Part 2 out of 3
The village street ran upwards between low walls, brambles and
thistles lining the roadway on either side. In front the woods
melted into a far-off blue haze; below him stretched the city,
with its river, its roofs, its towers and domes, the vast, smoky
town which had kindled Servien's aspirations at the flaring lights
of its theatres and nurtured his feverish longings in the dust
of its streets. In the west a broad streak of purple lay between
heaven and earth. A sweet sense of peace descended on the landscape
as the first stars twinkled faintly in the sky. But it was not
peace Jean Servien had come to find.
A few more paces on the stony high road and there stood the gate
festooned with the tendrils of a wild vine, just as it had been
described to him.
He gazed long, in a trance of adoration. Peering through the
bars, between the sombre boughs of a Judas tree, he saw a pretty
little white house with a flight of stone steps before the front
door, flanked by two blue vases. Everything was still, nobody
at the windows, nobody stirring on the gravel of the drive; not
a voice, not a whisper, not a footfall. And yet, after a long,
long look, he turned away almost happy, his heart filled with
He waited under the old walnut trees of the avenue till the windows
lighted up one by one in the darkness, and then retraced his
steps. As he passed the railway station, to which people were
hurrying to catch an incoming train, he saw amid the confusion
a tall woman in a mantilla kiss a young girl who was taking her
leave. The pale face under the mantilla, the long, delicate hands,
that seemed ungloved out of a voluptuous caprice, how well he
knew them! How he saw the woman from head to foot in a flash!
His knees bent under him. He felt an exquisite languor, as if
he would die there and then! No, he never believed she was so
beautiful, so beyond price! And he had thought to forget her!
He had imagined he could live without her, as if she did not
sum up in herself the world and life and everything!
She turned into the lane leading to her house, walking at a smart
pace, with her dress trailing and catching on the brambles, from
which with a backward sweep of the hand and a rough pull she
would twitch it clear.
Jean followed her, pushing his way deliberately through the same
bramble bushes and exulting to feel the thorns scratch and tear
She stopped at the gate, and Jean saw her profile, in its purity
and dignity, clearly defined in the pale moonlight. She was a
long time in turning the key, and Jean could watch her face, the
more enthralling to the senses for the absence of any tokens of
disturbing intellectual effort. He groaned in grief and rage to
think how in another second the iron bars would be close between
her and him.
No, he would not have it so; he darted forward, seized her by
the hand, which he pressed in his own and kissed.
She gave a loud cry of terror, the cry of a frightened animal.
Jean was on his knees on the stone step, chafing the hand he
held against his teeth, forcing the rings into the flesh of his
A servant, a lady's maid, came running up, holding a candle that
had blown out.
"What is all this?" she asked breathlessly.
Jean released the hand, which bore the mark of his violence in
a drop of blood, and got to his feet.
Gabrielle, panting and holding the wounded hand against her bosom,
leant against the gate for support.
"I want to speak to you; I must," cried Jean.
"Here's pretty manners!" shrilled the maid-servant. "Go your
ways," and she pointed with her candlestick first to one end,
then to the other of the street.
The actress's face was still convulsed with the shock of her
terror. Her lips were trembling and drawn back so as to show
the teeth glittering. But she realized that she had nothing to
"What do you want with me?" she demanded.
He had lost his temerity since he had dropped her hand. It was
in a very gentle voice he said:
"Madame, I beg and beseech you, let me say one word to you alone."
"Rosalie," she ordered, after a moment's hesitation, "take a
turn or two in the garden. Now speak, sir," and she remained
standing on the step, leaving the gate half-way open, as it had
been at the moment he had kissed her hand.
He spoke in all the sincerity of his inmost heart:
"All I have to say to you, Madame, is that you must not, you
ought not, to repulse me, for I love you too well to live without
She appeared to be searching in her memory.
"Was it not you," she asked, "who sent me some verses?"
He said it was, and she resumed:
"You followed me one evening. It is not right, sir, not the right
thing, to follow ladies in the street."
"I only followed _you_, and that was because I could not help
"You are very young."
"Yes, but it was long ago I began to love you."
"It came upon you all in a moment, did it not?"
"Yes, when I saw you."
"That is what I thought. You are inflammable, so it seems."
"I do not know, Madame. I love you and I am very unhappy. I have
lost the heart to live, and I cannot bear to die, for then I
should not see you any more. Let me be near you sometimes. It
must be so heavenly!"
"But, sir, I know nothing about you."
"That is my misfortune. But how _can_ I be a stranger for you?
You are no stranger, no stranger in my eyes. I do not know any
woman, for me there is no other woman in the world but you."
And again he took her hand, which she let him kiss. Then:
"It is all very pretty," she said, "but it is not an occupation,
being in love. What are you? What do you do?"
He answered frankly enough:
"My father is in trade; he is looking out for a post for me."
The actress understood the truth; here was a little bourgeois,
living contentedly on next to nothing, reared in habits of
penuriousness, a hidebound, mean creature, like the petty tradesmen
who used to come to her whining for their bills, and whom she
encountered of a Sunday in smart new coats in the Meudon woods.
She could feel no interest in him, such as he might have inspired,
whether as a rich man with bouquets and jewels to offer her,
or a poor wretch so hungry and miserable as to bring tears to
her eyes. Dazzle her eyes or stir her compassion, it must be
one or the other! Then she was used to young fellows of a more
enterprising mettle. She thought of a young violinist at the
Conservatoire who, one evening, when she was entertaining company,
had pretended to leave with the rest and concealed himself in her
dressing-room; as she was undressing, thinking herself alone, he
burst from his hiding-place, a bottle of champagne in either hand
and laughing like a mad-man. The new lover was less diverting.
However, she asked him his name.
"Well, Monsieur Jean Servien, I am sorry, very sorry, to have
made you unhappy, as you say you are."
At the bottom of her heart she was more flattered than grieved
at the mischief she had done, so she repeated several times over
how very sorry she was.
"I cannot bear to hurt people. Every time a young man is unhappy
because of me, I am so distressed; but, honour bright, what do
you want me to do for you? Take yourself off, and be sensible.
It's no use your coming back to see me. Besides, it would be
ridiculous. I have a life of my own to live, quite private, and
it is out of the question for me to receive strange visitors."
He assured her between his sobs:
"Oh! how I wish you were poor and forsaken. I would come to you
then and we should be happy."
She was a good deal surprised he did not take her by the waist
or think of dragging her into the garden under the clump of trees
where there was a bench. She was a trifle disappointed and in a
way embarrassed not to have to defend her virtue. Finding the
conclusion of the interview did not match the beginning and the
young man was getting tedious, she slammed the gate in his face
and slipped back into the garden, where he saw her vanish in
She bore on her hand, beside a sapphire on her ring finger, a
drop of blood. In her chamber, as she emptied a jug of water over
her hands to wash away the stain, she could not help reflecting
how every drop of blood in this young man's veins would be shed
for her whenever she should give the word. And the thought made
her smile. At that moment, if he had been there, in that room,
at her side, it may be she would not have sent him away.
Jean hurried down the lane and started off across country in
such a state of high exaltation as robbed him of all senses of
realities and banished all consciousness whether of joy or pain.
He had no remembrance of what he had been before the moment when
he kissed the actress's hand; he seemed a stranger to himself.
On his lips lingered a taste that stirred voluptuous fancies,
and grew stronger as he pressed them one against the other.
Next morning his intoxication was dissipated and he relapsed
into profound depression. He told himself that his last chance
was gone. He realized that the gate overhung with wild vine and
ivy was shut against him by that careless, capricious hand more
firmly and more inexorably than ever it could have been by the
bolts and bars of the most prudish virtue. He felt instinctively
that his kiss had stirred no promptings of desire, that he had
been powerless to win any hold on his mistress's senses.
He had forgotten what he said, but he knew that he had spoken
out in all the frank sincerity of his heart. He had exposed his
ignorance of the world, his contemptible candour. The mischief
was irreparable. Could anyone be more unfortunate? He had lost
even the one advantage he possessed, of being unknown to her.
Though he entertained no very high opinion of himself, he certainly
held fate responsible for his natural deficiencies. He was poor,
he reasoned, and therefore had no right to fall in love. Ah!
if only he were wealthy and familiar with all the things idle,
prosperous people know, how entirely the splendour of his material
surroundings would be in harmony with the splendour of his passion!
What blundering, ferocious god of cruelty had immured in the dungeon
of poverty this soul of his that so overflowed with desires?
He opened his window and caught sight of his father's apprentice
on his way back to the workshop. The lad stood there on the pavement
talking with naive effrontery to a little book-stitcher of his
acquaintance. He was kissing the girl, without a thought of the
passers-by, and whistling a tune between his teeth. The pretty,
sickly-looking slattern carried her rags with an air, and wore
a pair of smart, well-made boots; she was pretending to push
her admirer away, while really doing just the opposite, for the
slim yet broad-shouldered stripling in his blue blouse had a
certain townified elegance and the "conquering hero" air of the
suburban dancing-saloons. When he left her, she looked back
repeatedly; but he was examining the saveloys in a pork-butcher's
window, never giving another thought to the girl.
Jean, as he looked on at the little scene, found himself envying
his father's apprentice.
