Part 3 out of 3
One morning on waking I saw from my window the blue sky glowing in the
sun above the neighboring houses. The canaries hanging in the windows
were singing loudly, and so were the servants on every floor; a cheerful
noise rose up from the streets, and I went out, my spirits as bright as
the day, to go--I did not exactly know where. Everybody I met seemed to
be smiling; an air of happiness appeared to pervade everything in the
warm light of returning spring. One might almost have said that a breeze
of love was blowing through the city, and the sight of the young women
whom I saw in the streets in their morning toilets, in the depths of
whose eyes there lurked a hidden tenderness, and who walked with languid
grace, filled my heart with agitation.
Without knowing how or why, I found myself on the banks of the Seine.
Steamboats were starting for Suresnes, and suddenly I was seized by an
unconquerable desire to take a walk through the woods. The deck of the
Mouche was covered with passengers, for the sun in early spring draws one
out of the house, in spite of themselves, and everybody moves about, goes
and comes and talks to his neighbor.
I had a girl neighbor; a little work-girl, no doubt, who possessed the
true Parisian charm: a little head, with light curly hair, which looked
like a shimmer of light as it danced in the wind, came down to her ears,
and descended to the nape of her neck, where it became such fine, light-
colored clown that one could scarcely see it, but felt an irresistible
desire to shower kisses on it.
Under my persistent gaze, she turned her head toward me, and then
immediately looked down, while a slight crease at the side of her mouth,
that was ready to break out into a smile, also showed a fine, silky, pale
down which the sun was gilding a little.
The calm river grew wider; the atmosphere was warm and perfectly still,
but a murmur of life seemed to fill all space.
My neighbor raised her eyes again, and this time, as I was still looking
at her, she smiled decidedly. She was charming, and in her passing
glance I saw a thousand things, which I had hitherto been ignorant of,
for I perceived unknown depths, all the charm of tenderness, all the
poetry which we dream of, all the happiness which we are continually in
search of. I felt an insane longing to open my arms and to carry her off
somewhere, so as to whisper the sweet music of words of love into her
I was just about to address her when somebody touched me on the shoulder,
and as I turned round in some surprise, I saw an ordinary-looking man,
who was neither young nor old, and who gazed at me sadly.
"I should like to speak to you," he said.
I made a grimace, which he no doubt saw, for he added:
"It is a matter of importance."
I got up, therefore, and followed him to the other end of the boat and
then he said:
"Monsieur, when winter comes, with its cold, wet and snowy weather, your
doctor says to you constantly: 'Keep your feet warm, guard against
chills, colds, bronchitis, rheumatism and pleurisy.'
"Then you are very careful, you wear flannel, a heavy greatcoat and thick
shoes, but all this does not prevent you from passing two months in bed.
But when spring returns, with its leaves and flowers, its warm, soft
breezes and its smell of the fields, all of which causes you vague
disquiet and causeless emotion, nobody says to you:
"'Monsieur, beware of love! It is lying in ambush everywhere; it is
watching for you at every corner; all its snares are laid, all its
weapons are sharpened, all its guiles are prepared! Beware of love!
Beware of love! It is more dangerous than brandy, bronchitis or
pleurisy! It never forgives and makes everybody commit irreparable
"Yes, monsieur, I say that the French Government ought to put large
public notices on the walls, with these words: 'Return of spring. French
citizens, beware of love!' just as they put: 'Beware of paint:
"However, as the government will not do this, I must supply its place,
and I say to you: 'Beware of love!' for it is just going to seize you,
and it is my duty to inform you of it, just as in Russia they inform any
one that his nose is frozen."
I was much astonished at this individual, and assuming a dignified
manner, I said:
"Really, monsieur, you appear to me to be interfering in a matter which
is no concern of yours."
He made an abrupt movement and replied:
"Ah! monsieur, monsieur! If I see that a man is in danger of being
drowned at a dangerous spot, ought I to let him perish? So just listen
to my story and you will see why I ventured to speak to you like this.
"It was about this time last year that it occurred. But, first of all,
I must tell you that I am a clerk in the Admiralty, where our chiefs, the
commissioners, take their gold lace as quill-driving officials seriously,
and treat us like forecastle men on board a ship. Well, from my office
I could see a small bit of blue sky and the swallows, and I felt inclined
to dance among my portfolios.
