Part 4 out of 4
After observing the more than equivocal intimacy in which you are
living with your housekeeper, I ought to have taken measures at
once to render it impossible for you ever to come into contact with
an innocent child. In the future I shall certainly do it. If up to
this time I have been too trustful, it is for Mademoiselle Alexandre,
and not for you, to reproach me with it. But she is too artless and
too pure--thanks to me!--ever to have suspected the nature of that
danger into which you were trying to lead her. I scarecly suppose
that you will place me under the necessity of enlightening her upon
"Come, my poor old Bonnard," I said to myself, as I shrugged my
shoulders--"so you had to live as long as this in order to learn for
the first time exactly what a wicked woman is. And now your knowledge
of the subject is complete."
I went out without replying; and I had the pleasure of observing,
from the sudden flush which overspread the face of the schoolmistress,
that my silence had wounded her far more than my words.
As I passed through the court I looked about me in every direction
for Jeanne. She was watching for me, and she ran to me.
"If anybody touches one little hair of your head, Jeanne, write to
"No, not good-bye."
"Well, no--not good-bye! Write to me!"
I went straight to Madame de Gabry's residence.
"Madame is at Rome with Monsieur. Did not Monsieur know it?"
"Why, yes," I replied. "Madame wrote to me."...
She had indeed written to me in regard to her leaving home; but my
head must have become very much confused, so that I had forgotten
all about it. The servant seemed to be of the same opinion, for
he looked at me in a way that seemed to signify, "Monsieur Bonnard
is doting"--and he leaned down over the balustrade of the stairway
to see if I was not going to do something extraordinary before I
got to the bottom. But I descended the stairs rationally enough;
and then he drew back his head in disappointment.
On returning home I was informed that Monsieur Gelis was waiting for
me in the parlour. (This young man has become a constant visitor.
His judgement is at fault at times; but his mind is not at all
commonplace.) On this occasion, however, his usually welcome visit
only embarrassed me. "Alas!" I thought to myself, "I shall be sure
to say something very stupid to my young friend to-day, and he
also will think that my facilities are becoming impaired. But still
I cannot really explain to him that I had first been demanded in
wedlock, and subsequently traduced as a man wholly devoid of morals--
that even Therese had become an object of suspicion--and that Jeanne
remains in the power of the most rascally woman on the face of the
earth. I am certainly in an admirable state of mind for conversing
about Cistercian abbeys with a young and mischievously minded man.
Nevertheless, we shall see--we shall try."...
But Therese stopped me:
"How red you are, Monsieur!" she exclaimed, in a tone of reproach.
"It must be the spring," I answered.
She cried out,
"The spring!--in the month of December?"
That is a fact! this is December. Ah! what is the matter with my
head? what a fine help I am going to be to poor Jeanne!
"Therese, take my cane; and put it, if you possibly can, in some
place where I shall be able to find it again.
"Good-day, Monsieur Gelis. How are you?"
Next morning the old boy wanted to get up; but the old boy could
not get up. A merciless invisible hand kept him down upon his bed.
Finding himself immovably riveted there, the old boy resigned himself
to remain motionless; but his thoughts kept running in all directions.
He must have had a very violent fever; for Mademoiselle Prefere, the
Abbots of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, and the servant of Madame de Gabry
appeared to him in divers fantastic shapes. The figure of the
servant in particular lengthened weirdly over his head, grimacing
like some gargoyle of a cathedral. Then it seemed to me that there
were a great many people, much too many people, in my bedroom.
This bedroom of mine is furnished after the antiquated fashion. The
portrait of my father in full uniform, and the portrait of my mother
in her cashmere dress, are suspended on the wall. The wall-paper
is covered with green foliage designs. I am aware of all this, and
I am even conscious that everything is faded, very much faded. But
an old man's room does not require to be pretty; it is enough that
it should be clean, and Therese sees to that. At all events my room
is sufficiently decorated to please a mind like mine, which has
always remained somewhat childish and dreamy. There are things
hanging on the wall or scattered over the tables and shelves which
usually please my fancy and amuse me. But to-day it would seem as
if all those objects had suddenly conceived some kind of ill-will
against me. They have all become garish, grimacing, menacing. That
statuette, modelled after one of the Theological Virtues of Notre-
Dame de Brou, always so ingenuously graceful in its natural condition,
is now making contortions and putting out its tongue at me. And
that beautiful miniature--in which one of the most skilful pupils
of Jehan Fouquet depicted himself, girdled with the cord-girdle of
the Sons of St. Francis, offering his book, on bended knee, to the
good Duc d'Angouleme--who has taken it out of its frame and put in
its place a great ugly cat's head, which stares at me with
phosphorescent eyes. And the designs on the wall-paper have also
turned into heads--hideous green heads.... But no--I am sure that
wall-paper must have foliage-designs upon it at this moment just
as it had twenty years ago, and nothing else.... But no, again--I
was right before--they are heads, with eyes, noses, mouths--they
are heads!... Ah! now I understand! they are both heads and foliage-
designs at the same time. I wish I could not see them at all.
And there, on my right, the pretty miniature of the Franciscan has
come back again; but it seems to me as if I can only keep it in its
frame by a tremendous effort of will, and that the moment I get
tired the ugly cat-head will appear in its place. Certainly I am
not delirious; I can see Therese very plainly, standing at the foot
of my bed; I can hear her speaking to me perfectly well, and I should
be able to answer her quite satisfactorily if I were not kept so
busy in trying to compel the various objects about me to maintain
their natural aspect.
Here is the doctor coming. I never sent for him, but it gives me
pleasure to see him. He is an old neighbor of mine; I have never
been of much service to him, but I like him very much. Even if I
do not say much to him, I have at least full possession of all my
faculties, and I even find myself extraordinarily crafty and
observant to-day, for I note all his gestures, his every look, the
least wrinkling of his face. But the doctor is very cunning, too,
and I cannot really tell what he thinks about me. The deep thought
of Goethe suddenly comes to my mind and I exclaim,
"Doctor, the old man has consented to allow himself to become sick;
but he does not intend, this time at least, to make any further
concessions to nature."
Neither the doctor nor Therese laughs at my little joke. I suppose
they cannot have understood it.
The doctor goes away; evening comes; and all sorts of strange shadows
begin to shape themselves about my bed-curtains, forming and
dissolving by turns. And other shadows--ghosts--throng by before
me; and through them I can see distinctively the impassive face of
my faithful servant. And suddenly a cry, a shrill cry, a great cry
of distress, rends my ears. Was it you who called me Jeanne?
The day is over; and the shadows take their places at my bedside to
remain with me all through the long night.
Then morning comes--I feel a peace, a vast peace, wrapping me all
Art Thou about to take me into Thy rest, my dear Lord God?
The doctor is quite jovial. It seems that I am doing him a great
deal of credit by being able to get out of bed. If I must believe
him, innumerable disorders must have pounced down upon my poor old
body all at the same time.
These disorders, which are the terror of ordinary mankind, have
names which are the terror of philologists. They are hybrid names,
half Greek, half Latin, with terminations in "itis," indicating the
inflammatory condition, and in "algia," indicating pain. The doctor
gives me all their names, together with a corresponding number of
adjectives ending in "ic," which serve to characterise their
detestable qualities. In short, they represent a good half of that
most perfect copy of the Dictionary of Medicine contained in the too-
authentic box of Pandora.
"Doctor, what an excellent common-sense story the story of Pandora
is!--if I were a poet I would put it into French verse. Shake hands,
doctor! You have brought me back to life; I forgive you for it. You
have given me back to my friends; I thank you for it. You say I am
quite strong. That may be, that may be; but I have lasted a very
long time. I am a very old article of furniture; I might be very
satisfactorily compared to my father's arm-chair. It was an arm-
chair which the good man had inherited, and in which he used to
lounge from morning until evening. Twenty times a day, when I was
quite a baby, I used to climb up and seat myself on one of the arms
of that old-fashioned chair. So long as the chair remained intact,
nobody paid any particular attention to it. But it began to limp
on one foot and then folks began to say that it was a very good
chair. Afterwards it became lame in three legs, squeaked with the
fourth leg, and lost nearly half of both arms. Then everybody
would exclaim, 'What a strong chair!' They wondered how it was
that after its arms had been worn off and all its legs knocked out
of perpendicular, it could yet preserve the recognisable shape of
a chair, remains nearly erect, and still be of some service. The
horse-hair came out of its body at last, and it gave up the ghost.
And when Cyprien, our servant, sawed up its mutilated members for
fire-wood, everybody redoubled their cries of admiration. Oh!
what an excellent--what a marvellous chair! It was the chair of
Pierre Sylvestre Bonnard, the cloth merchant--of Epimenide Bonnard,
his son--of Jean-Baptiste Bonnard, the Pyrrhonian philosopher and
Chief of the Third Maritime Division. Oh! what a robust and venerable
chair!' In reality it was a dead chair. Well, doctor, I am that
chair. You think I am solid because I have been able to resist an
attack which would have killed many people, and which only three-
fourths killed me. Much obliged! I feel none the less that I am
something which has been irremediably damaged."
