to it. Centre of the most pompous and fascinating of religions,
Rome demanded Madonnas and Transfigurations, and straightway Raffaelle
answered to the call. The Old World, overstocked with men, gold, and
aristocracies, asked wider fields of enterprise, and Columbus added
America to the map. What is this but circumstance? Had Italy needed
colonies, would not her men of genius have turned sailors and
discoverers? Had Madrid been the residence of the Popes, might not
Columbus have painted altar-pieces or designed churches?"
Mueller, still sitting on the floor, shook his head despondingly.
"I don't think it," he replied; "and I don't wish to think it. It is too
material a view of genius to satisfy my imagination. I love to believe
that gifts are special. I love to believe that the poet is born a poet,
and the artist an artist."
"Hold! I believe that the poet is born a poet, and the artist an artist;
but I also believe the poetry of the one and the art of the other to be
only diverse manifestations of a power that is universal in its
application. The artist whose lot in life it is to be a builder is none
the less an artist. The poet, though engineer or soldier, is none the
less a poet. There is the poetry of language, and there is also the
poetry of action. So also there is the art which expresses itself by
means of marble or canvas, and the art which designs a capitol, tapers a
spire, or plants a pleasure-ground. Nay, is not this very interfusion of
gifts, this universality of uses, in itself the bond of beauty which
girdles the world like a cestus? If poetry were only rhyme, and art only
painting, to what an outer darkness of matter-of-fact should we be
condemning nine-tenths of the creation!"
Mueller yawned, as if he would have swallowed me and my argument
"You are getting transcendental," said he. "I dare say your theories are
all very fine and all very true; but I confess that I don't understand
them. I never could find out all this poetry of bricks and mortar,
railroads and cotton-factories, that people talk about so fluently
now-a-days. We Germans take the dreamy side of life, and are seldom at
home in the practical, be it ever so highly colored and highly flavored.
In our parlance, an artist is an artist, and neither a bagman nor an
His professional pride was touched, and he said this with somewhat less
than his usual _bonhomie_--almost with a shade of irritability.
"Come," said I, smiling, "we will not discuss a topic which we can never
see from the same point of view. Doing art is better than talking art;
and your business now is to find a fresh subject and prepare another
canvas. Meanwhile cheer up, and forget all about Louis XI. and the
Hanging Committee. What say you to dining with me at the Trois Freres?
It will do you good."
"Good!" cried he, springing to his feet and shaking his fist at the
picture. "More good, by Jupiter, than all the paint and megilp that ever
was wasted! Not all the fine arts of Europe are worth a _poulet a la
Marengo_ and a bottle of old _Romanee_!"
So saying, he turned his picture to the wall, seized his cap, locked his
door, scrawled outside with a piece of chalk,--"_Summoned to the
Tuileries on state affairs_," and followed me, whistling, down the six
flights of gloomy, ricketty, Quartier-Latin lodging-house stairs up
which he lived and had his being.
* * * * *
I MAKE MYSELF ACQUAINTED WITH THE IMPOLITE WORLD AND ITS PLACES OP
Mueller and I dined merrily at the Cafe of the Trois Freres Provencaux,
discussed our coffee and cigars outside the Rotonde in the Palais Royal,
and then started off in search of adventures. Striking up in a
north-easterly direction through a labyrinth of narrow streets, we
emerged at the Rue des Fontaines, just in front of that famous
second-hand market yclept the Temple. It was Saturday night, and the
business of the place was at its height. We went in, and turning aside
from the broad thoroughfares which intersect the market at right angles,
plunged at once into a net-work of crowded side-alleys, noisy and
populous as a cluster of beehives. Here were bargainings, hagglings,
quarrellings, elbowings, slang, low wit, laughter, abuse, cheating, and
chattering enough to turn the head of a neophyte like myself. Mueller,
however, was in his element. He took me up one row and down another,
pointed out all that was curious, had a nod for every grisette, and an
answer for every touter, and enjoyed the Babel like one to the
"Buy, messieurs, buy! What will you buy?" was the question that
assailed us on both sides, wherever we went.
"What do you sell, _mon ami ?_" was Mueller's invariable reply.
"What do you want, m'sieur?"
"Twenty thousand francs per annum, and the prettiest wife in Paris,"
says my friend; a reply which is sure to evoke something _spirituel_,
after the manner of the locality.
"This is the most amusing place in Paris," observes he. "Like the
Alsatia of old London, it has its own peculiar _argot,_ and its own
peculiar privileges. The activity of its commerce is amazing. If you buy
a pocket-handkerchief at the first stall you come to, and leave it
unprotected in your coat-pocket for five minutes, you may purchase it
again at the other end of the alley before you leave. As for the
resources of the market, they are inexhaustible. You may buy anything
you please here, from a Court suit to a cargo of old rags. In this alley
(which is the aristocratic quarter), are sold old jewelry, old china,
old furniture, silks that have rustled at the Tuileries; fans that may
have fluttered at the opera; gloves once fitted to tiny hands, and yet
bearing a light soil where the rings were worn beneath; laces that may
have been the property of Countesses or Cardinals; masquerade suits,
epaulets, uniforms, furs, perfumes, artificial flowers, and all sorts of
elegant superfluities, most of which have descended to the merchants of
the Temple through the hands of ladies-maids and valets. Yonder lies the
district called the 'Foret Noire'--a land of unpleasing atmosphere
inhabited by cobblers and clothes-menders. Down to the left you see
nothing but rag and bottle-shops, old iron stores, and lumber of every
kind. Here you find chiefly household articles, bedding, upholstery,
crockery, and so forth."
"What will you buy, Messieurs?" continued to be the cry, as we moved
along arm-in-arm, elbowing our way through the crowd, and exploring this
singular scene in all directions.
"What will you buy, messieurs?" shouts one salesman. "A carpet? A
capital carpet, neither too large nor too small. Just the size
"A hat, m'sieur, better than new," cries another; "just aired by the
"A coat that will fit you better than if it had been made for you?"
"A pair of boots? Dress-boots, dancing-boots, walking-boots,
morning-boots, evening-boots, riding-boots, fishing-boots,
hunting-boots. All sorts, m'sieur--all sorts!"
"A cloak, m'sieur?"
"A lace shawl to take home to Madame?"
"An umbrella, m'sieur?"
"A reading lamp?"
"A pair of gloves?"
"A shower bath?"
"A hand organ?"
"What! m'sieurs, do you buy nothing this evening? Hola, Antoine!
monsieur keeps his hands in his pockets, for fear his money should
"Bah! They've not a centime between them!"
"Go down the next turning and have the hole in your coat mended!"
"Make way there for monsieur the millionaire!"
"They are ambassadors on their way to the Court of Persia."
"_Ohe! Pane! pane! pane!_"
Thus we run the gauntlet of all the tongues in the Temple, sometimes
retorting, sometimes laughing and passing on, sometimes stopping to
watch the issue of a dispute or the clinching of a bargain.
"_Dame_, now! if it were only ten francs cheaper," says a voice that
strikes my ear with a sudden sense of familiarity. Turning, I discover
that the voice belongs to a young woman close at my elbow, and that the
remark is addressed to a good-looking workman upon whose arm she
"What, Josephine!" I exclaim.
"_Comment_! Monsieur Basil!"
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