He read the same morning on the posters that _she_ was playing
that evening. He watched for her after the performance and saw her
distributing hand-shakes to sundry acquaintances before driving
off. He was suddenly struck with something hard and cruel in
her, which he had not observed in the interview of the night
before. Then he discovered that he hated her, abominated her
with all the force of his mind and muscles and nerves. He longed
to tear her to pieces, to rend and crush her. It made him furious
to think she was moving, talking, laughing,--in a word, that she
was alive. At least it was only fair she should suffer, that
life should wound her and make her heart bleed. He was rejoiced
at the thought that she must die one day, and then nothing of
her would be left, of her rounded shape and the warmth of her
flesh; none would ever again see the superb play of light in
her hair and eyes, the reflections, now pale, now pearly, of
her dead-white skin. But her body, that filled him with such
rage, would be young and warm and supple for long years yet,
and lover after lover would feel it quiver and awake to passion.
She would exist for other men, but not for him. Was that to be
borne? Ah! the deliciousness of plunging a dagger in that warm,
living bosom! Ah! the bliss, the voluptuousness of holding her
pinned beneath one knee and demanding between two stabs:
"Am I ridiculous now?"
He was still muttering suchlike maledictions when he felt a hand
laid on his shoulder. Wheeling round, he saw a quaint figure--a
huge nose like a pothook, high, massive shoulders, enormous,
well-shaped hands, a general impression of uncouthness combined
with vigour and geniality. He thought for a moment where this
strange monster could have come from; then he shouted: "Garneret!"
Instantly his memory flew back to the court-yard and class-rooms
of the school in the _Rue d'Assas_, and he saw a heavily built
lad, for ever under punishment, standing out face to the wall
during playtime, getting and giving mighty fisticuffs, a terrible
fellow for plain speaking and hard hitting, industrious, yet a
thorn in the side of masters, always in ill-luck, yet ever and
anon electrifying the class with some stroke of genius.
He was glad enough to see his old school-fellow again, who struck
him as looking almost old with his puckered lids and heavy features.
They set off arm in arm along the deserted _Quai_, and to the
accompaniment of the faint lapping of the water against the retaining
walls, told each other the history of their past--which was succinct
enough, their present ideas, and their hopes for the future--which
The same ill-luck still pursued Garneret; from morn to eve he
was engaged on prodigiously laborious hack-work for a map-maker,
who paid him the wages of one of his office boys; but his big
head was crammed with projects. He was working at philosophy
and getting up before the sun to make experiments on the
susceptibility to light of the invertebrates; by way of studying
English and politics at the same time, he was translating Mr.
Disraeli's speeches; then every Sunday he accompanied Monsieur
Hebert's pupils on their geological excursions in the environs of
Paris, while at night he gave lectures to working men on Italian
painting and political economy. There was never a week passed
but he was bowled over for twenty-four or forty-eight hours with
an agonizing sick-headache. He spent long hours too with his
fiancee, a girl with no dowry and no looks, but of a loving,
sensitive temper, whom he adored and fully intended to marry the
moment he had five hundred francs to call his own.
Servien could make nothing of the other's temperament, one that
looks upon the world as an immense factory where the good workman
labours, coat off and sleeves rolled up, the sweat pouring from his
brow and a song on his lips. He found it harder still to conceive
a love with which the glamour of the stage or the splendours of
luxurious living had nothing to do. Yet he felt there was something
strong and sensible and true about it all, and craving sympathy
he made Garneret the confidant of his passion, telling the tale
in accents of despair and bitterness, though secretly proud to
be the tortured victim of such fine emotions.
But Garneret expressed no admiration.
"My dear fellow," said he, "you have got all these romantic notions
out of trashy novels. How can you love the woman when you don't
How, indeed? Jean Servien did not know; but his nights and days,
the throbbings of his heart, the thoughts that possessed his
mind to the exclusion of all else, everything convinced him that
it was so. He defended himself, talking of mystic influences,
natural affinities, emanations, a divine unity of essence.
Garneret only buried his face between his hands. It was above
"But come," he said, "the woman is no differently constituted
from other women!"
Obvious as it was, this consideration filled Jean Servien with
amazement. It shocked him so much that, rather than admit its
truth, he racked his brains in desperation to find arguments
to controvert the blasphemy.
Garneret gave his views on women. He had a judicial mind, had
Garneret, and could account for everything in the relations of
the sexes; _but_ he could not tell Jean why one face glimpsed
among a thousand gives joy and grief more than life itself seemed
able to contain. Still, he tried to explain the problem, for he
was of an eminently ratiocinative temper.
"The thing is quite simple," he declared. "There are a dozen
violins for sale at a dealer's. I pass that way, common scraper
of catgut that I am, I tune them and try them, and play over
on each of them in turn, with false notes galore, some catchy
tune--_Au clair de la lune_ or _J'ai du bon tabac dans ma
tabatiere_--stuff fit to kill the old cow. Then Paganini
comes along; with one sweep of the bow he explores the deepest
depths of the vibrating instruments. The first is flat, the second
sharp, the third almost dumb, the fourth is hoarse, five others
have neither power nor truth of tone; but lo! the twelfth gives
forth under the master's hand a mighty music of sweet, deep-voiced
harmonies. It is a Stradivarius; Paganini knows it, takes it home
with him, guards it as the apple of his eye; from an instrument
that for me would never have been more than a resonant wooden box
he draws chords that make men weep, and love, and fall into a
very ecstasy; he directs in his will that they bury this violin
with him in his coffin. Well, Paganini is the lover, the instrument
with its strings and tuning-pegs is the woman. The instrument
must be beautifully made and come from the workshop of a right
skilful maker; more than that, it must fall into the hands of
an accomplished player. But, my poor lad, granting your actress
is a divine instrument of amorous music, I don't believe you
capable of drawing from it one single note of passion's fugue....
Just consider. I don't spend my nights supping with ladies of
the theatre; but we all know what an actress is. It is an animal
generally agreeable to see and hear, always badly brought up,
spoilt first by poverty and afterwards by luxury. Very busy into
the bargain, which makes her as unromantic as anybody can well
be. Something like a _concierge_ turned princess, and combining
the petty spite of the porter's lodge with the caprices of the
boudoir and the fagged nerves of the student.
"You can hardly expect to dazzle T---- with the munificence and
tastefulness of your presents. Your father gives you a hundred
sous a week to spend; a great deal for a bookbinder, but very
little for a woman whose gowns cost from five hundred to three
thousand francs apiece. And, as you are neither a Manager to
sign agreements, nor a Dramatic Author to apportion roles, nor
a Journalist to write notices, nor a young man from the draper's
to take advantage of a moment's caprice as opportunity offers
when delivering a new frock, I don't see in the least how you
are to make her favour you, and I think your tragedy queen did
quite right to slam her gate in your face."
"Ah, well!" sighed Jean Servien, "I told you just now I loved
her. It is not true. I hate her! I hate her for all the torments
she has made me suffer, I hate her because she is adorable and
men love her. And I hate all women, because they all love someone,
and that someone is not I!"
Garneret burst out laughing.
"Candidly," he grinned, "they are not so far wrong. Your love
has no spark of anything affectionate, kindly, useful in it.
Since the day you fell in love with Mademoiselle T----, have
you once thought of sparing her pain? Have you once dreamed of
making a sacrifice for her sake? Has any touch of human kindness
ever entered into your passion? Can it show one mark of manliness
or goodness? Not it. Well, being the poor devils we are, with
our own way to push in life and nothing to help us on, we must
be brave and good. It is half-past one, and I have to get up
at five. Good night. Cultivate a quiet mind, and come and see
Jean had only three days left to prepare for his examination for
admission to the Ministry of Finance. These he spent at home,
where the faces of father, aunt, and apprentice seemed strange and
unfamiliar, so completely had they disappeared from his thoughts.
Monsieur Servien was displeased with his son, but was too timid
as well as too tactful to make any overt reproaches. His aunt
overwhelmed him with garrulous expressions of doting affection;
at night she would creep into his room to see if he was sound
asleep, while all day long she wearied him with the tale of her
petty grievances and dislikes.
Once she had caught the apprentice with her spectacles, her sacred
spectacles, perched on his nose, and the profanation had left
a kind of religious horror in her mind.
"That boy is capable of anything," she used to say. One of the
boy's pet diversions was to execute behind the old lady's back a
war-dance of the Cannibal Islanders he had seen once at a theatre.
Sticking feathers he had plucked from a feather-broom in his hair,
and holding a big knife without a handle between his teeth, he
would creep nearer and nearer, crouching low and advancing by
little leaps and bounds, with ferocious grimaces which gradually
gave place to a look of disappointed appetite, as a closer scrutiny
showed how tough and leathery his victim was. Jean could not
help laughing at this buffoonery, trivial and ill-bred as it
was. His aunt had never got clearly to the bottom of the little
farce that dogged her heels, but more than once, turning her head
sharply, she had found reason to suspect something disrespectful
was going on. Nevertheless, she put up with the lad because of
his lowly origin. The only folks she really hated were the rich.
She was furious because the butcher's wife had gone to a wedding
in a silk dress.
At the upper end of the _Rue de Rennes_, beside a plot of waste
and, was a stall where an old woman sold dusty ginger-bread and
sticks of stale barley-sugar. She had a face the colour of brick
dust under a striped cotton sun-bonnet, and eyes of a pale,
steely blue. Her whole stock-in-trade had not cost a couple of
francs, and on windy days the white dust from houses building
in the neighbourhood covered it like a coat of whitewash. Nurses
and mothers would anxiously pull away their little ones who were
casting sheep's eyes at the sweetstuff:
"Dirty!" they would say dissuasively; "dirty!"
But the woman never seemed to hear; perhaps she was past feeling
anything. She did not beg. Mademoiselle Servien used to bid her
good-day in passing, address her by name and fall into talk with
her before the stall, sometimes for a quarter of an hour at a
time. The staple of conversation with them both was the neighbours,
accidents that had occurred in the public thoroughfares, cases
of coachmen ill-using their horses, the troubles and trials of
life and the ways of Providence, "which are not always just."