The doctor tries to prove to me, with the help of enormous Greek and
Latin words, that I am really in a very good condition. It would,
of course, be useless to attempt any demonstration of this kind in
so lucid a language as French. However, I allow him to persuade me
at last; and I see him to the door.
"Good! good!" exclaimed Therese; "that is the way to put the doctor
out of the house! Just do the same thing once or twice again, and
he will not come to see you any more--and so much the better?"
"Well, Therese, now that I have become such a hearty man again, do
not refuse to give me my letters. I am sure there must be quite
a big bundle of letters, and it would be very wicked to keep me any
longer from reading them."
Therese, after some little grumbling, gave me my letters. But what
did it matter?--I looked at all the envelopes, and saw that no one
of them had been addressed by the little hand which I so much wish
I could see here now, turning over the pages of the Vecellio. I
pushed the whole bundle of letters away: they had no more interest
It was a hotly contested engagement.
"Wait, Monsieur, until I have put on my clean things," exclaimed
Therese, "and I will go out with you this time also; I will carry
your folding-stool as I have been doing these last few days, and we
will go and sit down somewhere in the sun."
Therese actually thinks me infirm. I have been sick, it is true,
but there is an end to all things! Madame Malady has taken her
departure quite awhile ago, and it is now more than three months
since her pale and gracious-visaged handmaid, Dame Convalescence,
politely bade me farewell. If I were to listen to my housekeeper,
I should become a veritable Monsieur Argant, and I should wear a
nightcap with ribbons for the rest of my life.... No more of this!--
I propose to go out by myself! Therese will not hear of it. She
takes my folding-stool, and wants to follow me.
"Therese, to-morrow, if you like, we will take our seats on the
sunny side of the wall of La Petite Provence and stay there just as
long as you please. But to-day I have some very important affairs
to attend to."
"So much the better! But your affairs are not the only affairs in
I beg; I scold; I make my escape.
It is quite a pleasant day. With the aid of a cab and the help of
almighty God, I trust to be able to fulfil my purpose.
There is the wall on which is painted in great blue letters the
words "Pensionnat de Demoiselles tenu par Mademoiselle Virginie
Prefere." There is the iron gate which would give free entrance
into the court-yard if it were ever opened. But the lock is rusty,
and sheets of zinc put up behind the bars protect the indiscreet
observation those dear little souls to whom Mademoiselle Prefere
doubtless teaches modesty, sincerity, justice, and disinterestedness.
There is a window, with iron bars before it, and panes daubed over
with white paint--the window of the domestic offices, like a glazed
eye--the only aperture of the building opening upon the exterior
world. As for the house-door, through which I entered so often,
but which is now closed against me for ever, it is just as I saw it
the last time, with its little iron-grated wicket. The single
stone step in front of it is deeply worn, and, without having very
good eyes behind my spectacles, I can see the little white scratches
on the stone which have been made by the nails in the shoes of the
girls going in and out. And why cannot I also go in? I have a
feeling that Jeanne must be suffering a great deal in this dismal
house, and that she calls my name in secret. I cannot go away from
the gate! A strange anxiety takes hold of me. I pull the bell.
The scared-looking servant comes to the door, even more scared-
looking than when I saw her the last time. Strict orders have been
given; I am not to be allowed to see Mademoiselle Jeanne. I beg
the servant to be so kind as to tell me how the child is. The
servant, after looking to her right and then to her left, tells me
that Mademoiselle Jeanne is well, and then shuts the door in my
face. And I am all alone in the street again.
How many times since then have I wandered in the same way under that
wall, and passed before the little door,--full of shame and despair
to find myself even weaker than that poor child, who has no other
help of friend except myself in the world!
Finally I overcame my repugnance sufficiently to call upon Maitre
Mouche. The first thing I remarked was that his office is much more
dusty and much more mouldy this year that it was last year. The
notary made his appearance after a moment, with his familiar stiff
gestures, and his restless eyes quivering behind his eye-glasses.
I made my complaints to him. He answered me.... But why should I
write down, even in a notebook which I am going to burn, my
recollections of a downright scoundrel? He takes sides with
Mademoiselle Prefere, whose intelligent mind and irreproachable
character he has long appreciated. He does not feel himself in a
position to decide the nature of the question at issue; but he must
assure me that appearances have been greatly against me. That of
course makes no difference to me. He adds--(and this does make some
sense to me)--that the small sum which had been placed in his hands
to defray the expenses of the education of his ward has been
expended, and that, in view of the circumstances, he cannot but
gently admire the disinterestedness of Mademoiselle Prefere in
consenting to allow Mademoiselle Jeanne to remain with her.
A magnificent light, the light of a perfect day, floods the sordid
place with its incorruptible torrent, and illuminates teh person of
And outside it pours down its splendour upon all the wretchedness of
a populous quarter.
How sweet it is,--this light with which my eyes have so long been
filled, and which ere long I must for ever cease to enjoy! I wander
out with my hands behind me, dreaming as I go, following the line of
the fortifications; and I find myself after awhile, I know not how,
in an out-of-the-way suburb full of miserable little gardens. By
the dusty roadside I observe a plant whose flower, at once dark and
splendid, seems worthy of association with the noblest and purest
mouning for the dead. It is a columbine. Our fathers called it "Our
Lady's Glove"--le gant de Notre-Dame. Only such a "Notre-Dame"
as might make herself very, very small, for the sake of appearing to
little children, could ever slip her dainty fingers into the narrow
capsue of that flower.
And there is a big bumble-bee who tries to force himself into the
flower, brutally; but his mouth cannot reach the nectar, and the
poor glutton strives and strives in vain. He has to give up the
attempt, and comes out of the flower all smeared over with pollen.
He flies off in his own heavy lumbering way; but there are not many
flowers in this portion of the suburbs, which has been defiled by
the soot and smoke of factories. So he comes back to the columbine
again, and this time he pierces the corolla and sucks the honey
through the little hole which he has made; I should never have thought
that a bumble-bee had so much sense! Why, that is admirble! The
more I observe, them, the more do insects and flowers fill me with
astonishment. I am like that good Rollin who went wild with delight
over the flowers of his peach-trees. I wish I could have a fine
garden, and live at the verge of a wood.
It occurred to me one Sunday morning to watch for the moment when
Mademoiselle Prefere's pupils were leaving the school in procession
to attand Mass at the parish church. I watched them passing two
by two,--the little ones first with very serious faces. There were
three of them all dressed exactly alike--dumpy, plump, important-
looking little creatures, whom I recognized at once as the Mouton
girls. Their elder sister is the artist who drew that terrrible
head of Tatius, King of the Sabines. Beside the column, the
assistant school-teacher, with her prayer-book in her hand, was
gesturing and frowning. Then came the next oldest class, and
finally the big girls, all whispering to each other, as they went
by. But I did not see Jeanne.
I went to police-headquarters and inquired whether they chanced to
have, filed away somewhere or other, any information regarding the
establishment in the Rue Demours. I succeeded in inducing them to
send some female inspectors there. These returned bringing with
them the most favourable reports about the establishment. In their
opinion the Prefere School was a model school. It is evident that
if I were to force an investigation, Mademoiselle Prefere would
receive academic honours.
This Thursday being a school-holiday I had teh chance of meeting the
three little Mouton girls in the vicinity of the Rue Demours. After
bowing to their mother, I asked the eldest who appears to be about
ten years old, how was her playmate, Mademoiselle Jeanne Alexandre.
The little Mouton girl answered me, all in a breath,
"Jeanne Alexandre is not my playmate. She is only kept in the school
for charity--so they make her sweep the class-rooms. It was
Mademoiselle who said so. And Jeanne Alexandre is a bad girl; so
they lock her up in the dark room--and it serves her right--and I
am a good girl--and I am never locked up in the dark room."
The three little girls resumed their walk, and Madame Mouton followed
close behind them, looking back over her broad shoulder at me, in a
very suspicious manner.
Alas! I find myself reduced to expedients of a questionable
character. Madame de Gabry will not come back to Paris for at least
three months more, at the very soonest. Without her, I have no tact,
I have no common sense--I am nothing but a cumbersome, clumsy,
Nevertheless, I cannot possibly permit them to make Jeanne a
The idea that Jeanne was obliged to sweep the rooms had become
The weather was dark and cold. Night had already begun. I rang the
school-door bell with the tranquillity of a resolute man. The moment
that the timid servant opened the door, I slipped a gold piece into
her hand, and promised her another if she would arrange matters so
that I could see Mademoiselle Alexandre. Her answer was,
"In one hour from now, at the grated window."