"My yearning for freedom grew so intense that, in spite of my repugnance,
I went to see my chief, a short, bad-tempered man, who was always in a
rage. When I told him that I was not well, he looked at me and said:
'I do not believe it, monsieur, but be off with you! Do you think that
any office can go on with clerks like you?' I started at once and went
down the Seine. It was a day like this, and I took the Mouche, to go as
far as Saint Cloud. Ah! what a good thing it would have been if my chief
had refused me permission to leave the office that day!
"I seemed to myself to expand in the sun. I loved everything--the
steamer, the river, the trees, the houses and my fellow-passengers.
I felt inclined to kiss something, no matter what; it was love, laying
its snare. Presently, at the Trocadero, a girl, with a small parcel in
her hand, came on board and sat down opposite me. She was decidedly
pretty, but it is surprising, monsieur, how much prettier women seem to
us when the day is fine at the beginning of the spring. Then they have
an intoxicating charm, something quite peculiar about them. It is just
like drinking wine after cheese.
"I looked at her and she also looked at me, but only occasionally, as
that girl did at you, just now; but at last, by dint of looking at each
other constantly, it seemed to me that we knew each other well enough to
enter into conversation, and I spoke to her and she replied. She was
decidedly pretty and nice and she intoxicated me, monsieur!
"She got out at Saint-Cloud, and I followed her. She went and delivered
her parcel, and when she returned the boat had just started. I walked by
her side, and the warmth of the 'air made us both sigh. 'It would be
very nice in the woods,' I said. 'Indeed, it would!' she replied.
'Shall we go there for a walk, mademoiselie?'
"She gave me a quick upward look, as if to see exactly what I was like,
and then, after a little hesitation, she accepted my proposal, and soon
we were there, walking side by side. Under the foliage, which was still
rather scanty, the tall, thick, bright green grass was inundated by the
sun, and the air was full of insects that were also making love to one
another, and birds were singing in all directions. My companion began to
jump and to run, intoxicated by the air and the smell of the country, and
I ran and jumped, following her example. How silly we are at times,
"Then she sang unrestrainedly a thousand things, opera airs and the song
of Musette! The song of Musette! How poetical it seemed to me, then!
I almost cried over it. Ah! Those silly songs make us lose our heads;
and, believe me, never marry a woman who sings in the country, especially
if she sings the song of Musette!
"She soon grew tired, and sat down on a grassy slope, and I sat at her
feet and took her hands, her little hands, that were so marked with the
needle, and that filled me with emotion. I said to myself:
"'These are the sacred marks of toil.' Oh! monsieur, do you know what
those sacred marks of toil mean? They mean all the gossip of the
workroom, the whispered scandal, the mind soiled by all the filth that is
talked; they mean lost chastity, foolish chatter, all the wretchedness of
their everyday life, all the narrowness of ideas which belongs to women
of the lower orders, combined to their fullest extent in the girl whose
fingers bear the sacred marks of toil.
"Then we looked into each other's eyes for a long while. Oh! what power
a woman's eye has! How it agitates us, how it invades our very being,
takes possession of us, and dominates us! How profound it seems, how
full of infinite promises! People call that looking into each other's
souls! Oh! monsieur, what humbug! If we could see into each other's
souls, we should be more careful of what we did. However, I was
captivated and was crazy about her and tried to take her into my arms,
but she said: 'Paws off!'. Then I knelt down and opened my heart to her
and poured out all the affection that was suffocating me. She seemed
surprised at my change of manner and gave me a sidelong glance, as if to
say, 'Ah! so that is the way women make a fool of you, old fellow! Very
well, we will see.'
"In love, monsieur, we are always novices, and women artful dealers.
"No doubt I could have had her, and I saw my own stupidity later, but
what I wanted was not a woman's person, it was love, it was the ideal.
I was sentimental, when I ought to have been using my time to a better
"As soon as she had had enough of my declarations of affection, she got
up, and we returned to Saint-Cloud, and I did not leave her until we got
to Paris; but she had looked so sad as we were returning, that at last I
asked her what was the matter. 'I am thinking,' she replied, 'that this
has been one of those days of which we have but few in life.' My heart
beat so that it felt as if it would break my ribs.
