The Ink-Stain, v1
This etext was produced by David Widger
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the
file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an
entire meal of them. D.W.]
THE INK STAIN BY RENE BAZIN
By RENE BAZIN
Preface by E. LAVISSE
RENE-NICHOLAS-MARIE BAZIN was born at Angers, December 26, 1853. He
studied for the bar, became a lawyer and professor of jurisprudence at
the Catholic University in his native city, and early contributed to 'Le
Correspondant, L'Illustration, Journal des Debats, Revue du Deux Mondes,'
etc. Although quietly writing fiction for the last fifteen years or so,
he was not well known until the dawn of the twentieth century, when his
moral studies of provincial life under the form of novels and romances
became appreciated. He is a profound psychologist, a force in
literature, and his style is very pure and attractive. He advocates
resignation and the domestic virtues, yet his books are neither dull, nor
tiresome, nor priggish; and as he has advanced in years and experience M.
Bazin has shown an increasing ambition to deal with larger problems than
are involved for instance, in the innocent love-affairs of 'Ma Tante
Giron' (1886), a book which enraptured Ludovic Halevy. His novel, 'Une
Tache d'Encre' (1888), a romance of scholarly life, was crowned by the
French Academy, to which he was elected in 1903.
It is safe to say that Bazin will never develop into an author dangerous
to morals. His works may be put into the hands of cloistered virgins,
and there are not, to my knowledge, many other contemporary French
imaginative writers who could endure this stringent test. Some critics,
indeed, while praising him, scoff at his chaste and surprising optimism;
but it is refreshing to recommend to English readers, in these days of
Realism and Naturalism, the works of a recent French writer which do not
require maturity of years in the reader. 'Une Tache d'Encre', as I have
said, was crowned by the French Academy; and Bazin received from the same
exalted body the "Prix Vitet" for the ensemble of his writings in 1896,
being finally admitted a member of the Academy in June, 1903. He
occupies the chair of Ernest Legouve.
Bazin's first romance, 'Stephanette', was published under the pseudonym
"Bernard Seigny," in 1884; then followed 'Victor Pavie (1887); Noellet
(1890); A l'Aventure (1891) and Sicile (1892)', two books on Italy, of
which the last mentioned was likewise crowned by the French Academy; 'La
Legende de Sainte-Bega (1892); La Sarcelle Bleue (1892); Madame Corentine
(1893); Les Italiens d'aujousd'hui (1894); Humble Amour (1894); En
Province (1896); De toute son Ame (1897)', a realistic but moderate
romance of a workingman's life; 'Les Contes de Perrette (1898); La Terre
qui Meurt (1899); Le Guide de l'Empereur (1901); Les Oberle (1902), a
tale from Alsace of to-day, sketching the political situation,
approximately correct, and lately adapted for the stage; 'Donatienne'
With Bazin literary life does not become a mirage obscuring the vision of
real life. Before being an author Rene Bazin is a man, with a family
attached to the country, rooted in the soil; a guaranty of the dignity of
his work as well as of the writer, and a safeguard against many
extravagances. He has remained faithful to his province. He lives in
the attractive city of Angers. When he leaves it, it is for a little
tour through France, or a rare journey-once to Sicily and once to Spain.
He is seldom to be met on the Parisian boulevards. Not that he has any
prejudice against Paris, or fails to appreciate the tone of its society,
or the quality of its diversions; but he is conscious that he has nothing
to gain from a residence in the capital, but, on the contrary, would run
a risk of losing his intense originality and the freshness of his genius.
de l'Academie Francaise.
All I have to record of the first twenty-three years of my life is the
enumeration of them. A simple bead-roll is enough; it represents their
family likeness and family monotony.
I lost my parents when I was very young. I can hardly recall their
faces; and I should keep no memories of La Chatre, our home, had I not
been brought up quite close to it. It was sold, however, and lost to me,
like all the rest. Yes, fate is hard, sometimes. I was born at La
Chatre; the college of La Chatre absorbed eighteen years of my life.
Our head master used to remark that college is a second home; whereby I
have always fancied he did some injustice to the first.
My school-days were hardly over when my uncle and guardian, M. Brutus
Mouillard, solicitor, of Bourges, packed me off to Paris to go through
my law course. I took three years over it: At the end of that time,
just eighteen months ago, I became a licentiate, and "in the said
capacity"--as my uncle would say took an oath that transformed me into
a probationary barrister. Every Monday, regularly, I go to sign my name
among many others on an attendance list, and thereby, it appears, I am
establishing a claim upon the confidence of the widow and the orphan.
In the intervals of my legal studies I have succeeded in taking my Arts
Degree. At present I am seeking that of Doctor of Law. My examinations
have been passed meritoriously, but without brilliance; my tastes run too
much after letters. My professor, M. Flamaran, once told me the truth of
the matter: "Law, young man, is a jealous mistress; she allows no divided
affection." Are my affections divided? I think not, and I certainly do
not confess any such thing to M. Mouillard, who has not yet forgotten
what he calls "that freak" of a Degree in Arts. He builds some hopes
upon me, and, in return, it is natural that I should build a few upon
Really, that sums up all my past: two certificates! A third diploma in
prospect and an uncle to leave me his money--that is my future. Can
anything more commonplace be imagined?
I may add that I never felt any temptation at all to put these things on
record until to-day, the tenth of December, 1884. Nothing had ever
happened to me; my history was a blank. I might have died thus. But who
can foresee life's sudden transformations? Who can foretell that the
skein, hitherto so tranquilly unwound, will not suddenly become tangled?
This afternoon a serious adventure befell me. It agitated me at the
time, and it agitates me still more upon reflection. A voice within me
whispers that this cause will have a series of effects, that I am on the
threshold of an epoch, or, as the novelists say, a crisis in my
existence. It has struck me that I owe it to myself to write my Memoirs,
and that is the reason why I have just purchased this brown memorandum-
book in the Odeon Arcade. I intend to make a detailed and particular
entry of the event, and, as time goes on, of its consequences, if any
should happen to flow from it.
"Flow from it" is just the phrase; for it has to do with a blot of ink.
My blot of ink is hardly dry. It is a large one, too; of abnormal shape,
and altogether monstrous, whether one considers it from the physical side
or studies it in its moral bearings. It is very much more than an
accident; it has something of the nature of an outrage. It was at the
National Library that I perpetrated it, and upon-- But I must not
I often work in the National Library; not in the main hall, but in that
reserved for literary men who have a claim, and are provided with a
ticket, to use it. I never enter it without a gentle thrill, in which
respect is mingled with satisfied vanity. For not every one who chooses
may walk in. I must pass before the office of the porter, who retains my
umbrella, before I make my way to the solemn beadle who sits just inside
the doorway--a double precaution, attesting to the majesty of the place.
The beadle knows me. He no longer demands my ticket. To be sure, I am
not yet one of those old acquaintances on whom he smiles; but I am no
longer reckoned among those novices whose passport he exacts. An
inclination of his head makes me free of the temple, and says, as plainly
as words, "You are one of us, albeit a trifle young. Walk in, sir."
And in I walk, and admire on each occasion the vast proportions of the
interior, the severe decoration of the walls, traced with broad foliated
pattern and wainscoted with books of reference as high as hand can reach;
the dread tribunal of librarians and keepers in session down yonder, on a
kind of judgment-seat, at the end of the avenue whose carpet deadens all
footsteps; and behind again, that holy of holies where work the doubly
privileged--the men, I imagine, who are members of two or three
academies. To right and left of this avenue are rows of tables and
armchairs, where scatters, as caprice has chosen and habit consecrated,
the learned population of the library. Men form the large majority.
Viewed from the rear, as they bend over their work, they suggest
reflections on the ravages wrought by study upon hair-clad cuticles.
For every hirsute Southerner whose locks turn gray without dropping off,
heavens, what a regiment of bald heads! Visitors who look in through the
glass doors see only this aspect of devastation. It gives a wrong
impression. Here and there, at haphazard, you may find a few women among
these men. George Sand used to come here. I don't know the names of
these successors of hers, nor their business; I have merely observed that
they dress in sober colors, and that each carries a number of shawls and
a thick veil. You feel that love is far from their thoughts. They have
left it outside, perhaps--with the porter.
Several of these learned folk lift their heads as I pass, and follow me
with the dulled eye of the student, an eye still occupied with the
written thought and inattentive to what it looks on. Then, suddenly,
remorse seizes them for their distraction, they are annoyed with me, a
gloomy impatience kindles in their look, and each plunges anew into his
open volume. But I have had time to guess their secret ejaculations:
"I am studying the Origin of Trade Guilds!" "I, the Reign of Louis the
Twelfth!" "I, the Latin Dialects!" "I, the Civil Status of Women under
Tiberius!" "I am elaborating a new translation of Horace!" "I am
fulminating a seventh article, for the Gazette of Atheism and Anarchy, on
the Russian Serfs!" And each one seems to add, "But what is thy business
here, stripling? What canst thou write at thy age? Why troublest thou
the peace of these hallowed precincts?" My business, sirs? Alas! it is
the thesis for my doctor's degree. My uncle and venerated guardian, M.
Brutus Mouillard, solicitor, of Bourges, is urging me to finish it,
demands my return to the country, grows impatient over the slow toil of
composition. "Have done with theories," he writes, "and get to business!
If you must strive for this degree, well and good; but what possessed you
to choose such a subject?"
I must own that the subject of my thesis in Roman law has been
artistically chosen with a view to prolonging my stay in Paris: "On the
'Latini Juniani.'" Yes, gentle reader, a new subject, almost incapable
of elucidation, having no connection--not the remotest--with the exercise
of any profession whatsoever, entirely devoid of practical utility. The
trouble it gives me is beyond conception.
It is true that I intersperse my researches with some more attractive
studies, and one or two visits to the picture-galleries, and more than an
occasional evening at the theatre. My uncle knows nothing of this. To
keep him soothed I am careful to get my reader's ticket renewed every
month, and every month to send him the ticket just out of date, signed by
M. Leopold Delisle. He has a box full of them; and in the simplicity of
his heart Monsieur Mouillard has a lurking respect for this nephew, this
modern young anchorite, who spends his days at the National Library, his
nights with Gaius, wholly absorbed in the Junian Latins, and indifferent
to whatsoever does not concern the Junian Latins in this Paris which my
uncle still calls the Modern Babylon.
I came down this morning in the most industrious mood, when the
misfortune befell. Close by the sanctum where the librarians sit are two
desks where you write down the list of the books you want. I was doing
so at the right-hand desk, on which abuts the first row of tables. Hence
all the mischief. Had I written at the left-hand desk, nothing would
have happened. But no; I had just set down as legibly as possible the
title, author, and size of a certain work on Roman Antiquities, when, in
replacing the penholder, which is attached there by a small brass chain,
some inattentiveness, some want of care, my ill-luck, in short, led me to
set it down in unstable equilibrium on the edge of the desk. It tumbled-
I heard the little chain rattle-it tumbled farther-then stopped short.
The mischief was done. The sudden jerk, as it pulled up, had detached an
enormous drop of ink from the point of the pen, and that drop--Ah! I can
see him yet, as he rose from the shadow of the desk, that small, white-
haired man, so thin and so very angry!
"Clumsy idiot! To blot an Early Text!"
I leaned over and looked. Upon the page of folio, close to an
illuminated capital, the black drop had flattened itself. Around the
original sphere had been shed splashes of all conceivable shapes-rays,
rockets, dotted lines, arrowheads, all the freakish impromptu of chaos.
Next, the slope lending its aid, the channels had drained into one, and
by this time a black rivulet was crawling downward to the margin. One or
two readers near had risen, and now eyed me like examining magistrates.