And she slammed the door in my face so rudely that she knocked my
hat into the gutter. I waited for one very long hour in a violent
snow-storm; then I approached the window. Nothing! The wind raged,
and the snow fell heavily. Workmen passing by with their implements
on their shoulders, and their heads bent down to keep the snow from
coming in their faces, rudely jostled me. Still nothing. I began
to fear I had been observed. I knew that I had done wrong in bribing
a servant, but I was not a bit sorry for it. Woe to the man who
does not know how to break through social regulations in case of
necessity! Another quarter of an hour passed. Nothing. At last
the window was partly opened.
"Is that you, Monsieur Bonnard?"
Is that you, Jeanne?--tell me at once what has become of you."
"I am well--very well."
"But what else!"
"They have put me in the kitchen, and I have to sweep the school-
"In the kitchen! Sweeping--you! Gracious goodness!"
"Yes, because my guardian does not pay for my schooling any longer."
"Gracious goodness! Your guardian seems to me to be a thorough
"Then you know---"
"Oh! don't ask me to tell you that!--but I would rather die than find
myself alone with him again."
"And why did you not write to me?"
"I was watched."
At this instant I formed a resolve which nothing in this world could
have induced me to change. I did, indeed, have some idea that I
might be acting contrary to law; but I did not give myself the least
concern about that idea. And, being firmly resolved, I was able to
be prudent. I acted with remarkable coolness.
"Jeanne," I asked, "tell me! does that room you are in open into
"Can you open the street-door from the inside yourself?"
"Yes,--if there is nobody in the porter's lodge."
"Go and see if there is any one there, and be careful that nobody
Then I waited, keeping a watch on the door and window.
In six or seven seconds Jeanne reappeared behind the bars, and said,
"The servant is in the porter's lodge."
"Very well," I said, "have you a pen and ink?"
"Pass it out here."
I took an old newspaper out of my pocket, and--in a wind which blew
almost hard enough to put the street-lamps out, in a downpour of
snow which almost blinded me--I managed to wrap up and address that
paper to Mademoiselle Prefere.
While I was writing I asked Jeanne,
"When the postman passes he puts the papers and letters in the box,
doesn't he? He rings the bell and goes away? Then the servant opens
the letter-box and takes whatever she finds there to Mademoiselle
Prefere immediately; is not that about the way the thing is managed
whenever anything comes by post?"
Jeanne thought it was.
"Then we shall soon see. Jeanne, go and watch again; and, as soon
as the servant leaves the lodge, open the door and come out here to
Having said this, I put my newspaper in the box, gave the bell a
tremendous pull, and then hid myself in the embrasure of a
I might have been there several minutes, when the little door
quivered, then opened, and a young girl's head made its appearance
through the opening. I took hold of it; I pulled it towards me.
"Come, Jeanne! come!"
She stared at me uneasily. Certainly she must have been afraid that
I had gone mad; but, on the contrary, I was very rational indeed.
"Come, my child! come!"
"To Madame de Gabry's."
Then she took my arm. For some time we ran like a couple of thieves.
But running is an exercise ill-suited to one as corpulent as I am,
and, finding myself out of breath at last, I stopped and leaned
upon something which turned out to be the stove of a dealer in
roasted chestnuts, who was doing business at the corner of a wine-
seller's shop, where a number of cabmen were drinking. One of them
asked us if we did not want a cab. Most assuredly we wanted a cab!
The driver, after setting down his glass on the zinc counter,
climbed upon his seat and urged his horse forward. We were saved.
"Phew!" I panted, wiping my forehead. For, in spite of the cold,
I was perspiring profusely.
What seemed very odd was that Jeanne appeared to be much more
conscious than I was of the enormity which we had committed. She
looked very serious indeed, and was visibly uneasy.
"In the kitchen!" I cried out, with indignation.
She shook her head, as if to say, "Well, there or anywhere else,
what does it matter to me?" And by the light of the street-lamps,
I observed with pain that her face was very thin and her features
all pinched. I did not find in her any of that vivacity, any of
those bright impulses, any of that quickness of expression, which
used to please me so much. Her gaze had become timid, her gestures
constrained, her whole attitude melancholy. I took her hand--a
little cold hand, which had become all hardened and bruised. The
poor child must have suffered very much. I questioned her. She
told me very quietly that Mademoiselle Prefere had summoned her
one day, and called her a little monster and a little viper, for
some reason which she had never been able to learn.
She had added, "You shall not see Monsieur Bonnard any more; for he
has been giving you bad advice, and he has conducted himself in a
most shameful manner towards me." "I then said to her, 'That,
Mademoiselle, you will never be able to make me believe.' Then
Mademoiselle slapped my face and sent me back to the school-room.
The announcement that I should never be allowed to see you again
made me feel as if night had come down upon me. Don't you know
those evenings when one feels so sad to see the darkness come?--well,
just imagine such a moment stretched out into weeks--into whole
months! Don't you remember my little Saint-George? Up to that
time I had worked at it as well as I could--just simply to work at
it--just to amuse myself. But when I lost all hope of ever seeing
you again I took my little wax figure, and I began to work at it in
quite another way. I did not try to model it with wooden matches
any more, as I had been doing, but with hair pins. I even made use
of epingles a la neige. But perhaps you do not know what epingles
a la neige are? Well, I became more particular about than you can
possibly imagine. I put a dragon on Saint-George's helmet; and I
passed hours and hours in making a head and eyes and tail for the
dragon. Oh the eyes! the eyes, above all! I never stopped working
at them till I got them so that they had red pupils and white eye-
lids and eye-brows and everything! I know I am very silly; I had
an idea that I was going to die as soon as my little Saint-George
would be finished. I worked at it during recreation-hours, and
Mademoiselle Prefere used to let me alone. One day I learned that
you were in the parlour with the schoolmistress; I watched for you;
we said 'Au revoir!' that day to each other. I was a little consoled
by seeing you. But, some time after that, my guardian came and
wanted to make me go to his house,--but please don't ask me why,
Monsieur. He answered me, quite gently, that I was a very whimsical
little girl. And then he left me alone. But the next day
Mademoiselle Prefere came to me with such a wicked look on her face
that I was really afraid. She had a letter in her hand.
'Mademoiselle,' she said to me, 'I am informed by your guardian
that he has spent all the money which belonged to you. Don't be
afraid! I do not intend to abandon you; but, you must acknowledge
yourself, it is only right that you should earn your own livelihood.'
Then she put me to work house-cleaning; and whenever I made a mistake
she would lock me up in the garet for days together. And that is
what has happened to me since I saw you last. Even if I had been
able to write to you I do not know whether I should have done it,
because I did not think you could possibly take me away from the
school; and, as Maitre Mouche did not come back to see me, there
was no hurry. I thought I could wait for awhile in the garret and
"Jeanne," I cried, "even if we should have to flee to Oceania, the
abominable Prefere shall never get hold of you again. I will take
a great oath on that! And why should we not go to Oceania? The
climate is very healthy; and I read in a newspaper the other day
that they have pianos there. But, in the meantime, let us go to
the house of Madame de Gabry, who returned to Paris, as luck would
have it, some three or four days ago; for you and I are two innocent
fools, and we have great need of some one to help us."
Even as I was speaking Jeanne's features suddenly became pale, and
seemed to shrink into lifelessness; her eyes became all dim; her
lips, half open, contracted with an expression of pain. Then her
head sank sideways on her shoulder;--she had fainted.
I lifter her in my arms, and carried her up Madame de Gabry's
staircase like a little baby asleep. But I was myself on the point
of fainting from emotional excitement and fatigue together, when
she came to herself again.
"Ah! it is you." she said: "so much the better!"
Such was our condition when we rang our friend's door-bell.
It was eight o'clock. Madame de Gabry, as might be supposed, was
very much surprised by our unexpected appearance. But she welcomed
the old man and the child with that glad kindness which always
expresses itself in her beautiful gestures. It seems to me,--if I
might use the language of devotion so familiar to her,--it seems to
me as though some heavenly grace streams from her hands when ever
she opens them; and even the perfume which impregnates her robes
seems to inspire the sweet calm zeal of charity and good works.
Surprised she certainly was; but she asked us no question,--and
that silence seemed to me admirable.
"Madame," I said to her, "we have both come to place ourselves under
your protection. And, first of all, we are going to ask you to give
us some super--or to give Jeanne some, at least; for a moment ago,
in the carriage, she fainted from weakness. As for myself, I could
not eat a bite at this late hour without passing a night of agony
in consequence. I hope that Monsieur de Gabry is well."
"Oh, he is here!" she said.
And she called him immediately.
"Come in here, Paul! Come and see Monsieur Bonnard and Mademoiselle
He came. It was a pleasure for me to see his frank broad face, and
to press his strong square hand. Then we went, all four of us,
into the dining-room; and while some cold meat was being cut for
Jeanne--which she never touched notwithstanding--I related our
adventure. Paul de Gabry asked me permission to smoke his pipe,
after which he listened to me in silence. When I had finished my
recital he scratched the short, stiff beard upon his chin, and
uttered a tremendous "Sacrebleu!" But, seeing Jeanne stare at
each of us in turn, with a frightened look in her face, he added:
"We will talk about this matter to-morrow morning. Come into my
study for a moment; I have an old book to show you that I want you
to tell me something about."
