Part 5 out of 31
"You big stupid! You are very nice."
"In short, mademoiselle, do you think that, later on, we might--"
She hesitated a second; then in a trembling voice she said:
"Do you mean to marry me when you say that? For on no other condition,
"Well, that's all right, Monsieur Piquedent!"
It was thus that these two silly creatures promised marriage to each
other through the trick of a young scamp. But I did not believe that it
was serious, nor, indeed, did they, perhaps.
"You know, I have nothing, not four sous," she said.
He stammered, for he was as drunk as Silenus:
"I have saved five thousand francs."
She exclaimed triumphantly:
"Then we can set up in business?"
He became restless.
"In what business?"
"What do I know? We shall see. With five thousand francs we could do
many things. You don't want me to go and live in your boarding school,
He had not looked forward so far as this, and he stammered in great
"What business could we set up in? That would not do, for all I know is
She reflected in her turn, passing in review all her business ambitions.
"You could not be a doctor?"
"No, I have no diploma."
"Or a chemist?"
"No more than the other."
She uttered a cry of joy. She had discovered it.
"Then we'll buy a grocer's shop! Oh! what luck! we'll buy a grocer's
shop. Not on a big scale, of course; with five thousand francs one does
not go far."
He was shocked at the suggestion.
"No, I can't be a grocer. I am--I am--too well known: I only know Latin,
that is all I know."
But she poured a glass of champagne down his throat. He drank it and was
We got back into the boat. The night was dark, very dark. I saw
clearly, however, that he had caught her by the waist, and that they were
hugging each other again and again.
It was a frightful catastrophe. Our escapade was discovered, with the
result that Pere Piquedent was dismissed. And my father, in a fit of
anger, sent me to finish my course of philosophy at Ribaudet's school.
Six months later I took my degree of Bachelor of Arts. Then I went to
study law in Paris, and did not return to my native town till two years
At the corner of the Rue de Serpent a shop caught my eye. Over the door
were the words: "Colonial Products--Piquedent"; then underneath, so as
to enlighten the most ignorant: "Grocery."
"'Quantum mutatus ab illo!'"
Piquedent raised his head, left his female customer, and rushed toward me
with outstretched hands.
"Ah! my young friend, my young friend, here you are! What luck! what
A beautiful woman, very plump, abruptly left the cashier's desk and flung
herself on my breast. I had some difficulty in recognizing her, she had
grown so stout.
"So then you're doing well?"
Piquedent had gone back to weigh the groceries.
"Oh! very well, very well, very well. I have made three thousand francs
clear this year!"
"And what about Latin, Monsieur Piquedent?"
"Oh, good heavens! Latin, Latin, Latin--you see it does not keep the pot
It was nothing but an accident, an accident pure and simple. On that
particular evening the princess' rooms were open, and as they appeared
dark after the brilliantly lighted parlors, Baron d'Etraille, who was
tired of standing, inadvertently wandered into an empty bedroom.
He looked round for a chair in which to have a doze, as he was sure his
wife would not leave before daylight. As soon as he became accustomed to
the light of the room he distinguished the big bed with its azure-and-
gold hangings, in the middle of the great room, looking like a catafalque
in which love was buried, for the princess was no longer young. Behind
it, a large bright surface looked like a lake seen at a distance. It was
a large mirror, discreetly covered with dark drapery, that was very
rarely let down, and seemed to look at the bed, which was its accomplice.
One might almost fancy that it had reminiscences, and that one might see
in it charming female forms and the gentle movement of loving arms.
The baron stood still for a moment, smiling, almost experiencing an
emotion on the threshold of this chamber dedicated to love. But suddenly
something appeared in the looking-glass, as if the phantoms which he had
evoked had risen up before him. A man and a woman who had been sitting
on a low couch concealed in the shadow had arisen, and the polished
surface, reflecting their figures, showed that they were kissing each
other before separating.
Baron d'Etraille recognized his wife and the Marquis de Cervigne. He
turned and went away like a man who is fully master of himself, and
waited till it was day before taking away the baroness; but he had no
longer any thoughts of sleeping.
As soon as they were alone he said:
"Madame, I saw you just now in Princesse de Raynes' room; I need say no
more, and I am not fond either of reproaches, acts of violence, or of
ridicule. As I wish to avoid all such things, we shall separate without
any scandal. Our lawyers will settle your position according to my
orders. You will be free to live as you please when you are no longer
under my roof; but, as you will continue to bear my name, I must warn you
that should any scandal arise I shall show myself inflexible."
She tried to speak, but he stopped her, bowed, and left the room.
He was more astonished and sad than unhappy. He had loved her dearly
during the first period of their married life; but his ardor had cooled,
and now he often amused himself elsewhere, either in a theatre or in
society, though he always preserved a certain liking for the baroness.
She was very young, hardly four-and-twenty, small, slight--too slight--
and very fair. She was a true Parisian doll: clever, spoiled, elegant,
coquettish, witty, with more charm than real beauty. He used to say
familiarly to his brother, when speaking of her:
"My wife is charming, attractive, but--there is nothing to lay hold of.
She is like a glass of champagne that is all froth; when you get to the
wine it is very good, but there is too little of it, unfortunately."
He walked up and down the room in great agitation, thinking of a thousand
things. At one moment he was furious, and felt inclined to give the
marquis a good thrashing, or to slap his face publicly, in the club.
But he decided that would not do, it would not be good form; he would be
laughed at, and not his rival, and this thought wounded his vanity.
So he went to bed, but could not sleep. Paris knew in a few days that
the Baron and Baroness d'Etraille had agreed to an amicable separation on
account of incompatibility of temper. No one suspected anything, no one
laughed, and no one was astonished.
The baron, however, to avoid meeting his wife, travelled for a year, then
spent the summer at the seaside, and the autumn in shooting, returning to
Paris for the winter. He did not meet the baroness once.
He did not even know what people said about her. In any case, she took
care to respect appearances, and that was all he asked for.
He became dreadfully bored, travelled again, restored his old castle of
Villebosc, which took him two years; then for over a year he entertained
friends there, till at last, tired of all these so-called pleasures, he
returned to his mansion in the Rue de Lille, just six years after the
He was now forty-five, with a good crop of gray hair, rather stout, and
with that melancholy look characteristic of those who have been handsome,
sought after, and liked, but who are deteriorating, daily.
A month after his return to Paris, he took cold on coming out of his
club, and had such a bad cough that his medical man ordered him to Nice
for the rest of the winter.
He reached the station only a few minutes before the departure of the
train on Monday evening, and had barely time to get into a carriage, with
only one other occupant, who was sitting in a corner so wrapped in furs
and cloaks that he could not even make out whether it was a man or a
woman, as nothing of the figure could be seen. When he perceived that he
could not find out, he put on his travelling cap, rolled himself up in
his rugs, and stretched out comfortably to sleep.
He did not wake until the day was breaking, and looked at once at his
fellow-traveller, who had not stirred all night, and seemed still to be
M. d'Etraille made use of the opportunity to brush his hair and his
beard, and to try to freshen himself up a little generally, for a night's
travel does not improve one's appearance when one has attained a certain
A great poet has said:
"When we are young, our mornings are triumphant!"
Then we wake up with a cool skin, a bright eye, and glossy hair.
As one grows older one wakes up in a very different condition. Dull
eyes, red, swollen cheeks, dry lips, hair and beard disarranged, impart
an old, fatigued, worn-out look to the face.
The baron opened his travelling case, and improved his looks as much as
The engine whistled, the train stopped, and his neighbor moved. No doubt
he was awake. They started off again, and then a slanting ray of
sunlight shone into the carriage and on the sleeper, who moved again,
shook himself, and then his face could be seen.
It was a young, fair, pretty, plump woman, and the baron looked at her in
amazement. He did not know what to think. He could really have sworn
that it was his wife, but wonderfully changed for the better: stouter--
why she had grown as stout as he was, only it suited her much better than
it did him.
She looked at him calmly, did not seem to recognize him, and then slowly
laid aside her wraps. She had that quiet assurance of a woman who is
sure of herself, who feels that on awaking she is in her full beauty and
The baron was really bewildered. Was it his wife, or else as like her as
any sister could be? Not having seen her for six years, he might be
She yawned, and this gesture betrayed her. She turned and looked at him
again, calmly, indifferently, as if she scarcely saw him, and then looked
out of the window again.
He was upset and dreadfully perplexed, and kept looking at her sideways.
Yes; it was surely his wife. How could he possibly have doubted it?
There could certainly not be two noses like that, and a thousand
recollections flashed through his mind. He felt the old feeling of the
intoxication of love stealing over him, and he called to mind the sweet
odor of her skin, her smile when she put her arms on to his shoulders,
the soft intonations of her voice, all her graceful, coaxing ways.
But how she had changed and improved! It was she and yet not she. She
seemed riper, more developed, more of a woman, more seductive, more
desirable, adorably desirable.
And this strange, unknown woman, whom he had accidentally met in a
railway carriage, belonged to him; he had only to say to her:
"I insist upon it."
He had formerly slept in her arms, existed only in her love, and now he
had found her again certainly, but so changed that he scarcely knew her.
It was another, and yet it was she herself. It was some one who had been
born and had formed and grown since he had left her. It was she, indeed;
she whom he had loved, but who was now altered, with a more assured smile
and greater self-possession. There were two women in one, mingling a
great part of what was new and unknown with many sweet recollections of
the past. There was something singular, disturbing, exciting about it
--a kind of mystery of love in which there floated a delicious confusion.