"I saw her on the following Sunday, and the next Sunday, and every
Sunday. I took her to Bougival, Saint-Germain, Maisons-Lafitte, Poissy;
to every suburban resort of lovers.
"The little jade, in turn, pretended to love me, until, at last,
I altogether lost my head, and three months later I married her.
"What can you expect, monsieur, when a man is a clerk, living alone,
without any relations, or any one to advise him? One says to one's self:
'How sweet life would be with a wife!'
"And so one gets married and she calls you names from morning till night,
understands nothing, knows nothing, chatters continually, sings the song
of Musette at the, top of her voice (oh! that song of Musette, how tired
one gets of it!); quarrels with the charcoal dealer, tells the janitor
all her domestic details, confides all the secrets of her bedroom to the
neighbor's servant, discusses her husband with the tradespeople and has
her head so stuffed with stupid stories, with idiotic superstitions, with
extraordinary ideas and monstrous prejudices, that I--for what I have
said applies more particularly to myself--shed tears of discouragement
every time I talk to her."
He stopped, as he was rather out of breath and very much moved, and I
looked at him, for I felt pity for this poor, artless devil, and I was
just going to give him some sort of answer, when the boat stopped. We
were at Saint-Cloud.
The little woman who had so taken my fancy rose from her seat in order to
land. She passed close to me, and gave me a sidelong glance and a
furtive smile, one of those smiles that drive you wild. Then she jumped
on the landing-stage. I sprang forward to follow her, but my neighbor
laid hold of my arm. I shook myself loose, however, whereupon he seized
the skirt of my coat and pulled me back, exclaiming: "You shall not go!
you shall not go!" in such a loud voice that everybody turned round and
laughed, and I remained standing motionless and furious, but without
venturing to face scandal and ridicule, and the steamboat started.
The little woman on the landing-stage looked at me as I went off with an
air of disappointment, while my persecutor rubbed his hands and whispered
"You must acknowledge that I have done you a great service."
A QUEER NIGHT IN PARIS
Mattre Saval, notary at Vernon, was passionately fond of music. Although
still young he was already bald; he was always carefully shaven, was
somewhat corpulent as was suitable, and wore a gold pince-nez instead of
spectacles. He was active, gallant and cheerful and was considered quite
an artist in Vernon. He played the piano and the violin, and gave
musicals where the new operas were interpreted.
He had even what is called a bit of a voice; nothing but a bit, very
little bit of a voice; but he managed it with so much taste that cries of
"Bravo!" "Exquisite!" "Surprising!" "Adorable!" issued from every
throat as soon as he had murmured the last note.
He subscribed to a music publishing house in Paris, and they sent him the
latest music, and from time to time he sent invitations after this
fashion to the elite of the town:
"You are invited to be present on Monday evening at the house of M.
Saval, notary, Vernon, at the first rendering of 'Sais.'"
A few officers, gifted with good voices, formed the chorus. Two or three
lady amateurs also sang. The notary filled the part of leader of the
orchestra with so much correctness that the bandmaster of the 190th
regiment of the line said of him, one day, at the Cafe de l'Europe
"Oh! M. Saval is a master. It is a great pity that he did not adopt the
career of an artist."
When his name was mentioned in a drawing-room, there was always somebody
found to declare: "He is not an amateur; he is an artist, a genuine
And two or three persons repeated, in a tone of profound conviction:
"Oh! yes, a genuine artist," laying particular stress on the word
Every time that a new work was interpreted at a big Parisian theatre
M. Saval paid a visit to the capital.
Now, last year, according to his custom, he went to hear Henri VIII. He
then took the express which arrives in Paris at 4:30 P.M., intending to
return by the 12:35 A.M. train, so as not to have to sleep at a hotel.
He had put on evening dress, a black coat and white tie, which he
concealed under his overcoat with the collar turned up.
As soon as he set foot on the Rue d'Amsterdam, he felt himself in quite
jovial mood. He said to himself:
"Decidedly, the air of Paris does not resemble any other air. It has in
it something indescribably stimulating, exciting, intoxicating, which
fills you with a strange longing to dance about and to do many other
things. As soon as I arrive here, it seems to me, all of a sudden, that
I have taken a bottle of champagne. What a life one can lead in this
city in the midst of artists! Happy are the elect, the great men who
make themselves a reputation in such a city! What an existence is
And be made plans; he would have liked to know some of these celebrated
men, to talk about them in Vernon, and to spend an evening with them from
time to time in Paris.