I followed him into his study, where the steel of guns and hunting
knives, suspended against the dark hangings, glimmered in the lamp-
light. There, pulling me down beside him upon a leather-covered
sofa, he exclaimed,
"What have you done? Great God! Do you know what you have done?
Corruption of a minor, abduction, kidnapping! You have got yourself
into a nice mess! You have simply rendered yourself liable to a
sentence of imprisonment of not less than five nor more than ten
"Mercy on us!" I cried; "ten years imprisonment for having saved an
"That is the law!" answered Monsieur de Gabry. "You see, my dear
Monsieur Bonnard, I happen to know the Code pretty well--not because
I ever studied law as a profession, but because, as mayor of Lusance,
I was obliged to teach myself something about it in order to be able
to give information to my subordinates. Mouche is a rascal; that
woman Prefere is a vile hussy; and you are a...Well! I really cannot
find a word strong enough to signify what you are!"
After opening his bookcase, where dog-collars, riding-whips, stirrups,
spurs, cigar-boxes, and a few books of reference were indiscriminately
stowed away, he took out of it a copy of the Code, and began to turn
over the leaves.
"'CRIMES AND MISDEMEANOURS'...'SEQUESTRATION OF PERSONS'--that is
not your case.... 'ABDUCTION OF MINORS'--here we are....'ARTICLE
354':--'Whosever shall, either by fraud or violence, have abducted
or have caused to be abducted any minor or minors, or shall have
enticed them, or turned them away from, or forcibly removed them,
or shall have caused them to be enticed, or turned away from or
forcibly removed from the places in which they have been placed by
those to whose authority or direction they have been submitted or
confided, shall be liable to the penalty of imprisonment. See
PENAL CODE, 21 and 28.' Here is 21:--'The term of imprisonment
shall not be less than five years.' 28. 'The sentence of imprisonment
shall be considered as involving a loss of civil rights.' Now all
that is very plain, is it not, Monsieur Bonnard?"
"Now let us go on: 'ARTICLE 356':--'In case the abductor be under
the age of 21 years at the time of the offense, he shall only be
punished with'...But we certainly cannot invoke this artice in your
favour. 'ARTICLE 357:':--'In case the abductor shall have married
the girl by him abducted, he can only be prosecuted at the insistence
of such persons as, according to the Civil Code, may have the right
to demand that the marriage shall be declared null; nor can he be
condemned until after the nullity of the marriage shall have been
pronounced.' I do not know whether it is a part of your plans to
marry Mademoiselle Alexandre! You can see that the code is good-
natured about it; it leaves you one door of escape. But no--I ought
not to joke with you, because really you have put yourself in a very
unfortunate position! And how could a man like you imagine that here
in Paris, in the middle of the nineteenth century, a young girl can
be abducted with absolute impunity? We are not living in the Middle
Ages now; and such things are no longer permitted by law."
"You need not imagine," I replied, "that abduction was lawful under
the ancient Code. You will find in Baluze a decree issued by King
Cheldebert at Cologne, either in 593 or 594, on the subject:
moreoever, everybody knows that the famous 'Ordonance de Blois,' of
May 1579, formally enacted that any persons convicted of having
suborned any son or daughter under the age of twenty-five years,
whether under promise of marriage or otherwise, without the full
knowledge, will, or consent of the father, mother, and guardians,
should be punished with death; and the ordinance adds: 'Et
pareillement seront punis extraordinairement tous ceux qui auront
participe audit rapt, et qui auront prete conseil, confort, et
aide en aucune maniere que ce soit.' (And in like manner shall be
extraordinarily punished all persons whomsoever, who shall have
participated in the said abduction, and who shall have given
thereunto counsel, succor, or aid in any manner whatsoever.) Those
are the exact, or very nearly the exact, terms of the ordinance.
As for that article of the Code-Napoleon which you have just told
me of, and which excepts from liability to prosecution the abductor
who marries the young girl abducted by him, it reminds me that
according to the laws of Bretagne, forcible abduction, followed by
marriage, was not punished. But this usage, which involved various
abuses, was suppressed in 1720--at least I give you the date within
ten years. My memory is not very good now, and the time is long
passed when I could repeat by heart without even stopping to take
breath, fifteen hundred verses of Girart de Rousillon.
"As far as regards the Capitulary of Charlemagne, which fixes the
compensation for abduction, I have not mentioned it because I am
sure that you must remember it. So, my dear Monsieur de Gabry, you
see abduction was considered as decidedly a punishable offense under
the three dynasties of Old France. It is a very great mistake to
suppose that the Middle Ages represent a period of social chaos.
You must remember, on the contrary---"
Monsieur de Gabry here interrupted me:
"So," he exclaimed, "you know of the Ordonnacne de Blois, you know
Baluze, you know Childebert, you know the Capitularies--and you
don't know anything about the Code-Napoleon!"
I replied that, as a matter of fact, I never had read the Code; and
he looked very much surprised.
"And now do you understand," he asked, "the extreme gravity of the
action you have committed?"
I had not indeed been yet able to understand it fully. But little
by little, with the aid of Monsieur Paul's very sensible explanations,
I reached the conviction at last that I should not be judged in
regard to my motives, which were innocent, but only according to my
action, which was punishable. Thereupon I began to feel very
despondent, and to utter divers lamentations.
"What am I to do?" I cried out, "what am I to do? Am I then
irretrievably ruined?--and have I also ruined the poor child whom I
wanted to save?"
Monsieur de Gabry silently filled his pipe, and lighted it so slowly
that his kind broad face remained for at least three or four minutes
glowing red behind the light, like a blacksmith's in the gleam of
his forge-fire. Then he said,
"You want to know what to do? Why, don't do anything, my dear
Monsieur Bonnard! For God's sake, and for your own sake, don't do
anything at all! Your situation is bad enough as it is; don't try
to meddle with it now, unless you want to create new difficulties
for yourself. But you must promise me to sustain me in any action
that I may take. I shall go to see Monsieur Mouche the very first
thing to-morrow morning; and if he turns out to be what I think he
is--that is to say, a consummate rascal--I shall very soon find means
of making him harmless, even if the devil himself should take sides
with him. For everything depends on him. As it is too late this
evening to take Mademoiselle Jeanne back to her boarding-school, my
wife will keep the young lady here to-night. This of course plainly
constitues the misdemeanour of complicity; but it saves the girl
from anything like an equivocal position. As for you, my dear
Monsieur, you just go back to the Quai Malaquais as quickly as you
can; and if they come to look for Jeanne there, it will be very easy
for you to prove she is not in your house."
While we were thus talking, Madame de Gabry was preparing to make
her young lodger comfortable for the night. When she bade me good-bye
at the door, she was carrying a pair of clean sheets, scented with
lavender, thrown over her arm.
"That," I said, "is a sweet honest smell."
"Well, of course," answered Madame de Gabry, "you must remember we
"Ah!" I answered her, "heaven grant that I also may be able one of
these days ti becine a peasant! Heaven grant that one of these days
I may be able, as you are at Lusance, to inhale the sweet fresh odour
of the country, and live in some little house all hidden among trees;
and if this wish of mine be too ambitious on the part of an old man
whose life is nearly closed, then I will only wish that my winding-
sheet may be as sweetly scented with lavender as that linen you have
on your arm."
It was agreed that I should come to lunch the following morning. But
I was positively forbidden to show myself at the house before midday.
Jeanne, as she kissed me good-bye, begged me not to take her back
to the school any more. We felt much affected at parting, and very
I found Therese waiting for me on the landing, in such a condition
of worry about me that it had made her furious. She talked of nothing
less than keeping me under lock and key in the future.
What a night I passed! I never closed my eyes for one single instant.
From time to time I could not help laughing like a boy at the success
of my prank; and then again, an inexpressible feeling of horror would
come upon me at the thought of being dragged before some magistrate,
and having to take my place upon the prisoner's bench, to answer
for the crime which I had so naturally committed. I was very much
afraid; and nevertheless I felt no remorse or regret whatever. The
sun, coming into my room at last, merrily lighted upon the foot of
my bed, and then I made this prayer:
"My God, Thou who didst make the sky and the dew, as it is said in
'Tristan,' judge me in Thine equity, not indeed according unto my
acts, but according only to my motives, which Thou knowest have
been upright and pure; and I will say: Glory to Thee in heaven,
and peace on earth to men of good-will. I give into Thy hands the
child I stole away. Do that for her which I have not known how to
do; guard for her from all her enemies;--and blessed for ever be
When I arrived at Madame de Gabry's, I found Jeanne completely
Had she also, like myself, at the very first light of dawn, called
upon Him who made the sky and the dew? She smiled with such a
sweet calm smile!
Madame de Gabry called her away to arrange her hair for the amiable
lady had insisted upon combing and plaiting, with her own hands,
the hair of the child confided to her care. As I had come a little
before the hour agreed upon, I had interrupted this charming toilet.