I waited for an outbreak, motionless, dazed, muttering words that did not
mend the case at all. "What a pity! Oh, I'm so sorry! If I had only
known--" The student of the Early Text stood motionless as I. Together
we watched the ink trickle. Suddenly, summoning his wits together, he
burrowed with feverish haste in his morocco writing-case, pulled out a
sheet of blotting-paper, and began to soak up the ink with the
carefulness of a Sister of Mercy stanching a wound. I seized the
opportunity to withdraw discreetly to the third row of tables, where the
attendant had just deposited my books. Fear is so unreasoning. Very
likely by saying no more about it, by making off and hiding my head in my
hands, like a man crushed by the weight of his remorse, I might disarm
this wrath. I tried to think so. But I knew well enough that there was
more to come. I had hardly taken my seat when, looking up, I could see
between my fingers the little man standing up and gesticulating beside
one of the keepers. At one moment he rapped the damning page with his
forefinger; the next, he turned sidewise and flung out a hand toward me;
and I divined, without hearing a word, all the bitterness of his
invective. The keeper appeared to take it seriously. I felt myself
blushing. "There must be," thought I, "some law against ink-stains, some
decree, some regulation, something drawn up for the protection of Early
Texts. And the penalty is bound to be terrible, since it has been
enacted by the learned; expulsion, no doubt, besides a fine--an enormous
fine. They are getting ready over there to fleece me. That book of
reference they are consulting is of course the catalogue of the sale
where this treasure was purchased. I shall have to replace the Early
Text! O Uncle Mouillard!"
I sat there, abandoned to my sad reflections, when one of the attendants,
whom I had not seen approaching, touched me on the shoulder.
"The keeper wishes to speak to you."
I rose up and went. The terrible reader had gone back to his seat.
"It was you, sir, I believe, who blotted the folio just now?"
"It was, sir."
"You did not do so on purpose?"
"Most certainly not, sir! I am indeed sorry for he accident."
"You ought to be. The volume is almost unique; and the blot, too, for
that matter. I never saw such a blot! Will you, please, leave me your
Christian name, surname, profession, and address?"
I wrote down, "Fabien Jean Jacques Mouillard, barrister, 91 Rue de
"Is that all?" I asked.
"Yes, sir, that is all for the present. But I warn you that Monsieur
Charnot is exceedingly annoyed. It might be as well to offer him some
"Yes. It is Monsieur Charnot, of the Institute, who was reading the
"Merciful Heavens!" I ejaculated, as I went back to my seat; "this must
be the man of whom my tutor spoke, the other day! Monsieur Flamaran
belongs to the Academy of Moral and Political Science, the other to the
Institute of Inscriptions and the Belles-Lettres. Charnot? Yes, I have
those two syllables in my ear. The very last time I saw Monsieur
Flamaran he let fall 'my very good friend Charnot, of the
'Inscriptions.' They are friends. And I am in a pretty situation;
threatened with I don't know what by the Library--for the keeper told me
positively that this was all 'for the present'--but not for the future;
threatened to be disgraced in my tutor's eyes; and all because this
learned man's temper is upset.
"I must apologize. Let me see, what could I say to Monsieur Charnot? As
a matter of fact, it's to the Early Text that I ought to apologize. I
have spilled no ink over Monsieur Charnot. He is spotless, collar and
cuffs; the blot, the splashes, all fell on the Text. I will say to him,
'Sir, I am exceedingly sorry to have interrupted you so unfortunately in
your learned studies.! 'Learned studies' will tickle his vanity, and
should go far to appease him."
I was on the point of rising. M. Charnot anticipated me.
Grief is not always keenest when most recent. As he approached I saw he
was more irritated and upset than at the moment of the accident. Above
his pinched, cleanshaven chin his lips shot out with an angry twitch.
The portfolio shook under his arm. He flung me a look full of tragedy
and went on his way.
Well, well; go your way, M. Charnot! One doesn't offer apologies to a
man in his wrath. You shall have them by-and-bye, when we meet again.
THE JUNIAN LATINS
December 28, 1884.
This afternoon I paid M. Flamaran a visit. I had been thinking about it
for the last week, as I wanted him to help my Junian Latins out of a
mess. I am acquiring a passion for that interesting class of freedmen.
And really it is only natural. These Junian Latins were poor slaves,
whose liberation was not recognized by the strict and ancient laws of
Rome, because their masters chose to liberate them otherwise than by
'vindicta, census, or testamentum'. On this account they lost their
privileges, poor victims of the legislative intolerance of the haughty
city. You see, it begins to be touching, already. Then came on the
scene Junius Norbanus, consul by rank, and a true democrat, who brought
in a law, carried it, and gave them their freedom. In exchange, they
gave him immortality. Henceforward, did a slave obtain a few kind words
from his master over his wine? he was a Junian Latin. Was he described
as 'filius meus' in a public document? Junian Latin. Did he wear the
cap of liberty, the pileus, at his master's funeral? Junian Latin. Did
he disembowel his master's corpse? Junian Latin, once more, for his
What a fine fellow this Norbanus must have been! What an eye for
everything, down to the details of a funeral procession, in which he
could find an excuse for emancipation! And that, too, in the midst of
the wars of Marius and Sylla in which he took part. I can picture him
seated before his tent, the evening after the battle. Pensive, he
reclines upon his shield as he watches the slave who is grinding notches
out of his sword. His eyes fill with tears, and he murmurs, "When peace
is made, my faithful Stychus, I shall have a pleasant surprise for you.
You shall hear talk of the Lex Junia Norband, I promise you!"
Is not this a worthy subject for picture or statue in a competition for
the Prix de Rome?
A man so careful of details must have assigned a special dress to these
special freedmen of his creation; for at Rome even freedom had its
livery. What was this dress? Was there one at all? No authority that
I know of throws any light on the subject. Still one hope remains:
M. Flamaran. He knows so many things, he might even know this.
M. Flamaran comes from the south-Marseilles, I think. He is not a
specialist in Roman law; but he is encyclopedic, which comes to the same
thing. He became known while still young, and deservedly; few lawyers
are so clear, so safe, so lucid. He is an excellent lecturer, and his
opinions are in demand. Yet he owes much of his fame to the works which
he has not written. Our fathers, in their day, used to whisper to one
another in the passages of the Law School, "Have you heard the news?
Flamaran is going to bring out the second volume of his great work. He
means to publish his lectures. He has in the press a treatise which will
revolutionize the law of mortgages; he has been working twenty years at
it; a masterpiece, I assure you." Day follows day; no book appears, no
treatise is published, and all the while M. Flamaran grows in reputation.
Strange phenomenon! like the aloe in the Botanical Gardens. The
blossoming of the aloe is an event. "Only think!" says the gaping
public, "a flower which has taken twenty springs, twenty summers, twenty
autumns, and twenty winters to make up its mind to open!" And meanwhile
the roses bloom unnoticed by the town. But M. Flamaran's case is still
more strange. Every year it is whispered that he is about to bloom
afresh; he never does bloom; and his reputation flourishes none the less.
People make lists of the books he might have written. Lucky author!
M. Flamaran is a professor of the old school, stern, and at examination a
terror to the candidates. Clad in cap and gown, he would reject his own
son. Nothing will serve. Recommendations defeat their object. An
unquestioned Roumanian ancestry, an extraction indisputably Japanese,
find no more favor in his eyes than an assumed stammer, a sham deafness,
or a convalescent pallor put on for the occasion. East and west are
alike in his sight. The retired registrar, the pensioned usher aspiring
late in life to some petty magistrature, are powerless to touch his
heart. For him in vain does the youthful volunteer allow his uniform to
peep out beneath his student's gown: he will not profit by the patriotic
indulgence he counted on inspiring. His sayings in the examination-room
are famous, and among them are some ghastly pleasantries. Here is one,
addressed to a victim: "And you, sir, are a law student, while our
farmers are in want of hands!"
For my own part I won his favor under circumstances that I never shall
forget. I was in for my first examination. We were discussing, or
rather I was allowing him to lecture on, the law of wardship, and nodding
my assent to his learned elucidations. Suddenly he broke off and asked,
"How many opinions have been formulated upon this subject?"
"One is absurd. Which? Beware how you give the wrong answer!"
I considered for three agonizing seconds, and hazarded a guess. "The
first, sir." I had guessed right. We were friends. At bottom the
professor is a capital fellow; kindly, so long as the dignity of the Code
is not in question, or the extent of one's legal knowledge; proverbially
upright and honorable in his private life.
At home he may be seen at his window tending his canaries, which, he
says, is no change of occupation. To get to his house I have only to go
by my favorite road through the Luxembourg. I am soon at his door.
"Is Monsieur Flamaran at home?"
The old servant who opened the door eyed me solemnly. So many young
freshmen come and pester her master under the pretext of paying their
respects. Their respects, indeed! They would bore him to death if he
had to see them all. The old woman inferred, probably from my moustache,
that I had taken at least my bachelor's degree.
"I think he is."
He was very much at home in his overheated study, where he sat wrapped up
in a dressing-gown and keeping one eye shut to strengthen the other.
After a moment's hesitation he recognized me, and held out his hand.
"Ah! my Junian Latin. How are you getting on?"
"I am all right, sir; it's my Junian Latins who are not getting on."
"You don't say so. We must look into that. But before we begin--
I forget where you come from. I like to know where people come from."
"From La Chatre. But I spend my vacations at Bourges with my Uncle
"Yes, yes, Mouillart with a t, isn't it?"
"No, with a d."
"I asked, you know, because I once knew a General Mouillart who had been
through the Crimea, a charming man. But he can not have been a relative,
for his name ended with a t."
My good tutor spoke with a delightful simplicity, evidently wishing to be
pleasant and to show some interest in me.
"Are you married, young man?"
"No, sir; but I have no conscientious objections."
"Marry young. Marriage is the salvation of young men. There must be
plenty of pretty heiresses in Bourges."
"Heiresses, yes. As to their looks, at this distance--"
"Yes, I understand, at this distance of course you can't tell. You
should do as I did; make inquiries, go and see. I went all the way to
Forez myself to look for my wife."
"Madame Flamaran comes from Forez?"
"Just so; I stayed there a fortnight, fourteen days exactly, in the
middle of term-time, and brought back Sidonie. Bourges is a nice town."
"Yes, in summer."
"Plenty of trees. I remember a grand action I won there. One of my
learned colleagues was against me. We had both written opinions,
diametrically opposed, of course. But I beat him--my word, yes!"
"I dare say."
"My boy, there was nothing left of him. Do you know the case?"
"A magnificent case! My notes must be somewhere about; I will get them
out for you."
The good man beamed. Evidently he had not had a talk all day, and felt
he must expand and let himself out to somebody. I appeared in the nick
of time, and came in for all his honey. He rose, went to a bookcase, ran
his eye along a shelf, took down a volume, and began, in a low tone:
"'Cooperation is the mighty lever upon which an effete society relies to
extricate itself from its swaddling-clothes and take a loftier flight.'
Tut, tut! What stuff is this? I beg your pardon. I was reading from a
work on moral philosophy. Where the deuce is my opinion?"
He found it and, text in hand, began a long account of the action, with
names, dates, moments of excitement, and many quotations in extenso.
"Yes, my young friend, two hundred and eighteen thousand francs did I win
in that action for Monsieur Prebois, of Bourges; you know Prebois, the
At last he put the note-book back on its shelf, and deigned to remember
that I had come about the Junian Latins.
"In which of the authorities do you find a difficulty?"
"My difficulty lies in the want of authorities, sir, I wish to find out
whether the Junian Latins had not a special dress."
"To be sure." He scratched his head. "Gaius says nothing on the point?"
"Then I see only one resource."
"What is that?"
"Go to see Charnot."
I felt myself growing pale, and stammered, with a piteous look:
"Monsieur Charnot, of the Acad--"
"The Academy of Inscriptions; an intimate friend of mine, who will
welcome you like a son, for he has none himself, poor man!"
"But perhaps the question is hardly important enough for me to trouble
him like this--"
"Hey? Not important enough? All new questions are important. Charnot
specializes on coins. Coins and costumes are all one. I will write to
tell him you are coming."
"I beg, sir--"
"Nonsense; Nonsense; I'll write him this very evening. He will be
delighted to see you. I know him well, you understand. He is like me;
he likes industrious young men."
M. Flamaran held out his hand.
"Good-by, young man. Marry as soon as you have taken your degree."
I did not recover from the shock till I was halfway across the Luxembourg
Gardens, near the Tennis Court, when I sat down, overcome. See what
comes of enthusiasm and going to call on your tutor! Ah, young three-
and-twenty, when will you learn wisdom?
I have made up my mind. I shall go to see M. Charnot. But before that
I shall go to his publisher's and find out something about this famous
man's works, of which I know nothing whatever.
He lives in the Rue de l'Universite.
I have called. I have seen him. I owe this to an accident, to the
servant's forgetting her orders.
As I entered, on the stroke of five, he was spinning a spiral twist of
paper beneath the lamplight to amuse his daughter--he a member of the
Institute, she a girl of eighteen. So that is how these big-wigs employ
their leisure moments!