But suddenly an idea struck him. He had heard allusions to little cafes
in the outer boulevards at which well-known painters, men of letters, and
even musicians gathered, and he proceeded to go up to Montmartre at a
He had two hours before him. He wanted to look about him. He passed in
front of taverns frequented by belated bohemians, gazing at the different
faces, seeking to discover the artists. Finally, he came to the sign of
"The Dead Rat," and, allured by the name, he entered.
Five or six women, with their elbows resting on the marble tables, were
talking in low tones about their love affairs, the quarrels of Lucie and
Hortense, and the scoundrelism of Octave. They were no longer young,
were too fat or too thin, tired out, used up. You could see that they
were almost bald; and they drank beer like men.
M. Saval sat down at some distance from them and waited, for the hour for
taking absinthe was at hand.
A tall young man soon came in and took a seat beside him. The landlady
called him M. "Romantin." The notary quivered. Was this the Romantin
who had taken a medal at the last Salon?
The young man made a sign to the waiter.
"You will bring up my dinner at once, and then carry to my new studio,
15 Boulevard de Clichy, thirty bottles of beer, and the ham I ordered
this morning. We are going to have a housewarming."
M. Saval immediately ordered dinner. Then, he took off his overcoat, so
that his dress suit and his white tie could be seen. His neighbor did
not seem to notice him. He had taken up a newspaper, and was reading it.
M. Saval glanced sideways at him, burning with the desire to speak to
Two young men entered, in red vests and with peaked beards, in the
fashion of Henry III. They sat down opposite Romantin.
The first of the pair said:
"Is it for this evening?"
Romantin pressed his hand.
"I believe you, old chap, and everyone will be there. I have Bonnat,
Guillemet, Gervex, Beraud, Hebert, Duez, Clairin, and Jean-Paul Laurens.
It will be a stunning affair! And women, too! Wait till you see! Every
actress without exception--of course I mean, you know, all those who have
nothing to do this evening."
The landlord of the establishment came across.
"Do you often have this housewarming?"
The painter replied:
"I believe you, every three months, each quarter."
M. Saval could not restrain himself any longer, and in a hesitating voice
"I beg your pardon for intruding on you, monsieur, but I heard your name
mentioned, and I would be very glad to know if you really are
M. Romantin, whose work in the last Salon I have so much admired?"
The painter answered:
"I am the very person, monsieur."
The notary then paid the artist a very well-turned compliment, showing
that he was a man of culture.
The painter, gratified, thanked him politely in reply.
Then they chattered. Romantin returned to the subject of his house-
warming, going into details as to the magnificence of the forthcoming
M. Saval questioned him as to all the men he was going to receive,
"It would be an extraordinary piece of good fortune for a stranger to
meet at one time so many celebrities assembled in the studio of an artist
of your rank."
Romantin, vanquished, replied:
"If it would be agreeable to you, come."
M. Saval accepted the invitation with enthusiasm, reflecting:
"I shall have time enough to see Henri VIII."
Both of them had finished their meal. The notary insisted on paying the
two bills, wishing to repay his neighbor's civilities. He also paid for
the drinks of the young fellows in red velvet; then he left the
establishment with the painter.
They stopped in front of a very long, low house, the first story having
the appearance of an interminable conservatory. Six studios stood in a
row with their fronts facing the boulevards.
Romantin was the first to enter, and, ascending the stairs, he opened a
door, and lighted a match and then a candle.
They found themselves in an immense apartment, the furniture of which
consisted of three chairs, two easels, and a few sketches standing on the
ground along the walls. M. Saval remained standing at the door somewhat
The painter remarked:
"Here you are! we've got to the spot; but everything has yet to be done."
Then, examining the high, bare apartment, its ceiling disappearing in the
darkness, he said:
"We might make a great deal out of this studio."
He walked round it, surveying it with the utmost attention, then went on:
"I know someone who might easily give a helping hand. Women are
incomparable for hanging drapery. But I sent her to the country for
to-day in order to get her off my hands this evening. It is not that she
bores me, but she is too much lacking in the ways of good society.
It would be embarrassing to my guests."
He reflected for a few seconds, and then added:
"She is a good girl, but not easy to deal with. If she knew that I was
holding a reception, she would tear out my eyes."
M. Saval had not even moved; he did not understand.
The artist came over to him.
"Since I have invited you, you will assist ma about something."
The notary said emphatically:
"Make any use of me you please. I am at your disposal."
Romantin took off his jacket.
"Well, citizen, to work!' We are first going to clean up."
He went to the back of the easel, on which there was a canvas
representing a cat, and seized a very worn-out broom.
"I say! Just brush up while I look after the lighting."
M. Saval took the broom, inspected it, and then began to sweep the floor
very awkwardly, raising a whirlwind of dust.
Romantin, disgusted, stopped him: "Deuce take it! you don't know how to
sweep the floor! Look at me!"
And he began to roll before him a heap of grayish sweepings, as if he had
done nothing else all his life. Then, he gave bark the broom to the
notary, who imitated him.
In five minutes, such a cloud of dust filled the studio that Rormantin
"Where are you? I can't see you any longer."
M. Saval, who was coughing, came near to him. The painter said:
"How would you set about making a chandelier?"
The other, surprised, asked:
"Why, a chandelier to light the room--a chandelier with wax-candles."
The notary did not understand.
He answered: "I don't know."
The painter began to jump about, cracking his fingers.
"Well, monseigneur, I have found out a way."
Then he went on more calmly:
"Have you got five francs about you?"
M. Saval replied:
The artist said: "Well! you'll go out and buy for me five francs' worth
of wax-candles while I go and see the cooper."
And he pushed the notary in his evening coat into the street. At the end
of five minutes, they had returned, one of them with the wax-candles and
the other with the hoop of a cask. Then Romantin plunged his hand into a
cupboard, and drew forth twenty empty bottles, which he fixed in the form
of a crown around the hoop.
He then went downstairs to borrow a ladder from the janitress, after
having explained that he had made interest with the old woman by painting
the portrait of her cat, exhibited on the easel.
When he returned with the ladder, he said to M. Saval:
"Are you active?"
The other, without understanding, answered:
"Well, you just climb up there, and fasten this chandelier for me to the
ring of the ceiling. Then, you put a wax-candle in each bottle, and
light it. I tell you I have a genius for lighting up. But off with your
coat, damn it! You are just like a Jeames."
The door was opened brusquely. A woman appeared, her eyes flashing, and
remained standing on the threshold.
Romantin gazed at her with a look of terror.
She waited some seconds, crossing her arms over her breast, and then in a
shrill, vibrating, exasperated voice said:
"Ha! you dirty scoundrel, is this the way you leave me?"
Romantin made no reply. She went on:
"Ha! you scoundrel! You did a nice thing in parking me off to the
country. You'll soon see the way I'll settle your jollification. Yes,
I'm going to receive your friends."
She grew warmer.
"I'm going to slap their faces with the bottles and the wax-candles----"
Romantin said in a soft tone:
But she did not pay any attention to him; she went on:
"Wait a little, my fine fellow! wait a little!"
Romantin went over to her, and tried to take her by the hands.
But she was now fairly under way; and on she went, emptying the vials of
her wrath with strong words and reproaches. They flowed out of her mouth
like, a stream sweeping a heap of filth along with it. The words pouring
forth seemed struggling for exit. She stuttered, stammered, yelled,
suddenly recovering her voice to cast forth an insult or a curse.
He seized her hands without her having noticed it. She did not seem to
see anything, so taken up was she in scolding and relieving her feelings.
And suddenly she began to weep. The tears flowed from her eyes, but this
did not stop her complaints. But her words were uttered in a screaming
falsetto voice with tears in it and interrupted by sobs. She commenced
afresh twice or three times, till she stopped as if something were
choking her, and at last she ceased with a regular flood of tears.
Then he clasped her in his arms and kissed her hair, affected himself.
"Mathilde, my little Mathilde, listen. You must be reasonable. You
know, if I give a supper-party to my friends, it is to thank these
gentlemen for the medal I got at the Salon. I cannot receive women. You
ought to understand that. It is not the same with artists as with other
She stammered, in the midst of her tears:
"Why didn't you tell me this?"
"It was in order not to annoy you, not to give you pain. Listen, I'm
going to see you home. You will be very sensible, very nice; you will
remain quietly waiting for me in bed, and I'll come back as soon as it's
"Yes, but you will not begin over again?"
"No, I swear to you!"
He turned towards M. Saval, who had at last hooked on the chandelier:
"My dear friend, I am coming back in five minutes. If anyone arrives in
my absence, do the honors for me, will you not?"
And he carried off Mathilde, who kept drying her eyes with her
handkerchief as she went along.
Left to himself, M. Saval succeeded in putting everything around him in
order. Then he lighted the wax-candles, and waited.
He waited for a quarter of an hour, half an hour, an hour. Romantin did
not return. Then, suddenly there was a dreadful noise on the stairs, a
song shouted out in chorus by twenty mouths and a regular march like that
of a Prussian regiment. The whole house was shaken by the steady tramp
of feet. The door flew open, and a motley throng appeared--men and women
in file, two and two holding each other by the arm and stamping their
heels on the ground to mark time, advanced into the studio like a snake
uncoiling itself. They howled:
"Come, and let us all be merry,
Pretty maids and soldiers gay!"
M. Saval, thunderstruck, remained standing in evening dress under the
chandelier. The procession of revellers caught sight of him, and uttered
"A Jeames! A Jeames!"
And they began whirling round him, surrounding him with a circle of
vociferations. Then they took each other by the hand and went dancing
He attempted to explain:
But they did not listen to him. They whirled about, they jumped, they
At last, the dancing ceased. M. Saval said:
A tall young fellow, fair-haired and bearded to the nose, interrupted
"What's your name, my friend?"
The notary, quite scared, said:
"I am M. Saval."
A voice exclaimed:
"You mean Baptiste."
A woman said:
"Let the poor waiter alone! You'll end by making him get angry. He's
paid to wait on us, and not to be laughed at by us."
Then, M. Saval noticed that each guest had brought his own provisions.
One held a bottle of wine, and the other a pie. This one had a loaf of
bread, and one a ham.
The tall, fair young fellow placed in his hands an enormous sausage, and
"Here, go and arrange the sideboard in the corner over there. Put the
bottles at the left and the provisions at the right."
Saval, getting quite distracted, exclaimed: "But, messieurs, I am a
There was a moment's silence and then a wild outburst of laughter. One
suspicious gentleman asked:
"How came you to be here?"
He explained, telling about his project of going to the opera, his
departure from Vernon, his arrival in Paris, and the way in which he had
spent the evening.
They sat around him to listen to him; they greeted him with words of
applause, and called him Scheherazade.
Romantin did not return. Other guests arrived. M. Saval was presented
to them so that he might begin his story over again. He declined; they
forced him to relate it. They seated and tied him on one of three chairs
between two women who kept constantly filling his glass. He drank; he
laughed; he talked; he sang, too. He tried to waltz with his chair, and
fell on the ground.
From that moment, he forgot everything. It seemed to him, however, that
they undressed him, put him to bed, and that he was nauseated.
When he awoke, it was broad daylight, and he lay stretched with his feet
against a cupboard, in a strange bed.
An old woman with a broom in her hand was glaring angrily at him. At
last, she said:
"Clear out, you blackguard! Clear out! What right has anyone to get
drunk like this?"
He sat up in bed, feeling very ill at ease. He asked:
"Where am I?"
"Where are you, you dirty scamp? You are drunk. Take your rotten
carcass out of here as quick as you can--and lose no time about it!"
He wanted to get up. He found that he was in no condition to do so. His
clothes had disappeared. He blurted out:
"Madame, I---- Then he remembered. What was he to do? He asked:
"Did Monsieur Romantin come back?"
The doorkeeper shouted:
"Will you take your dirty carcass out of this, so that he at any rate may
not catch you here?"
M. Saval said, in a state of confusion:
"I haven't got my clothes; they have been taken away from me."
He had to wait, to explain his situation, give notice to his friends, and
borrow some money to buy clothes. He did not leave Paris till evening.
And when people talk about music to him in his beautiful drawing-room in
Vernon, he declares with an air of authority that painting is a very