By way of punishment I was told to go and wait in the parlour all
by myself. Monsieur de Gabry joined me there in a little while.
He had evidently just come in, for I could see on his forehead the
mark left my the lining of his hat. His frank face wore an expression
of joyful excitement. I thought I had better not ask him any
questions; and we all went to lunch. When the servants had finished
waiting at table, Monsieur Paul, who had been keeping his good story
for the dessert, said to us,
"Well! I went to Levallois."
"Did you see Maitre Mouche?" excitedly inquired Madame de Gabry.
"No," he replied, curiously watching the expression of disappointment
upon our faces.
After having amused himself with our anxiety for a reasonable time,
the good fellow added:
"Maitre Mouche is no longer at Levallois. Maitre Mouche has gone
away from France. The day after to-morrow will make just eight days
since he decamped, taking with him all the money of his clients--a
tolerably large sum. I found the office closed. A woman who lived
close by told me all about it with an abundance of curses and
imprecations. The notary did not take the 7:55 train all by himself;
he took with him the daughter of the hairdresser of Levallois, a
young person quite famous in that part of the country for her beauty
and her accomplishments;--they say she could shave better than her
father. Well, anyhow Mouche has run away with her; the Commissaire
de Police confirmed the fact for me. Now, really, could it have been
possible for Maitre Mouche to have left the country at a more
opportune moment? If he had only deferred his escapade one week
longer, he would have been still the representative of society, and
would have had you dragged off to gaol, Monsieur Bonnard, like a
criminal. At present we have nothing whatever to fear from him.
Here is to the health of Maitre Mouche!" he cried, pouring out a
glass of white wine.
I would like to live a long time if it were only to remember that
delightful morning. We four were all assembled in the big white
dining-room around the waxed oak table. Monsieur Paul's mirth was'
of the hearty kind,--even perhaps a little riotous; and the good
man quaffed deeply. Madame de Gabry smiled at me, with a smile so
sweet, so perfect, and so noble, that I thought such a woman ought
to keep smiles like that simply as a reward for good actions, and
thus make everybody who knew her do all the good of which they
were capable. Then, to reward us for our pains, Jeanne, who had
regained something of her former vivacity, asked us in less than a
quarter of an hour one dozen questions, to answer which would have
required an exhaustive exposition on the nature of man, the
nature of the universe, the science of physics and of metaphysics,
the Macrocosm and the Microcosm--not to speak of the Ineffable and
the Unknowable. Then she drew out of her pocket her little Saint-
George, who had suffered most cruelly during our flight. His legs
and arms were gone; but he still had his gold helmet with the green
dragon on it. Jeanne solemnly pledged herself to make a restoration
of him in honour of Madame de Gabry.
Delightful friends! I left them at last overwhelmed with fatigue
On re-entering my lodgings I had to endure the very sharpest
remonstrances from Therese, who said she had given up trying to
understand my new way of living. In her opinion Monsieur had really
lost his mind.
"Yes, Therese, I am a mad old man and you are a mad old woman. That
is certain! May the good God bless us both, Therese, and give us
new strength; for we now have new duties to perform. but let me
lie down upon the sofa; for I really cannot keep myself on my feet
January 15, 186-.
"Good-morning, Monsieur," said Jeanne, letting herself in; while
Therese remained grumbling in the corridor because she had not been
able to get to the door in time.
"Mademoiselle, I beg you will be kind enough to address me very
solemnly by my title, and to say to me, 'Good-morning, my guardian.'"
"Then it has all been settled? Oh, how nice!" cried the child,
clapping her hands.
"It has all been arranged, Mademoiselle, in the Salle-commune and
before the Justice of the Peace; and from to-day you are under my
authority.... What are you laughing about, my ward? I see it in
your eyes. You have some crazy idea in your head this very moment--
some more nonsense, eh?"
"Oh, no! Monsieur.... I mean, my guardian. I was looking at your
white hair. It curls out from under the edge of your hat like
honeysuckle on a balcony. It is very handsome, and I like it very
"Be good enough to sit down, my ward, and, if you can possibly help
it, stop saying ridiculous things, because I have some very serious
things to say to you. Listen. I suppose you are not going to
insist upon being sent back to the establishment of Mademoiselle
Prefere?... No. Well, then, what would you say if I should take
you here to live with me, and to finish your education, and keep
you here until...what shall I say?--for ever, as the song has it?"
"Oh, Monsieur!" she cried, flushing crimson with pleasure.
"Behind there we have a nice little room, which my housekeeper has
cleaned up and furnished for you. You are going to take the place
of the books which used to be in it; you will succeed them as the
day succeeds night. Go with Therese and look at it, and see if you
think you will be able to live in it. Madame de Gabry and I have
made up our minds that you can sleep there to-night."
She had already started to run; I called her back for a moment.
"Jeanne, listen to me a moment longer! You have always until now
made yourself a favourite with my housekeeper, who, like all very
old people, is apt to be cross at times. Be gentle and forebearing.
Make every allowance for her. I have thought it my duty to make
every allowance for her myself, and to put up with all her fits of
impatience. Now, let me tell you, Jeanne:--Respect her! And when
I say that, I do not forget that she is my servant and yours; neither
will she ever allow herself to forget it for a moment. But what I
want you to respect in her is her great age and her great heart.
She is a humble woman who has lived a very, very long time in the
habit of doing good; and she has become hardened and stiffened in
that habit. Bear patiently with the harsh ways of that upright
soul. If you know how to command, she will know how to obey. Go
now, my child; arrange your room in whatever way may seem to you
best suited for your studies and for your repose."
Having started Jeanne, with this viaticum, upon her domestic career,
I began to read a Review, which, although conducted by very young
men, is excellent. The tone of it is somewhat unpolished, but the
spirit is zealous. The article I read was certainly far superior,
in point of precision and positiveness, to anything of the sort
ever written when I was a young man. The author of the article,
Monsieur Paul Meyer, points out every error with a remarkably
lucid power of incisive criticism.
We used not in my time to criticise with such strict justice. Our
indulgence was vast. It went even so far as to confuse the scholar
and the ignoramus in the same burst of praise. And nevertheless
one must learn how to find fault; and it is even an imperative duty
to blame when the blame is deserved.
I remember little Raymond (that was the name we gave him); he did
not know anything, and his mind was not a mind capable of absorbing
any solid learning; but he was very fond of his mother. We took
very good care never to utter a hint of the ignorance of so perfect
a son; and, thanks, to our forbearance, little Raymond made his way
to the highest positions. He had lost his mother then; but honours
of all kinds were showered upon him. He became omnipotent--to the
grievous injury of his colleagues and of science.... But here comes
my young fiend of the Luxembourg.
"Good-evening, Gelis. You look very happy to-day. What good fortune
has come to you, my dear lad?"
His good fortune is that he has been able to sustain his thesis very
credibly, and that he has taken high rank in his class. He tells
me this with the additional information that my own words, which
were incidentally referred to in the course of the examination, had
been spoken of by the college professors in terms of the most
"That is very nice," I replied; "and it makes me very happy, Gelis,
to find my old reputation thus associated with your own youthful
honours. I was very much interested, you know, in that thesis of
yours;--but some domestic arrangements have been keeping me so busy
lately that I quite forgot this was the day on which you were to
Mademoiselle Jeanne made her appearance very opportunely, as if in
order to suggest to him something about the nature of those very
domestic arrangements. The giddy girl burst into the City of Books
like a fresh breeze, crying at the top of her voice that her room
was a perfect little wonder. then she became very red indeed on
seeing Monsieur Gelis there. But none of us can escape our destiny.
Monsieur Gelis asked her how she was with the tone of a young fellow
who resumes upon a previous acquaintance, and who proposes to put
himself forward as an old friend. Oh, never fear!--she had not
forgotten him at all; that was very evident from the fact that then
and there, right under my nose, they resumed their last year's
conversation on the subject of the "Venetian blond"! They continued
the discussion after quite an animated fashion. I began to ask
myself what right I had to be in the room at all. The only thing
I could do in order to make myself heard was to cough. As for getting
in a word, they never even gave me a chance. Gelis discoursed
enthusiastically, not only about the Venetian colourists, but also
upon all other matters relating to nature or to mankind. And Jeanne
kept answering him, "Yes, Monsieur, you are right.".... "That is just
what I supposed, Monsieur.".... "Monsieur, you express so beautifully
just what I feel."... "I am going to think a great deal about what
you have just told me, Monsieur."
When I speak, Mademoiselle never answers me in that tone. It is
only with the very tip of her tongue that she will even taste any
intellectual food which I set before her. Usually she will not touch
it at all. But Monsieur Gelis seems to be in her opinion the supreme
authority upon all subjects. It was always, "Oh, yes!"--"Oh, of
course!"--to all his empty chatter. And, then, the eyes of Jeanne!