It was his wife in a new body and in new flesh which lips had never
And he thought that in a few years nearly every thing changes in us; only
the outline can be recognized, and sometimes even that disappears.
The blood, the hair, the skin, all changes and is renewed, and when
people have not seen each other for a long time, when they meet they find
each other totally different beings, although they are the same and bear
the same name.
And the heart also can change. Ideas may be modified and renewed, so
that in forty years of life we may, by gradual and constant
transformations, become four or five totally new and different beings.
He dwelt on this thought till it troubled him; it had first taken
possession of him when he surprised her in the princess' room. He was
not the least angry; it was not the same woman that he was looking at--
that thin, excitable little doll of those days.
What was he to do? How should he address her? and what could he say to
her? Had she recognized him?
The train stopped again. He got up, bowed, and said: "Bertha, do you
want anything I could bring you?"
She looked at him from head to foot, and answered, without showing the
slightest surprise, or confusion, or anger, but with the most perfect
"I do not want anything---thank you."
He got out and walked up and down the platform a little in order to
recover himself, and, as it were, to recover his senses after a fall.
What should he do now? If he got into another carriage it would look as
if he were running away. Should he be polite or importunate? That would
look as if he were asking for forgiveness. Should he speak as if he were
her master? He would look like a fool, and, besides, he really had no
right to do so.
He got in again and took his place.
During his absence she had hastily arranged her dress and hair, and was
now lying stretched out on the seat, radiant, and without showing any
He turned to her, and said: "My dear Bertha, since this singular chance
has brought up together after a separation of six years--a quite friendly
separation--are we to continue to look upon each other as irreconcilable
enemies? We are shut up together, tete-d-tete, which is so much the
better or so much the worse. I am not going to get into another
carriage, so don't you think it is preferable to talk as friends till the
end of our journey?"
She answered, quite calmly again:
"Just as you please."
Then he suddenly stopped, really not knowing what to say; but as he had
plenty of assurance, he sat down on the middle seat, and said:
"Well, I see I must pay my court to you; so much the better. It is,
however, really a pleasure, for you are charming. You cannot imagine how
you have improved in the last six years. I do not know any woman who
could give me that delightful sensation which I experienced just now when
you emerged from your wraps. I really could not have thought such a
Without moving her head or looking at him, she said: "I cannot say the
same with regard to you; you have certainly deteriorated a great deal."
He got red and confused, and then, with a smile of resignation, he said:
"You are rather hard."
"Why?" was her reply. "I am only stating facts. I don't suppose you
intend to offer me your love? It must, therefore, be a matter of perfect
indifference to you what I think about you. But I see it is a painful
subject, so let us talk of something else. What have you been doing
since I last saw you?"
He felt rather out of countenance, and stammered:
"I? I have travelled, done some shooting, and grown old, as you see.
She said, quite calmly: "I have taken care of appearances, as you ordered
He was very nearly saying something brutal, but he checked himself; and
kissed his wife's hand:
"And I thank you," he said.
She was surprised. He was indeed diplomatic, and always master of
He went on: "As you have acceded to my first request, shall we now talk
without any bitterness?"
She made a little movement of surprise.
"Bitterness? I don't feel any; you are a complete stranger to me; I am
only trying to keep up a difficult conversation."
He was still looking at her, fascinated in spite of her harshness, and he
felt seized with a brutal Beside, the desire of the master.
Perceiving that she had hurt his feelings, she said:
"How old are you now? I thought you were younger than you look."
"I am forty-five"; and then he added: "I forgot to ask after Princesse de
Raynes. Are you still intimate with her?"
She looked at him as if she hated him:
"Yes, I certainly am. She is very well, thank you."
They remained sitting side by side, agitated and irritated. Suddenly he
"My dear Bertha, I have changed my mind. You are my wife, and I expect
you to come with me to-day. You have, I think, improved both morally and
physically, and I am going to take you back again. I am your husband,
and it is my right to do so."
She was stupefied, and looked at him, trying to divine his thoughts; but
his face was resolute and impenetrable.
"I am very sorry," she said, "but I have made other engagements."
"So much the worse for you," was his reply. "The law gives me the power,
and I mean to use it."
They were nearing Marseilles, and the train whistled and slackened speed.
The baroness rose, carefully rolled up her wraps, and then, turning to
her husband, said:
"My dear Raymond, do not make a bad use of this tete-a tete which I had
carefully prepared. I wished to take precautions, according to your
advice, so that I might have nothing to fear from you or from other
people, whatever might happen. You are going to Nice, are you not?"
"I shall go wherever you go."
"Not at all; just listen to me, and I am sure that you will leave me in
peace. In a few moments, when we get to the station, you will see the
Princesse de Raynes and Comtesse Henriot waiting for me with their
husbands. I wished them to see as, and to know that we had spent the
night together in the railway carriage. Don't be alarmed; they will tell
it everywhere as a most surprising fact.
"I told you just now that I had most carefully followed your advice and
saved appearances. Anything else does not matter, does it? Well, in
order to do so, I wished to be seen with you. You told me carefully to
avoid any scandal, and I am avoiding it, for, I am afraid--I am afraid--"
She waited till the train had quite stopped, and as her friends ran up to
open the carriage door, she said:
"I am afraid"--hesitating--"that there is another reason--je suis
The princess stretched out her arms to embrace her,--and the baroness
said, painting to the baron, who was dumb with astonishment, and was
trying to get at the truth:
"You do not recognize Raymond? He has certainly changed a good deal, and
he agreed to come with me so that I might not travel alone. We take
little trips like this occasionally, like good friends who cannot live
together. We are going to separate here; he has had enough of me
She put out her hand, which he took mechanically, and then she jumped out
on to the platform among her friends, who were waiting for her.
The baron hastily shut the carriage door, for he was too much disturbed
to say a word or come to any determination. He heard his wife's voice
and their merry laughter as they went away.
He never saw her again, nor did he ever discover whether she had told him
a lie or was speaking the truth.
THE BLIND MAN
How is it that the sunlight gives us such joy? Why does this radiance
when it falls on the earth fill us with the joy of living? The whole sky
is blue, the fields are green, the houses all white, and our enchanted
eyes drink in those bright colors which bring delight to our souls. And
then there springs up in our hearts a desire to dance, to run, to sing,
a happy lightness of thought, a sort of enlarged tenderness; we feel a
longing to embrace the sun.
The blind, as they sit in the doorways, impassive in their eternal
darkness, remain as calm as ever in the midst of this fresh gaiety, and,
not understanding what is taking place around them, they continually
check their dogs as they attempt to play.
When, at the close of the day, they are returning home on the arm of a
young brother or a little sister, if the child says: "It was a very fine
day!" the other answers: "I could notice that it was fine. Loulou
wouldn't keep quiet."
I knew one of these men whose life was one of the most cruel martyrdoms
that could possibly be conceived.
He was a peasant, the son of a Norman farmer. As long as his father and
mother lived, he was more or less taken care of; he suffered little save
from his horrible infirmity; but as soon as the old people were gone, an
atrocious life of misery commenced for him. Dependent on a sister of
his, everybody in the farmhouse treated him as a beggar who is eating the
bread of strangers. At every meal the very food he swallowed was made a
subject of reproach against him; he was called a drone, a clown, and
although his brother-in-law had taken possession of his portion of the
inheritance, he was helped grudgingly to soup, getting just enough to
save him from starving.
His face was very pale and his two big white eyes looked like wafers.
He remained unmoved at all the insults hurled at him, so reserved that
one could not tell whether he felt them.
Moreover, he had never known any tenderness, his mother having always
treated him unkindly and caring very little for him; for in country
places useless persons are considered a nuisance, and the peasants would
be glad to kill the infirm of their species, as poultry do.
As soon as he finished his soup he went and sat outside the door in
summer and in winter beside the fireside, and did not stir again all the
evening. He made no gesture, no movement; only his eyelids, quivering
from some nervous affection, fell down sometimes over his white,
sightless orbs. Had he any intellect, any thinking faculty, any
consciousness of his own existence? Nobody cared to inquire.
For some years things went on in this fashion. But his incapacity for
work as well as his impassiveness eventually exasperated his relatives,
and he became a laughingstock, a sort of butt for merriment, a prey to
the inborn ferocity, to the savage gaiety of the brutes who surrounded
It is easy to imagine all the cruel practical jokes inspired by his
blindness. And, in order to have some fun in return for feeding him,
they now converted his meals into hours of pleasure for the neighbors and
of punishment for the helpless creature himself.
The peasants from the nearest houses came to this entertainment; it was
talked about from door to door, and every day the kitchen of the
farmhouse was full of people. Sometimes they placed before his plate,
when he was beginning to eat his soup, some cat or dog. The animal
instinctively perceived the man's infirmity, and, softly approaching,
commenced eating noiselessly, lapping up the soup daintily; and, when
they lapped the food rather noisily, rousing the poor fellow's attention,
they would prudently scamper away to avoid the blow of the spoon directed
at random by the blind man!
Then the spectators ranged along the wall would burst out laughing, nudge
each other and stamp their feet on the floor. And he, without ever
uttering a word, would continue eating with his right hand, while
stretching out his left to protect his plate.
Another time they made him chew corks, bits of wood, leaves or even
filth, which he was unable to distinguish.
After this they got tired even of these practical jokes, and the brother-
in-law, angry at having to support him always, struck him, cuffed him
incessantly, laughing at his futile efforts to ward off or return the
blows. Then came a new pleasure--the pleasure of smacking his face. And
the plough-men, the servant girls and even every passing vagabond were
every moment giving him cuffs, which caused his eyelashes to twitch
spasmodically. He did not know where to hide himself and remained with
his arms always held out to guard against people coming too close to him.
At last he was forced to beg.
He was placed somewhere on the high-road on market-days, and as soon as
he heard the sound of footsteps or the rolling of a vehicle, he reached
out his hat, stammering:
"Charity, if you please!"
But the peasant is not lavish, and for whole weeks he did not bring back
Then he became the victim of furious, pitiless hatred. And this is how
One winter the ground was covered with snow, and it was freezing hard.
His brother-in-law led him one morning a great distance along the high
road in order that he might solicit alms. The blind man was left there
all day; and when night came on, the brother-in-law told the people of
his house that he could find no trace of the mendicant. Then he added:
"Pooh! best not bother about him! He was cold and got someone to take
him away. Never fear! he's not lost. He'll turn up soon enough tomorrow
to eat the soup."
Next day he did not come back.
After long hours of waiting, stiffened with the cold, feeling that he was
dying, the blind man began to walk. Being unable to find his way along
the road, owing to its thick coating of ice, he went on at random,
falling into ditches, getting up again, without uttering a sound, his
sole object being to find some house where he could take shelter.
But, by degrees, the descending snow made a numbness steal over him, and
his feeble limbs being incapable of carrying him farther, he sat down in
the middle of an open field. He did not get up again.
The white flakes which fell continuously buried him, so that his body,
quite stiff and stark, disappeared under the incessant accumulation of
their rapidly thickening mass, and nothing was left to indicate the place
where he lay.
His relatives made a pretence of inquiring about him and searching for
him for about a week. They even made a show of weeping.
The winter was severe, and the thaw did not set in quickly. Now, one
Sunday, on their way to mass, the farmers noticed a great flight of
crows, who were whirling incessantly above the open field, and then
descending like a shower of black rain at the same spot, ever going and
The following week these gloomy birds were still there. There was a
crowd of them up in the air, as if they had gathered from all corners of
the horizon, and they swooped down with a great cawing into the shining
snow, which they covered like black patches, and in which they kept
pecking obstinately. A young fellow went to see what they were doing and
discovered the body of the blind man, already half devoured, mangled.
His wan eyes had disappeared, pecked out by the long, voracious beaks.
And I can never feel the glad radiance of sunlit days without sadly
remembering and pondering over the fate of the beggar who was such an
outcast in life that his horrible death was a relief to all who had
They had loved each other before marriage with a pure and lofty love.
They had first met on the sea-shore. He had thought this young girl
charming, as she passed by with her light-colored parasol and her dainty
dress amid the marine landscape against the horizon. He had loved her,
blond and slender, in these surroundings of blue ocean and spacious sky.
He could not distinguish the tenderness which this budding woman awoke in
him from the vague and powerful emotion which the fresh salt air and the
grand scenery of surf and sunshine and waves aroused in his soul.
She, on the other hand, had loved him because he courted her, because he
was young, rich, kind, and attentive. She had loved him because it is
natural for young girls to love men who whisper sweet nothings to them.
So, for three months, they had lived side by side, and hand in hand.
The greeting which they exchanged in the morning before the bath, in the
freshness of the morning, or in the evening on the sand, under the stars,
in the warmth of a calm night, whispered low, very low, already had the
flavor of kisses, though their lips had never met.
Each dreamed of the other at night, each thought of the other on awaking,
and, without yet having voiced their sentiments, each longer for the
other, body and soul.
After marriage their love descended to earth. It was at first a
tireless, sensuous passion, then exalted tenderness composed of tangible
poetry, more refined caresses, and new and foolish inventions. Every
glance and gesture was an expression of passion.
But, little by little, without even noticing it, they began to get tired
of each other. Love was still strong, but they had nothing more to
reveal to each other, nothing more to learn from each other, no new tale
of endearment, no unexpected outburst, no new way of expressing the well-
known, oft-repeated verb.
They tried, however, to rekindle the dwindling flame of the first love.
Every day they tried some new trick or desperate attempt to bring back to
their hearts the uncooled ardor of their first days of married life.
They tried moonlight walks under the trees, in the sweet warmth of the
summer evenings: the poetry of mist-covered beaches; the excitement of
One morning Henriette said to Paul:
"Will you take me to a cafe for dinner?"
"To some well-known cafe?"
He looked at her with a questioning glance, seeing that she was thinking
of something which she did not wish to tell.
She went on:
"You know, one of those cafes--oh, how can I explain myself?--a sporty
He smiled: "Of course, I understand--you mean in one of the cafes which
are commonly called bohemian."
"Yes, that's it. But take me to one of the big places, one where you are
known, one where you have already supped--no--dined--well, you know--I---
-I--oh! I will never dare say it!"
"Go ahead, dearie. Little secrets should no longer exist between us."
"No, I dare not."
"Go on; don't be prudish. Tell me."
"Well, I--I--I want to be taken for your sweetheart--there! and I want
the boys, who do not know that you are married, to take me for such; and
you too--I want you to think that I am your sweetheart for one hour, in
that place which must hold so many memories for you. There! And I will
play that I am your sweetheart. It's awful, I know--I am abominably
ashamed, I am as red as a peony. Don't look at me!"
He laughed, greatly amused, and answered:
"All right, we will go to-night to a very swell place where I am well
Toward seven o'clock they went up the stairs of one of the big cafes on
the Boulevard, he, smiling, with the look of a conqueror, she, timid,
veiled, delighted. They were immediately shown to one of the luxurious
private dining-rooms, furnished with four large arm-chairs and a red
plush couch. The head waiter entered and brought them the menu. Paul
handed it to his wife.
"What do you want to eat?"
"I don't care; order whatever is good."
After handing his coat to the waiter, he ordered dinner and champagne.
The waiter looked at the young woman and smiled. He took the order and
"Will Monsieur Paul have his champagne sweet or dry?"
"Dry, very dry."
Henriette was pleased to hear that this man knew her husband's name.
They sat on the couch, side by side, and began to eat.
Ten candles lighted the room and were reflected in the mirrors all around
them, which seemed to increase the brilliancy a thousand-fold.
Henriette drank glass after glass in order to keep up her courage,
although she felt dizzy after the first few glasses. Paul, excited by
the memories which returned to him, kept kissing his wife's hands. His
eyes were sparkling.
She was feeling strangely excited in this new place, restless, pleased,
a little guilty, but full of life. Two waiters, serious, silent,
accustomed to seeing and forgetting everything, to entering the room only
when it was necessary and to leaving it when they felt they were
intruding, were silently flitting hither and thither.
Toward the middle of the dinner, Henriette was well under the influence
of champagne. She was prattling along fearlessly, her cheeks flushed,
her eyes glistening.
"Come, Paul; tell me everything."
"I don't dare tell you."
"Have you loved many women before me?"
He hesitated, a little perplexed, not knowing whether he should hide his
adventures or boast of them.
"Oh! please tell me. How many have you loved?"
"I don't know. How do you expect me to know such things?"
"Haven't you counted them?"
"Of course not."
"Then you must have loved a good many!"
"About how many? Just tell me about how many."
"But I don't know, dearest. Some years a good many, and some years only
"How many a year, did you say?"
"Sometimes twenty or thirty, sometimes only four or five."
"Oh! that makes more than a hundred in all!"
"Yes, just about."
"Oh! I think that is dreadful!"
"Because it's dreadful when you think of it--all those women--and always
--always the same thing. Oh! it's dreadful, just the same--more than a
He was surprised that she should think that dreadful, and answered, with
the air of superiority which men take with women when they wish to make
them understand that they have said something foolish:
"That's funny! If it is dreadful to have a hundred women, it's dreadful
to have one."
"Oh, no, not at all!"
"Because with one woman you have a real bond of love which attaches you
to her, while with a hundred women it's not the same at all. There is no
real love. I don't understand how a man can associate with such women."
"But they are all right."
"No, they can't be!"
"Yes, they are!"
"Oh, stop; you disgust me!"
"But then, why did you ask me how many sweethearts I had had?"
"That's no reason!"
"What were they-actresses, little shop-girls, or society women?"
"A few of each."
"It must have been rather monotonous toward the last."
"Oh, no; it's amusing to change."
She remained thoughtful, staring at her champagne glass. It was full--
she drank it in one gulp; then putting it back on the table, she threw
her arms around her husband's neck and murmured in his ear:
"Oh! how I love you, sweetheart! how I love you!"
He threw his arms around her in a passionate embrace. A waiter, who was
just entering, backed out, closing the door discreetly. In about five
minutes the head waiter came back, solemn and dignified, bringing the
fruit for dessert. She was once more holding between her fingers a full
glass, and gazing into the amber liquid as though seeking unknown things.
She murmured in a dreamy voice:
"Yes, it must be fun!"
A FAMILY AFFAIR
The small engine attached to the Neuilly steam-tram whistled as it passed
the Porte Maillot to warn all obstacles to get out of its way and puffed
like a person out of breath as it sent out its steam, its pistons moving
rapidly with a noise as of iron legs running. The train was going along
the broad avenue that ends at the Seine. The sultry heat at the close of
a July day lay over the whole city, and from the road, although there was
not a breath of wind stirring, there arose a white, chalky, suffocating,
warm dust, which adhered to the moist skin, filled the eyes and got into
the lungs. People stood in the doorways of their houses to try and get a
breath of air.
The windows of the steam-tram were open and the curtains fluttered in the
wind. There were very few passengers inside, because on warm days people
preferred the outside or the platforms. They consisted of stout women in
peculiar costumes, of those shopkeepers' wives from the suburbs, who made
up for the distinguished looks which they did not possess by ill-assumed
dignity; of men tired from office-work, with yellow faces, stooped
shoulders, and with one shoulder higher than the other, in consequence
of, their long hours of writing at a desk. Their uneasy and melancholy
faces also spoke of domestic troubles, of constant want of money,
disappointed hopes, for they all belonged to the army of poor, threadbare
devils who vegetate economically in cheap, plastered houses with a tiny
piece of neglected garden on the outskirts of Paris, in the midst of
those fields where night soil is deposited.
A short, corpulent man, with a puffy face, dressed all in black and
wearing a decoration in his buttonhole, was talking to a tall, thin man,
dressed in a dirty, white linen suit, the coat all unbuttoned, with a
white Panama hat on his head. The former spoke so slowly and
hesitatingly that it occasionally almost seemed as if he stammered; he
was Monsieur Caravan, chief clerk in the Admiralty. The other, who had
formerly been surgeon on board a merchant ship, had set up in practice in
Courbevoie, where he applied the vague remnants of medical knowledge
which he had retained after an adventurous life, to the wretched
population of that district. His name was Chenet, and strange rumors
were current as to his morality.
Monsieur Caravan had always led the normal life of a man in a Government
office. For the last thirty years he had invariably gone the same way to
his office every morning, and had met the same men going to business at
the same time, and nearly on the same spot, and he returned home every
evening by the same road, and again met the same faces which he had seen
growing old. Every morning, after buying his penny paper at the corner
of the Faubourg Saint Honore, he bought two rolls, and then went to his
office, like a culprit who is giving himself up to justice, and got to
his desk as quickly as possible, always feeling uneasy; as though he were
expecting a rebuke for some neglect of duty of which he might have been
Nothing had ever occurred to change the monotonous order of his
existence, for no event affected him except the work of his office,
perquisites, gratuities, and promotion. He never spoke of anything but
of his duties, either at the office, or at home--he had married the
portionless daughter of one of his colleagues. His mind, which was in a
state of atrophy from his depressing daily work, had no other thoughts,
hopes or dreams than such as related to the office, and there was a
constant source of bitterness that spoilt every pleasure that he might
have had, and that was the employment of so many naval officials,
tinsmiths, as they were called because of their silver-lace as first-
class clerks; and every evening at dinner he discussed the matter hotly
with his wife, who shared his angry feelings, and proved to their own
satisfaction that it was in every way unjust to give places in Paris to
men who ought properly to have been employed in the navy.
He was old now, and had scarcely noticed how his life was passing, for
school had merely been exchanged for the office without any intermediate
transition, and the ushers, at whom he had formerly trembled, were
replaced by his chiefs, of whom he was terribly afraid. When he had to
go into the rooms of these official despots, it made him tremble from
head to foot, and that constant fear had given him a very awkward manner
in their presence, a humble demeanor, and a kind of nervous stammering.
He knew nothing more about Paris than a blind man might know who was led
to the same spot by his dog every day; and if he read the account of any
uncommon events or scandals in his penny paper, they appeared to him like
fantastic tales, which some pressman had made up out of his own head, in
order to amuse the inferior employees. He did not read the political
news, which his paper frequently altered as the cause which subsidized it
might require, for he was not fond of innovations, and when he went
through the Avenue of the Champs-Elysees every evening, he looked at the
surging crowd of pedestrians, and at the stream of carriages, as a
traveller might who has lost his way in a strange country.
As he had completed his thirty years of obligatory service that year, on
the first of January, he had had the cross of the Legion of Honor
bestowed upon him, which, in the semi-military public offices, is a
recompense for the miserable slavery--the official phrase is, loyal
services--of unfortunate convicts who are riveted to their desk. That
unexpected dignity gave him a high and new idea of his own capacities,
and altogether changed him. He immediately left off wearing light
trousers and fancy waistcoats, and wore black trousers and long coats, on
which his ribbon, which was very broad, showed off better. He got shaved
every morning, manicured his nails more carefully, changed his linen
every two days, from a legitimate sense of what was proper, and out of
respect for the national Order, of which he formed a part, and from that
day he was another Caravan, scrupulously clean, majestic and
At home, he said, "my cross," at every moment, and he had become so proud
of it, that he could not bear to see men wearing any other ribbon in
their button-holes. He became especially angry on seeing strange orders:
"Which nobody ought to be allowed to wear in France," and he bore Chenet
a particular grudge, as he met him on a tram-car every evening, wearing a
decoration of one kind or another, white, blue, orange, or green.
The conversation of the two men, from the Arc de Triomphe to Neuilly, was
always the same, and on that day they discussed, first of all, various
local abuses which disgusted them both, and the Mayor of Neuilly received
his full share of their censure. Then, as invariably happens in the
company of medical man Caravan began to enlarge on the chapter of
illness, as in that manner, he hoped to obtain a little gratuitous
advice, if he was careful not to show his hand. His mother had been
causing him no little anxiety for some time; she had frequent and
prolonged fainting fits, and, although she was ninety, she would not take
care of herself.
Caravan grew quite tender-hearted when he mentioned her great age, and
more than once asked Doctor Chenet, emphasizing the word doctor--although
he was not fully qualified, being only an Offcier de Sante--whether he
had often met anyone as old as that. And he rubbed his hands with
pleasure; not, perhaps, that he cared very much about seeing the good
woman last forever here on earth, but because the long duration of his
mother's life was, as it were an earnest of old age for himself, and he
"In my family, we last long, and I am sure that, unless I meet with an
accident, I shall not die until I am very old."
The doctor looked at him with pity, and glanced for a moment at his
neighbor's red face, his short, thick neck, his "corporation," as Chenet
called it to himself, his two fat, flabby legs, and the apoplectic
rotundity of the old official; and raising the white Panama hat from his
head, he said with a snigger:
"I am not so sure of that, old fellow; your mother is as tough as nails,
and I should say that your life is not a very good one."
This rather upset Caravan, who did not speak again until the tram put
them down at their destination, where the two friends got out, and Chenet
asked his friend to have a glass of vermouth at the Cafe du Globe,
opposite, which both of them were in the habit of frequenting. The
proprietor, who was a friend of theirs, held out to them two fingers,
which they shook across the bottles of the counter; and then they joined
three of their friends, who were playing dominoes, and who had been there
since midday. They exchanged cordial greetings, with the usual question:
"Anything new?" And then the three players continued their game, and
held out their hands without looking up, when the others wished them
"Good-night," and then they both went home to dinner.
Caravan lived in a small two-story house in Courbevaie, near where the
roads meet; the ground floor was occupied by a hair-dresser. Two bed
rooms, a dining-room and a kitchen, formed the whole of their apartments,
and Madame Caravan spent nearly her whole time in cleaning them up, while
her daughter, Marie-Louise, who was twelve, and her son, Phillip-Auguste,
were running about with all the little, dirty, mischievous brats of the
neighborhood, and playing in the gutter.
Caravan had installed his mother, whose avarice was notorious in the
neighborhood, and who was terribly thin, in the room above them. She was
always cross, and she never passed a day without quarreling and flying
into furious tempers. She would apostrophize the neighbors, who were
standing at their own doors, the coster-mongers, the street-sweepers, and
the street-boys, in the most violent language; and the latter, to have
their revenge, used to follow her at a distance when she went out, and
call out rude things after her.
A little servant from Normandy, who was incredibly giddy and thoughtless,
performed the household work, and slept on the second floor in the same
room as the old woman, for fear of anything happening to her in the
When Caravan got in, his wife, who suffered from a chronic passion for
cleaning, was polishing up the mahogany chairs that were scattered about
the room with a piece of flannel. She always wore cotton gloves, and
adorned her head with a cap ornamented with many colored ribbons, which
was always tilted over one ear; and whenever anyone caught her polishing,
sweeping, or washing, she used to say:
"I am not rich; everything is very simple in my house, but cleanliness is
my luxury, and that is worth quite as much as any other."
As she was gifted with sound, obstinate, practical common sense, she led
her husband in everything. Every evening during dinner, and afterwards
when they were in their room, they talked over the business of the office
for a long time, and although she was twenty years younger than he was,
he confided everything to her as if she took the lead, and followed her
advice in every matter.
She had never been pretty, and now she had grown ugly; in addition to
that, she was short and thin, while her careless and tasteless way of
dressing herself concealed her few small feminine attractions, which
might have been brought out if she had possessed any taste in dress.
Her skirts were always awry, and she frequently scratched herself, no
matter on what part of her person, totally indifferent as to who might
see her, and so persistently, that anyone who saw her might think that
she was suffering from something like the itch. The only adornments that
she allowed herself were silk ribbons, which she had in great profusion,
and of various colors mixed together, in the pretentious caps which she
wore at home.
As soon as she saw her husband she rose and said, as she kissed his
"Did you remember Potin, my dear?"
He fell into a chair, in consternation, for that was the fourth time on
which he had forgotten a commission that he had promised to do for her.
"It is a fatality," he said; "it is no good for me to think of it all day
long, for I am sure to forget it in the evening."
But as he seemed really so very sorry, she merely said, quietly:
"You will think of it to-morrow, I dare say. Anything new at the
"Yes, a great piece of news; another tinsmith has been appointed second
chief clerk." She became very serious, and said:
"So he succeeds Ramon; this was the very post that I wanted you to have.
And what about Ramon?"
"He retires on his pension."
She became furious, her cap slid down on her shoulder, and she continued:
"There is nothing more to be done in that shop now. And what is the name
of the new commissioner?"
She took up the Naval Year Book, which she always kept close at hand, and
looked him up.
"'Bonassot-Toulon. Born in 1851. Student Commissioner in 1871. Sub-
Commissioner in 1875.' Has he been to sea?" she continued. At that
question Caravan's looks cleared up, and he laughed until his sides
"As much as Balin--as much as Baffin, his chief." And he added an old
office joke, and laughed more than ever:
"It would not even do to send them by water to inspect the Point-du-Jour,
for they would be sick on the penny steamboats on the Seine."
But she remained as serious as if she had not heard him, and then she
said in a low voice, as she scratched her chin:
"If we only had a Deputy to fall back upon. When the Chamber hears
everything that is going on at the Admiralty, the Minister will be turned
She was interrupted by a terrible noise on the stairs. Marie-Louise and
Philippe-Auguste, who had just come in from the gutter, were slapping
each other all the way upstairs. Their mother rushed at them furiously,
and taking each of them by an arm she dragged them into the room, shaking
them vigorously; but as soon as they saw their father, they rushed up to
him, and he kissed them affectionately, and taking one of them on each
knee, began to talk to them.
Philippe-Auguste was an ugly, ill-kempt little brat, dirty from head to
foot, with the face of an idiot, and Marie-Louise was already like her
mother--spoke like her, repeated her words, and even imitated her
movements. She also asked him whether there was anything fresh at the
office, and he replied merrily:
"Your friend, Ramon, who comes and dines here every Sunday, is going to
leave us, little one. There is a new second head-clerk."
She looked at her father, and with a precocious child's pity, she said:
"Another man has been put over your head again."
He stopped laughing, and did not reply, and in order to create a
diversion, he said, addressing his wife, who was cleaning the windows:
"How is mamma, upstairs?"
Madame Caravan left off rubbing, turned round. pulled her cap up, as it
had fallen quite on to her back, and said with trembling lips:
"Ah! yes; let us talk about your mother, for she has made a pretty
scene. Just imagine: a short time ago Madame Lebaudin, the hairdresser's
wife, came upstairs to borrow a packet of starch of me, and, as I was not
at home, your mother chased her out as though she were a beggar; but I
gave it to the old woman. She pretended not to hear, as she always does
when one tells her unpleasant truths, but she is no more deaf than I am,
as you know. It is all a sham, and the proof of it is, that she went up
to her own room immediately, without saying a word."
Caravan, embarrassed, did not utter a word, and at that moment the little
servant came in to announce dinner. In order to let his mother know, he
took a broom-handle, which always stood in a corner, and rapped loudly on
the ceiling three times, and then they went into the dining-room. Madame
Caravan, junior, helped the soup, and waited for the old woman, but she
did not come, and as the soup was getting cold, they began to eat slowly,
and when their plates were empty, they waited again, and Madame Caravan,
who was furious, attacked her husband:
"She does it on purpose, you know that as well as I do. But you always
Not knowing which side to take, he sent Marie-Louise to fetch her
grandmother, and he sat motionless, with his eyes cast down, while his
wife tapped her glass angrily with her knife. In about a minute, the
door flew open suddenly, and the child came in again, out of breath and
very pale, and said hurriedly:
"Grandmamma has fallen on the floor."
Caravan jumped up, threw his table-napkin down, and rushed upstairs,
while his wife, who thought it was some trick of her mother-in-law's,
followed more slowly, shrugging her shoulders, as if to express her
doubt. When they got upstairs, however, they found the old woman lying
at full length in the middle of the room; and when they turned her over,
they saw that she was insensible and motionless, while her skin looked
more wrinkled and yellow than usual, her eyes were closed, her teeth
clenched, and her thin body was stiff.
Caravan knelt down by her, and began to moan.
"My poor mother! my poor mother!" he said. But the other Madame Caravan
"Bah! She has only fainted again, that is all, and she has done it to
prevent us from dining comfortably, you may be sure of that."
They put her on the bed, undressed her completely, and Caravan, his wife,
and the servant began to rub her; but, in spite of their efforts, she did
not recover consciousness, so they sent Rosalie, the servant, to fetch
Doctor Chenet. He lived a long way off, on the quay, going towards
Suresnes, and so it was a considerable time before he arrived. He came
at last, however, and, after having looked at the old woman, felt her
pulse, and listened for a heart beat, he said: "It is all over."
Caravan threw himself on the body, sobbing violently; he kissed his
mother's rigid face, and wept so that great tears fell on the dead
woman's face like drops of water, and, naturally, Madame Caravan, junior,
showed a decorous amount of grief, and uttered feeble moans as she stood
behind her husband, while she rubbed her eyes vigorously.
But, suddenly, Caravan raised himself up, with his thin hair in disorder,
and, looking very ugly in his grief, said:
"But--are you sure, doctor? Are you quite sure?"
The doctor stooped over the body, and, handling it with professional
dexterity, as a shopkeeper might do, when showing off his goods, he said:
"See, my dear friend, look at her eye."
He raised the eyelid, and the old woman's eye appeared altogether
unaltered, unless, perhaps, the pupil was rather larger, and Caravan felt
a severe shock at the sight. Then Monsieur Chenet took her thin arm,
forced the fingers open, and said, angrily, as if he had been
"Just look at her hand; I never make a mistake, you may be quite sure of
Caravan fell on the bed, and almost bellowed, while his wife, still
whimpering, did what was necessary.
She brought the night-table, on which she spread a towel and placed four
wax candles on it, which she lighted; then she took a sprig of box, which
was hanging over the chimney glass, and put it between the four candles,
in a plate, which she filled with clean water, as she had no holy water.
But, after a moment's rapid reflection, she threw a pinch of salt into
the water, no doubt thinking she was performing some sort of act of
consecration by doing that, and when she had finished, she remained
standing motionless, and the doctor, who had been helping her, whispered
"We must take Caravan away."
She nodded assent, and, going up to her husband, who was still on his
knees, sobbing, she raised him up by one arm, while Chenet took him by
They put him into a chair, and his wife kissed his forehead, and then
began to lecture him. Chenet enforced her words and preached firmness,
courage, and resignation--the very things which are always wanting in
such overwhelming misfortunes--and then both of them took him by the arms
again and led him out.
He was crying like a great child, with convulsive sobs; his arms hanging
down, and his legs weak, and he went downstairs without knowing what he
was doing, and moving his feet mechanically. They put him into the chair
which he always occupied at dinner, in front of his empty soup plate.
And there he sat, without moving, his eyes fixed on his glass, and so
stupefied with grief, that he could not even think.
In a corner, Madame Caravan was talking with the doctor and asking what
the necessary formalities were, as she wanted to obtain practical
information. At last, Monsieur Chenet, who appeared to be waiting for
something, took up his hat and prepared to go, saying that he had not
dined yet; whereupon she exclaimed:
"What! you have not dined? Why, stay here, doctor; don't go. You shall
have whatever we have, for, of course, you understand that we do not fare
sumptuously." He made excuses and refused, but she persisted, and said:
"You really must stay; at times like this, people like to have friends
near them, and, besides that, perhaps you will be able to persuade my
husband to take some nourishment; he must keep up his strength."
The doctor bowed, and, putting down his hat, he said:
"In that case, I will accept your invitation, madame."
She gave Rosalie, who seemed to have lost her head, some orders, and then
sat down, "to pretend to eat," as she said, "to keep the doctor company."
The soup was brought in again, and Monsieur Chenet took two helpings.
Then there came a dish of tripe, which exhaled a smell of onions, and
which Madame Caravan made up her mind to taste.
"It is excellent," the doctor said, at which she smiled, and, turning to
her husband, she said:
"Do take a little, my poor Alfred, only just to put something in your
stomach. Remember that you have got to pass the night watching by her!"
He held out his plate, docilely, just as he would have gone to bed, if he
had been told to, obeying her in everything, without resistance and
without reflection, and he ate; the doctor helped himself three times,
while Madame Caravan, from time to time, fished out a large piece at the
end of her fork, and swallowed it with a sort of studied indifference.
When a salad bowl full of macaroni was brought in, the doctor said:
"By Jove! That is what I am very fond of." And this time, Madame
Caravan helped everybody. She even filled the saucers that were being
scraped by the children, who, being left to themselves, had been drinking
wine without any water, and were now kicking each other under the table.
Chenet remembered that Rossini, the composer, had been very fond of that
Italian dish, and suddenly he exclaimed:
"Why! that rhymes, and one could begin some lines like this:
The Maestro Rossini
Was fond of macaroni."
Nobody listened to him, however. Madame Caravan, who had suddenly grown
thoughtful, was thinking of all the probable consequences of the event,
while her husband made bread pellets, which he put on the table-cloth,
and looked at with a fixed, idiotic stare. As he was devoured by thirst,
he was continually raising his glass full of wine to his lips, and the
consequence was that his mind, which had been upset by the shock and
grief, seemed to become vague, and his ideas danced about as digestion
The doctor, who, meanwhile, had been drinking away steadily, was getting
visibly drunk, and Madame Caravan herself felt the reaction which follows
all nervous shocks, and was agitated and excited, and, although she had
drunk nothing but water, her head felt rather confused.
Presently, Chenet began to relate stories of death that appeared comical
to him. For in that suburb of Paris, that is full of people from the
provinces, one finds that indifference towards death which all peasants
show, were it even their own father or mother; that want of respect, that
unconscious brutality which is so common in the country, and so rare in
Paris, and he said:
"Why, I was sent for last week to the Rue du Puteaux, and when I went, I
found the patient dead and the whole family calmly sitting beside the bed
finishing a bottle of aniseed cordial, which had been bought the night
before to satisfy the dying man's fancy."
But Madame Caravan was not listening; she was continually thinking of the
inheritance, and Caravan was incapable of understanding anything further.
Coffee was presently served, and it had been made very strong to give
them courage. As every cup was well flavored with cognac, it made all
their faces red, and confused their ideas still more. To make matters
still worse, Chenet suddenly seized the brandy bottle and poured out
"a drop for each of them just to wash their mouths out with," as he
termed it, and then, without speaking any more, overcome in spite of
themselves, by that feeling of animal comfort which alcohol affords after
dinner, they slowly sipped the sweet cognac, which formed a yellowish
syrup at the bottom of their cups.
The children had fallen asleep, and Rosalie carried them off to bed.
Caravan, mechanically obeying that wish to forget oneself which possesses
all unhappy persons, helped himself to brandy again several times, and
his dull eyes grew bright. At last the doctor rose to go, and seizing
his friend's arm, he said:
"Come with me; a little fresh air will do you good. When one is in
trouble, one must not remain in one spot."
The other obeyed mechanically, put on his hat, took his stick, and went
out, and both of them walked arm-in-arm towards the Seine, in the
The air was warm and sweet, for all the gardens in the neighborhood were
full of flowers at this season of the year, and their fragrance, which is
scarcely perceptible during the day, seemed to awaken at the approach of
night, and mingled with the light breezes which blew upon them in the
The broad avenue with its two rows of gas lamps, that extended as far as
the Arc de Triomphe, was deserted and silent, but there was the distant
roar of Paris, which seemed to have a reddish vapor hanging over it.
It was a kind of continual rumbling, which was at times answered by the
whistle of a train in the distance, travelling at full speed to the
ocean, through the provinces.
The fresh air on the faces of the two men rather overcame them at first,
made the doctor lose his equilibrium a little, and increased Caravan's
giddiness, from which he had suffered since dinner. He walked as if he
were in a dream; his thoughts were paralyzed, although he felt no great
grief, for he was in a state of mental torpor that prevented him from
suffering, and he even felt a sense of relief which was increased by the
mildness of the night.
When they reached the bridge, they turned to the right, and got the fresh
breeze from the river, which rolled along, calm and melancholy, bordered
by tall poplar trees, while the stars looked as if they were floating on
the water and were-moving with the current. A slight white mist that
floated over the opposite banks, filled their lungs with a sensation of
cold, and Caravan stopped suddenly, for he was struck by that smell from
the water which brought back old memories to his mind. For, in his mind,
he suddenly saw his mother again, in Picardy, as he had seen her years
before, kneeling in front of their door, and washing the heaps of linen
at her side in the stream that ran through their garden. He almost
fancied that he could hear the sound of the wooden paddle with which she
beat the linen in the calm silence of the country, and her voice, as she
called out to him: "Alfred, bring me some soap." And he smelled that
odor of running water, of the mist rising from the wet ground, that
marshy smell, which he should never forget, and which came back to him on
this very evening on which his mother had died.
He stopped, seized with a feeling of despair. A sudden flash seemed to
reveal to him the extent of his calamity, and that breath from the river
plunged him into an abyss of hopeless grief. His life seemed cut in
half, his youth disappeared, swallowed up by that death. All the former
days were over and done with, all the recollections of his youth had been
swept away; for the future, there would be nobody to talk to him of what
had happened in days gone by, of the people he had known of old, of his
own part of the country, and of his past life; that was a part of his
existence which existed no longer, and the rest might as well end now.
And then he saw "the mother" as she was when young, wearing well-worn
dresses, which he remembered for such a long time that they seemed
inseparable from her; he recollected her movements, the different tones
of her voice, her habits, her predilections, her fits of anger, the
wrinkles on her face, the movements of her thin fingers, and all her
well-known attitudes, which she would never have again, and clutching
hold of the doctor, he began to moan and weep. His thin legs began to
tremble, his whole stout body was shaken by his sobs, all he could say
"My mother, my poor mother, my poor mother!"
But his companion, who was still drunk, and who intended to finish the
evening in certain places of bad repute that he frequented secretly, made
him sit down on the grass by the riverside, and left him almost
immediately, under the pretext that he had to see a patient.
Caravan went on crying for some time, and when he had got to the end of
his tears, when his grief had, so to say, run out, he again felt relief,
repose and sudden tranquillity.
The moon had risen, and bathed the horizon in its soft light.
The tall poplar trees had a silvery sheen on them, and the mist on the
plain looked like drifting snow; the river, in which the stars were
reflected, and which had a sheen as of mother-of-pearl, was gently
rippled by the wind. The air was soft and sweet, and Caravan inhaled it
almost greedily, and thought that he could perceive a feeling of
freshness, of calm and of superhuman consolation pervading him.
He actually resisted that feeling of comfort and relief, and kept on
saying to himself: "My poor mother, my poor mother!" and tried to make
himself cry, from a kind of conscientious feeling; but he could not
succeed in doing so any longer, and those sad thoughts, which had made
him sob so bitterly a shore time before, had almost passed away. In a
few moments, he rose to go home, and returned slowly, under the influence
of that serene night, and with a heart soothed in spite of himself.
When he reached the bridge, he saw that the last tramcar was ready to
start, and behind it were the brightly lighted windows of the Cafe du
Globe. He felt a longing to tell somebody of his loss, to excite pity,
to make himself interesting. He put on a woeful face, pushed open the
door, and went up to the counter, where the landlord still was. He had
counted on creating a sensation, and had hoped that everybody would get
up and come to him. with outstretched hands, and say: "Why, what is the
matter with you?" But nobody noticed his disconsolate face, so he rested
his two elbows on the counter, and, burying his face in his hands, he
murmured: "Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu!"
The landlord looked at him and said: "Are you ill, Monsieur Caravan?"
"No, my friend," he replied, "but my mother has just died."
"Ah!" the other exclaimed, and as a customer at the other end of the
establishment asked for a glass of Bavarian beer, he went to attend to
him, leaving Caravan dumfounded at his want of sympathy.
The three domino players were sitting at the same table which they had
occupied before dinner, totally absorbed in their game, and Caravan went
up to them, in search of pity, but as none of them appeared to notice him
he made up his mind to speak.
"A great misfortune has happened to me since I was here," he said.
All three slightly raised their heads at the same instant, but keeping
their eyes fixed on the pieces which they held in their hands.
"What do you say?"
"My mother has just died"; whereupon one of them said:
"Oh! the devil," with that false air of sorrow which indifferent people
assume. Another, who could not find anything to say, emitted a sort of
sympathetic whistle, shaking his head at the same time, and the third
turned to the game again, as if he were saying to himself: "Is that all!"
Caravan had expected some of these expressions that are said to "come
from the heart," and when he saw how his news was received, he left the
table, indignant at their calmness at their friend's sorrow, although
this sorrow had stupefied him so that he scarcely felt it any longer.
When he got home his wife was waiting for him in her nightgown, and
sitting in a low chair by the open window, still thinking of the
"Undress yourself," she said; "we can go on talking."
He raised his head, and looking at the ceiling, said:
"But--there is nobody upstairs."
"I beg your pardon, Rosalie is with her, and you can go and take her
place at three o'clock in the morning, when you have had some sleep."
He only partially undressed, however, so as to be ready for anything that
might happen, and after tying a silk handkerchief round his head, he lay
down to rest, and for some time neither of them spoke. Madame Caravan
Her nightcap was adorned with a red bow, and was pushed rather to one
side, as was the way with all the caps she wore, and presently she turned
towards him and said:
"Do you know whether your mother made a will?"
He hesitated for a moment, and then replied:
"I--I do not think so. No, I am sure that she did not."
His wife looked at him, and she said, in a law, angry tone:
"I call that infamous; here we have been wearing ourselves out for ten
years in looking after her, and have boarded and lodged her! Your sister
would not have done so much for her, nor I either, if I had known how I
was to be rewarded! Yes, it is a disgrace to her memory! I dare say
that you will tell me that she paid us, but one cannot pay one's children
in ready money for what they do; that obligation is recognized after
death; at any rate, that is how honorable people act. So I have had all
my worry and trouble for nothing! Oh, that is nice! that is very nice!"
Poor Caravan, who was almost distracted, kept on repeating:
"My dear, my dear, please, please be quiet."
She grew calmer by degrees, and, resuming her usual voice and manner, she
"We must let your sister know to-morrow."
He started, and said:
"Of course we must; I had forgotten all about it; I will send her a
telegram the first thing in the morning."
"No," she replied, like a woman who had foreseen everything; "no, do not
send it before ten or eleven o'clock, so that we may have time to turn
round before she comes. It does not take more than two hours to get here
from Charenton, and we can say that you lost your head from grief. If we
let her know in the course of the day, that will be soon enough, and will
give us time to look round."
Caravan put his hand to his forehead, and, in the came timid voice in
which he always spoke of his chief, the very thought of whom made him
tremble, he said:
"I must let them know at the office."
"Why?" she replied. "On occasions like this, it is always excusable to
forget. Take my advice, and don't let him know; your chief will not be
able to say anything to you, and you will put him in a nice fix.
"Oh! yes, that I shall, and he will be in a terrible rage, too, when he
notices my absence. Yes, you are right; it is a capital idea, and when I
tell him that my mother is dead, he will be obliged to hold his tongue."
And he rubbed his hands in delight at the joke, when he thought of his
chief's face; while upstairs lay the body of the dead old woman, with the
servant asleep beside it.
But Madame Caravan grew thoughtful, as if she were preoccupied by
something which she did not care to mention, and at last she said:
"Your mother had given you her clock, had she not--the girl playing at
cup and ball?"
He thought for a moment, and then replied:
"Yes, yes; she said to me (but it was a long time ago, when she first
came here): 'I shall leave the clock to you, if you look after me well.'"
Madame Caravan was reassured, and regained her serenity, and said:
"Well, then, you must go and fetch it out of her room, for if we get your
sister here, she will prevent us from taking it."
"Do you think so?"
That made her angry.
"I certainly think so; once it is in our possession, she will know
nothing at all about where it came from; it belongs to us. It is just
the same with the chest of drawers with the marble top, that is in her
room; she gave it me one day when she was in a good temper. We will
bring it down at the same time."
Caravan, however, seemed incredulous, and said:
"But, my dear, it is a great responsibility!"
She turned on him furiously.
"Oh! Indeed! Will you never change? You would let your children die of
hunger, rather than make a move. Does not that chest of drawers belong
to us, as she gave it to me? And if your sister is not satisfied, let
her tell me so, me! I don't care a straw for your sister. Come, get up,
and we will bring down what your mother gave us, immediately."
Trembling and vanquished, he got out of bed and began to put on his
trousers, but she stopped him:
"It is not worth while to dress yourself; your underwear is quite enough.
I mean to go as I am."
They both left the room in their night clothes, went upstairs quite
noiselessly, opened the door and went into the room, where the four
lighted tapers and the plate with the sprig of box alone seemed to be
watching the old woman in her rigid repose, for Rosalie, who was lying
back in the easy chair with her legs stretched out, her hands folded in
her lap, and her head on one side, was also quite motionless, and was
snoring with her mouth wide open.
Caravan took the clock, which was one of those grotesque objects that
were produced so plentifully under the Empire. A girl in gilt bronze was
holding a cup and ball, and the ball formed the pendulum.
"Give that to me," his wife said, "and take the marble slab off the chest
He put the marble slab on his shoulder with considerable effort, and they
left the room. Caravan had to stoop in the doorway, and trembled as he
went downstairs, while his wife walked backwards, so as to light him, and
held the candlestick in one hand, carrying the clock under the other arm.
When they were in their own room, she heaved a sigh.
"We have got over the worst part of the job," she said; "so now let us go
and fetch the other things."
But the bureau drawers were full of the old woman's wearing apparel,
which they must manage to hide somewhere, and Madame Caravan soon thought
of a plan.
"Go and get that wooden packing case in the vestibule; it is hardly worth
anything, and we may just as well put it here."
And when he had brought it upstairs they began to fill it. One by one
they took out all the collars, cuffs, chemises, caps, all the well-worn
things that had belonged to the poor woman lying there behind them, and
arranged them methodically in the wooden box in such a manner as to
deceive Madame Braux, the deceased woman's other child, who would be
coming the next day.
When they had finished, they first of all carried the bureau drawers
downstairs, and the remaining portion afterwards, each of them holding an
end, and it was some time before they could make up their minds where it
would stand best; but at last they decided upon their own room, opposite
the bed, between the two windows, and as soon as it was in its place
Madame Caravan filled it with her own things. The clock was placed on
the chimney-piece in the dining-room, and they looked to see what the
effect was, and were both delighted with it and agreed that nothing could
be better. Then they retired, she blew out the candle, and soon
everybody in the house was asleep.
It was broad daylight when. Caravan opened his eyes again. His mind was
rather confused when he woke up, and he did not clearly remember what had
happened for a few minutes; when he did, he felt a weight at his heart,
and jumped out of bed, almost ready to cry again.
He hastened to the room overhead, where Rosalie was still sleeping in the
same position as the night before, not having awakened once. He sent her
to do her work, put fresh tapers in the place of those that had burnt
out, and then he looked at his mother, revolving in his brain those
apparently profound thoughts, those religious and philosophical
commonplaces which trouble people of mediocre intelligence in the
presence of death.
But, as his wife was calling him, he went downstairs. She had written
out a list of what had to be done during the morning, and he was
horrified when be saw the memorandum:
1. Report the death at the mayor's office.
2. See the doctor who had attended her.
3. Order the coffin.
4. Give notice at the church.
5. Go to the undertaker.
6. Order the notices of her death at the printer's.
7. Go to the lawyer.
8. Telegraph the news to all the family.
Besides all this, there were a number of small commissions; so he took
his hat and went out. As the news had spread abroad, Madame Caravan's
female friends and neighbors soon began to come in and begged to be
allowed to see the body. There had been a scene between husband and wife
at the hairdresser's on the ground floor about the matter, while a
customer was being shaved. The wife, who was knitting steadily, said:
"Well, there is one less, and as great a miser as one ever meets with.
I certainly did not care for her; but, nevertheless, I must go and have a
look at her."
The husband, while lathering his patient's chin, said: "That is another
queer fancy! Nobody but a woman would think of such a thing. It is not
enough for them to worry you during life, but they cannot even leave you
at peace when you are dead:" But his wife, without being in the least
disconcerted, replied: "The feeling is stronger than I am, and I must go.
It has been on me since the morning. If I were not to see her, I should
think about it all my life; but when I have had a good look at her, I
shall be satisfied."
The knight of the razor shrugged his shoulders and remarked in a low
voice to the gentleman whose cheek he was scraping: "I just ask you, what
sort of ideas do you think these confounded females have? I should not
amuse myself by going to see a corpse!" But his wife had heard him and
replied very quietly: "But it is so, it is so." And then, putting her
knitting on the counter, she went upstairs to the first floor, where she
met two other neighbors, who had just come, and who were discussing the
event with Madame Caravan, who was giving them the details, and they all
went together to the death chamber. The four women went in softly, and,
one after the other, sprinkled the bed clothes with the salt water, knelt
down, made the sign of the cross while they mumbled a prayer. Then they
rose from their knees and looked for some time at the corpse with round,
wide-open eyes and mouths partly open, while the daughter-in-law of the
dead woman, with her handkerchief to her face, pretended to be sobbing
When she turned about to walk away whom should she perceive standing
close to the door but Marie-Louise and Philippe-Auguste, who were
curiously taking stock of all that was going on. Then, forgetting her
pretended grief, she threw herself upon them with uplifted hands, crying
out in a furious voice, "Will you get out of this, you horrid brats!"
Ten minutes later, going upstairs again with another contingent of
neighbors, she prayed, wept profusely, performed all her duties, and
found once more her two children, who had followed her upstairs. She
again boxed their ears soundly, but the next time she paid no heed to
them, and at each fresh arrival of visitors the two urchins always
followed in the wake, kneeling down in a corner and imitating slavishly
everything they saw their mother do.
When the afternoon came the crowds of inquisitive people began to
diminish, and soon there were no more visitors. Madame Caravan,
returning to her own apartments, began to make the necessary preparations
for the funeral ceremony, and the deceased was left alone.
The window of the room was open. A torrid heat entered, along with
clouds of dust; the flames of the four candles were flickering beside the
immobile corpse, and upon the cloth which covered the face, the closed
eyes, the two stretched-out hands, small flies alighted, came, went and
careered up and down incessantly, being the only companions of the old
woman for the time being.
Marie-Louise and Philippe-Auguste, however, had now left the house and
were running up and down the street. They were soon surrounded by their
playmates, by little girls especially, who were older and who were much
more interested in all the mysteries of life, asking questions as if they
were grown people.
"Then your grandmother is dead?" "Yes, she died yesterday evening."
"What does a dead person look like?"
Then Marie began to explain, telling all about the candles, the sprig of
box and the face of the corpse. It was not long before great curiosity
was aroused in the minds of all the children, and they asked to be
allowed to go upstairs to look at the departed.
Marie-Louise at once organized a first expedition, consisting of five
girls and two boys--the biggest and the most courageous. She made them
take off their shoes so that they might not be discovered. The troupe
filed into the house and mounted the stairs as stealthily as an army of
Once in the chamber, the little girl, imitating her mother, regulated the
ceremony. She solemnly walked in advance of her comrades, went down on
her knees, made the sign of the cross, moved her lips as in prayer, rose,
sprinkled the bed, and while the children, all crowded together, were
approaching--frightened and curious and eager to look at the face and
hands of the deceased--she began suddenly to simulate sobbing and to bury
her eyes in her little handkerchief. Then, becoming instantly consoled,
on thinking of the other children who were downstairs waiting at the
door, she ran downstairs followed by the rest, returning in a minute with
another group, then a third; for all the little ragamuffins of the
countryside, even to the little beggars in rags, had congregated in order
to participate in this new pleasure; and each time she repeated her
mother's grimaces with absolute perfection.
At length, however, she became tired. Some game or other drew the
children away from the house, and the old grandmother was left alone,
forgotten suddenly by everybody.
The room was growing dark, and upon the dry and rigid features of the
corpse the fitful flames of the candles cast patches of light.
Towards 8 o'clock Caravan ascended to the chamber of death, closed the
windows and renewed the candles. He was now quite composed on entering
the room, accustomed already to regard the corpse as though it had been
there for months. He even went the length of declaring that, as yet,
there were no signs of decomposition, making this remark just at the
moment when he and his wife were about to sit down at table. "Pshaw!"
she responded, "she is now stark and stiff; she will keep for a year."
The soup was eaten in silence. The children, who had been left to
themselves all day, now worn out by fatigue, were sleeping soundly on
their chairs, and nobody ventured to break the silence.
Suddenly the flame of the lamp went down. Madame Caravan immediately
turned up the wick, a hollow sound ensued, and the light went out. They
had forgotten to buy oil. To send for it now to the grocer's would keep
back the dinner, and they began to look for candles, but none were to be
found except the tapers which had been placed upon the table upstairs in
the death chamber.
Madame Caravan, always prompt in her decisions, quickly despatched Marie-
Louise to fetch two, and her return was awaited in total darkness.
The footsteps of the girl who had ascended the stairs were distinctly
heard. There was silence for a few seconds and then the child descended
precipitately. She threw open the door and in a choking voice murmured:
"Oh! papa, grandmamma is dressing herself!"
Caravan bounded to his feet with such precipitance that his chair fell
over against the wall. He stammered out: "You say? . . . . What are you
But Marie-Louise, gasping with emotion, repeated: "Grand--grand--
grandmamma is putting on her clothes, she is coming downstairs."
Caravan rushed boldly up the staircase, followed by his wife, dumfounded;
but he came to a standstill before the door of the second floor, overcome
with terror, not daring to enter. What was he going to see? Madame
Caravan, more courageous, turned the handle of the door and stepped
forward into the room.
The old woman was standing up. In awakening from her lethargic sleep,
before even regaining full consciousness, in turning upon her side and
raising herself on her elbow, she had extinguished three of the candles
which burned near the bed. Then, gaining strength, she got off the bed
and began to look for her clothes. The absence of her chest of drawers
had at first worried her, but, after a little, she had succeeded in
finding her things at the bottom of the wooden box, and was now quietly
dressing. She emptied the plateful of water, replaced the sprig of box
behind the looking-glass, and arranged the chairs in their places, and
was ready to go downstairs when there appeared before her her son and
Caravan rushed forward, seized her by the hands, embraced her with tears
in his eyes, while his wife, who was behind him, repeated in a
hypocritical tone of voice: "Oh, what a blessing! oh, what a blessing!"
But the old woman, without being at all moved, without even appearing to
understand, rigid as a statue, and with glazed eyes, simply asked: "Will
dinner soon be ready?"
He stammered out, not knowing what he said:
"Oh, yes, mother, we have been waiting for you."
And with an alacrity unusual in him, he took her arm, while Madame
Caravan, the younger, seized the candle and lighted them downstairs,
walking backwards in front of them, step by step, just as she had done
the previous night for her husband, who was carrying the marble.
On reaching the first floor, she almost ran against people who were
ascending the stairs. It was the Charenton family, Madame Braux,
followed by her husband.
The wife, tall and stout, with a prominent stomach, opened wide her
terrified eyes and was ready to make her escape. The husband, a
socialist shoemaker, a little hairy man, the perfect image of a monkey,
murmured quite unconcerned: "Well, what next? Is she resurrected?"
As soon as Madame Caravan recognized them, she made frantic gestures to
them; then, speaking aloud, she said: "Why, here you are! What a
But Madame Braux, dumfounded, understood nothing. She responded in a low
voice: "It was your telegram that brought us; we thought that all was
Her husband, who was behind her, pinched her to make her keep silent.
He added with a sly laugh, which his thick beard concealed: "It was very
kind of you to invite us here. We set out post haste," which remark
showed the hostility which had for a long time reigned between the
households. Then, just as the old woman reached the last steps, he
pushed forward quickly and rubbed his hairy face against her cheeks,
shouting in her ear, on account of her deafness: "How well you look,
mother; sturdy as usual, hey!"
Madame Braux, in her stupefaction at seeing the old woman alive, whom
they all believed to be dead, dared not even embrace her; and her
enormous bulk blocked up the passageway and hindered the others from
advancing. The old woman, uneasy and suspicious, but without speaking,
looked at everyone around her; and her little gray eyes, piercing and
hard, fixed themselves now on one and now on the other, and they were so
full of meaning that the children became frightened.
Caravan, to explain matters, said: "She has been somewhat ill, but she is
better now; quite well, indeed, are you not, mother?"
Then the good woman, continuing to walk, replied in a husky voice, as
though it came from a distance: "It was syncope. I heard you all the
An embarrassing silence followed. They entered the dining-room, and in a
few minutes all sat down to an improvised dinner.
Only M. Braux had retained his self-possession. His gorilla features
grinned wickedly, while he let fall some words of double meaning which
painfully disconcerted everyone.
But the door bell kept ringing every second, and Rosalie, distracted,
came to call Caravan, who rushed out, throwing down his napkin. His
brother-in-law even asked him whether it was not one of his reception
days, to which he stammered out in answer: "No, only a few packages;
A parcel was brought in, which he began to open carelessly, and the
mourning announcements with black borders appeared unexpectedly.
Reddening up to the very eyes, he closed the package hurriedly and pushed
it under his waistcoat.
His mother had not seen it! She was looking intently at her clock which
stood on the mantelpiece, and the embarrassment increased in midst of a
dead silence. Turning her wrinkled face towards her daughter, the old
woman, in whose eyes gleamed malice, said: "On Monday you must take me
away from here, so that I can see your little girl. I want so much to
see her." Madame Braux, her features all beaming, exclaimed: "Yes,
mother, that I will," while Madame Caravan, the younger, who had turned
pale, was ready to faint with annoyance. The two men, however, gradually
drifted into conversation and soon became embroiled in a political
discussion. Braux maintained the most revolutionary and communistic
doctrines, his eyes glowing, and gesticulating and throwing about his
arms. "Property, sir," he said, "is a robbery perpetrated on the working
classes; the land is the common property of every man; hereditary rights
are an infamy and a disgrace." But here he suddenly stopped, looking as
if he had just said something foolish, then added in softer tones: "But
this is not the proper moment to discuss such things."
The door was opened and Dr. Chenet appeared. For a moment he seemed
bewildered, but regaining his usual smirking expression of countenance,
he jauntily approached the old woman and said: "Aha! mamma; you are
better to-day. Oh! I never had any doubt but you would come round again;
in fact, I said to myself as I was mounting the staircase, 'I have an
idea that I shall find the old lady on her feet once more';" and as he
patted her gently on the back: "Ah! she is as solid as the Pont-Neuf,
she will bury us all; see if she does not."
He sat down, accepted the coffee that was offered him, and soon began to
join in the conversation of the two men, backing up Braux, for he himself
had been mixed up in the Commune.
The old woman, now feeling herself fatigued, wished to retire. Caravan
rushed forward. She looked him steadily in the eye and said: "You, you
must carry my clock and chest of drawers upstairs again without a
moment's delay." "Yes, mamma," he replied, gasping; "yes, I will do so."
The old woman then took the arm of her daughter and withdrew from the
room. The two Caravans remained astounded, silent, plunged in the
deepest despair, while Braux rubbed his hands and sipped his coffee
Suddenly Madame Caravan, consumed with rage, rushed at him, exclaiming:
"You are a thief, a footpad, a cur! I would spit in your face! I--I--
would----" She could find nothing further to say, suffocating as she was
with rage, while he went on sipping his coffee with a smile.
His wife returning just then, Madame Caravan attacked her sister-in-law,
and the two women--the one with her enormous bulk, the other epileptic
and spare, with changed voices and trembling hands flew at one another
with words of abuse.
Chenet and Braux now interposed, and the latter, taking his better half
by the shoulders, pushed her out of the door before him, shouting: "Go
on, you slut; you talk too much"; and the two were heard in the street
quarrelling until they disappeared from sight.
M. Chenet also took his departure, leaving the Caravans alone, face to
face. The husband fell back on his chair, and with the cold sweat
standing out in beads on his temples, murmured: "What shall I say to my
BESIDE SCHOPENHAUER'S CORPSE
He was slowly dying, as consumptives die. I saw him each day, about two
o'clock, sitting beneath the hotel windows on a bench in the promenade,
looking out on the calm sea. He remained for some time without moving,
in the heat of the sun, gazing mournfully at the Mediterranean. Every
now and then, he cast a glance at the lofty mountains with beclouded
summits that shut in Mentone; then, with a very slow movement, he would
cross his long legs, so thin that they seemed like two bones, around
which fluttered the cloth of his trousers, and he would open a book,
always the same book. And then he did not stir any more, but read on,
read on with his eye and his mind; all his wasting body seemed to read,
all his soul plunged, lost, disappeared, in this book, up to the hour
when the cool air made him cough a little. Then, he got up and reentered