Jean happened to be present at one of these colloquies. He was
a plebeian himself, and this glimpse of the petty lives of the
poor, this peep into sordid existences of idle sloth and spiritless
resignation, stirred all the blood in his veins. In an instant,
as he stood between the two old crones, with their drab faces
and no outlook on life save that of the streets, now gloomy and
empty, now full of sunshine and crowded traffic, the young man
learned more of human conditions than he had ever been taught
at school. His thoughts flew from this woman to that other, who
was so beautiful and whom he loved, and he saw life before him
as a whole--a melancholy panorama. He told himself they must
die both of them, and a hideous old woman, squatted before a
few sodden sweetmeats, gave him the same impression of solemn
serenity he had experienced at sight of the jewels from the Queen
of Egypt's sepulchre.
After sitting all day over little problems in arithmetic, he
set off in the evening in working clothes for the _Avenue de
l'Observatoire_. There, between two tallow candles, in front
of a hoarding covered with ballads in illustrated covers, a fellow
was singing in a cracked voice to the accompaniment of a guitar.
A number of workmen and work-girls stood round listening to the
music. Jean slipped into the circle, urged by the instinct that
draws a stroller with nothing to do to the neighbourhood of light
and noise and that love of a crowd which is characteristic of
your Parisian. More isolated in the press, more alone than ever,
he stood dreaming of the splendour and passion of some noble
tragedy of Euripides or Shakespeare. It was some time before he
noticed something soft touching and pressing against him from
behind. He turned round and saw a work-girl in a little black
hat with blue ribbons. She was young and pretty enough, but his
mind was fixed on the awe-inspiring and superhuman graces of
an Electra or a Lady Macbeth. She went on nuzzling against his
back till he looked round again.
"Monsieur," she said then; "will you just let me slip in front
of you? I am so little; I shan't stop your seeing."
She had a nice voice. The poise of her head, lifted and thrown
back on a plump neck, showed a pair of bright eyes and good teeth
between pouting lips. She glided, merry and alert, into the place
Jean made for her without a word.
The man with the guitar sang a ballad about caged birds and blossoms
"_Mine_," observed the work-girl to Jean, "are carnations, and
I have birds too--canaries they are."
At the moment he was thinking of some fair-faced chatelaine roaming
under the battlements of a donjon.
The work-girl went on:
"I have a pair,--you understand, to keep each other company. Two
is a nice number, don't you think so?"
He marched off with his visions under the old trees of the Avenue.
After a turn or two up and down, he espied the little work-girl
hanging on the arm of a handsome young fellow, fashionably dressed,
wearing a heavy gold watch-chain. Her admirer was catching her
by the waist in the dusk of the trees, and she was laughing.
Then Jean Servien felt sorry he had scorned her advances.
Jean was called up for examination, but with his insufficient
preparation he got hopelessly fogged in the intricacies of a
difficult, tricky piece of dictation and sums that were too long
to be worked in the time allowed the candidates. He came home in
despair. His father tried in his good-nature to reassure him.
But a fortnight after came an unstamped letter summoning him to
the Ministry, and after a three hours' wait he was shown into
Monsieur Bargemont's private room. He recognized his own dictation
in the big man's hand.
"I am sorry," the functionary began, "to inform you that you
have entirely failed to pass the tests set you. You do not know
the language of your own country, sir; you write _Maisons-Lafitte_
without an 's' to _Maisons_. You cannot spell! and what is more,
you do not cross your 't's.' You _must_ know at your age that
a 't' ought to be crossed. It's past understanding, sir!"
And striking fiercely at the sheet of foolscap on which the mistakes
were marked in red ink, he kept muttering: "It's past understanding,
past understanding!" His face grew purple, and a swollen vein
stood out on his forehead. A queer look in Jean's face gave him
"Young man," he resumed in a calmer voice, "whatever I can do
for you, I will do, be sure of that; but you must not ask me to
do impossibilities. We cannot enlist in the service of the State
young men who spell so badly they write _Maisons-Lafitte_ without
an 's' to the _Maisons_. It is in a way a patriotic duty for a
Frenchman to know his own language. A year hence, the Ministry
will hold another examination, and I will enter your name. You have
a year before you; work hard, sir, and learn your mother-tongue."
Jean stood there scarlet with rage, hate in his heart, his eyes
aflame, his throat dry, his teeth clenched, unable to articulate
a word; then he swung round like an automaton and darted from
the room, banging the door after him with a noise of thunder;
piles of books and papers rolled on to the floor of the Chief's
office at the shock.
Monsieur Bargemont was left alone to digest his stupefaction; even
so his first thought was to save the honour of his Department.
He reopened the door and shouted, "Leave the room!" after Jean,
who, mastered once more by his natural timidity, was flying like
a thief down the corridors.
In the court, which was enlivened by a parterre of roses, Jean,
carrying a letter in his hand, was trying to find his bearings
according to the directions given him in a low voice, as if it
were a secret, by the lay-brother who acted as doorkeeper. He
was wandering uncertainly from door to door along the walls of
the old silent buildings when a little boy noticed his plight
and accosted him:
"Do you want to see the Director? He is in his study with mamma.
Go and wait in the parlour."
This was a large hall with bare walls, a noble enough apartment
in its unadorned simplicity, in spite of the mean horsehair chairs
that stood round it. Above the fire-place, instead of a mirror,
was a _Mater dolorosa_ that caught the eye by its dazzling
whiteness. Big marble tears stood arrested in mid-career down
the cheeks, while the features expressed the pious absorption
of the Divine Mother's grief. Jean Servien read the inscription
cut in red letters on the pedestal, which ran thus:
PRESENTED TO THE REVEREND ABBE BORDIER,
IN MEMORY OF
PHILIPPE-GUY DE THIERERCHE,
WHO DIED AT PAU,
NOVEMBER 11, 1867, IN THE SEVENTEENTH
YEAR OF HIS AGE,
BY THE COUNTESS VALENTINE DE THIERERCHE,
NEE DE BRUILLE DE SAINT-AMAND.
_LAUDATE PUERI DOMINUM_
Then he forgot his anxieties, forgot he was there to beg for
employment, shook off the instinctive dread that had seized him
on the threshold of the great silent house. He forgot his fears
and hopes--hopes of being promoted usher! He was absorbed by
this cruel domestic drama revealed to him in the inscription.
A scion of one of the greatest families of France, a pupil of
the Abbe Bordier, attacked by phthisis in the midst of his now
profitless studies and leaving school, not to enjoy life and
taste the glorious pleasures only those contemn who have drained
them to the dregs, but to die at a southern town in the arms of
his mother whose overwhelming, but still self-conscious grief
was symbolized by this pompous memorial of her sorrow. He could
feel, he could see it all. The three Latin words that represent
the stricken mother saying: "Children, praise ye the Lord who
hath taken away my child," astonished him by their austere piety,
while at the same time he admired the aristocratic bearing that
was preserved even in the presence of death.
He was still lost in these day-dreams when an old priest beckoned
him to walk into an inner room. The worthy man took the letter
of recommendation which Jean handed him, set on his big nose a
pair of spectacles with round glasses for all the world like
the two wheels of a miniature silver chariot, and proceeded to
read the letter, holding it out at the full stretch of his arm.
The windows giving on the garden stood open, and a tendril of
wild vine hung down on to the desk at the foot of a crucifix of
old ivory, while a light breeze set the papers on it fluttering
like white wings.
The Abbe Bordier, his reading concluded, turned to the young man,
showing a deeply lined countenance and a forehead beautifully
polished by age. He took off his spectacles and rubbed his eyes.
Then the worn eyelids lifted slowly and discovered a pair of grey
eyes of a shade that somehow reminded you of an autumn morning.
He lay back in his armchair, his legs stretched out in front of
him, displaying his silver-buckled shoes and black stockings.
"It seems then, my dear boy," he began, "you wish, so my venerable
friend the Abbe Marguerite informs me, to devote yourself to
teaching; and your idea would be to prepare for your degree while
at the same time performing the duties of an assistant master
to supervise the boys at their work. It is a humble office; but
it will depend entirely on yourself, my dear young friend, to
dignify it by a heartfelt zeal and a determination to succeed.
I shall entrust the studies of the _Remove_ to your care. Our
bursar will inform you of the conditions attaching to the post."
Jean bowed and made to leave the room; but suddenly the Abbe Bordier
beckoned him to stop and asked abruptly:
"You understand the rules of verse?"
"Latin verse?" queried Jean.
"No, no! French verse. Now, would you rhyme _trone_ with _couronne_?
The rhyme is not, it must be allowed, quite satisfactory to the
ear, yet the usage of the great writers authorizes it."
So saying, the old fellow laid hold of a bulky manuscript book.
"Listen," he cried, "listen. It is St. Fabricius addressing the
_Acheve, fais dresser l'appareil souhaite
De ma mort, ou plutot de ma felicite.
Le Roi des Rois, du haut de son celeste trone,
Deja me tend la palme et tresse ma couronne._
"Do you think it would be better if he said:
_Acheve, fais dresser l'appareil souhaite
De ma mort, ou plutot de ma felicite.
Je vois le Roi des Rois me tendre la couronne,
Quel n'en est le prix quand c'est Dieu qui la donne!_
"Doubtless these latter lines are more correct than the others,
but they are less vigorous, and a poet should never sacrifice
meaning to metre.
_Le Roi des Rois, du haut de son celeste trone,
Deja me tend la palme et tresse ma couronne."_
This time, as he declaimed the verses, he went through the
corresponding gestures of tendering a gift and plaiting a garland.
"It is better so," he added, "better so!"
Jean, in some surprise, said yes, it was certainly better.
"Certainly better, yes," cried the old poet, smiling with the
happy innocence of a little child.
Then he confided in Jean that it was a very difficult thing indeed
to write poetry. You must get the caesura in the right place,
bring in the rhyme naturally, make your rhythm run in divers
cadences, now strong, now sweet, sometimes onomatopoetic, use
only words either elevated in themselves or dignified by the
He read one passage of his Tragedy because he had his doubts
about the number of feet in the line, another because he thought
it contained some bold strokes happily conceived, then a third
to elucidate the two first, eventually the whole five acts from
start to finish. He acted the words as he read, modulating his
voice to suit the various characters, stamping and storming,
and to adjust his black skullcap--it _would_ tumble off at the
pathetic parts--dealing himself a succession of sounding slaps
on the crown of his head.
This sacred drama, in which no woman appeared, was to be played
by the pupils of the Institution at a forthcoming function. The
previous year he had staged his first tragedy, _le Bapteme
de Clovis_, in the same approved style. A regular, Monsieur
Schuver, had arranged garlands of paper roses to represent the
battlefield of Tolbiac and the basilica at Rheims. To give a
wild, barbaric look to the boys who represented Clovis' henchmen,
the sister superintendent of the wardrobe had tacked up their
white trousers to the knee. But the Abbe Bordier hoped greater
things still for his new piece.
Jean applauded and improved upon these ambitious projects. His
suggestions for scenery and costumes were admirable. He would
have the ruthless Flavius seated on a curule chair of ivory,
draped with purple, erected before a portico painted on the back
cloth. The costumes of the Roman soldiers, he insisted, must
be copied from those on Trajan's Column.
His words opened superb vistas before the old priest's eyes;
he was enchanted, ravished, yet full of doubts and fears. Alas!
Monsieur Schuver was quite helpless if it came to designing anything
more ambitious than his paper roses. Then Jean must needs take
a look round in the shed where the properties were stored, and
the two discussed together how the stage must be set and the
side-scenes worked. Jean took measurements, drew up a plan, worked
out an estimate. He manifested a passionate eagerness that was
surprising, albeit the old priest took it all as a matter of
course. A batten would come here, a practicable door there. The
actor would enter there...
But the worthy priest checked him:
"Say the reciter, my dear boy; _actor_ is not a word for
Barring this trifling misunderstanding, they were in perfect
accord. The sun was setting by this time and the Abbe Bordier's
shadow, grotesquely elongated, danced up and down the sandy floor
of the shed, while the old, broken voice declaimed tags of verse
that echoed to the furthest recesses of the court. But Jean Servien
was smiling at the vision only _his_ eyes could see of Gabrielle,
the inspirer of all his enthusiasm.
It was nearly the end of the long evening preparation and absolute
quiet reigned in the schoolroom. The broad lamp-shades concentrated
the light on the tangled heads of the boys, who were working at
their lessons or sitting in a brown study with their noses on
the desks. The only sounds were the crackling of paper, the lads'
breathing and the scratch, scratch of steel pens. The youngest
there, his cheeks still browned by the sea-breezes, was dreaming
over his half-finished exercise of a beach on the Normandy coast
and the sand-castles he and his friends used to build, to see
them swept away presently by the waves of the rising tide.
At the top of the great room, at the high desk where the
Superintendent of Studies had solemnly installed him underneath
the great ebony crucifix, Jean Servien, his head between his
two hands, was reading a Latin poet.
He felt utterly sad and lonely; but he had not realized yet that
his new life was an actual fact, and from moment to moment he
expected the schoolroom would suddenly vanish and the desks with
their litter of dictionaries and grammars and the young heads
gilded by the lamp-light melt into thin air.
Suddenly a paper pellet, shot from the far end of the hall, struck
him on the cheek. He turned pale and cried in a voice shaking
"Monsieur de Grizolles, leave the room!"
There was some whispering and stifled laughter, then peace was
restored. The scratching of pens began again, and exercises were
passed surreptitiously from hand to hand for cribbing purposes.
He was an usher.
His father had come to this decision by the advice of Monsieur
Marguerite, the _vicaire_ of his parish and a friend of the Abbe
Bordier. The bookbinder, having a high respect for knowledge,
entertained a correspondingly high idea of the status of all its
ministers. Assistant master struck him as an imposing title, and
he was delighted to have his son connected with an aristocratic
and religious foundation.
"Your son," the Abbe Marguerite told him, "will read for his
Master's degree in the intervals of his duties, and the title
of Licencie-es-Lettres will open the door to the higher walks
of teaching. We have known assistants rise to high positions
in the University and even occupy Monsieur de Fontanes' chair."
These considerations had clenched the bookbinder's resolution,
and this was now the third day of Jean's ushership.
Three months had dragged by. It was a Friday; a hot, nauseating
smell of fried fish filled the refectory; a strong drought blew
cold about feet encased in wet boots; the walls dripped with
moisture, and outside the barred windows a fine rain was falling
from a grey sky. The boys, seated at marble-topped tables, were
making a hideous rattle with their forks and tin cups, while
one of their schoolfellows, seated at the desk in the middle of
the great room, was reading aloud, as the regulations direct,
a passage from Rollin's _Ancient History_.
Jean, at the head of a table, his nose in his ill-washed earthenware
plate, had cold feet and a sore heart. Something resembling rotten
wood formed a deposit at the bottom of his glass, while the servers
were handing round dishes of prunes with their thumbs washing in
the juice. Now and again, amid the rattle of plates, the rasping
voice of the reader, a lad of seventeen, reached the usher's ears.
He caught the name of Cleopatra and some scraps of sentences:
"_She was about to appear before Antony at an age when women
unite with the flower of their beauty every charm of wit and
intellect... her person more compelling than any magnificence
of adornment.... Her galley entered the Cydnus... the poop of
the vessel shone resplendent with gold, the sails were of Tyrian
purple, the oars of silver._"
Then the seductive names of _Nereids, flutes, perfumes_. The
hot blood flooded his cheeks. The woman who for him was the sole
and only incarnation of the whole race of womankind throughout the
ages rose before his mental sight with a surprising clearness;
every hair of his body stood on end in an agonizing spasm of
desire, and he dug his nails into the palms of his hands. The
vision caused him an unspeakable yet delicious pain--Gabrielle
in a loose _peignoir_ at a small, daintily ordered table gay
with flowers and glasses. He saw it all quite clearly; his gaze
searched every fold of the soft material that covered her bosom
and rose and fell at each breath she drew. Face and neck and
lively hands had a surprisingly brilliant yet so natural a sheen
that they exhaled amorous invitation as if they had been verily
of flesh and blood. The superb moulding of the lips, pouting
like a ripe mulberry, and the exquisite grain of the skin were
manifest--treasures such as men risk death and crime to win.
It was the actress, in fine, seen by the two eyes which of all
eyes in the whole world had learned to see her best. She was not
alone; a man was looking at her with a penetrating intensity as
he filled her glass. They were straining one towards the other.
Jean could not restrain his sobs. Suddenly he seemed to be falling
from the top of a high tower. The Superintendent of Studies was
standing in front of him and saying:
"Monsieur Servien, will you see about punishing that boy Laboriette,
who is emptying his leavings in his neighbour's pocket?"
The Superintendent, with his large, flat face and the sly ways
of a peasant turned monk, was a constant thorn in Jean's side.
"_Be firm, be firm, sir_," was his parable every day, and
he never missed an opportunity of doing the usher an ill turn
with the Director.
The early days of Jean's servitude had slipped by in an enervating
monotony. With his quiet ways, tactful temper and air of kindly
aloofness, he was popular with the more sensible boys, while
the others left him in peace, as he did them. But there was one
exception; Henri de Grizolles, a handsome young savage, proud
of his aristocratic name, which he scribbled in big letters on
his light trousers, and overjoyed at the chance of hurting an
inferior's feelings, had from the very first day declared war
against the poor usher. He used to empty ink-bottles into his
desk, stick cobbler's wax on his chair, and let off crackers
in the middle of school.
Hearing the disturbance, the Superintendent would march in with
the airs of a Police Inspector and bid Jean: "_Be firm, sir!
Far from taking his advice, Jean affected an excessive easiness of
temper. One day he caught a boy in the act of drawing a caricature
of himself; he picked it up and glanced at it, then handed it
back to the artist with a shrug of the shoulders.
Such mildness was misconstrued and only weakened his authority.
The usher's miseries grew acute, and he lost the patience that
alleviated his sufferings. He could not put up with the lads'
restlessness, their happy laughter and light-hearted enjoyment
of life. He showed temper, venting his spite on mere acts of
thoughtlessness or simple ebullitions of high spirits. Then he would
fall into a sort of torpor. He had long fits of absentmindedness,
during which he was deaf to every noise. It became the fashion
to keep birds, plait nets, shoot arrows, and crow like a cock
in Monsieur Jean Servien's class-room. Even the boys from other
divisions would slip out of their own classrooms to peep in at
the windows of this one, about which such amazing stories were
told, and the ceiling of which was decorated with little figures
swinging at the end of a string stuck to the plaster with chewed
De Grizolles had installed a regular Roman catapult for shooting
kidney-beans at the usher's head.
Jean would drive the young gentleman out of the room. The
Superintendent of Studies would reinstate him, only to be turned
out again. And each time meant a fresh report to the Director.
The Abbe Bordier, who never found patience to hear the worthy
Superintendent out to the end, could only throw up his hands to
heaven and declare they would be the death of him between them.
But the impression became fixed in his mind that the Assistant
in charge of the _Remove_ was a source of trouble.
Sunday was a day of cheerful indolence, devoted to attending
the services in the Chapel, which was filled with the scent of
incense all day long. At Vespers, while the clear, boyish voices
intoned the long-drawn canticles, Jean would be gazing at some
woman's face half seen in the dusk of the galleries where the
pupils' mothers and sisters knelt during the office, their haughty
air contradicting the humble attitude. At the sound of the _Ave
maris stella_, the lowly bookbinder's son would lift his eyes
to these ladies of high degree, the plainest of whom feels herself
a jewel of price and cherishes a natural and unaffected pride of
birth. The chants and incense, the flowers and sacred images,
whatever troubles the imagination and stimulates to prayer, all
these things united to enervate his spirit and deliver him a
trembling victim to the glamour of these patrician dames.
But it was Gabrielle he worshipped in them, Gabrielle to whom
he offered up his prayers, his supplications. All that element
in religion which gives to love the fascination of forbidden
fruit appealed powerfully to his imagination. Unbeliever though
he was, he loved the Magdalen's God and savoured the creed that
has bestowed on lovers one amorous bliss the more--the bliss
of losing their immortal souls.
Little by little the boys wearied of this insubordination, their
imaginations proving unequal to the invention of any new forms
of mischief. Even de Grizolles himself left off shooting beans.
Instead, he conceived the notion of brewing chocolate inside
his desk with a spirit-lamp and a silver patty-pan. Jean left
him in peace and reopened his Sophocles with a sigh of relief.
But the Superintendent, going by in the court, caught a smell of
cooking, searched the desks and unearthed the patty-pan, which he
offered, still warm, for the Reverend the Director's inspection,
with the words: "There! that's what goes on in Monsieur Servien's
class-room." The Director slapped his forehead, declared they
would be the death of him and ordered the patty-pan to be restored
to its owner. Then he sent for the Assistant in charge and
administered a severe reprimand, because he believed it to be
his bounden duty to do so.
The next day was a whole holiday, and Jean went to spend the
day at his father's. The latter asked him if he was ready for
his professorial examination.
"My lad," he adjured him, "be quick and find a good post if you
want me to see you in it. One of these days your aunt and I will
be going out at yonder door feet foremost. The old lady had a
fit of dizziness last week on the stairs. _I_ am not ill, but
I can feel I am worn out. I have done a hard life's work in the
He looked at his tools, and walked away, a bent old man!
Then Jean gathered up in both hands the old work-worn tools, all
polished with use, scissors, punches, knives, folders, scrapers,
and kissed them, the tears running down his cheeks.
At that moment his aunt came in, looking for her spectacles.
Furtively, in a whisper, she asked him for a little money. In
old days she used to save the halfpence to slip them into the
"little lad's " hand; now, grown feebler than the child, she
trembled at the idea of destitution; she hoarded, and asked charity
of the priests. The fact is, her wits were weakening. Very often
she would inform her brother that she did not mean to let the
week pass without going to see the Brideaus. Now the Brideaus,
jobbing tailors at Montrouge in their lifetime, had been dead,
both husband and wife, for the last two years. Jean gave her a
louis, which she took with a delight so ugly to see that the
poor lad took refuge out of doors.
Presently, without quite knowing how, he found himself on the
_Quai_ near the _Pont d'Iena_. It was a bright day, but the
gloomy walls of the houses and the grey look of the river banks
seemed to proclaim that life is hard and cruel. Out in the
stream a dredger, all drab with marl, was discharging one after
the other its bucket-fuls of miry gravel. By the waterside a
stout oaken crane was unloading millstones, wheeling backwards
and forwards on its axis. Under the parapet, near the bridge,
an old dame with a copper-red face sat knitting stockings as
she waited for customers to buy her apple-puffs.
Jean Servien thought of his childhood; many a time had his aunt
taken him to the same spot, many a time had they watched together
the dredger hauling aboard, bucketful by bucketful, the muddy
dregs of the river. Very often his aunt had stopped to exchange
ideas with the old stallkeeper, while he examined the counter
which was spread with a napkin, the carafe of liquorice-water
that stood on it, and the lemon that served as stopper. Nothing
was changed, neither the dredger, nor the rafts of timber, nor
the old woman, nor the four ponderous stallions at either end
of the _Pont d'Iena_.
Yes, Jean Servien could hear the trees along the _Quai_, the
waters of the river, the very stones of the parapet calling to
"We know you; you are the little boy his aunt, in a peasant's
cap, used to bring here to see us in former days. But we shall
never see your aunt again, nor her print shawl, nor her umbrella
which she opened against the sun; for she is old now and does
not take her nephew walks any more, for he is a grown man now.
Yes, the child is grown into a man and has been hurt by life,
while he was running after shadows."
One day, in the midday interval, he was informed that a visitor
was asking for him in the parlour; the news filled him with delight,
for he was very young and still counted on the possibilities of
the unknown. In the parlour he found Monsieur Tudesco, wearing
his waistcoat of ticking and holding a peaked hat in one hand.
"My young friend," began the Italian, "I learned from your respected
father's apprentice that you were confined in this sanctuary of
studious learning. I venture to say your fortune is overcast
with clouds, at least I fear it is. The lowliness of your estate
is not gilded like that of the Latin poet, and you are struggling
with a valiant heart against adverse fortune. That is why I am
come to offer you the hand of friendship, and I venture to say
you will regard as a mark of my amity and my esteem the request
I proffer for a crown-piece, which I find needful to sustain
an existence consecrated to learned studies."
The parlour was filling with pupils and their friends and relations.
Mothers and sons were exchanging sounding kisses, followed by
exclamations of "How hot you are, dear!" and prolonged whisperings.
Girls in light summer frocks were making sheep's eyes on the sly
at their brothers' friends, while fathers were pulling cakes
of chocolate out of their pockets.
Monsieur Tudesco, entirely at his ease among these fine people, did
not seem at all aware of the young usher's hideous embarrassment.
To the latter's "Come outside; we can talk better there," the
old man replied unconcernedly, "Oh, no, I don't think so."
He welcomed each lady who came in with a profound bow, and
distributed friendly taps on the cheek among the young aristocrats
Lying back in an arm-chair and displaying his famous waistcoat
to the very best advantage, he enlarged on such episodes of his
life as he thought most impressive:
"The fates were vanquished," he was telling Servien, "my livelihood
was assured. The landlord of an inn had entrusted his books to me,
and under his roof I was devoting my attention to mathematical
calculations, not, like the illustrious and ill-starred Galileo,
to measure the stars, but to establish with exactitude the profits
and losses of a trader. After two days' performance of these
honourable duties, the Commissary of Police made a descent upon
the inn, arrested the landlord and landlady and carried away my
account books with him. No, I had not vanquished the fates!"
Every head was turned, every eye directed in amazement towards
this extraordinary personage. There was much whispering and some
half-suppressed laughter. Jean, seeing himself the centre of
mocking glances and looks of annoyance, drew Tudesco towards the
door. But just as the Marquis was making a series of sweeping
bows by way of farewell to the ladies, Jean found himself face
to face with the Superintendent of Studies, who said to him:
"Oh! Monsieur Servien, will you go and take detention in Monsieur
The Marquis pressed his young friend's hand, watched him depart
to his duties, and then, turning back to the groups gathered in
the parlour, he waved his hand with a gesture at once dignified
and appealing to call for silence.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he began, "I have translated into the
French tongue, which Brunetto Latini declared to be the most
delectable of all, the _Gerusalemme Liberata_, the glorious
masterpiece of the divine Torquato Tasso. This great work I wrote
in a garret without fire, on candle wrappers, on snuff papers----"
At this point, from one corner of the parlour, a crow of childish
laughter went off like a rocket.
Monsieur Tudesco stopped short and smiled, his hair flying, his
eye moist, his arms thrown open as if to embrace and bless; then
"I say it: the laugh of innocence is the ill-starred veteran's
joy. I see from where I stand groups worthy of Correggio's brush,
and I say: Happy the families that meet together in peace in
the heart of their fatherland! Ladies and gentlemen, pardon me
if I hold out to you the casque of Belisarius. I am an old tree
riven by the levin-bolt."
And he went from group to group holding out his peaked felt hat,
into which, amid an icy silence, fell coin by coin a dribble
of small silver.
But suddenly the Superintendent of Studies seized the hat and
pushed the old man outside.
"Give me back my hat," bawled Monsieur Tudesco to the Superintendent,
who was doing his best to restore the coins to the donors; "give
back the old man's hat, the hat of one who has grown grey in
The Superintendent, scarlet with rage, tossed the felt into the
"Be off, or I will call the police."
The Marquis Tudesco took to his heels with great agility.
The same evening the new Assistant was summoned to the Director's
presence and received his dismissal.
"Unhappy boy! unhappy boy!" said the Abbe Bordier, beating his
brow; "you have been the cause of an intolerable scandal, of a
sort unheard of in this house, and that just when I had so much
And as he spoke, the scattered papers fluttered like white birds
on the Director's table.
Making his way through the parlour, Jean saw the _Mater dolorosa_
as before, and read again the names of Philippe-Guy Thiererche
and the Countess Valentine.
"I hate them," he muttered through clenched teeth, "I hate them
Meantime, the good priest felt a stir of pity. Every day they
had badgered him with reports against Jean Servien. This time he
had given way; he had sacrificed the young usher; but he really
could make nothing of this tale about a beggar. He changed his
mind, ran to the door and called to the young man to corne back.
Jean turned and faced him:
"No!" he cried, "no! I can bear the life no longer; I am unhappy,
I am full of misery--and hate."
"Poor lad!" sight the Director, letting his arms drop by his side.
That evening he did not write a single line of his Tragedy.
The kind-hearted bookbinder harassed his son with no reproaches.
After dinner he went and sat at his shop-door, and looked at the
first star that peeped out in the evening sky.
"My boy," said he, "I am not a man of learning like you; but
I have a notion--and you must not rob me of it, because it is
a comfort to me--that, when I have finished binding books, I
shall go to that star. The idea occurred to me from what I have
read in the paper that the stars are all worlds. What is that
"In my part of the world, they say it is the shepherd's star.
It's a beautiful star, and I think your mother is there. That
is why I should like to go there."
The old man passed his knotted fingers across his brow, murmuring:
"God forgive me, how one forgets those who are gone!"
Jean sought balm for his wounded spirit in reading poetry and in
long, dreamy walks. His head was filled with visions--a welter of
sublime imaginings, in which floated such figures as Ophelia and
Cassandra, Gretchen, Delia, Phaedra, Manon Lescaut, and Virginia,
and hovering amid these, shadows still nameless, still almost
formless, and yet full of seduction! Holding bowls and daggers
and trailing long veils, they came and went, faded and grew vivid
with colour. And Jean could hear them calling to him; "If ever
we win to life, it will be through you. And what a bliss it will
be for you, Jean Servien, to have created us. How you will love
us!" And Jean Servien would answer them; "Come back, come back,
or rather do not leave me. But I cannot tell how to make you
visible; you vanish away when I gaze at you, and I cannot net
you in the meshes of beautiful verse!"
Again and again he tried to write poems, tragedies, romances;
but his indolence, his lack of ideas, his fastidiousness brought
him to a standstill before half a dozen lines were written, and
he would toss the all but virgin page into the fire. Quickly
discouraged, he turned his attention to politics. The funeral
of Victor Noir, the Belleville risings, the _plebiscite_, filled
his thoughts; he read the papers, joined the groups that gathered
on the boulevards, followed the yelping pack of white blouses,
and was one of the crowd that hooted the Commissary of Police as
he read the Riot Act. Disorder and uproar intoxicated him; his
heart beat as if it would burst his bosom, his enthusiasm rose
to fever pitch, amid these stupid exhibitions of mob violence.
Then to end up, after tramping the streets with other gaping idlers
till late at night, he would make his way back, with weary limbs
and aching ribs, his head whirling confusedly with bombast and
loud talk, through the sleeping city to the Faubourg Saint-Germain.
There, as he strode past some aristocratic mansion and saw the
scutcheon blazoned on its facade and the two lions lying white
in the moonlight on guard before its closed portal, he would
cast a look of hatred at the building. Presently, as he resumed
his march, he would picture himself standing, musket in hand, on
a barricade, in the smoke of insurrection, along with workmen
and young fellows from the schools, as we see it all represented
One day in July, he saw a troop of white blouses moving along
the boulevard and shouting: "To Berlin!" Ragamuffin street-boys
ran yelping round. Respectable citizens lined the sidewalks,
staring in wonder, and saying nothing; but one of them, a stout,
tall, red-faced man, waved his hat and shouted:
"To Berlin! long live the Emperor!"
Jean recognized Monsieur Bargemont.
On top of the ramparts. Bivouac huts and stacked rifles guarded
by a sentinel. National Guards are playing shove ha'-penny. The
autumn sunshine lies clear and soft and splendid on the roofs
of the beleaguered city. Outside the fortifications, the bare,
grey fields; in the distance the barracks of the outlying forts,
over which fleecy puffs of smoke sail upwards; on the horizon
the hills whence the Prussian batteries are firing on Paris,
leaving long trails of white smoke. The guns thunder. They have
been thundering for a month, and no one so much as hears them
now. Servien and Garneret, wearing the red-piped _kepi_ and the
tunic with brass buttons, are seated side by side on sand-bags,
bending over the same book.
It was a Virgil, and Jean was reading out loud the delicious
episode of Silenus. Two youths have discovered the old god lying
in a drunken sleep--he is always drunk and it makes men mock at
him, albeit they still revere him--and have bound him in chains
of flowers to force him to sing. AEgle, the fairest of the Naiads,
has stained his cheeks scarlet with juice of the mulberry, and
lo! he sings.
"He sings how from out the mighty void were drawn together the
germs of earth and air and sea and of the subtle fire likewise;
how of these beginnings came all the elements, and the fluid
globe of the firmament grew into solid being; how presently the
ground began to harden and to imprison Nereus in the ocean, and
little by little to take on the shapes of things. He sings how
anon continents marvelled to behold a new-emerging sun; how the
clouds broke up in the welkin and the rains descended, what time
the woods put forth their first green and beasts first prowled
by ones and twos over the unnamed mountain-tops."
Jean broke off to observe:
"How admirably it all brings out Virgil's spirit, so serious
and tender! The poet has put a cosmogony in an idyll. Antiquity
called him the Virgin. The name well befits his Muse, and we
should picture her as a Mnemosyne pondering over the works of
men and the causes of things!"
Meanwhile Garneret, with a more concentrated attention and his
finger on the lines, was marshalling his ideas. The players were
still at their game, and the little copper discs they used for
throwing kept rolling close to his feet, and the canteen-woman
passed backwards and forwards with her little barrel.
"See this, Servien," he said presently; "in these lines Virgil,
or rather the poet of the Alexandrine age who was his model,
has anticipated Laplace's great hypothesis and Charles Lyell's
theories. He shows cosmic matter, that negative something from
which everything must come, condensing to make worlds, the plastic
rind of the globe consolidating; then the formation of islands
and continents; then the rains ceasing and first appearance of
the sun, heretofore veiled by opaque clouds; then vegetable life
manifesting itself before animal, because the latter cannot maintain
itself and endure save by absorbing the elements of the former----"
At that moment a stir was apparent along the ramparts. The players
broke off their game and the two friends lifted their heads.
It was a train of wounded going by. Under the curtains of the
lumbering ambulance-waggons marked with the Geneva red cross could
be seen livid faces tied up in bloodstained bandages. Linesmen
and _mobiles_ tramped behind, their arms hanging in slings. The
Nationals proffered them handfuls of tobacco and asked for news.
But the wounded men only shook their heads and trudged stolidly
on their way.
"Aren't _we_ to have some fighting soon as well as other fellows?"
To which Servien growled back:
"We must first put down the traitors and incapables who govern
us, proclaim the Commune and march all together against the
Hatred of the Empire which had left him to rot in a back-shop
and a school class-room, love of the Republic that was to bring
every blessing in its train had, since the proclamation of September
4, raised Jean Servien's warlike enthusiasm to fever heat. But
he soon wearied of the long drills in the Luxembourg gardens
and the hours of futile sentry-go behind the fortifications.
The sight of tipsy shopkeepers in a frenzy of foolish ardour,
half drink, half patriotism, sickened him, and this playing at
soldiers, tramping through the mud on an empty stomach, struck
him as after all an odious, ugly business.
Luckily Garneret was his comrade in the ranks, and Servien felt
the salutary effect of that well-stored, well-ordered mind, the
servant of duty and stern reality. Only this saved him from a
passion, as futile in the past as it was hopeless in the future,
which was assuming the dangerous character of a mental disease.
He had not seen Gabrielle again for a long time. The theatres
were shut; all he knew, from the newspapers, was that she was
nursing the wounded in the theatre ambulance. He had no wish
now to meet her.
When he was not on duty, he used to lie in bed and read (it was a
hard winter and wood was scarce), or else scour the boulevards and
mix with the throng of idlers in search of news. One evening, early
in January, as he was passing the corner of the _Rue Drouot_, his
attention was attracted by the clamour of voices, and he saw
Monsieur Bargemont being roughly handled by an ill-looking gang
of National Guards.
"I am a better Republican than any of you," the big man was
vociferating; "I have always protested against the infamies of
the Empire. But when you shout: Vive Blanqui!... excuse me...
I have a right to shout: Vive Jules Favre! excuse me, I have a
perfect right----" But his voice was drowned in a chorus of yells.
Men in _kepis_ shook their fists at him, shouting: "Traitor! no
surrender! down with Badinguet!" His broad face, distraught with
terror, still bore traces of its erstwhile look of smug effrontery.
A girl in the crowd shrieked: "Throw him in the river!" and a
hundred voices took up the cry. But just at that moment the crowd
swayed back violently and Monsieur Bargemont darted into the
forecourt of the _Mairie_. A squad of police officers received
him in their ranks and closed in round him. He was saved!
Little by little the crowd melted away, and Jean heard a dozen
different versions of the incident as it travelled with
ever-increasing exaggeration from mouth to mouth. The last comers
learned the startling news that they had just arrested a German
general officer, who had sneaked into Paris as a spy to betray
the city to the enemy with the connivance of the Bonapartists.
The streets being once more passable, Jean saw Monsieur Bargemont
come out of the _Mairie_. He was very red and a sleeve of his
overcoat was torn away.
Jean made up his mind to follow him.
Along the boulevards he kept him in view at a distance, and not
much caring whether he lost track of him or no; but when the
Functionary turned up a cross street, the young man closed in
on his quarry. He had no particular suspicion even now; a mere
instinct urged him to dog the man's heels. Monsieur Bargemont
wheeled to the right, into a fairly broad street, empty and badly
lighted by petroleum flares that supplied the place of the gas
lamps. It was the one street Jean knew better than another. He
had been there so often and often! The shape of the doors, the
colour of the shop-fronts, the lettering on the sign-boards,
everything about it was familiar; not a thing in it, down to
the night-bell at the chemist's and druggist's, but called up
memories, associations, to touch him. The footsteps of the two men
echoed in the silence. Monsieur Bargemont looked round, advanced
a few paces more and rang at a door. Jean Servien had now come up
with him and stood beside him under the archway. It was the same
door he had kissed one night of desperation, Gabrielle's door. It
opened; Jean took a step forward and Monsieur Bargemont, going
in first, left it open, thinking the National Guard there was
a tenant going home to his lodging. Jean slipped in and climbed
two flights of the dark staircase. Monsieur Bargemont ascended
to the third floor and rang at a door on the landing, which was
opened. Jean could hear Gabrielle's voice saying:
"How late you are coming home, dear; I have sent Rosalie to bed;
I was waiting up for you, you see."
The man replied, still puffing and panting with his exertions:
"Just fancy, they wanted to pitch me into the river, those
scoundrels! But never you mind, I've brought you something mighty
rare and precious--a pot of butter."
"Like Little Red Ridinghood," laughed Gabrielle's voice. "Come
in and you shall tell me all about it.... Hark! do you hear?"
"What, the guns? Oh! that never stops."
"No, the noise of a fall on the stairs."
"Give me the candle, I'm going to look."
Monsieur Bargemont went down two or three steps and saw Jean
stretched motionless on the landing.
"A drunkard," he said; "there's so many of them! They were drunkards,
those chaps who wanted to drown me."
He was holding his light to Jean's ashy face, while Gabrielle,
leaning over the rail, looked on:
"It's not a drunken man," she said; "he is too white. Perhaps
it is a poor young fellow dying of hunger. When you're brought
down to rations of bread and horseflesh----"
Then she looked more carefully under frowning brows, and muttered:
"It's very queer, it's really very queer!"
"Do you know him?" asked Bargemont.
"I am trying to remember----"
But there was no need to try; already she had recalled it all--how
her hand had been kissed at the gate of the little house at Bellevue.
Running to her rooms, she returned with water and a bottle of
ether, knelt beside the fainting man, and slipping her arm, which
was encircled by the white band of a nursing sister, under his
shoulders, raised Jean's head. He opened his eyes, saw her, heaved
the deepest sigh of love ever expelled from a human breast and
felt his lids fall softly to again. He remembered nothing; only
she was bending over him; and her breath had caressed his cheek.
Now she was bathing his temples, and he felt a delicious sense
of returning life. Monsieur Bargemont with the candle leant over
Jean Servien, who, opening his eyes for the second time, saw the
man's coarse red cheek within an inch of the actress's delicate
ear. He gave a great cry and a convulsive spasm shook his body.
"Perhaps it is an epileptic fit," said Monsieur Bargemont, coughing;
he was catching cold standing on the staircase.
"We cannot leave a sick man without doing something for him. Go
and wake Rosalie."
He remounted the stairs, grumbling. Meantime Jean had got to his
feet and was standing with averted head.
She said to him in a low tone:
"So you love me still?"
He looked at her with an indescribable sadness:
"No, I don't love you any longer"--and he staggered down the stairs.
Monsieur Bargemont reappeared:
"It's very curious," he said, "but I can't make Rosalie hear."
The actress shrugged her shoulders.
"Look here, go away, will you? I have a horrid headache. Go away,
She was Bargemont's mistress! The thought was torture to Jean
Servien, the more atrocious from the unexpectedness of the discovery.
He both hated and despised the coarse ruffian whose sham good-nature
did not impose on him, and whom he knew for a brutal, dull-witted,
mean-spirited bully. That pimply face, those goggle eyes, that
forehead with the swollen black vein running across it, that heavy
hand, that ugly, vulgar soul, could it be---- It sickened him to
think of it! And disgust was the thing of all others Servien's
delicately balanced nature felt most keenly. His morality was
shaky, and he could have found excuse for elegant vices, refined
perversions, romantic crimes. But Bargemont and his pot of butter!...
Never to possess the most adorable of women, never to see her more,
he was quite willing for the sacrifice still, but to know her in
the arms of that coarse brute staggered the mind and rendered
Absorbed in such thoughts, he found his way back instinctively
to his own quarter of the city. Shells whistled over his head
and burst with terrific reports. Flying figures passed him, their
heads enveloped in handkerchiefs and carrying mattresses on their
backs. At the corner of the _Rue de Rennes_ he tripped over a
lamp-post lying across the pavement beside a half-demolished
wall. In front of his father's shop he saw a huge hole. He went
to open the door; a shell had burst it in and he could see the
work-bench capsized in a dark corner.
Then he remembered that the Germans were bombarding the left
bank, and he felt a sudden impulse to roam the streets under the
rain of iron.
A voice hailed him, issuing from underground:
"Is it you, my lad? Come in quick; you've given me a fine fright.
Come down here; we are settled in the cellars."
He followed his father and found beds arranged in the underground
chambers, while the main cellar served as kitchen and sitting-room.
The bookbinder had a map, and was pointing out to the _concierge_
and tenants the position of the relieving armies. Aunt Servien
sat in a dim corner, her eyes fixed in a dull stare, mumbling
bits of biscuit soaked in wine. She had no notion of what was
happening, but maintained an attitude of suspicion.
The little assemblage, which had been living this subterranean
life since the evening of the day before, asked what news young
Servien brought. Then the bookbinder resumed the explanations
which as an old soldier and a responsible man he had been asked
to give the company.
"The thing to do is," he continued, "to join hands with the Army
of the Loire, piercing the circle of iron that shuts us in. Admiral
La Ronciere has carried the positions at Epinay away beyond
Then turning to Jean:
"My lad, just find me Longjumeau on the map; my eyes are not
what they were at twenty, and these tallow candles give a very
At that moment a tremendous explosion shook the solid walls and
filled the cellar with dust. The women screamed; the porter went
off to make his round of inspection, tapping the walls with his
heavy keys; an enormous spider scampered across the vaulted roof.
Then the conversation was resumed as if nothing had happened,
and two of the lodgers started a game of cards on an upturned
Jean was dog-tired and fell asleep on the floor--a nightmare sleep.
"Has the little lad come home?" asked Aunt Servien, still sucking
at her biscuit.
Old Servien, in his working jacket, stepped up to the bed; then,
creeping away again on tip-toe:
"He is asleep, Monsieur Garneret, he is asleep. The doctor tells
us he is saved. He is a very good doctor! _You_ know that yourself,
for he is your friend, and it was you brought him here. You have
been our saviour, Monsieur Garneret."
And the bookbinder turned his head away to wipe his eyes, walked
across to the window, lifted the curtain and looked out into
the sunlit street.
"The fine weather will quite set him up again. But we have had
six terrible weeks. I never lost heart; it is not in the nature
of things that a father should despair of his son's life; still,
you know, Monsieur Garneret, he has been very ill.
"The neighbours have been very good to us; but it was a hard job
nursing him in this cursed cellar. Just think, Monsieur Garneret,
for twenty days we had to keep his head in ice."
"You know that is the treatment for meningitis."
The bookbinder came up confidentially to Garneret. He scratched his
ear, rubbed his forehead, stroked his chin in great embarrassment.
"My poor lad," he got started at last, "is in love, passionately
in love. I have found it out from the things he said when he
was delirious. It is not my way to interfere with what does not
concern me; but as I see the matter is serious, I am going to
ask you, for his own good, to tell me who it is, if you know
Garneret shrugged his shoulders:
"An actress! a tragedy actress! pooh!"
The bookbinder pondered a moment; then:
"Look you, Monsieur Garneret, I acted for the best in my poor boy's
interest, but I blame myself. I tell myself this, the education I
gave him has disqualified him for hard work and practical life....
An actress, you say, a tragedy actress? Tastes of that sort must
be acquired in the schools. Those times he was attending his
classes, I used to get hold of his exercise books after he had
gone to bed and read whatever there was in French. It was my
way of checking his work; because, ignoramus as he may be, a
man can see, with a little common sense, what is done properly
and what is scamped. Well, Monsieur Garneret, I was terrified to
find in his themes so many high-flown ideas; some of them were
very fine, no doubt, and I copied out on a paper those that struck
me most. But I used to tell myself: All these grand speeches,
all these histories, taken from the books of the ancient Romans,
are going to put my lad's head in a fever, and he will never know
the truth of things. I was right, my dear Monsieur Garneret;
it is school learning, look you, has made him fall in love with
a tragedy actress----"
Jean Servien raised himself up in bed.
"Is that you, Garneret? I am very glad to see you."
Then, after listening a moment:
"Why, what is that noise?" he asked.
Garneret told him it was Mont Valerien firing on the fortifications.
The Commune was in full swing.
"Vive la Commune!" cried Jean Servien, and he dropped his head
back on the pillow with a smile.
He was recovered and, with a book in his hand, was talking a
quiet walk in the Luxembourg gardens. He had that feeling of
harmless selfishness, that self-pity that comes with convalescence.
Of his previous life, all he cared to remember was a charming
face bending over him and a voice sweeter than the loveliest
music murmuring: "So you love me still?" Oh! never fear, he would
not answer now as he did on that dreadful staircase: "I don't
love you any longer." No, he would answer with eyes and lips and
open arms: "I shall love you always!" Still the odious spectre of
his rival would cross his memory at times and cause him agonies.
Suddenly his eyes were caught by an extraordinary sight.
Two yards away from him in the garden, in front of the orange-house,
was Monsieur Tudesco, burly and full-blown as usual, but how
metamorphosed in costume! He wore a National Guard's tunic, covered
with glittering _aiguillettes_; from his red sash peeped the
butts of a brace of pistols. On his head was perched a _kepi_
with five gold bands. The central figure of a group of women
and children, he was gazing at the heavens with as much tender
emotion as his little green eyes were capable of expressing.
His whole person breathed a sense of power and kindly patronage.
His right hand rested at arm's length on a little boy's head,
and he was addressing him in a set speech:
"Young citizen, pride of your mother's heart, ornament of the
public parks, hope of the Commune, hear the words of the proscribed
exile. I say it: Young citizen, the 18th of March is a great day;
it witnessed the foundation of the Commune, it rescued you from
slavery. Grave on your heart's core that never-to-be-forgotten
date. I say it: We have suffered and fought for you. Son of the
disinherited and despairing, you shall be a free man!"
He ended, and restoring the child to its mother, smiled upon
his listeners of the fair sex, who were lost in admiration of
his eloquence, his red sash, his gold lace and his green old
Albeit it was three o'clock in the afternoon, he had not drunk
more than he could carry, and he trod the sandy walks with a
mien of masterful assurance amid the plaudits of the people.
Jean advanced to meet him; he had a soft place in his heart for
the old man. Monsieur Tudesco grasped his hand with a fatherly
affection and declaimed:
"I am overjoyed to see my dear disciple, the child of my intellect.
Monsieur Servien, look yonder and never forget the sight; it is
the spectacle of a free people."
The fact is, a throng of citizens of both sexes was tramping over
the lawns, picking the flowers in the beds and breaking branches
from the trees.
The two friends tried to find seats on a bench; but these were
all occupied by _federes_ of all ranks huddled up on them and
snoring in chorus. For this reason Monsieur Tudesco opined it
was better to adjourn to a cafe.
They came upon one in the _Place de l'Odeon_, where Monsieur
Tudesco could display his striking uniform to his own satisfaction.
"I am an engineer," he announced, when he was seated with his
bitter before him, "an engineer in the service of the Commune,
with the rank of Colonel."
Jean thought it mighty strange all the same. No doubt he had heard
his old tutor's tales about his confabulations at the dram-shop
with the leaders of the Commune, but it struck him as extraordinary
that the Monsieur Tudesco he knew should have blossomed into an
engineer and Colonel under any circumstances. But there was the
fact. Monsieur Tudesco manifested no surprise, not he!
"Science!" he boasted, "science is everything! It's study does
it! Knowledge is power! To vanquish the myrmidons of despotism,
we must have science. That is why I am an engineer with the rank
And Monsieur Tudesco went on to relate how he was charged with
very special duties--to discover the underground passages which
the instruments of tyranny had dug beneath the capital, tunnelling
under the two branches of the Seine, for the transport of munitions
of war. At the head of a gang of navvies, he inspected the palaces,
hospitals, barracks and religious houses, breaking up cellars
and staving in drain-pipes. Science! science is everything! He
also inspected the crypts of churches, to unearth traces of the
priests' lubricity. Knowledge is power!
After the bitter came absinthe, and Colonel Tudesco proposed
for Servien's consideration a lucrative post at the Delegacy for
But Jean shook his head. He felt tired and had lost all heart.
"I see what it is," cried the Colonel, patting him on the shoulder;
"you are young and in love. There are two spirits breathe their
inspiration alternately in the ear of mankind--Love and Ambition.
Love speaks the first; and you are still hearkening to his voice,
my young friend."
Jean, who had drunk _his_ share of absinthe, confessed that he
was deeper in love than ever and that he was jealous. He related
the episode of the staircase and inveighed bitterly against Monsieur
Bargemont. Nor did he fail to identify his case with the good of
the Commune, by making out Gabrielle's lover to be a Bonapartist
and an enemy of the people.
Colonel Tudesco drew a note-book from his pocket, inscribed
Bargemont's name and address in it, and cried:
"If the man has not fled like a poltroon, we will make a hostage
of him! I am the friend of the Citizen Delegate in charge of
the Prefecture of Police, and I say it: you shall be avenged
on the infamous Bargemont! Have you read the decree concerning
hostages? No? Read it then; it is an inimitable monument of the
wisdom of the people.
"I tear myself regretfully from your company, my young friend.
But I must be gone to discover an underground passage the Sisters
of Marie-Joseph, in their contumacy, have driven right from the
Prison of Saint-Lazare to the Mother Convent in the village of
Argenteuil. It is a long tunnel by which they communicate with
the traitors at Versailles. Come and see me in my quarters at
the General Staff, in the _Place Vendome_. Farewell and
Jean paid the Colonel's score and set out for home. The walls
were all plastered over with posters and proclamations. He read
one that was half hidden under bulletins of victories:
"Article IV. _All persons detained in custody by the verdict
of the jury of accusation shall be hostages of the people of
"Article V. _Every execution of a prisoner of war or a partisan
of the government of the Commune of Paris shall be followed by
the instant execution of thrice the number of hostages detained
in virtue of Article IV, the same being chosen by lot._"
He frowned dubiously and asked himself:
"Can it be I have denounced a man as hostage?"
But his fears were soon allayed; Colonel Tudesco was only a wind-bag,
and could not really arrest people. Besides, was it credible
that Bargemont, head of a Ministerial Department, was still in
Paris? And after all, if he did come to harm, well, so much the
worse for him!
Two days after a cab with a musket barrel protruding from either
window stopped before the bookbinder's shop. The two National
Guards who stumbled out of it demanded to see the citizen Jean
Servien, handed him a sealed packet and signed to him to open
the door wide and wait for them. Next minute they reappeared
carrying a full-length portrait.
It represented a woman of forty or thereabouts, with a yellow
face, very long and disproportionately large for the frail, sickly
body it surmounted, and dressed in an unpretending black gown.
She wore a sad, submissive look. Her grey eyes bespoke a contrite
and fearful heart, the cheeks were pendulous and the loose chin
almost touched the bosom. Jean scrutinized the poor, pitiful
face, but could recall no memory in connection with it. He opened
the letter and read:
"_Commune of Paris--General Staff_.
"Order to deliver to the citizen Jean Servien
the portrait of Madame Bargemont.
"Colonel commanding the Subterranean
Ways of the Commune."
Jean wanted to ask the National Guards what it all meant, but
already the cab was driving off, bayonets protruding from both
windows. The passers-by, who had long ceased to be surprised at
anything, cast a momentary glance after the retreating vehicle.
Jean, left alone with Madame Bargemont's portrait before him,
began to ask himself why his disconcerting friend Tudesco had
sent it to him.
"The wretch," he told himself, "must have arrested Bargemont and
sacked his apartments."
Meantime Madame Bargemont was gazing at him with a martyr's haunting
eyes. She looked so unhappy that Jean was filled with pity.
"Poor woman!" he ejaculated, and turning the canvas face to the
wall, he left the house.
Presently the bookbinder returned to his work and, though anything
but an inquisitive man, was tempted to look at this big picture
that blocked up his shop. He scratched his head, wondering if
this could be the actress his son was in love with. He opined she
must be mightily taken with the young man to send him so large
a portrait in so handsome a frame. He could not see anything to
capture a lover's fancy.
"At any rate," he thought, "she does not look like a bad woman."
Jean stepped over the bodies of two or three drunked National
Guards and found himself in the room occupied by Colonel Tudesco
and in that worthy's presence. The Colonel lay snoring on a satin
sofa, a cold chicken on the table at his elbow. He wore his spurs.
Jean shook him roughly by the shoulder and asked him where the
portrait came from, declaring that he, Jean, had not the smallest
wish to keep it. The Colonel woke, but his speech was thick and
his memory confused. His mind was full of his underground passages.
He was commander of them all and could not find one. There was
something in this fact that offended his sense of justice. The
Lady Superior of the Nuns of Marie-Joseph had refused to betray
the secret of the famous Saint-Lazare tunnel.
"She has refused," declared the old Italian, "out of contumacy--and
also, perhaps, because there is no tunnel. And, since truth must
out, I'm bound to say, if I was not Commandant of the subterranean
passages of the capital, I should really think there were none."
His wits came back little by little.
"Young man, you have seen the soldier reposing from his labours.
What question have you come to ask the veteran champion of freedom?"
"About Bargemont? About that portrait?"
"I know, I know. I proceeded with a dozen men to his domicile
to arrest him, but he had taken to flight, the coward! I carried
out a perquisition in his rooms. In the _salon_ I saw Madame
Bargemont's portrait and I said: 'That lady looks as sad as Monsieur
Jean Servien. They are both victims of the infamous Bargemont;
I will bring them together and they shall console each other.'
Monsieur Servien, oblige me by tasting that cognac; it comes
from the cellar of your odious rival."
He poured the brandy into two big glasses and hiccuped with a
"The cognac of an enemy tastes well."
Then he fell back on the sofa, muttering:
"The soldier reposing----"
His face was crimson. Jean shrugged his shoulders and left the
room. He had hardly opened the door when the old man began howling
in his sleep: "Help! help! they're murdering me."
In an instant the _federes_ on guard hurled themselves upon Jean;
he could feel the cold muzzles of revolvers at his temples and
hear rifles banging off at random in the ante-room.
The Colonel was raving in the frenzy of alcoholic delirium, writhing
in horrible convulsions and yelling: "He has killed me! he has
"He has murdered the Colonel," the _federes_ took up the cry.
"He has poisoned him. Take him before the court martial."
"Shoot him right away. He's an assassin; the Versaillais have
"Off with him to the lock-up!"
Servien's denials and struggles were in vain. Again and again
"You can see for yourselves he's drunk and asleep!"
"Listen to him--he is insulting the sovereign people."
"Pitch him in the river!"
"Swing him on a lamp-post."