I had never seen them look so large before; I had never before
observed in them such fixity of expression; but her gaze otherwise
remained what it always is--artless, frank, and brave. Gelis
evidently pleased her; she like Gelis, and her eyes betrayed the
fact. They would have published it to the entire universe! All
very fine, Master Bonnard!--you have been so deeply interested in
observing your ward, that you have been forgetting you are her
guardian! You began only this morning to exercise that function;
and you can already see that it involves some very delicate and
difficult duties. Bonnard, you must really try to devise some means
of keeping that young man away from her; you really ought.... Eh!
how am I to know what I am to do?...
I have picked up a book at random from the nearest shelf; I open it,
and I enter respectfully into the middle of a drama of Sophocles.
the older I grow, the more I learn to love the two civilisations
of the antique world; and now I always keep the poets of Italy and
of Greece on a shelf within easy reach of my arm in the City of
Monsieur and Mademoiselle finally condescend to take some notice of
me, now that I seem too busy to take any notice of them. I really
think that Mademoiselle Jeanne has even asked me what I am reading.
No, indeed, I will not tell her what it is. what I am reading,
between ourselves, is the change of that smooth and luminous Chorus
which rolls out its magnificent tunefulness through a scene of
passionate violence--the Chorus of the Old Men of Thebes--'Erws
avixate...' "Invincible Love, O thou who descendest upon rich
houses,--Thou who dost rest upon the delicate cheek of the maiden,--
Thou who dost traverse all seas,--surely none among the Immortals
can escape Thee, nor indeed any among men who live but for a little
space; and he who is possessed by Thee, there is a madness upon him."
And when I had re-read that delicious chant, the face of Antigone
appeared before me in all its passionless purity. What images!
Gods and goddesses who hover in the highest heights of Heaven! The
blind old man, the long-wandering beggar-king, led by Antigone, has
now been buried with holy rites; and his daughter, fair as the
fairest dream ever conceived by human soul, resists the will of the
tyrant and gives pious sepulture to her brother. She loves the son
of the tyrant, and that son loves her also. And as she goes on her
way to execution, the victim of her own sweet piety, the old men
sing, "Invincible Love, O Thou who dost descend upon rich houses,--
Thou who dost rest upon the delicate cheek of the maiden."...
"Mademoiselle Jeanne, are you really very anxious to know what I am
reading? I am reading, Mademoiselle--I am reading that Antigone,
having buried the blind old man, wove a fair tapestry embroidered
with images in the likeness of laughing faces."
"Ah!" said Gelis, as he burs out laughing "that is not in the text."
"It is a scholium," I said.
"Unpublished," he added, getting up.
I am not an egotist. But I am prudent. I have to bring up this
child; she is much too young to be married now. No! I am not an
egotist, but I must certainly keep her with me for a few years more--
keep her alone with me. She can surely wait until I am dead! Fear
not, Antigone, old Oedipus will find holy burial soon enough.
In the meanwhile, Antigone is helping our housekeeper to scrape the
carrots. She says she like to do it--that it is in her line, being
related to the art of sculpture.
Who would recognise the City of Books now? There are flowers
everywhere--even upon all the articles of furniture. Jeanne was
right: those roses do look very nice in that blue china vase. She
goes to market every day with Therese, under the pretext of helping
the old servant to make her purchases, but she never brings anything
back with her except flowers. Flowers are really very charming
creatures. And one of these days, I must certainly carry out my
plan, and devote myself to the study of them, in their own natural
domain, in the country--with all the science and earnestness which
For what have I to do here? Why should I burn my eyes out over these
old parchments which cannot now tell me anything worth knowing? I
used to study them, these old texts, with the most ardent enjoyment.
What was it which I was then so anxious to find in them? The date
of a pious foundation--the name of some monkish imagier or copyist--
the price of a loaf, of an ox, or of a field--some judicial or
administrative enactment--all that, and yet something more, a
Something vaguely mysterious and sublime which excited my enthusiasm.
But for sixty years I have been searching in vain for that Something.
Better men than I--the masters, the truly great, the Fauriels, the
Thierrys, who found so many things--died at their task without having
been able, any more than I have been, to find that Something which,
being incorporeal, has no name, and without which, nevertheless, no
great mental work would ever be undertaken in this world. And now
that I am only looking for what I should certainly be able to find,
I cannot find anything at all; and it is probable that I shall never
be able to finish the history of the Abbots of Saint-Germain-des-
"Guardian, just guess what I have in my handkerchief,"
"Judging from appearances, Jeanne, I should say flowers."
"Oh, no--not flowers. Look!"
I look, and I see a little grey head poking itself out of the
handkerchief. It is the head of a little grey cat. The handkerchief
opens; the animal leaps down upon the carpet, shakes itself, pricks
up first one ear and then the other, and begins to examine with due
caution the locality and the inhabitants thereof.
Therese, out of breath, with her basket on her arm, suddenly makes
her appearance in time to take an objective part in this examination,
which does not appear to result altogether in her favour; for the
young cat moves slowly away from her, without, however, venturing
near my legs, or approaching Jeanne, who displays extraordinary
volubility in the use of caressing appellations. Therese, whose
chief fault is her inability to hide her feelings, thereupon
vehemently reproaches Mademoiselle for bringing home a cat that she
did not know anything about. Jeanne, in order to justify herself,
tells the whole story. While she was passing with Therese before
a chemist's shop, she saw the assistant kick a little cat into the
street. The cat, astonished and frightened, seemed to be asking
itself whether to remain in the street where it was being terrified
and knocked about by the people passing by, or whether to go back
into the chemist's even at the risk of being kicked out a second
time. Jeanne thought it was in a very critical position, and
understood its hesitation. It looked so stupid; and she knew it
looked stupid only because it could not decide what to do. So she
took it up in her arms. And as it had not been able to obtain
any rest either indoors out out-of-doors, it allowed her to hold
it. Then she stroked and petted it to keep it from being afraid,
and boldly went to the chemist's assistant and said,
"If you don't like that animal, you mustn't beat it; you must give
it to me."
"Take it," said the assistant.
..."Now there!" adds Jeanne, by way of conclusion; and then she
changes her voice again to a flute-tone in order to say all kinds
of sweet things to the cat.
"He is horribly thin," I observe, looking at the wretched animal;--
"moreover, he is horribly ugly." Jeanne thinks he is not ugly at
all, but she acknowledges that he looks even more stupid than he
looked at first: this time she thinks it not indecision, but
surprise, which gives that unfortunate aspect to his countenance.
She asks us to imagine ourselves in his place;--then we are obliged
to acknowledge that he cannot possibly understand what has happened
to him. And then we all burst out laughing in the face of the poor
little beast, which maintains the most comical look of gravity.
Jeanne wants to take him up; but he hides himself under the table,
and cannot even be tempted to come out by the lure of a saucer of
We all turn our backs and promise not to look; when we inspect the
saucer again, we find it empty.
"Jeanne," I observe, "your protege has a decidedly tristful aspect
of countenance; he is of sly and suspicious disposition; I trust he
is not going to commit in the City of Books any such misdemeanours
as might render it necessary for us to send him back to his chemist's
shop. In the meantime we must give him a name. Suppose we call him
'Don Gris de Gouttiere'; but perhaps that is too long. 'Pill,'
'Drug,' or 'Castor-oil' would be short enough, and would further
serve to recall his early condition in life. What do you think about
"'Pill' would not sound bad," answers Jeanne, "but it would be very
unkind to give him a name which would be always reminding him of
the misery from which we saved him. It would be making him pay too
dearly for our hospitality. Let us be more generous, and give him
a pretty name, in hopes that he is going to deserve it. See how
he looks at us! He knows that we are talking about him. And now
that he is no longer unhappy, he is beginning to look a great deal
less stupid. I am not joking! Unhappiness does make people look
stupid,--I am perfectly sure it does."
"Well, Jeanne, if you like, we will call your protege Hannibal.
The appropriateness of that name does not seem to strike you at once.
But the Angora cat who preceded him here as an intimate of the City
of Books, and to whom I was in the habit of telling all my secrets--
for he was a very wise and discreet person--used to be called
Hamilcar. It is natural that this name should beget the other, and
that Hannibal should succeed Hamilcar."
We all agreed upon this point.
"Hannibal!" cried Jeanne, "come here!"
Hannibal, greatly frightened by the strange sonority of his own name,
ran to hid himself under a bookcase in an orifice so small that a
rat could not have squeezed himself into it.
A nice way of doing credit to so great a name!
I was in a good humour for working that day, and I had just dipped
the nib of my pen into the ink-bottle when I heard some one ring.
Should any one ever read these pages written by an unimaginative
old man, he will be sure to laugh at the way that bell keeps ringing
through my narrative, without ever announcing the arrival of a new
personage or introducing any unexpected incident. On the stage
things are managed on the reverse principle. Monsieur Scribe never
has the curtain raised without good reason, and for the greater
enjoyment of ladies and young misses. That is art! I would rather
hang myself than write a play,--not that I despise life, but because
I should never be able to invent anything amusing. Invent! In
order to do that one must have received the gift of inspiration.