The library where I found them was full of book cases-open bookcases,
bookcases with glass doors, tall bookcases, dwarf bookcases, bookcases
standing on legs, bookcases standing on the floor--of statuettes yellow
with smoke, of desks crowded with paper-weights, paper-knives, pens, and
inkstands of "artistic" pat terns. He was seated at the table, with his
back to the fire, his arm lifted, and a hairpin between his finger and
thumb--the pivot round which his paper twist was spinning briskly.
Across the table stood his daughter, leaning forward with her chin on her
hands and her white teeth showing as she laughed for laughing's sake, to
give play to her young spirits and gladden her old father's heart as he
gazed on her, delighted.
I must confess it made a pretty picture; and M. Charnot at that moment
was extremely unlike the M. Charnot who had confronted me from behind the
I was not left long to contemplate.
The moment I lifted the 'portiere' the girl jumped up briskly and
regarded me with a touch of haughtiness, meant, I think, to hide a slight
confusion. To compare small things with great, Diana must have worn
something of that look at sight of Actaeon. M. Charnot did not rise,
but hearing somebody enter, turned half-round in his armchair, while his
eyes, still dazzled with the lamplight, sought the intruder in the
partial shadow of the room.
I felt myself doubly uneasy in the presence of this reader of the Early
Text and of this laughing girl.
"Sir," I began, "I owe you an apology--"
He recognized me. The girl moved a step.
"Stay, Jeanne, stay. We shall not take long. This gentleman has come to
offer an apology."
This was a cruel beginning.
She thought so, too, perhaps, and withdrew discreetly into a dim corner,
near the bookcase at the end of the room.
"I have felt deep regret, sir, for that accident the other day--I set
down the penholder clumsily, in equilibrium--unstable equilibrium--
besides, I had no notion there was a reader behind the desk. Of course,
if I had been aware, I should--I should have acted differently."
M. Charnot allowed me to flounder on with the contemplative satisfaction
of an angler who has got a fish at the end of his line. He seemed to
find me so very stupid, that as a matter of fact I became stupid. And
then, there was no answer--not a word. Silence, alas! is not the
reproof of kings alone. It does pretty well for everybody. I stumbled
on two or three more phrases quite as flatly infelicitous, and he
received them with the same faint smile and the same silence.
To escape from my embarrassment:
"Sir," I said, "I came also to ask for a piece of information."
"I am at your service, sir."
"Monsieur Flamaran has probably written to you on the matter?"
"Yes, three days ago."
"I have received no letter; have I, Jeanne?"
"This is not the first time that my excellent colleague has promised to
write a letter and has not written it. Never mind, sir; your own
introduction is sufficient."
"Sir, I am about to take my doctor's degree."
"No, in law; but I have a bachelor's degree in arts."
"You will follow it up with a degree in medicine, no doubt?"
"Why--Why not, since you are collecting these things? You have, then, a
bent toward literature?"
"So I have been told."
"A pronounced inclination--hey? to scribble verse."
"The old story; the family driving a lad into law; his heart leaning
toward letters; the Digest open on the table, and the drawers stuffed
with verses! Isn't that so?"
I bowed. He glanced toward his daughter.
"Well, sir, I confess to you that I don't understand--don't understand at
all--this behavior of yours. Why not follow your natural bent? You
youngsters nowadays--I mean no offence--you youngsters have no longer any
mind of your own. Take my case; I was seventeen when I began to take an
interest in numismatics. My family destined me for the Stamp Office;
yes, sir, the Stamp Office. I had against me two grandfathers, two
grandmothers, my father, my mother, and six uncles--all furious. I held
out, and that has led me to the Institute. Hey, Jeanne?"
Mademoiselle Jeanne had returned to the table, where she was standing
when I entered, and seemed, after a moment, to busy herself in arranging
the books scattered in disarray on the green cloth. But she had a secret
object--to regain possession of the paper spiral that lay there
neglected, its pin sticking up beside the lamp-stand. Her light hand,
hovering hither and thither, had by a series of cunning manoeuvres got
the offending object behind a pile of duodecimos, and was now withdrawing
it stealthily among the inkstands and paperweights.
M. Charnot interrupted this little stratagem.
She answered very prettily, with a slight toss of the head:
"But, father, not everybody can be in the Institute."
"Far from it, Jeanne. This gentleman, for instance, devotes himself to
one method of inking parchment that never will make him my colleague.
Doctor of Laws and Master of Arts,--I presume, sir, you are going to be a
"Excuse me, an advocate."
"I was sure of it. Jeanne, my dear, in country families it is a standing
dilemma; if not a notary, then an advocate; if not an advocate, then a
M. Charnot spoke with an exasperating half-smile.
I ought to have laughed, to be sure; I ought to have shown sense enough
at any rate to hold my tongue and not to answer the gibes of this
vindictive man of learning. Instead, I was stupid enough to be nettled
and to lose my head.
"Well," I retorted, "I must have a paying profession. That one or
another--what does it matter? Not everybody can belong to the Institute,
as your daughter remarked; not everybody can afford himself the luxury of
publishing, at his own expense, works that sell twenty-seven copies or
I expected a thunderbolt, an explosion. Not a bit of it. M. Charnot
smiled outright with an air of extreme geniality.
"I perceive, sir, that you are given to gossiping with the booksellers."
"Why, yes, sir, now and then."
"It's a very pretty trait, at your age, to be already so strong in
bibliography. You will permit me, nevertheless, to add something to your
present stock of notions. A large sale is one thing to look at, but not
the right thing. Twenty-seven copies of a book, when read by twenty-
seven men of intelligence, outweigh a popular success. Would you believe
that one of my friends had no more than eight copies printed of a
mathematical treatise? Three of these he has given away. The other five
are still unsold. And that man, sir, is the first mathematician in
Mademoiselle Jeanne had taken it differently. With lifted chin and
reddened cheek she shot this sentence at me from the edge of a lip
"There are such things as 'successes of esteem,' sir!"
Alas! I knew that well, and I had no need of this additional lesson to
teach me the rudeness of my remark, to make me feel that I was a brute,
an idiot, hopelessly lost in the opinion of M. Charnot and his daughter.
It was cruel, all the same. Nothing was left for me but to hurry my
departure. I got up to go.
"But," said M. Charnot in the smoothest of tones, "I do not think we have
yet discussed the question that brought you here."
"I should hesitate, sir, to trespass further on your time."
"Never mind that. Your question concerns?"
"The costume of the Latini Juniani."
"Difficult to answer, like most questions of dress. Have you read the
work, in seventeen volumes, by the German, Friedchenhausen?"
"You must have read, at any rate, Smith, the Englishman, on ancient
"Nor that either. I only know Italian."
"Well, then, look through two or three treatises on numismatics, the
'Thesaurus Morellianus', or the 'Praestantiora Numismata', of Valliant,
or Banduri, or Pembrock, or Pellerin. You may chance upon a scent."
"Thank you, thank you, sir!"
He saw me to the door.
As I turned to go I noticed that his daughter was standing motionless
still, with the face of an angry Diana. She held between her fingers the
I found myself in the street.
I could not have been more clumsy, more ill-bred, or more unfortunate.
I had come to make an apology and had given further offence. Just like
my luck! And the daughter, too--I had hurt her feelings. Still, she had
stood up for me; she had said to her father, "Not every one can be in the
Institute," evidently meaning, "Why are you torturing this poor young
man? He is bashful and ill at ease. I feel sorry for him." Sorry--yes;
no doubt she felt sorry for me at first. But then I came out with that
impertinence about the twenty-seven copies, and by this time she hates me
beyond a doubt. Yes, she hates me. It is too painful to think of.
Mademoiselle Charnot will probably remain but a stranger to me, a
fugitive apparition in my path of life; yet her anger lies heavy upon me,
and the thought of those disdainful lips pursues me.
I had rarely been more thoroughly disgusted with myself, and with all
about me. I needed something to divert me, to distract me, to make me
forget, and so I set off for home by the longest way, going down the Rue
de Beaune to the Seine.
I declare, we get some perfect winter days in Paris! Just now, the folks
who sit indoors believe that the sun is down and have lighted their
lamps; but outside, the sky--a pale, rain-washed blue--is streaked with
broad rays of rose-pink. It is freezing, and the frost has sprinkled
diamonds everywhere, on the trees, the roofs, the parapets, even on the
cabmen's hats, that gather each a sparkling cockade as they pass along
through the mist. The river is running in waves, white-capped here and
there. On the penny steamers no one but the helmsman is visible. But
what a crowd on the Pont de Carrousel! Fur cuffs and collars pass and
repass on the pavements; the roadway trembles beneath the endless line of
Batignolles--Clichy omnibuses and other vehicles. Every one seems in a
hurry. The pedestrians are brisk, the drivers dexterous. Two lines of
traffic meet, mingle without jostling, divide again into fresh lines and
are gone like a column of smoke. Although slips are common in this
crowd, its intelligent agility is all its own. Every face is ruddy, and
almost all are young. The number of young men, young maidens, young
wives, is beyond belief, Where are the aged? At home, no doubt, by the
chimney-corner. All the city's youth is out of doors.
Its step is animated; that is the way of it. It is wideeyed, and in its
eyes is the sparkle of life. The looks of the young are always full of
the future; they are sure of life. Each has settled his position, his
career, his dream of commonplace well-being. They are all alike; and
they might all be judges, so serious they appear about it. They walk in
pairs, bolt upright, looking neither right nor left, talking little as
they hurry along toward the old Louvre, and are soon swallowed out of
sight in the gathering mist, out of which the gaslights glimmer faintly.
They are all on their way to dine on the right bank.
I am going to dine on the left bank, at Carre's, where one sees many odd
customers. Farewell, river! Good night, old Charnot! Blessings on you,
THE STORY OF SYLVESTRE
I am back in my study. It is very cold; Madame Menin, my housekeeper,
has let the fire out. Hallo! she has left her duster, too, lying on the
manuscript of my essay.
Is it an omen, a presage of that dust which awaits my still unfinished
work? Who can fathom Dame Fortune's ironic humor?
Eight o'clock.... Counsellor Mouillard has finished his pleadings and
must be sitting down to a game of whist with Counsellors Horlet and
Hublette, of the Court of Bourges. They wait for me to make up the four.
Perish the awful prospect!
And M. Charnot? He, I suppose, is still spinning the paper spiral.
How easily serious people are amused! Perhaps I am a serious person.
The least thing amuses me. By the way, is Mademoiselle Jeanne fair or
dark? Let me try to recollect. Why, fair, of course. I remember the
glint of gold in the little curls about her temples, as she stood by the
lamp. A pleasant face, too; not exactly classic, but rosy and frank; and
then she has that animation which so many pretty women lack.
Madame Menin has forgotten something else. She has forgotten to shut my
window. She has designs upon my life!
I have just shut the window. The night is calm, its stars twinkling
through a haze. The year ends mournfully.
I remember at school once waking suddenly on such a night as this, to
find the moonlight streaming into my eyes. At such a moment it is always
a little hard to collect one's scattered senses, and take in the midnight
world around, so unhomely, so absolutely still. First I cast my eyes
along the two rows of beds that stretched away down the dormitory--two
parallel lines in long perspective; my comrades huddled under their
blankets in shapeless masses, gray or white according as they lay near or
far from the windows; the smoky glimmer of the oil lamp half-way down the
room; and at the end, in the deeper shadows, the enclosure of yellow
curtains surrounding the usher's bed.
Not a sound about me; all was still. But without, my ear, excited and
almost feverishly awake, caught the sound of a strange call, very sweet,
again and again repeated--fugitive notes breathing appeal, tender and
troubled. Now they grew quite distant, and I heard no more than a
phantom of sound; now they came near, passed over my head, and faded
again into the distance. The moon's clear rays invited me to clear up
the mystery. I sprang from my bed, and ran in my nightshirt to open the
window. It was about eleven o'clock. Together the keen night-air and
the moonlight wrapped me round, thrilling me with delight. The large
courtyard lay deserted with its leafless poplars and spiked railings.
Here and there a grain of sand sparkled. I raised my eyes, and from one
constellation to another I sought the deep blue of heaven in vain; not a
shadow upon it, not one dark wing outlined. Yet all the while the same
sad and gentle cry wandered and was lost in air, the chant of an
invisible soul which seemed in want of me, and had perhaps awakened me.
The thought came upon me that it was the soul of my mother calling to me
--my mother, whose voice was soft and very musical.
"I am caring for thee," said the voice. "I am caring for thee; I can see
thee," it said, "I can see thee. I love thee! I love thee!"
"Reveal thyself!" I called back. "Oh, mother, reveal thyself!" And I
strove feverishly to catch sight of her, following the voice as it swept
around in circles; and seeing nothing, I burst into tears.
Suddenly I was seized roughly by the ear.
"What are you doing here, you young rascal? Are you mad? The wind is
blowing right on to my bed. Five hundred lines!"
The usher, in nightdress and slippers, was rolling his angry eyes on me.
"Yes, sir; certainly, sir! But don't you hear her?"
"Who is it?"
He looked to see whether I were awake; cocked his head to one side and
listened; then shut the window angrily and went off shrugging his
"It's only the plovers flying about the moon," said he. "Five hundred
I did my five hundred lines. They taught me that dreaming was illegal
and dangerous, but they neither convinced nor cured me.
I still believe that there are scattered up and down in nature voices
that speak, but which few hear; just as there are millions of flowers
that bloom unseen by man. It is sad for those who catch a hint of it.
Perforce they come back and seek the hidden springs. They waste their
youth and vigor upon empty dreams, and in return for the fleeting
glimpses they have enjoyed, for the perfect phrase half caught and lost
again, will have given up the intercourse of their kind, and even
friendship itself. Yes, it is sad for the schoolboys who open their
windows to gaze at the moon, and never drop the habit! They will find
themselves, all too soon, solitaries in the midst of life, desolate as I
am desolate tonight, beside my dead fire.
No friend will come to knock at my door; not one. I have a few comrades
to whom I give that name. We do not loathe one another. At need they
would help me. But we seldom meet. What should they do here? Dreamers
make no confidences; they shrivel up into themselves and are caught away
on the four winds of heaven. Politics drive them mad; gossip fails to
interest them; the sorrows they create have no remedy save the joys that
they invent; they are natural only when alone, and talk well only to
The only man who can put up with this moody contrariety of mine is
Sylvestre Lampron. He is nearly twenty years older than I. That
explains his forbearance. Besides, between an artist like him and a
dreamer like myself there is only the difference of handiwork. He
translates his dreams. I waste mine; but both dream. Dear old Lampron!
Kindly, stalwart heart! He has withstood that hardening of the moral and
physical fibre which comes over so many men as they near their fortieth
year. He shows a brave front to work and to life. He is cheerful, with
the manly cheerfulness of a noble heart resigned to life's disillusions.
When I enter his home, I nearly always find him sitting before a small
ground-glass window in the corner of his studio, bent over some
engraving. I have leave to enter at all hours. He is free not to stir
from his work. "Good-day," he calls out, without raising his head,
without knowing for certain who has come in, and goes on with the
engraving he has in hand. I settle down at the end of the room, on the
sofa with the faded cover, and, until Lampron deigns to grant me
audience, I am free to sleep, or smoke, or turn over the wonderful
drawings that lean against the walls. Among them are treasures beyond
price; for Lampron is a genius whose only mistake is to live and act with
modesty, so that as yet people only say that he has "immense talent."
No painter or engraver of repute--and he is both--has served a more
conscientious apprenticeship, or sets greater store on thoroughness in
his art. His drawing is correct beyond reproach--a little stiff, like
the early painters. You can guess from his works his partiality for the
old masters--Perugino, Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Memling, Holbein--who,
though not the masters in fashion, will always be masters in vigor of
outline, directness, in simple grace, and genuine feeling. He has copied
in oils, water-colors, pen, or pencil, nearly all the pictures of these
masters in the Louvre, in Germany, in Holland, and especially in Italy,
where he lived for many years. With tastes such as his came the habit,
or rather the fixed determination, never to paint or engrave any but
sacred subjects. Puffs and cliques are his abomination. His ideal is
the archaic rendered by modern methods. An artist of this type can but
obtain the half-grudging esteem of his own profession, and of the few
critics who really understand something about art. Gladly, and with
absolute disdain, he leaves to others the applause of the mob, the gilded
patronage of American purchasers, and the right to wear lace cuffs. In
short, in an age when the artist is often half a manufacturer and half a
charlatan, he is an artist only.
Now and then he is rich, but never for long. Half of his earnings goes
in alms; half into the pockets of his mendicant brethren. They hear the
gold jingle before it is counted, and run with outstretched palms. Each
is in the depths of misfortune; on the eve of ascending the fatal slope;
lost, unless the helpful hand of Lampron will provide, saved if he will
lend wherewithal to buy a block of marble, to pay a model, to dine that
evening. He lends--I should say gives; the words mean the same in many
societies. Of all that he has gained, fame alone remains, and even this
he tries to do without--modest, retiring, shunning all entertainments.
I believe he would often be without the wherewithal to live were it
not for his mother, whom he supports, and who does him the kindness to
need something to live on. Madame Lampron does not hoard; she only fills
the place of those dams of cut turf which the peasants build in the
channels of the Berry in spring; the water passes over them, beneath
them, even through them, but still a little is left for the great
I love my friend Lampron, though fully aware of his superiority. His
energy sets me up, his advice strengthens me, he peoples for me the vast
solitude of Paris.
Suppose I go to see him? A lonely watch to-night would be gloomier than
usual. The death of the year brings gloomy thoughts, the thirty-first of
December, St. Sylvester's day--St. Sylvester! Why, that is his birthday!
Ungrateful friend, to give no thought to it! Quick! my coat, my stick,
my hat, and let me run to see these two early birds before they seek
When I entered the studio, Lampron was so deep in his work that he did
not hear me. The large room, lighted only in one corner, looked weird
enough. Around me, and among the medley of pictures and casts and the
piles of canvases stacked against the wall, the eye encountered only a
series of cinder-gray tints and undetermined outlines casting long
amorphous shadows half-way across the ceiling. A draped lay figure
leaning against a door seemed to listen to the whistling of the wind
outside; a large glass bay opened upon the night. Nothing was alive in
this part of the room, nothing alight except a few rare glints upon the
gold of the frames, and the blades of two crossed swords. Only
in a corner, at the far end, at a distance exaggerated by the shadows,
sat Lampron engraving, solitary, motionless, beneath the light of a lamp.
His back was toward me. The lamp's rays threw a strong light on his
delicate hand, on the workmanlike pose of his head, which it surrounded
with a nimbus, and on a painting--a woman's head--which he was copying.
He looked superb like that, and I thought how doubly tempted Rembrandt
would have been by the deep significance as well as by the chiaroscuro of
I stamped my foot. Lampron started, and turned half around, narrowing
his eyes as he peered into the darkness.
"Ah, it's you," he said. He rose and came quickly toward me, as if to
prevent me from approaching the table.
"You don't wish me to look?"
He hesitated a moment.
"After all, why not?" he answered.
The copper plate was hardly marked with a few touches of the needle. He
turned the reflector so as to throw all its rays upon the painting.
"O Lampron, what a charming head!"
It was indeed a lovely head; an Italian girl, three quarter face, painted
after the manner of Leonardo, with firm but delicate touches, and lights
and shades of infinite subtlety, and possessing, like all that master's
portraits of women, a straightforward look that responds to the gazer's,
but which he seeks to interrogate in vain. The hair, brown with golden
lights, was dressed in smooth plaits above the temples. The neck, 1351
somewhat long, emerged from a dark robe broadly indicated.
"I do not know this, Sylvestre?"
"No, it's an old thing."
"A portrait, of course?"
"You never did better; line, color, life, you have got them all."
"You need not tell me that! In one's young days, look you, there are
moments of real inspiration, when some one whispers in the ear and guides
the hand; a lightness of touch, the happy audacity of the beginner, a
wealth of daring never met with again. Would you believe that I have
tried ten times to reproduce that in etching without success?"
"Why do you try?"
"Yes, that is the question. Why? It's a bit foolish."
"You never could find such a model again; that is one reason."
"Ah, no, you are right. I never could find her again."
"An Italian of rank? a princess, eh?"
"Something like it."
"What has become of her?"
"Ah, no doubt what becomes of all princesses. Fabien, my young friend,
you who still see life through fairy-tales, doubtless you imagine her
happy in her lot--wealthy, spoiled, flattered, speaking with disdainful
lips at nightfall, on the terrace of her villa among the great pines, of
the barbarian from across the Alps who painted her portrait twenty years
since; and, in the same sentence, of her--last new frock from Paris?"
"Yes, I see her so--still beautiful."
"You are good at guessing, Fabien. She is dead, my friend, and that
ideal beauty is now a few white bones at the bottom of a grave."
Sylvestre had used a sarcastic tone which was not usual with him.
He was contemplating his work with such genuine sadness that I was awed.
I divined that in his past, of which I knew but little, Lampron kept a
sorrow buried that I had all unwittingly revived.
"My friend," said I, "let that be; I come to wish you many happy
"Many happy returns? Ah, yes, my poor mother wished me that this
morning; then I set to work and forgot all about it. I am glad you came.
She would feel hurt, dear soul, if I forgot to pass a bit of this evening
with her. Let us go and find her."
"With all my heart, Sylvestre, but I, too, have forgotten something."
"I have brought no flowers."
"Never mind, she has plenty; strong-scented flowers of the south, a whole
basketful, enough to keep a hive of bees or kill a man in his sleep,
which you will. It is a yearly attention from an unhappy creditor."
"Debtor, you mean."
"I mean what I say--a creditor."
He lifted the lamp. The shadows shifted and ran along the walls like
huge spiders, the crossed swords flashed, the Venus of Milo threw us a
lofty glance, Polyhymnia stood forth pensive and sank back into shadow.
At the door I took the draped lay figure in my arms. "Excuse me," I said
as I moved it--and we left the studio for Madame Lampron's little
She was seated near a small round table, knitting socks, her feet on a
hot-water bottle. Her kind old rough and wrinkled face beamed upon us.
She thrust her needles under the black lace cap she always wore, and drew
them out again almost immediately.
"It needed your presence, Monsieur Mouillard," said she, "to drag him
from his work."
"Saint Sylvester's day, too. It is fearful! Love for his art has
changed your son's nature, Madame Lampron."
She gave him a tender look, as on entering the room he bent over the fire
and shook out his half-smoked pipe against the bars, a thing he never
failed to do the moment he entered his mother's room.
"Dear child!" said she.
Then turning to me:
"You are a good friend, Monsieur Fabien. Never have we celebrated a
Saint Sylvester without you since you came to Paris."
"Yet this evening, Madame, I have failed in my traditions, I have no
flowers. But Sylvestre tells me that you have just received flowers from
the south, from an unfortunate creditor."
My words produced an unusual effect upon her. She, who never stopped
knitting to talk or to listen, laid her work upon her knees, and fixed
her eyes upon me, filled with anxiety.
"Has he told you?"
Lampron who was poking the fire, his slippered feet stretched out toward
the hearth, turned his head.
"No, mother, I merely told him that we had received a basket of flowers.
Not much to confide. Yet why should he not know all? Surely he is our
friend enough to know all. He should have known it long since were it
not cruel to share between three a burden that two can well bear."
She made no answer, and began again to twist the wool between her
needles, but nervously and as if her thoughts were sad.
To change the conversation I told them the story of my twofold mishap at
the National Library and at M. Charnot's. I tried to be funny, and
fancied I succeeded. The old lady smiled faintly. Lampron remained
grave, and tossed his head impatiently. I summed my story thus:
"Net gain: two enemies, one of them charming."
"Oh, enemies!" said Sylvestre, "they spring up like weeds. One can not
prevent them, and great sorrows do not come from them. Still, beware of
"She hates me, I swear. If you could have seen her!"
"Me? She is nothing to me."
"Are you sure?"
He put the question gravely, without looking in my face, as he twisted a
"What is the matter with you to-day, misanthrope? I assure you that she
is absolutely indifferent to me. But even were it otherwise, Sylvestre,
where would be the wrong?"
"Wrong? No wrong at all; but I should be anxious for you; I should be
afraid. See here, my friend. I know you well. You are a born man of
letters, a dreamer, an artist in your way. You have to help you on
entering the redoubtable lists of love neither foresight, nor a cool
head, nor determination. You are guided solely by your impressions; by
them you rise or fall. You are no more than a child."
"I quite agree. What next?"
"What next?" He had risen, and was speaking with unusual vehemence.
"I once knew some one like you, whose first passion, rash, but deep as
yours would be, broke his heart forever. The heart, my friend, is liable
to break, and can not be mended like china."
Lampron's mother interrupted him afresh, reproachfully.
"He came to wish you a happy birthday, my child."
"One day, mother, is as good as another to listen to good advice.
Besides, I am only talking of one of my friends. 'Tis but a short story,
Fabien, and instructive. I will give it you in very few words. My
friend was very young and enthusiastic. He was on his way through the
galleries of Italy, brush in hand, his heart full of the ceaseless song
of youth in holiday. The world never had played him false, nor balked
him. He made the future bend to the fancy of his dreams. He seldom
descended among common men from those loftier realms where the
contemplation of endless masterpieces kept his spirit as on wings.
He admired, copied, filled his soul with the glowing beauty of Italian
landscape and Italian art. But one day, without reflection, without
knowledge, without foresight, he was rash enough to fall in love with a
girl of noble birth whose portrait he was painting; to speak to her and
to win her love. He thought then, in the silly innocence of his youth,
that art abridges all distance and that love effaces it. Crueller
nonsense never was uttered, my poor Fabien. He soon found this; he tried
to struggle against the parent's denial, against himself, against her,
powerless in all alike, beaten at every point.... The end was-- Do you
care to learn the end? The girl was carried off, struck down by a brief
illness, soon dead; the man, hurled out of heaven, bruised, a fugitive
also, is still so weak in presence of his sorrow that even after these
long years he can not think of it without weeping."
Lampron actually was weeping, he who was so seldom moved. Down his brown
beard, tinged already with gray, a tear was trickling. I noticed that
Madame Lampron was stooping lower and lower over her needles. He went
"I have kept the portrait, the one you saw, Fabien. They would like to
have it over yonder. They are old folk by now. Every year they ask me
for this relic of our common sorrow; every year they send me, about this
time a basket of white flowers, chiefly lilacs, the dead girl's flower,
and their meaning is, 'Give up to us what is left of her, the masterpiece
built up of your youth and hers.' But I am selfish, Fabien. I, like
them, am jealous of all the sorrows this portrait recalls to me, and I
deny them. Come, mother, where are the flowers? I have promised Fabien
to show them to him."
But his old mother could not answer. Having no doubt bewept this sorrow
too often to find fresh tears, her eyes followed her son with restless
compassion. He, beside the window, was hunting among the chairs and
lounges crowded in this corner of the little sitting-room.
He brought us a box of white wood. "See," said he, "'tis my wedding
And he emptied it on the table. Parma violets, lilacs, white camellias
and moss rolled out in slightly faded bunches, spreading a sweet smell in
which there breathed already a vague scent of death and corruption. A
violet fell on my knees. I picked it up.
He looked for a moment at the heap on the table.
"I keep none," said he: "I have too many reminders without them. Cursed
With one motion of his arm he swept them all up and cast them upon the
coals in the hearth. They shrivelled, crackled, grew limp and
discolored, and vanished in smoke.
"Now I am going back to my etching. Good-by, Fabien. Good-night,
Without turning his head, he left the room and went back to his studio.
I made a movement to follow him and bring him back.
Madame Lampron stopped me. "I will go myself," said she, "later--much
We sat awhile in silence. When she saw me somewhat recovered from the
shock of my feelings she went on:
"You never have seen him like this, but I have seen it often. It is so
hard! I knew her whom he loved almost as soon as he, for he never hid
anything from me. You can judge from her portrait whether hers was not
the face to attract an artist like Sylvestre. I saw at once that it was
a trial, in which I could do nothing. They were very great people;
different from us, you know."
"They refused to let them marry?"
"Oh, no! Sylvestre did not ask; they never had the opportunity of
refusing. No, no; it was I. I said to him: 'Sylvestre, this can never
be-never!' He was convinced against his will. Then she spoke to her
parents on her own account. They carried her off, and there was an end
"He never saw her again."
"Never; he would not have wished it; and then she lived a very little
time. I went back there two years later, when they wanted to buy the
picture. We were still living in Italy. That was one of the hardest
hours of my life. I was afraid of their reproaches, and I did not feel
sure of myself. But no, they suffered for their daughter as I for my
son, and that brought us together. Still, I did not give up the
portrait; Sylvestre set too great store by it. He insists on keeping it,
feeding his eyes on it, reopening his wound day by day. Poor child!
Forget all this, Monsieur Fabien; you can do nothing to help. Be true to
your youth, and tell us next time of Monsieur Charnot and Mademoiselle
Dear Madame Lampron! I tried to console her; but as I never knew my
mother, I could find but little to say. All the same, she thanked me and
assured me I had done her good.
A FRUITLESS SEARCH
January 1, 1885.
The first of January! When one is not yet an uncle and no longer a
godson, if one is in no government employ and goes out very little, the
number of one's calls on New Year's Day is limited. I shall make five or
six this afternoon. It will be "Not at home" in each case; and that will
be all my compliments of the season.
No, I am wrong. I have received the compliments of the season.
My porter's wife came up just now, wreathed in smiles.
"Monsieur Mouillard, I wish you a Happy New Year, good health, and Heaven
to end your days." She had just said the same to the tenants on the
first, second, and third floors. My answer was the same as theirs.
I slipped into her palm (with a "Many thanks!" of which she took no
notice) a piece of gold, which brought another smile, a curtsey, and she
This smile comes only once a year; it is not reproduced at any other
period, but is a dividend payable in one instalment. This, and a tear on
All Souls' Day, when she has been to place a bunch of chrysanthemums on
her baby's grave, are the only manifestations of sensibility that I have
discovered in her. From the second of January to the second of November
she is a human creature tied to a bell-rope, with an immovably stolid
face and a monosyllabic vocabulary in which politer terms occur but
This morning, contrary to her habits, she has brought up by post two
letters; one from my Uncle Mouillard (an answer), and the other--I don't
recognize the other. Let's open it first: big envelope, ill-written
address, Paris postmark. Hallo! a smaller envelope inside, and on it:
ANTOINE AND MARIE PLUMET.
Poor souls! they have no visiting-cards. But kind hearts are more than
Ten months ago little Madame Plumet, then still unmarried, was in a
terrible bother. I remember our first meeting, on a March day, at the
corner of the Rue du Quatre-Septembre and the Rue Richelieu. I was
walking along quickly, with a bundle of papers under my arm, on my way
back to the office where I was head clerk. Suddenly a dressmaker's
errand-girl set down her great oilcloth-covered box in my way. I nearly
went head first over it, and was preparing to walk around it, when the
little woman, red with haste and blushes, addressed me. "Excuse me, sir,
are you a lawyer?"
"No, Mademoiselle, not yet."
"Perhaps, sir, you know some lawyers?"
"To be sure I do; my master, to begin with, Counsellor Boule. He is
quite close, if you care to follow me."
"I am in a terrible hurry, but I can spare a minute or two. Thank you
very much, Monsieur."
And thus I found myself escorted by a small dressmaker and a box of
fashions. I remember that I walked a little ahead for fear of being seen
in such company by a fellow-clerk, which would have damaged my
We got to the office. Down went the box again. The little dressmaker
told me that she was engaged to M. Plumet, frame-maker. She told her
tale very clearly; a little money put by, you see, out of ten years'
wages; one may be careful and yet be taken in; and, alas! all has been
lent to a cousin in the cabinetmaking trade, who wanted to set up shop;
and now he refuses to pay up. The dowry is in danger, and the marriage
"Do not be alarmed, Mademoiselle; we will summons this atrocious cabinet-
maker, and get a judgment against him. We shall not let him go until he
has disgorged, and you shall be Madame Plumet."
We kept our word. Less than two months later--thanks to my efforts--the
dowry was recovered; the banns were put up; and the little dressmaker
paid a second visit to the office, this time with M. Plumet, who was even
more embarrassed than she.
"See, Antoine! this is Monsieur Mouillard, who undertook our case!
Thank you again and again, Monsieur Mouillard, you really have been too
kind! What do I owe you for your trouble?"
"You must ask my master what his fees come to, Mademoiselle."
"Yes, but you? What can I do for you?"
The whole office, from the messenger to the clerk who came next to me,
had their eyes upon me. I rose to the occasion, and in my uncle's best
manner I replied:
"Be happy, Mademoiselle, and remember me."
We laughed over it for a week.
She has done better, she has remembered it after eight months. But she
has not given her address. That is a pity. I should have liked to see
them both again. These young married folk are like the birds; you hear
their song, but that does not tell you the whereabouts of their nest.
Now, uncle, it's your turn.
Here it is again, your unfailing letter anticipated, like the return of
the comets, but less difficult to analyze than the weird substance of
which comets are composed. Every year I write to you on December 28th,
and you answer me on the 31st in time for your letter to reach me on New
Year's morning. You are punctual, dear uncle; you are even attentive;
there is something affectionate in this precision. But I do not know why
your letters leave me unmoved. The eighteen to twenty-five lines of
which each is composed are from your head, rather than your heart. Why
do you not tell me of my parents, whom you knew; of your daily life; of
your old servant Madeleine, who nursed me as a baby; of the Angora cat
almost as old as she; of the big garden, so green, so enticing, which you
trim with so much care, and which rewards your attention with such
luxuriance. It would be so nice, dear uncle, to be a shade more
Ah, well! let us see what he writes:
"BOURGES, December 31, 1884.
"MY DEAR NEPHEW:
"The approach of the New Year does not find me with the same
sentiments with which it leaves you. I make up my yearly accounts
from July 31st, so the advent of the 31st of December finds me as
indifferent as that of any other day of the said month. Your
repinings appear to me the expressions of a dreamer.
"It would, however, not be amiss if you made a start in practical
life. You come of a family not addicted to dreaming. Three
Mouillards have, if I may say so, adorned the legal profession at
Bourges. You will be the fourth.
"As soon as you have taken your doctor's degree-which I presume
should not be long--I shall expect you the very next day, or the day
after that at the furthest; and I shall place you under my
"The practice is not falling off, I can assure you. In spite of
age, I still possess good eyes and good teeth, the chief
qualifications for a lawyer. You will find everything ready and in
good order here.
"I am obliged to you for your good wishes, which I entirely
"Your affectionate uncle,
"P. S.--The Lorinet family have been to see me. Mademoiselle Berthe
is really quite pretty. They have just inherited 751,351 francs.
"I was employed by them in an action relating thereto."
Yes, my dear uncle, you were employed, according to the formula, "in
virtue of these and subsequent engagements," and among the "subsequent
engagements" you are kind enough to reckon one between Mademoiselle
Berthe Lorinet, spinster, of no occupation, and M. Fabien Mouillard,
lawyer. "Fabien Mouillard, lawyer"--that I may perhaps endure, but
"Fabien Mouillard, son-in-law of Lorinet," never! One pays too dear for
these rich wives. Mademoiselle Berthe is half a foot taller than I, who
am moderately tall, and she has breadth in proportion. Moreover, I have
heard that her wit is got in proportion. I saw her when she was
seventeen, in a short frock of staring blue; she was very thin then, and
was escorted by a brother, squeezed inside a schoolboy's suit; they were
out for their first walk alone, both red-faced, flurried, shuffling along
the sidewalks of Bourges. That was enough. For me she will always wear
that look, that frock, that clumsy gait. Recollections, my good uncle,
are not unlike instantaneous photographs; and this one is a distinct
negative to your designs.
The year is getting on. My essay is growing. The Junian Latin emerges
from the fogs of Tiber.
I have had to return to the National Library. My first visits were not
made without trepidation. I fancied that the beadle was colder, and that
the keepers were shadowing me like a political suspect. I thought it
wise to change my side, so now I make out my list of books at the left-
hand desk and occupy a seat on the left side of the room.
M. Charnot remains faithful to his post beneath the right-hand inkstand.
I have been watching him. He is usually one of the first to arrive, with
nimble, almost springy, step. His hair, which he wears rather long, is
always carefully parted in the middle, and he is always freshly shaven.
His habit of filling the pockets of his frock-coat with bundles of notes
has made that garment swell out at the top into the shape of a basket.
He puts on a pair of spectacles mounted in very thin gold, and reads
determinedly, very few books it is true, but they are all bound in
vellum, and that fixes their date. In his way of turning the leaves
there is something sacerdotal. He seems popular with the servants. Some
of the keepers worship him. He has very good manners toward every one.
Me he avoids. Still I meet him, sometimes in the cloakroom, oftener in
the Rue Richelieu on his way to the Seine. He stops, and so do I, near
the Fontaine Moliere, to buy chestnuts. We have this taste in common.
He buys two sous' worth, I buy one; thus the distinctions of rank are
preserved. If he arrives after me, I allow him the first turn to be
served; if he is before me, I await my turn with a patience which
betokens respect. Yet he never seems to notice it. Once or twice,
certainly, I fancied I caught a smile at the corners of his mouth, and a
sly twinkle in the corners of his eyes; but these old scholars smile so
He must have guessed that I wish to meet him. For I can not deny it. I
am looking out for an opportunity to repair my clumsy mistake and show
myself in a less unfavorable light than I did at that ill-starred visit.
And she is the reason why I haunt his path!
Ever since M. Mouillard threatened me with Mademoiselle Berthe Lorinet,
the graceful outlines of Mademoiselle Jeanne have haunted me with a
persistence to which I have no objection.
It is not because I love her. It does not go as far as that. I am
leaving her and leaving Paris forever in a few months. No; the height of
my desire is to see her again--in the street, at the theatre, no matter
where--to show her by my behavior and, if possible, by my words that I am
sorry for the past, and implore her forgiveness. Then there will no
longer be a gulf betwixt her and me, I shall be able to meet her without
confusion, to invoke her image to put to flight that of Mademoiselle
Lorinet without the vision of those disdainful lips to dash me. She will
be for me at once the type of Parisian grace and of filial affection.
I will carry off her image to the country like the remembered perfume of
some rare flower; and if ever I sing 'Hymen Hymnaee'! it shall be with
one who recalls her face to me.
I do not think my feelings overpass these bounds. Yet I am not quite
sure. I watch for her with a keenness and determination which surprise
me, and the disappointment which follows a fruitless search is a shade
too lively to accord with cool reason.
After all, perhaps my reason is not cool.
Let me see, I will make up the account of my ventures.
One January afternoon I walked up and down the Rue de l'Universite eight
times in succession, from No. 1 to No. 107, and from No. 107 to No. 1.
Jeanne did not come out in spite of the brilliancy of the clear winter
On the nineteenth of the same month I went to see Andromache, although
the classic writers, whom I swear by, are not the writers I most care to
hear. I renewed this attempt on the twenty-seventh. Neither on the
first nor on the second occasion did I see Mademoiselle Charnot.
And yet if the Institute does not escort its daughters in shoals to
applaud Andromache, where on earth does it take them?
Every time I cross the Tuileries Garden I run my eyes over the groups
scattered among the chestnut-trees. I see children playing and falling
about; nursemaids who leave them crying; mothers who pick them up again;
a vagrant guardsman. No Jeanne.
To wind up, yesterday I spent five hours at the Bon Marche.
The spring show was on, one of the great occasions of the year; and I
presumed, not without an apparent foundation of reason, that no young or
pretty Parisian could fail to be there. When I arrived, about one
o'clock, the crowd already filled the vast bazaar. It was not easy to
stand against certain currents that set toward the departments
consecrated to spring novelties. Adrift like a floating spar I was swept
away and driven ashore amid the baby-linen. There it flung me high and
dry among the shop-girls, who laughed at the spectacle of an
undergraduate shipwrecked among the necessaries of babyhood. I felt shy,
and attaching myself to the fortunes of an Englishwoman, who worked her
elbows with the vigor of her nation, I was borne around nearly twenty
counters. At last, wearied, mazed, dusty as with a long summer walk,
I took refuge in the reading-room.
Poor simpleton! I said to myself, you are too early; you might have
known that. She can not come with her father before the National Library
closes. Even supposing they take an omnibus, they will not get here
before a quarter past four.
I had to find something to fill up the somewhat long interval which
separated me from that happy moment. I wrote a letter to my Uncle
Mouillard, taking seven minutes over the address alone. I had not shown
such penmanship since I was nine years old. When the last flourish was
completed I looked for a paper; they were all engaged. The directory was
free. I took it, and opened it at Ch. I discovered that there were many
Charnots in Paris without counting mine: Charnot, grocer; Charnot,
upholsterer; Charnot, surgical bandage-maker. I built up a whole family
tree for the member of the Institute, choosing, of course, those persons
of the name who appeared most worthy to adorn its branches. Of what
followed I retain but a vague recollection. I only remember that I felt
twice as if some inquisitive individual were looking over my shoulder.
The third time I woke up with a start.
"Sir," said a shopwalker, with the utmost politeness, "a gentleman has
been waiting three quarters of an hour for the directory. Would you
kindly hand it to him if you have quite finished with it?"
It was a quarter to six. I still waited a little while, and then I left,
having wasted my day.
O Jeanne! where do you hide yourself? Must I, to meet you, attend mass
at St. Germain des Pres? Are you one of those early birds who, before
the world is up, are out in the Champs Elysees catching the first rays of
the morning, and the country breeze before it is lost in the smoke of
Paris? Are you attending lectures at the Sorbonne? Are you learning to
sing? and, if so, who is your teacher?
You sing, Jeanne, of course. You remind me of a bird. You have all the
quick and easy graces of the skylark. Why should you not have the
Fabien, you are dropping into poetry!
For a month I have written nothing in this brown notebook. But to-day
there is plenty to put down, and worth the trouble too.
Let me begin with the first shock. This morning, my head crammed with
passages from Latin authors, I leaned my brow against the pane of my
window which looks on the garden. The garden is not mine, of course,
since I live on the fourth floor; but I have a view of the big weeping-
willow in the centre, the sanded path that runs around it, and the four
walls lined with borders, one of which separates it from the huge
premises of the Carmelites. It is an almost deserted garden. The first-
floor tenant hardly ever walks there. His son, a schoolboy of seventeen,
was there this morning. He stood two feet from the street wall,
motionless, with head thrown back, whistling a monotonous air, which
seemed to me like a signal. Before him, however, was nothing but the
moss on the old wall gleaming like golden lights. People do not whistle
to amuse stones nor yet moss. Farther off, on the other side of the
street, the windows of the opposite houses stretched away in long
straight lines, most of them standing open.
I thought: "The bird is somewhere there. Some small Abigail with her
white cap will look out in a moment."
The suspicion was stupid and ill-natured. How rash are our lightest
judgments! Suddenly the school-boy took one step forward, swept his hand
quickly along the moss as if he were trying to catch a fly, and ran off
to his mother triumphant, delighted, beside himself, with an innocent
gray lizard on the tips of his fingers.
"I've got him! I've got him! He was basking in the sun and I charmed
"Basking in the sun!" This was a revelation to me. I flung up the
window. Yes, it was true. Warmth and light lay everywhere: on the roofs
still glistening with last night's showers; across the sky, whose gay
blue proclaimed that winter was done. I looked downward and saw what I
had not seen before: the willow bursting into bud; the hepatica in flower
at the foot of the camellias, which had ceased to bloom; the pear-trees
in the Carmelites' garden flushing red as the sap rose within them; and
upon the dead trunk of a fig-tree was a blackbird, escaped from the
Luxembourg, who, on tiptoe, with throat outstretched, drunk with delight,
answered some far-off call that the wind brought to him, singing, as if
in woodland depths, the rapturous song of the year's new birth. Then,
oh! then, I could contain myself no longer. I ran down the stairs four
at a time, cursing Paris and the Junian Latins who had been cheating me
of the spring. What! live there cut off from the world which was
created for me, tread an artificial earth of stone or asphalt, live with
a horizon of chimneys, see only the sky chopped into irregular strips by
roofs smirched with smoke, and allow this exquisite spring to fleet by
without drinking in her bountiful delight, without renewing in her
youthfulness our youth, always a little staled and overcast by winter!
No, that can not be; I mean to see the spring.
And I have seen it, in truth, though cut and tied into bouquets, for my
aimless steps led me to the Place St. Sulpice, where the flower-sellers
were. There were flowers in plenty, but very few people; it was already
late. None the less did I enjoy the sight of all the plants arranged by
height and kind, from the double hyacinths, dear to hall-porters, to the
first carnations, scarcely in bud, whose pink or white tips just peeped
from their green sheaths; then the bouquets, bundles of the same kinds
and same shades of flowers wrapped up in paper: lilies-of-the-valley,
lilacs, forget-me-nots, mignonette, which being grown under glass has
guarded its honey from the bees to scent the air here. Everyone had a
look of welcome for those exiles. The girls smiled at them without
knowing the reason why. The cabdrivers in line along the sidewalk seemed
to enjoy their neighborhood. I heard one of them, with a face like a
halfripened strawberry, red, with a white nose, say to a comrade, "Hallo,
Francis! that smells good, doesn't it!"
I was walking along slowly, looking into every stall, and when I came to
the end I turned right about face.
Great Heavens! Not ten feet off! M. Flamaran, M. Charnot, and
They had stopped before one of the stalls that I had just left.
M. Flamaran was carrying under his arm a pot of cineraria, which made his
stomach a perfect bower. M. Charnot was stooping, examining a superb
pink carnation. Jeanne was hovering undecided between twenty bunches of
flowers, bending her pretty head in its spring hat over each in turn.
"Whichever you like; but make up your mind soon; Flamaran is waiting."
A moment more, and the elective affinities carried the day.
"This bunch of mignonette," she said.
I would have wagered on it. She was sure to choose the mignonette--
a fair, well-bred, graceful plant like herself. Others choose their
camellias and their hyacinths; Jeanne must have something more refined.
She put down her money, caught up the bunch, looked at it for a moment,
and held it close to her breast as a mother might hold her child, while
all its golden locks drooped over her arm. Then off she ran after her
father, who had only changed one carnation for another. They went on
toward St. Sulpice--M. Flamaran on the right, M. Charnot in the middle,
Jeanne on the left. She brushed past without seeing me. I followed them
at a distance. All three were laughing. At what? I can guess; she
because she was eighteen, they for joy to be with her. At the end of the
marketplace they turned to the left, followed the railings of the church,
and bent their steps toward the Rue St. Sulpice, doubtless to take home
M. Flamaran, whose cineraria blazed amid the crowd. I was about to turn
in the same direction when an omnibus of the Batignolles-Clichy line
stopped my way. In an instant I was overwhelmed by the flood of
passengers which it poured on the pavements.
"Hallo, you here! How goes it? What are you staring at? My stovepipe?
Observe it well, my dear fellow--the latest invention of Leon; the patent
ventilating, anti-sudorific, and evaporating hat!"
It was Larive who had just climbed down from the knifeboard.
Every one knows Larive, head clerk in Machin's office. He is to be seen
everywhere--a tall, fair man, with little closetrimmed beard, and
moustache carefully twisted. He is always perfectly dressed, always in a
tall hat and new gloves, full of all the new stories, which he tells as
his own. If you believe him, he is at home in all the ministries,
whatever party is in power; he has cards for every ball, and tickets for
every first night. With all that he never misses a funeral, is a good
lawyer, and as solemn when in court as a dozen old mandarins.
"Come, Fabien, will you answer? What are you staring at?"
He turned his head.
"Oh, I see--pretty Mademoiselle Charnot."
"You know her?"
"Of course I do, and her father, too. A pretty little thing!"
I blushed with pleasure.
"Yes, a very pretty little thing; but wants style--dances poorly."
"An admirable defect."
"A little big, too, for her eyes."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Her eyes are a little too small, you understand me?"
"What matters that if they are bright and loving?"
"No matter at all to me; but it seems to have some effect on you. Might
you be related?"
"Or connected by marriage?"
"So much the better--eh, my boy? And how's uncle? Still going strong?"
"Yes; and longing to snatch me from this Babylon."
"You mean to succeed him?"
"As long hence as possible."
"I had heard you were not enthusiastic. A small practice, isn't it?"
"Not exactly. A matter of a thousand a year!"
"That's good enough. But in the country, my poor fellow, in the
"It would be the death of you, wouldn't it?"
"In forty-eight hours."
"However did you manage to be born there, Larive? I'm surprised at you."
"So am I. I often think about it. Good-by. I must be off."
I caught him by the hand which he held out to me.
"Larive, tell me where you have met Mademoiselle Charnot?"
"Oh, come!--I see it's serious. My dear fellow, I am so sorry I did not
tell you she was perfection. If I had only known!"
"That's not what I asked you. Where have you seen her?"
"In society, of course. Where do you expect me to see young girls except
in society? My dear Fabien!"
He went off laughing. When he was about ten yards off he turned, and
making a speaking-trumpet of his hands, he shouted through them:
Larive is decidedly an ass. His jokes strike you as funny at first; but
there's nothing in him, he's a mere hawker of stale puns; there's nothing
but selfishness under his jesting exterior. I have no belief in him.
Yet he is an old school friend; the only one of my twenty-eight
classmates whose acquaintance I have kept up. Four are dead, twenty-
three others are scattered about in obscure country places; lost for want
of news, as they say at the private inquiry offices. Larive makes up the
twenty-eight. I used to admire him, when we were low in the school,
because of his long trousers, his lofty contempt of discipline, and his
precocious intimacy with tobacco. I preferred him to the good, well-
behaved boys. Whenever we had leave out I used to buy gum-arabic at the
druggist's in La Chatre, and break it up with a small hammer at the far
end of my room, away from prying eyes. I used there to distribute it
into three bags ticketed respectively: "large pieces," "middle-sized
pieces," "small pieces." When I returned to school with the three bags
in my pocket, I would draw out one or the other to offer them to my
friends, according to the importance of the occasion, or the degrees of
friendship. Larive always had the big bits, and plenty of them. Yet he
was none the more grateful to me, and even did not mind chaffing me about
these petty attentions by which he was the gainer. He used to make fun
of everything, and I used to look up to him. He still makes fun of
everything; but for me the age of gumarabic is past and my faith in
Larive is gone.
If he believes that he will disparage this charming girl in my eyes by
telling me that she is a bad dancer, he is wrong. Of great importance it
is to have a wife who dances well! She does not dance in her own house,
nor with her husband from the wardrobe to the cradle, but at others'
houses, and with other men. Besides, a young girl who dances much has a
lot of nonsense talked to her. She may acquire a taste for Larive's
buffooneries, for a neat leg, or a sharp tongue. In that case what
welcome can she give to simple, timid affection? She will only laugh at
it. But you would not laugh, Jeanne, were I to tell you that I loved
you. No, I am quite convinced that you would not laugh. And if you
loved me, Jeanne, we should not go into society. That would just suit
me. I should protect you, yet not hide you. We should have felicity at
home instead of running after it to balls and crushes, where it is never
to be found. You could not help being aware of the fascination you
exert; but you would not squander it on a mob of dancers, and bring home
only the last remnants of your good spirits, with the last remnants of
your train. Jeanne, I am delighted to hear that you dance badly.
Whither away, Fabien, my friend, whither away? You are letting your
imagination run away with you again. A hint from it, and off you go.
Come, do use your reason a little. You have seen this young lady again,
that is true. You admired her; that was for the second time. But she,
whom you so calmly speak of as "Jeanne," as if she were something to you,
never even noticed you. You know nothing about her but what you suspect
from her maiden grace and a dozen words from her lips. You do not know
whether she is free, nor how she would welcome the notions you entertain
if you gave them utterance, yet here you are saying, "We should go here,"
"We should do this and that." Keep to the singular, my poor fellow. The
plural is far away, very far away, if not entirely beyond your reach.
A WOODLAND SKETCH
The end of April. Students, pack and be off! The first warm breezes
burst the buds. Meudon is smiling; Clamart breaks into song;, the air in
the valley of Chevreuse is heavy with violets; the willows shower their
catkins on the banks of the Yvette; and farther yet, over yonder beneath
the green domes of the forest of Fontainebleau, the deer prick their ears
at the sound of the first riding-parties. Off with you! Flowers line
the pathways, the moors are pink with bloom, the undergrowth teems with
darting wings. All the town troops out to see the country in its gala
dress. The very poorest have a favorite nook, a recollection of the
bygone year to be revived and renewed; a sheltered corner that invited
sleep, a glade where the shade was grateful, a spot beside the river's
brink where the fish used to bite. Each one says, "Don't you remember?"
Each one seeks his nest like a home-coming swallow. Does it still hold
together? What havoc has been made by the winter's winds, and the rain,
and the frost? Will it welcome us, as of old?
I, too, said to Lampron, "Don't you remember?" for we, too, have our
nest, and summer days that smile to us in memory. He was in the mood for
work, and hesitated. I added in a whisper, "The blackbird's pool!" He
smiled, and off we went.
Again, as of old, our destination was St. Germain--not the town, nor the
Italian palace, nor yet the terrace whence the view spreads so wide over
the Seine, the country dotted with villas, to Montmartre blue in the
distance--not these, but the forest. "Our forest," we call it; for we
know all its young shoots, all its giant trees, all its paths where
poachers and young lovers hide. With my eyes shut I could find the
blackbird's pool, the way to which was first shown us by a deer.
Imagine at thirty paces from an avenue, a pool--no, not a pool (the word
is incorrect), nor yet a pond--but a fountain hollowed out by the removal
of a giant oak. Since the death of this monarch the birches which its
branches kept apart have never closed together, and the fountain forms
the centre of a little clearing where the moss is thick at all seasons
and starred in August with wild pinks. The water, though deep, is
deliciously clear. At a depth of more than six feet you can distinguish
the dead leaves at the bottom, the grass, the twigs, and here and there a
stone's iridescent outline. They all lie asleep there, the waste of
seasons gone by, soon to be covered by others in their turn. From time
to time out of the depths of these submerged thickets an eft darts up.
He comes circling up, quivering his yellowbanded tail, snatches a
mouthful of air, and goes down again head first. Save for these alarms
the pool is untroubled. It is guarded from the winds by a juniper, which
an eglantine has chosen for its guardian and crowns each year with a
wreath of roses. Each year, too, a blackbird makes his nest here. We
keep his secret. He knows we shall not disturb him. And when I come
back to this little nook in the woods, which custom has endeared to us,
merely by looking in the water I feel my very heart refreshed.
"What a spot to sleep in!" cried Lampron. "Keep sentry, Fabien; I am
going to take a nap."
We had walked fast. It was very hot. He took off his coat, rolled it
into a pillow, and placed it beneath his head as he lay down on the
grass. I stretched myself prone on a velvety carpet of moss, and gave
myself up to a profound investigation of the one square foot of ground
which lay beneath my eyes. The number of blades of grass was prodigious.
A few, already awned, stood above their fellows, waving like palms-
meadowgrass, fescue, foxtail, brome-grass--each slender stalk crowned
with a tuft. Others were budding, only half unfolded, amid the darker
mass of spongy moss which gave them sustenance. Amid the numberless
shafts thus raised toward heaven a thousand paths crisscrossed, each full
of obstacles-chips of bark, juniper-berries, beech-nuts, tangled roots,
hills raised by burrowing insects, ravines formed by the draining off of
the rains. Ants and beetles bustled along them, pressing up hill and
down to some mysterious goal. Above them a cunning red spider was tying
a blade of grass to an orchid leaf, the pillars it had chosen for its
future web; and. when the wind shook the leaves and the sun pierced
through to this spot, I saw the delicate roof already mapped out.
I do not know how long my contemplation lasted. The woods were still.
Save for a swarm of gnats which hummed in a minor key around the sleeping
Lampron, nothing stirred, not a leaf even. All nature was silent as it
drank in the full sunshine.
A murmur of distant voices stole on my ear. I rose, and crept through
the birches and hazels to the edge of the glade.
At the top of the slope, on the green margin of the glade, shaded by the
tall trees, two pedestrians were slowly advancing. At the distance they
still were I could distinguish very little except that the man wore a
frock-coat, and that the girl was dressed in gray, and was young, to
judge by the suppleness of her walk. Nevertheless I felt at once that it
I hid at they came near, and saw her pass on her father's arm, chatting
in low tones, full of joy to have escaped from the Rue de l'Universite.
She was looking before her with wide-open eyes. M. Charnot kept his eyes
on his daughter, more interested in her than in all the wealth of spring.
He kept well to the right of the path as the sun ate away the edge of the
shadows; and asked, from time to time:
"Are you tired?"
"As soon as you are tired, my dear, we will sit down. I am not walking
She answered "No" again, and laughed, and they went on.
Soon they left the avenue and were lost in a green alley. Then a sudden
twilight seemed to have closed down on me, an infinite sadness swelled in
my heart. I closed my eyes, and--God forgive my weakness, but the tears
"Hallo! What part do you intend me to play in all this?" said Lampron
"Yes. It's an odd notion to invite me to your trysting-place."
"Trysting-place? I haven't one."
"You mean to tell me, perhaps, that you came here by chance?"
"And chanced upon the very moment and the spot where she was passing?"
"Do you want a proof? That young lady is Mademoiselle Charnot."
"Well, I never have said another word to her since my one visit to her
father; I have only seen her once, for a moment, in the street. You see
there can be no question of trysting-places in this case. I was
wondering at her appearance when you awoke. It is luck, or a friendly
providence, that has used the beauty of the sunlight, the breeze, and all
the sweets of April to bring her, as it brought us, to the forest."
"And that is what fetched the tears?"
"I don't know."
"My full-grown baby, I will tell you. You are in love with her!"
"Indeed, Sylvestre, I believe you're right. I confess it frankly to you
as to my best friend. It is an old story already; as old, perhaps, as
the day I first met her. At first her figure would rise in my
imagination, and I took pleasure in contemplating it. Soon this phantom
ceased to satisfy; I longed to see her in person. I sought her in the
streets, the shops, the theatre. I still blinded myself, and pretended
that I only wanted to ask her pardon, so as to remove, before I left
Paris, the unpleasant impression I had made at our first meeting. But
now, Sylvestre, all these false reasons have disappeared, and the true
one is clear. I love her!"
"Not a doubt of it, my friend, not a doubt of it. I have been through it
He was silent, and his eyes wandered away to the faroff woods, perhaps
back to those distant memories of his. A shadow rested on his strong
face, but only for an instant. He shook off his depression, and his old
smile came back as he said:
"It's serious, then?"
"Yes, very serious."
"I'm not surprised; she is a very pretty girl."
"Isn't she lovely?"
"Better than that, my friend; she is good. What do you know about her?"
"Only that she is a bad dancer."
"That's something, to be sure."
"But it isn't all."
"Well, no. But never mind, find out the rest, speak to her, declare your
passion, ask for her hand, and marry her."
"Good heavens, Sylvestre, you are going ahead!"
"My dear fellow, that is the best and wisest plan; these vague idyls
ought to be hurried on, either to a painless separation or an honorable
end in wedlock. In your place I should begin to-morrow."
"Why not to-day?"
"Let's catch them up, and see her again at least."
He began to laugh.
"Run after young girls at my age! Well, well, it was my advice. Come
We crossed the avenue, and plunged into the forest.
Lampron had formerly acquired a reputation for tireless agility among the
fox-hunters of the Roman Campagna. He still deserves it. In twenty
strides he left me behind. I saw him jumping over the heather, knocking
off with his cane the young shoots on the oaks, or turning his head to
look at me as I struggled after, torn by brambles and pricked by gorse.
A startled pheasant brought him to a halt. The bird rose under his feet
and soared into the full light.
"Isn't it beautiful?" said he. "Look out, we must be more careful; we
are scaring the game. We should come upon the path they took, about
sixty yards ahead."
Five minutes later he was signalling to me from behind the trunk of a
"Here they are."
Jeanne and M. Charnot were seated on a fallen trunk beside the path,
which here was almost lost beneath the green boughs. Their backs were
toward us. The old man, with his shoulders bent and his goldknobbed cane
stuck into the ground beside him, was reading out of a book which we
could not see, while Jeanne, attentive, motionless, her face half turned
toward him, was listening. Her profile was outlined against a strip of
clear sky. The deep silence of the wood wrapped us round, and we could
hear the old scholar's voice; it just reached us.
"Straightway the godlike Odysseus spake these cunning words to the fair
Nausicaa: 'Be thou goddess or mortal, O queen, I bow myself before thee!
If thou art one of the deities who dwell in boundless heaven, by thy
loveliness and grace and height I guess thee to be Artemis, daughter of
high Zeus. If thou art a mortal dwelling upon earth, thrice blessed thy
father and thy queenly mother, thrice blessed thy dear brothers! Surely
their souls ever swell with gladness because of thee, when they see a
maiden so lovely step into the circle of the dance. But far the most
blessed of all is he who shall prevail on thee with presents and lead
thee to his home!'"
I turned to Lampron, who had stopped a few steps in front of me, a little
to the right. He had got out his sketch-book, and was drawing hurriedly.
Presently he forgot all prudence, and came forth from the shelter of a
beech to get nearer to his model. In vain I made sign upon sign, and
tried to remind him that we were not thereto paint or sketch. It was
useless; the artist within him had broken loose. Sitting down at the
required distance on a gnarled root, right in the open, he went on with
his work with no thought but for his art.
The inevitable happened. Growing impatient over some difficulty in his
sketch, Lampron shuffled his feet; a twig broke, some leaves rustled-
Jeanne turned round and saw me looking at her, Lampron sketching her.
What are the feelings of a young girl who in the middle of a forest
suddenly discovers that two pairs of eyes are busy with her? A little
fright at first; then--when the idea of robbers is dismissed, and a
second glance has shown her that it is her beauty, not her life, they
want--a touch of satisfied vanity at the compliment, not unmixed with
This is exactly what we thought we saw. At first she slightly drew back,
with brows knitted, on the verge of an exclamation; then her brows
unbent, and the pleasure of finding herself admired, confusion at being
taken unawares, the desire of appearing at ease, all appeared at once on
her rosy cheeks and in her faintly troubled smile.
I bowed. Sylvestre pulled off his cap.
M. Charnot never stirred.
"Another squirrel?" he said.
"Two this time, I think, father," she answered, in a low voice.
He went on reading.
"'My guest,' made answer the fair Nausicaa, 'for I call thee so since
thou seemest not base nor foolish, it is Zeus himself that giveth weal to
Jeanne was no longer listening. She was thinking. Of what? Of several
things, perhaps, but certainly of how to beat a retreat. I guessed it by
the movement of her sunshade, which was nervously tracing figures in the
turf. I signalled to Lampron. We retired backward. Yet it was in vain;
the charm was broken, the peace had been disturbed.
She gave two coughs--musical little coughs, produced at will.
M. Charnot broke off his reading.
"You are cold, Jeanne?"
"Why, no, father."
"Yes, yes, you're cold. Why did you not say so before? Lord, Lord,
these children! Always the same--think of nothing!"
He rose without delay, put his book in his pocket, buttoned up his coat,
and, leaning on his stick, glanced up a moment at the tree-tops. Then,
side by side, they disappeared down the path, Jeanne stepping briskly,
upright and supple, between the young branches which soon concealed her.
Still Lampron continued to watch the turning in the path down which she
"What are you thinking about?" said I.
He stroked his beard, where lurked a few gray hairs.
"I am thinking, my friend, that youth leaves us in this same way, at the
time when we love it most, with a faint smile, and without a word to tell
us whither. Mine played me this trick."
"What a good idea of yours to sketch them both. Let me see the sketch."
"It can scarcely be called a sketch; it's a mere scratch."
"Show it, all the same."
"My good Fabien, you ought to know that when I am obstinate I have my
reasons, like Balaam's ass. You will not see my sketch-book to-day, nor
to-morrow, nor the day after."
I answered with foolish warmth:
"Please yourself; I don't care."
Really I was very much annoyed, and I was rather cool with Lampron when
we parted on the platform.
What has come to the fellow? To refuse to show me a sketch he had made
before my eyes, and a sketch of Jeanne, too!
April 28th, 9 A.M.
Hide your sketches, Sylvestre; stuff them away in your portfolios, or
your pockets; I care little, for I bear Jeanne's image in my heart, and
can see it when I will, and I love her, I love her, I love her!
What is to become of her and of me I can not tell. I hope without
knowing what or why, or when, and hope alone is comforting.
This afternoon, at two o'clock, I met Lampron in the Boulevard St.
Michel. He was walking fast with a portfolio under his arm. I went up
to him. He looked annoyed, and hardly seemed pleased when I offered to
accompany him. I grew red and angry.
"Oh, very well," I said; "good-by, then, since you don't care to be seen
He pondered a moment.
"Oh, come along if you like; I am going to my framemaker's."
"Something of the kind."
"And that's all the mystery! Yesterday it was a sketch I mustn't look
at; to-day it's a picture. It is not nice of you, Sylvestre; no,
decidedly it is not nice."
He gave me a look of friendly compassion.
"Poor little chap!" said he.
Then, in his usual clear, strong voice:
"I am in a great hurry; but come if you like. I would rather it were
four days later; but as it is, never mind; it is never too soon to be
When Lampron chooses to hold his tongue it is useless to ask him
questions. I gave myself up to meditating on the words, "It is never too
soon to be happy."
We went down the boulevard, past the beer-houses. There is distinction
in my friend's walk; he is not to be confused with the crowd through
which he passes. You can tell, from the simple seriousness of the man,
his indifference to the noise and petty incidents of the streets, that he
is a stout and noble soul. Among the passers-by he is a somebody. I
heard from a group of students seated before a cafe the following words,
which Sylvestre did not seem to notice:
"Look, do you see the taller of those two there? That's Sylvestre
"Prix du Salon two years ago?"
"A great gun, you know."
"He looks it."
"To the left," said Lampron.
We turned to the left, and found ourselves in the Rue Hautefeuille,
before a shabby house, within the porch of which hung notices of
apartments to let; this was the framemaker's. The passage was dark, the
walls were chipped by the innumerable removals of furniture they had
witnessed. We went upstairs. On the fourth floor a smell of glue and
sour paste on the landing announced the tenant's profession. To make
quite certain there was a card nailed to the door with "Plumet, Frame-
"Plumet? A newly-married couple?"
But already Madame Plumet is at the door. It is the same little woman
who came to Boule's office. She recognizes me in the dim light of the
"What, Monsieur Lampron, do you know Monsieur Mouillard?"
"As you apparently do, too, Madame Plumet."
"Oh, yes! I know him well; he won my action, you know."
"Ah, to be sure-against the cabinet-maker. Is your husband in?"
"Yes, sir, in the workshop. Plumet!"
Through the half-opened door giving access to an inner room w e could
see-in the midst of his molders, gilders, burnishers, and framers--a
little dark man with a beard, who looked up and hurriedly undid the
strings of his working-apron.
Little Madame Plumet was a trifle upset at having to receive us in
undress, before she had tidied up her rooms. I could see it by her
blushes and by the instinctive movement she made to smooth her disordered
The husband had hardly answered her call before she left us and went off
to the end of the room, into the obscure recesses of an alcove
overcrowded with furniture. There she bent over an oblong object, which
I could not quite see at first, and rocked it with her hand.
"Monsieur Mouillard," said she, looking up to me--"Monsieur Mouillard,
this is my son, Pierre!"
What tender pride in those words, and the smile which accompanied them!
With a finger she drew one of the curtains aside. Under the blue muslin,
between the pillow and the white coverlet, I discovered two little black
eyes and a tuft of golden hair.
"Isn't he a little rogue!" she went on, and began to caress the waking
Meanwhile Sylvestre had been talking to Plumet at the other end of the
"Out of the question," said the frame-maker; "we are up to our knees in
arrears; twenty orders waiting."
"I ask you to oblige me as a friend."
"I wish I could oblige you, Monsieur Lampron; but if I made you a
promise, I should not be able to keep it."
"What a pity! All was so well arranged, too. The sketch was to have
been hung with my two engravings. Poor Fabien! I was saving up a
surprise for you. Come and look here."
I went across. Sylvestre opened his portfolio.
"Do you recognize it?"
At once I recognized them. M. Charnot's back; Jeanne's profile, exactly
like her; a forest nook; the parasol on the ground; the cane stuck into
the grass; a bit of genre, perfect in truth and execution.
"When did you do that?"
"And you want to exhibit it?"
"At the Salon."
"But, Sylvestre, it is too late to send in to the Salon. The Ides of
March are long past."
"Yes, for that very reason I have had the devil of a time, intriguing all
the morning. With a large picture I never should have succeeded; but
with a bit of a sketch, six inches by nine--"
"Bribery of officials, then?"
"Followed by substitution, which is strictly forbidden. I happened to
have hung there between two engravings a little sketch of underwoods not
unlike this; one comes down, the other is hung instead--a little bit of
jobbery of which I am still ashamed. I risked it all for you, in the
hope that she would come and recognize the subject."
"Of course she will recognize it, and understand; how on earth could she
help it? My dear Sylvestre, how can I thank you?"
I seized my friend's hand and begged his forgiveness for my foolish haste
He, too, was a little touched and overcome by the pleasure his surprise
had given me.
"Look here, Plumet," he said to the frame-maker, who had taken the sketch
over to the light, and was studying it with a professional eye. "This
young man has even a greater interest than I in the matter. He is a
suitor for the lady's hand, and you can be very useful to him. If you do
not frame the picture his happiness is blighted."
The frame-maker shook his head.
"Let's see, Antoine," said a coaxing little voice, and Madame Plumet left
the cradle to come to our aid.
I considered our cause as won. Plumet repeated in vain, as he pulled his
beard, that it was impossible; she declared it was not. He made a move
for his workshop; she pulled him back by the sleeve, made him laugh and
give his consent.
"Antoine," she insisted, "we owe our marriage to Monsieur Mouillard; you
must at least pay what you owe."
I was delighted. Still, a doubt seized me.
"Sylvestre," I said to Lampron, who already had his hand upon the door-
handle, "do you really think she will come?"
"I hope so; but I will not answer for it. To make certain, some one must
send word to her: 'Mademoiselle Jeanne, your portrait is at the Salon.'
If you know any one who would not mind taking this message to the Rue de
"I'm afraid I don't."
"Come on, then, and trust to luck."
"Rue de l'Universite, did you say?" broke in little Madame Plumet, who
certainly took the liveliest interest in my cause.
"Because I have a friend in the neighborhood, and perhaps--"
I risked giving her the number and name under the seal of secrecy; and it
was a good thing I did so.
In three minutes she had concocted a plan. It was like this: her friend
lived near the hotel in the Rue de l'Universite, a porter's wife of
advanced years, and quite safe; by means of her it might be possible to
hint to Mademoiselle Jeanne that her portrait, or something like it, was
to be seen at the Salon--discreetly, of course, and as if it were the
merest piece of news.
What a plucky, clever little woman it is! Surely I was inspired when I
did her that service. I never thought I should be repaid. And here I am
repaid both capital and interest.
Yet I hesitated. She snatched my consent.
"No, no," said she, "leave me to act. I promise you, Monsieur Mouillard,
that she shall hear of it, and you, Monsieur Lampron, that the picture
shall be framed."
She showed us to the top of the stairs, did little Madame Plumet, pleased
at having won over her husband, at having shown herself so cunning, and
at being employed in a conspiracy of love. In the street Lampron shook
me by the hand. "Good-by, my friend," he said; "happy men don't need
company. Four days hence, at noon, I shall come to fetch you, and we
will pay our first visit to the Salon together."
Yes, I was a happy man! I walked fast, without seeing anything, my eyes
lost in day dreams, my ears listening to celestial harmonies. I seemed
to wear a halo. It abashed me somewhat; for there is something insolent
in proclaiming on the housetops: "Look up at me, my heart is full, Jeanne
is going to love me!" Decidedly, my brain was affected.
Near the fountain in the Luxembourg, in front of the old palace where the
senate sits, two little girls were playing. One pushed the other, who
fell down crying,
"Naughty Jeanne, naughty girl!" I rushed to pick her up, and kissed her
before the eyes of her astonished nurse, saying, "No, Mademoiselle, she
is the most charming girl in the world!"
And M. Legrand! I still blush when I think of my conversation with M.
Legrand. He was standing in a dignified attitude at the door of his shop
"ITALIAN WAREHOUSE; DRESSED PROVISIONS;
SPECIALTY IN COLONIAL PRODUCE."
He and I are upon good terms; I buy oranges, licorice from him, and rum
when I want to make punch. But there are distinctions. Well, to-day I
called him "Dear Monsieur Legrand;" I addressed him, though I had nothing
to buy; I asked after his business; I remarked to him, "What a heavenly
day, Monsieur Legrand! We really have got fine weather at last!"
He looked up to the top of the street, and looked down again at me, but
refrained from differing, out of respect.
And, as a matter of fact, I noticed afterward that there was a most
To wind up with, just now as I was coming home after dinner, I passed a
workman and his family in the Rue Bonaparte, and the man pointed after
"Look! there goes a poet."
He was right. In me the lawyer's clerk is in abeyance, the lawyer of to-
morrow has disappeared, only the poet is left--that is to say, the
essence of youth freed from the parasitic growths of everyday life. I
feel it roused and stirring. How sweet life is, and what wonderful
instruments we are, that Hope can make us thus vibrate by a touch of her
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