It would be a very unfortunate thing for me to possess such a gift.
Suppose I were to invent some monkling in my history of the Abbey
of Saint-Germain-des-Pres! What would our young erudites say?
What a scandal for the School! As for the Institute, it would say
nothing and probably not even think about the matter either. Even
if my colleagues still write a little sometimes, they never read.
They are of the opinion of Parny, who said,
"Une paisible indifference
Est la plus sage des vertus."
["The most wise of the virtues is a calm indifference."]
To be the least wise in order to become the most wise--this is
precisely what those Buddhists are aiming at without knowing it.
If there is any wiser wisdom than that I will go to Rome to report
upon it.... And all this because Monsieur Gelis happened to ring
This young man has latterly changed his manner completely with
Jeanne. He is now quite as serious as he used to be frivolous, and
quite as silent as he used to be chatty. And Jeanne follows his
example. We have reached the phase of passionate love under
constraint. For, old as I am, I cannot be deceived about it:
these two children are violently and sincerely in love with each
other. Jeanne now avoids him--she hides herself in her room when
he comes into the library--but how well she knows how to reach him
when she is alone! alone at her piano! Every evening she talks to
him through the music she plays with a rich thrill of passional
feeling which is the new utterance of her new soul.
Well, why should I not confess it? Why should I not avow my weakness?
Surely my egotism would not become any less blameworthy by keeping
it hidden from myself? So I will write it. Yes! I was hoping for
something else;--yes! I thought I was going to keep her all to myself,
as my own child, as my own daughter--not always, of course, not even
perhaps for very long, but just for a few short years more. I am
so old! Could she not wait? And, who knows? With the help of the
gout, I would not have imposed upon her patience too much. That
was my wish; that was my hope. I had made my plans--I had not
reckoned upon the coming of this wild young man. But the mistake
is none the less cruel because my reckoning happened to be wrong.
And yet it seems to me that you are condemning yourself very rashly,
friend Sylvestre Bonnard: if you did want to keep this young girl
a few years longer, it was quite as much in her own interest as in
yours. She has a great deal to learn yet, and you are not a master
to be despised. When that miserable notary Mouche--who subsequently
committed his rascalities at so opportune a moment--paid you the
honour of a visit, you explained to him your ideas of education with
all the fervour of high enthusiasm. Then you attempted to put that
system of yours into practice;--Jeanne is certainly an ungrateful
girl, and Gelis a much too seductive young man!
But still,--unless I put him out of the house, which would be a
detestably ill-mannered and ill-natured thing to do,--I must continue
to receive him. He has been waiting ever so long in my little
parlour, in front of those Sevres vases with which King Louis Philippe
so graciously presented me. The Moissonneurs and the Pecheurs
of Leopold Robert are painted upon those porcelain vases, which
Gelis nevertheless dares to call frightfully ugly, with the warm
approval of Jeanne, whom he has absolutely bewitched.
"My dear lad, excuse me for having kept you waiting so long. I had
a little bit of work to finish."
I am telling the truth. Meditation is work, but of course Gelis
does not know what I mean; he thinks I am referring to something
archaeological, and, his question in regard to the health of
Mademoiselle Jeanne having been answered by a "Very well indeed,"
uttered in that extremely dry tone which reveals my moral authority
as guardian, we begin to converse about historical subjects. We
first enter upon generalities. Generalities are sometimes extremely
serviceable. I try to inculcate into Monsieur Gelis some respect
for that generation of historians to which I belong. I say to him,
"History, which was formerly an art, and which afforded place for
the fullest exercise of the imagination, has in our time become a
science, the study of which demands absolute exactness of knowledge."
Gelis asks leave to differ from me on this subject. He tells me he
does not believe that history is a science, or that it could possibly
ever become a science.
"In the first place," he says to me, "what is history? The written
representation of past events. But what is an event? Is it merely
a commonplace fact? It is any fact? No! You say yourself it is
a noteworthy fact. Now, how is the historian to tell whether a fact
is noteworthy or not? He judges it arbitrarily, according to his
tastes and his caprices and his ideas--in short, as an artist? For
facts cannot by reason of their own intrinsic character be divided
into historical facts and non-historical facts. But any fact is
something exceedingly complex. Will the historian represent facts
in all their complexity? No, that is impossible. Then he will
represent them stripped of the greater part of the peculiarities
which constituted them, and consequently lopped, mutilated,
different from what they really were. As for the inter-relation of
facts, needless to speak of it! If a so-called historical fact
be brought into notice--as is very possible--by one or more facts
which are not historical at all, and are for that very reason
unknown, how is the historian going to establish the relation of
these facts one to another? And in saying this, Monsieur Bonnard,
I am supposing that the historian has positive evidence before him,
whereas in reality he feels confidence only in such or such a witness
for sympathetic reasons. History is not a science; it is an art,
and one can succeed in that art only through the exercise of his
faculty of imagination."
Monsieur Gelis reminds me very much at this moment of a certain young
fool whom I heard talking wildly one day in the garden of the
Luxembourg, under the statue of Marguerite of Navarre. But at another
turn of the conversation we find ourselves face to face with Walter
Scott, whose work my disdainful young friend pleases to term
"rococo, troubadourish, and only fit to inspire somebody engaged in
making designs for cheap bronze clocks." Those are his very words!
"Why!" I exclaim, zealous to defend the magnificent creator of 'The
Bride of Lammermoor' and 'The Fair Maid of Perth,' "the whole past
lives in those admirable novels of his;--that is history, that is
"It is frippery," Gelis answers me.
And,--will you believe it?--this crazy boy actually tells me that
no matter how learned one may be, one cannot possibly know just how
men used to live five or ten centuries ago, because it is only with
the very greatest difficulty that one can picture them to oneself
even as they were only ten or fifteen years ago. In his opinion,
the historical poem, the historical novel, the historical painting,
are all, according to their kind, abominably false as branches of
"In all the arts," he adds, "the artist can only reflect his own
soul. His work, no matter how it may be dressed up, is of necessity
contemporary with himself, being the reflection of his own mind.
What do we admire in the 'Divine Comedy' unless it be the great
soul of Dante? And the marbles of Michael Angelo, what do they
represent to us that is at all extraordinary unless it be Michael
Angelo himself? The artist either communicates his own life to
his creations, or else merely whittles out puppets and dresses up
What a torrent of paradoxes and irreverences! But boldness in a
young man is not displeasing to me. Gelis gets up from his chair
and sits down again. I know perfectly well what is worrying him,
and whom he is waiting for. And now he begins to talk to me about
his being able to make fifteen hundred francs a year, to which he
can add the revenue he derives from a little property that he has
inherited--two thousand francs a year more. And I am not in the
least deceived as to the purpose of these confidences on his part.
I know perfectly well that he is only making his little financial
statements in order to persuade me that he is comfortably
circumstanced, steady, fond of home, comparatively independent--or,
to put the matter in the fewest words possible, able to marry.
Quod erat demonstrandum,--as the geometricians say.
He has got up and sat down just twenty times. He now rises for the
twenty-first time; and, as he has not been able to see Jeanne, he
goes away feeling as unhappy as possible.
The moment he has gone, Jeanne comes into the City of Books, under
the pretext of looking for Hannibal. She is also quite unhappy;
and her voice becomes singularly plaintive as she calls her pet to
give him some milk. Look at that sad little face, Bonnard! Tyrant,
gaze upon thy work! Thou hast been able to keep them from seeing
each other; but they have now both of them the same expression of
countenance, and thou mayest discern from that similarity of
expression that in spite of thee they are united in thought.
Cassandra, be happy! Bartholo, rejoice! This is what it means to
be a guardian! Just see her kneeling down there on the carpet with
Hannibal's head between her hands!
Yes, caress the stupid animal!--pity him!--moan over him!--we know
very well, you little rogue, the real cause of all these sighs and
plaints! Nevertheless, it makes a very pretty picture. I look at
it for a long time; then, throwing a glance around my library, I
"Jeanne, I am tired of all those books; we must sell them."
It is done!--they are betrothed. Gelis, who is an orphan, as Jeanne
is, did not make his proposal to me in person. He got one of his
professors, an old colleague of mine, highly esteemed for his
learning and character, to come to me on his behalf. But what a
love messenger! Great Heavens! A bear--neat a bear of the Pyrenees,
but a literary bear, and this latter variety of bear is much more
ferocious than the former.
"Right or wrong (in my opinion wrong) Gelis says that he does not
want any dowry; he takes your ward with nothing but her chemise.
Say yes, and the thing is settled! Make haste about it! I want to
show you two or three very curious old tokens from Lorraine which
I am sure you never saw before."
That is literally what he said to me. I answered him that I would
consult Jeanne, and I found no small pleasure in telling him that
my ward had a dowry.
Her dowry--there it is in front of me! It is my library. Henri and
Jeanne have not even the faintest suspicion about it; and the fact
is I am commonly believed to be much richer than I am. I have the
face of an old miser. It is certainly a lying face; but its
untruthfulness has often won for me a great deal of consideration.
There is nobody so much respected in this world as a stingy rich man.
I have consulted Jeanne,--but what was the need of listening for her
answer? It is done! They are betrothed.
It would ill become my character as well as my face to watch these
young people any longer for the mere purpose of noting down their
words and gestures. Noli me tangere:--that is the maxim for all
charming love affairs. I know my duty. It is to respect all the
little secrets of that innocent soul intrusted to me. Let these
children love each other all they can! Never a word of their
fervent outpouring of mutual confidences, never a hint of their
artless self-betrayals, will be set down in this diary by the old
guardian whose authority was so gentle and so brief.
At all events, I am not going to remain with my arms folded; and if
they have their business to attend to, I have mine also. I am
preparing a catalogue of my books, with a view to having them all
sold at auction. It is a task which saddens and amuses me at the
same time. I linger over it, perhaps a good deal longer than I
ought to do; turning the leaves of all those works which have become
so familiar to my thought, to my touch, to my sight--even out of
all necessity and reason. But it is a farewell; and it has ever
been in the nature of man to prolong a farewell.
This ponderous volume here, which has served me so much for thirty
long years, how can I leave it without according it every kindness
that a faithful servant deserves? And this one again, which has so
often consoled me by its wholesome doctrines, must I not bow down
before it for the last time, as to a Master? But each time that I
meet with a volume which led me into error, which ever afflicted me
with false dates, omissions, lies, and other plagues of the
archaeologist, I say to it with bitter joy: "Go! imposter, traitor,
false-witness! flee thou far away from me for ever;--vade retro!
all absurdly covered with gold as thou art! and I pray it may befall
thee--thanks to thy usurped reputation and thy comely morocco attire--
to take thy place in the cabinet of some banker-bibliomaniac, whom
thou wilt never be able to seduce as thou has seduced me, because
he will never read one single line of thee."
I laid aside some books I must always keep--those books which were
given to me as souvenirs. As I placed among them the manuscript of
the "Golden Legend," I could not but kiss it in memory of Madame
Trepof, who remained grateful to me in spite of her high position
and all her wealth, and who became my benefactress merely to prove
to me that she felt I had once done her a kindness.... Thus I had
made a reserve. It was then that, for the first time, I felt myself
inclined to commit a deliberate crime. All through that night I
was strongly tempted; by morning the temptation had become
irresistible. Everybody else in the house was still asleep. I got
out of bed and stole softly from my room.
Ye powers of darkness! ye phantoms of the night! if while lingering
within my home after the crowing of the cock, you saw me stealing
about on tiptoe in the City of Books, you certainly never cried out,
as Madame Trepof did at Naples, "That old man has a good-natured
round back!" I entered the library; Hannibal, with his tail
perpendicularly erected, came to rub himself against my legs and
purr. I seized a volume from its shelf, some venerable Gothic text
or some noble poet of the Renaissance--the jewel, the treasure which
I had been dreaming about all night, I seized it and slipped it away
into the very bottom of the closet which I had reserved for those
books I intended to retain, and which soon became full almost to
bursting. It is horrible to relate: I was stealing from the dowry
of Jeanne! And when the crime had been consummated I set myself
again sturdily to the task of cataloguing, until Jeanne came to
consult me in regard to something about a dress or a trousseau. I
could not possibly understand just what she was talking about,
through my total ignorance of the current vocabulary of dress-making
and linen-drapery. Ah! if a bride of the fourteenth century had
come to talk to me about the apparel of her epoch, then, indeed, I
should have been able to understand her language! But Jeanne does
not belong to my time, and I have to send her to Madame de Gabry,
who on this important occasion will take the place of her mother.
...Night has come! Leaning from the window, we gaze at the vast
sombre stretch of the city below us, pierced with multitudinous points
of light. Jeanne presses her hand to her forehead as she leans upon
the window-bar, and seems a little sad. And I say to myself as I
watch her: All changes even the most longed for, have their
melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves:
we must die to one life before we can enter into another!
And as if answering my thought, the young girl murmurs to me,
"My guardian, I am so happy; and still I feel as if I wanted to cry!"
The Last Page
August 21, 1869.
Page eighty-seven.... Only twenty lines more and I shall have
finished my book about insects and flowers. Page eighty-seventh and
last.... "As we have already seen, the visits of insects are of the
utmost importance to plants; since their duty is to carry to the
pistils the pollen of the stamens. It seems also that the flower
itself is arranged and made attractive for the purpose of inviting
this nuptial visit. I think I have been able to show that the
nectary of the plant distils a sugary liquid which attracts the
insects and obliges it to aid unconsciously in the work of direct
or cross fertilisation. The last method of fertilisation is the more
common. I have shown that flowers are coloured and perfumed so as
to attract insects, and interiorly so constructed as to offer those
visitors such a mode of access that they cannot penetrate into the
corolla without depositing upon the stigma the pollen with which
they have been covered. My most venerated master Sprengel observes
in regard to that fine down which lines the corolla of the wood-
geranium: 'The wise Author of Nature has never created a single
useless hair!' I say in my turn: If that Lily of the Valley whereof
the Gospel makes mention is more richly clad than King Solomon in
all his glory, its mantle of purple is a wedding-garment, and that
rich apparel is necessary to the perpetuation of the species."
"Brolles, August 21, 1869."
[Monsieur Sylvestre Bonnard was not aware that several very
illustrious naturalists were making researches at the same time as he
in regard to the relation between insects and plants. He was not
acquainted with the labours of Darwin, with those of Dr. Hermann
Muller, nor with the observations of Sir John Lubbock. It is worthy
of note that the conclusions of Monsieur Sylvestre Bonnard are very
nearly similar to those reached by the three scientists above
mentioned. Less important, but perhaps equally interesting, is the
fact that Sir John Lubbock is, like Monsieur Bonnard, an archaeologist
who began to devote himself only late in life to the natural
sciences.--Note by the French Editor.]
Brolles! My house is the last one you pass in the single street of
the village, as you go to the woods. It is a gabled house with a
slate roof, which takes iridescent tints in the sun like a pigeon's
breast. The weather-vane above that roof has won more consideration
for me among the country people than all my works upon history and
philology. There is not a single child who does not know Monsieur
Bonnard's weather-vane. It is rusty, and squeaks very sharply in
the wind. Sometimes it refuses to do any work at all--just like
Therese, who now allows herself to be assisted by a young peasant
girl--though she grumbles a good deal about it. The house is not
large, but I am very comfortable in it. My room has two windows,
and gets the sun in the morning. The children's room is upstairs.
Jeanne and Henri come twice a year to occupy it.
Little Sylvestre's cradle used to be in it. He was a very pretty
child, but very pale. When he used to play on the grass, his mother
would watch him very anxiously; and every little while she would
stop her seweing in order to take him upon her lap. The poor little
fellow never wanted to go to sleep. He used to say that when he
was asleep he would go away, very far away, to some place where it
was all dark, and where he saw things that made him afraid--things
he never wanted to see again.
Then his mother would call me, and I would sit down beside his cradle.
He would take one of my fingers in his little dry warm hand, and say
"Godfather, you must tell me a story."
Then I would tell him all kinds of stories, which he would listen to
very seriously. They all interested him, but there was one especially
which filled his little soul with delight. It was "The Blue Bird."
Whenever I finished that, he would say to me, "Tell it again! tell
it again!" And I would tell it again until his little pale blue-
veined head sank back upon the pillow in slumber.
The doctor used to answer all our questions by saying,
"There is nothing extraordinary the matter with him!"
No! There was nothing extraordinary the matter with little Sylvestre.
One evening last year his father called me.
"Come," he said, "the little one is still worse."
I approached the cradle over which the mother hung motionless, as
if tied down above it by all the powers of her soul.
Little Sylvestre turned his eyes towards me; their pupils had already
rolled up beneath his eyelids, and could not descend again.
"Godfather," he said, "you are not to tell me any more stories."
No, I was not to tell him any more stories!
Poor Jeanne!--poor mother!
I am too old now to feel very deeply; but how strangely painful a
mystery is the death of a child!
To-day, the father and mother have come to pass six weeks under the
old man's roof. I see them now returning from the woods, walking
arm-in-arm. Jeanne is closely wrapped in her black shawl, and Henri
wears a crape band on his straw hat; but they are both of them
radiant with youth, and they smile very sweetly at each other. They
smile at the earth which sustains them; they smile at the air which
bathes them; they smile at the light which each one sees in the eyes
of the other. From my window I wave my handkerchief at them,--and
they smile at my old age.
Jeanne comes running lightly up the stairs; she kisses me, and then
whispers in my ear something which I divine rather than hear. And
I make answer to her: "May God's blessing be with you, Jeanne, and
with your husband, and with your children, and with your children's
children for ever!"... Et nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine!