Part 3 out of 5
finally two serried lines of traffic cut me off from M. Plumet, who kept
shouting something to me which the noise of the wheels and the crowd
prevented me from hearing. I signalled my despair to M. Plumet. He rose
on tiptoe. I could not hear any better.
Five minutes lost! Impossible to wait any longer! Besides, who could
tell that it was not a trap to prevent my departure, though in friendly
guise? I shuddered at the thought and shouted:
"Gare de Lyon, cabby, as fast as you can drive!"
My orders were obeyed. We got to the station to find the train made up
and ready to start, and I was the last to take a ticket.
I suppose M. Plumet managed to escape from his refuge.
On my arrival I found, keeping order on the way outside the station, the
drollest policeman that ever stepped out of a comic opera. At home we
should have had to protect him against the boys; here he protects others.
Well, it shows that I am really abroad.
I have only two hours to spare in this town. What shall I see? The
country; that is always beautiful, whereas many so-called "sights" are
not. I will make for the shores of the lake, for the spot where the
Rhone leaves it, to flow toward France. The Rhone, which is so muddy at
Avignon, is clean here; deep and clear as a creek of the sea. It rushes
along in a narrow blue torrent compressed between a quay and a line of
The river draws me after it. We leave the town together, and I am soon
in the midst of those market-gardens where the infant Topffer lost
himself, and, overtaken by nightfall, fell to making his famous analysis
of fear. The big pumping wheels still overtop the willows, and cast
their shadows over the lettuce-fields. In the distance rise slopes of
woodland, on Sundays the haunt of holiday-makers. The Rhone leaps and
eddies, singing over its gravel beds. Two trout-fishers are taxing all
their strength to pull a boat up stream beneath the shelter of the bank
Perhaps I was wrong in not waiting to hear what M. Plumet had to tell me.
He is not the kind of man to gesticulate wildly without good reason.
ON THE LAKE.
The steamer is gaining the open water and Geneva already lies far behind.
Not a ripple on the blue water that shades into deep blue behind us.
Ahead the scene melts into a milky haze. A little boat, with idle sails
embroidered with sunlight, vanishes into it. On the right rise the
mountains of Savoy, dotted with forests, veiled in clouds which cast
their shadows on the broken slopes. The contrast is happy, and I can not
help admiring Leman's lovely smile at the foot of these rugged mountains.
At the bend in the banks near St. Maurice-en-Valais, the wind catches us,
quite a squall. The lake becomes a sea. At the first roll an
Englishwoman becomes seasick. She casts an expiring glance upon Chillon,
the ancient towers of which are being lashed by the foam. Her husband
does not think it worth his while to cease reading his guide-book or
focusing his field-glass for so trifling a matter.
ON THE DILIGENCE
I am crossing the Simplon at daybreak, with rosepink glaciers on every
side. We are trotting down the Italian slope. How I have longed for the
sight of Italy! Hardly had the diligence put on the brake, and begun
bowling down the mountain-side, before I discovered a change on the face
of all things. The sky turned to a brighter blue. At the very first
glance I seemed to see the dust of long summers on the leaves of the
firs, six thousand feet above the sea, in the virgin atmosphere of the
mountain-tops: and I was very near taking the creaking of my loosely
fixed seat for the southern melody of the first grasshopper.
No one could be mistaken; this shaven, obsequious, suavely jovial
innkeeper is a Neapolitan. He takes his stand in his mosaic-paved hall,
and is at the service of all who wish for information about Lago
Maggiore, the list of its sights; in a word, the programme of the piece.
ISOLA BELLA, ISOLA MADRE.
Yes, they are scraped clean, carefully tended, pretty, all a-blowing and
a-growing; but unreal. The palm trees are unhomely, the tropical plants
seem to stand behind footlights. Restore them to their homes, or give me
back Lake Leman, so simply grand.
After the sky-blue of Maggiore and the vivid green of Lugano, comes the
violet-blue of Como, with its luminous landscape, its banks covered with
olives, Roman ruins, and modern villas. Never have I felt the air so
clear. Here for the first time I said to myself: "This is the spot where
I would choose to dwell." I have even selected my house; it peeps out
from a mass of pomegranates, evergreens, and citrons, on a peninsula
around which the water swells with gentle murmur, and whence the view is
perfect across lake, mountain, and sky.
A nightingale is singing, and I can not help reflecting that his fellows
here are put to death in thousands. Yes, the reapers, famed in poems and
lithographs, are desperate bird-catchers. At the season of migration
they capture thousands of these weary travellers with snares or limed
twigs; on Maggiore alone sixty thousand meet their end. We have but
those they choose to leave us to charm our summer nights.
Perhaps they will kill my nightingale in the Carmelite garden. The idea
fills me with indignation.
Then my thoughts run back to my rooms in the Rue de Rennes, and I see
Madame Menin, with a dejected air, dusting my slumbering furniture;
Lampron at work, his mother knitting; the old clerk growing sleepy with
the heat and lifting his pen as he fancies he has got a bite; Madame
Plumet amid her covey of workgirls, and M. Plumet blowing away with
impatient breath the gold dust which the gum has failed to fix on the
mouldings of a newly finished frame.
M. Plumet is pensive. He is burdened with a secret. I am convinced I
did wrong in not waiting longer on the Place de L'Opera.
At last I am in Milan, an ancient city, but full of ideas and energy, my
destination, and the cradle of the excellent Porfirio Zampini, suspected
forger. The examination of documents does not begin till the day after
to-morrow, so I am making the best of the time in seeing the sights.
There are four sights to see at Milan if you are a musician, and three if
you are not: the Duomo, 'vulgo', cathedral; "The Marriage of the Virgin,"
by Raphael; "The Last Supper," by Leonardo; and, if it suits your tastes,
a performance at La Scala.
I began with the Duomo, and on leaving it I received the news that still
But first of all I must make a confession. When I ascended through the
tropical heat to the marble roof of the cathedral, I expected so much
that I was disappointed. Surprise goes for so much in what we admire.
Neither this mountain of marble, nor the lacework and pinnacles which
adorn the enormous mass, nor the amazing number of statues, nor the sight
of men smaller than flies on the Piazza del Duomo, nor the vast stretch
of flat country which spreads for miles on every side of the city--none
of these sights kindled the spark of enthusiasm within me which has often
glowed for much less. No, what pleased me was something quite different,
a detail not noticed in the guide-books, I suppose.
I had come down from the roof and was wandering in the vast nave from
pillar to pillar, when I found myself beneath the lantern. I raised my
eyes, but the flood of golden light compelled me to close them. The
sunlight passing through the yellow glass of the windows overhead
encircled the mighty vault of the lantern with a fiery crown, and played
around the walls of its cage in rays which, growing fainter as they fell,
flooded the floor with their expiring flames, a mysterious dayspring,
a diffused glory, through which litany and sacred chant winged their way
up toward the Infinite.
I left the cathedral tired out, dazed with weariness and sunlight, and
fell asleep in a chair as soon as I got back to my room, on the fifth
floor of the Albergo dell' Agnello.
I had been asleep for about an hour, perhaps, when I thought I heard a
voice near me repeating "Illustre Signore!"
I did not wake. The voice continued with a murmur of sibilants:
This drew me from my sleep, for the human ear is very susceptible to
"What is it?"
"A letter for your lordship. As it is marked 'Immediate,' I thought I
might take the liberty of disturbing your lordship's slumbers."
"You did quite right, Tomaso."
"You owe me eight sous, signore, which I paid for the postage."
"There's half a franc, keep the change."
He retired calling me Monsieur le Comte; and all for two sous--
O fatherland of Brutus! The letter was from Lampron, who had forgotten
to put a stamp on it.
"MY DEAR FRIEND:
"Madame Plumet, to whom I believe you have given no instructions so
to do, is at present busying herself considerably about your
affairs. I felt I ought to warn you, because she is all heart and
no brains, and I have often seen before the trouble into which an
overzealous friend may get one, especially if the friend be a woman.
"I fear some serious indiscretion has been committed, for the
"Yesterday evening Monsieur Plumet came to see me, and stood pulling
furiously at his beard, which I know from experience is his way of
showing that the world is not going around the right way for him.
By means of questions, I succeeded, after some difficulty, in
dragging from him about half what he had to tell me. The only thing
which he made quite clear was his distress on finding that Madame
Plumet was a woman whom it was hard to silence or to convince by
"It appears that she has gone back to her old trade of dress-making,
and that one of her first customers--God knows how she got there!--
was Mademoiselle Jeanne Charnot.
"Well, last Monday Mademoiselle Jeanne was selecting a hat. She was
blithe as dawn, while the dressmaker was gloomy as night.
"'Is your little boy ill, Madame Plumet?'
"'You look so sad.'
"Then, according to her husband's words, Madame Plumet took her
courage in her two hands, and looking her pretty customer in the
"'Mademoiselle, why are you marrying?'
"'What a funny question! Why, because I am old enough; because I
have had an offer; because all young girls marry, or else they go
into convents, or become old maids. Well, Madame Plumet, I never
have felt a religious vocation, and I never expected to become an
old maid. Why do you ask such a question?'
"'Because, Mademoiselle, married life may be very happy, but it may
be quite the reverse!'
"After giving expression to this excellent aphorism, Madame Plumet,
unable to contain herself any longer, burst into tears.
"Mademoiselle Jeanne, who had been laughing before, was now amazed
and presently grew rather anxious.
"Still, her pride kept her from asking any further questions, and
Madame Plumet was too much frightened to add a word to her answer.
But they will meet again the day after to-morrow, on account of the
hat, as before.
"Here the story grew confused, and I understood no more of it.
"Clearly there is more behind this. Monsieur Plumet never would
have gone out of his way merely to inform me that his wife had given
him a taste of her tongue, nor would he have looked so upset about
it. But you know the fellow's way; whenever it's important for him
to make himself clear he loses what little power of speech he has,
becomes worse than dumb-unintelligible. He sputtered inconsequent
ejaculations at me in this fashion:
"'To think of it, to-morrow, perhaps! And you know what a
business! Oh, damnation! Anyhow, that must not be! Ah! Monsieur
Lampron, how women do talk!'
"And with this Monsieur Plumet left me.
"I must confess, old fellow, that I am not burning with desire to
get mixed up in this mess, or to go and ask Madame Plumet for the
explanation which her husband was unable to give me. I shall bide
my time. If anything turns up to-morrow, they are sure to tell me,
and I will write you word.
"My mother sends you her love, and begs you to wrap up warmly in the
evening; she says the twilight is the winter of hot climates.
"The dear woman has been a little out of sorts for the last two
days. Today she is keeping her bed. I trust it is nothing but a
"Your affectionate friend,
STARTLING NEWS FROM SYLVESTRE
MILAN, June 18th.
The examination of documents began this morning. I never thought we
should have such a heap to examine, nor papers of such a length. The
first sitting passed almost entirely in classifying, in examining
signatures, in skirmishes of all kinds around this main body.
My colleagues and I are working in a room in the municipal Palazzo del
Marino, a vast deserted building used, I believe, as a storehouse. Our
leathern armchairs and the table on which the documents are arranged
occupy the middle of the room. Along the walls are several cupboards,
nests of registers and rats; a few pictures with their faces to the wall;
some carved wood scutcheons, half a dozen flagstaffs and a triumphal arch
in cardboard, now taken to pieces and rotting--gloomy apparatus of bygone
The persons taking part in the examination besides the three Frenchmen,
are, in the first place, a little Italian judge, with a mean face,
wrinkled like a winter apple, whose eyelids always seem heavy with sleep;
secondly, a clerk, shining with fat, his dress, hair, and countenance
expressive of restrained jollity, as he dreams voluptuous dreams of the
cool drinks he means to absorb through a straw when the hour of
deliverance shall sound from the frightful cuckoo clock, a relic of the
French occupation, which ticks at the end of the room; thirdly, a
creature whose position is difficult to determine--I think he must be
employed in some registry; he is here as a mere manual laborer. This
third person gives me the idea of being very much interested in the
fortunes of Signore Porfirio Zampini, for on each occasion, when his
duties required him to bring us documents, he whispered in my ear:
"If you only knew, my lord, what a man Zampini is! what a noble heart,
what a paladin!"
Take notice that this "paladin" is a macaroni-seller, strongly suspected
of trying to hoodwink the French courts.
Amid the awful heat which penetrated the windows, the doors, even the
sun-baked walls, we had to listen to, read, and compare documents. Gnats
of a ferocious kind, hatched by thousands in the hangings of this
hothouse, flew around our perspiring heads. Their buzzing got the upper
hand at intervals when the clerk's voice grew weary and, diminishing in
volume, threatened to fade away into snores.
The little judge rapped on the table with his paperknife and urged the
reader afresh upon his wild career. My colleague from the Record Office
showed no sign of weariness. Motionless, attentive, classing the
smallest papers in his orderly mind, he did not even feel the' gnats
swooping upon the veins in his hands, stinging them, sucking them, and
flying off red and distended with his blood.
I sat, both literally and metaphorically, on hot coals. Just as I came
into the room, the man from the Record Office handed me a letter which
had arrived at the hotel while I was out at lunch. It was a letter from
Lampron, in a large, bulky envelope. Clearly something important must
My fate, perhaps, was settled, and was in the letter, while I knew it
not. I tried to get it out of my inside pocket several times, for to me
it was a far more interesting document than any that concerned Zampini's
action. I pined to open it furtively, and read at least the first few
lines. A moment would have sufficed for me to get at the point of this
long communication. But at every attempt the judge's eyes turned slowly
upon me between their half-closed lids, and made me desist. No--a
thousand times no! This smooth-tongued, wily Italian shall have no
excuse for proving that the French, who have already such a reputation
for frivolity, are a nation without a conscience, incapable of fulfilling
the mission with which they are charged.
And yet.... there came a moment when he turned his back and began to
sort a fresh bundle with the man of records. Here was an unlooked-for
opportunity. I cut open the envelope, unfolded the letter, and found
eight pages! Still I began:
"MY DEAR FRIEND:
"In spite of my anxiety about my mother, and the care her illness
demands (to-day it is found to be undoubted congestion of the
lungs), I feel bound to tell you the story of what has happened in
the Rue Hautefeuille, as it is very important--"
"Excuse me, Monsieur Mou-il-ard," said the little judge, half turning
toward me, "does the paper you have there happen to be number twenty-
seven, which we are looking for?"
"Oh, dear, no; it's a private letter."
"A private letter? I ask pardon for interrupting you."
He gave a faint smile, closed his eyes to show his pity for such
frivolity, and turned away again satisfied, while the other members of
the Zampini Commission looked at me with interest.
The letter was important. So much the worse, I must finish it:
"I will try to reconstruct the scene for you, from the details which
I have gathered.
"The time is a quarter to ten in the morning. There is a knock at
Monsieur Plumet's door. The door opposite is opened half-way and
Madame Plumet looks out. She withdraws in a hurry, 'with her heart
in her mouth,' as she says; the plot she has formed is about to
succeed or fail, the critical moment is at hand; the visitor is her
enemy, your rival Dufilleul.
"He is full of self-confidence and comes in plump and flourishing,
with light gloves, and a terrier at his heels.
"'My portrait framed, Plumet?'
"'Yes, my lord-yes, to be sure.'
"'Let's see it.'
"I have seen the famous portrait: a miniature of the newly created
baron, in fresh butter, I think, done cheap by some poor girl who
gains her living by coloring photographs. It is intended for
Mademoiselle Tigra of the Bouffes. A delicate attention from
Dufilleul, isn't it? While Jeanne in her innocence is dreaming of
the words of love he has ventured to utter to her, and cherishes but
one thought, one image in her heart, he is exerting his ingenuity to
perpetuate the recollection of that image's adventures elsewhere.
"He is pleased with the elaborate and costly frame which Plumet has
made for him.
"'Very nice. How much?'
"'One hundred and twenty francs.'
"'Six louis? very dear.'
"'That's my price for this kind of work, my lord; I am very
busy just now, my lord.'
"'Well, let it be this once. I don't often have a picture framed;
to tell the truth, I don't care for pictures.'
"Dufilleul admires and looks at himself in the vile portrait
which he holds outstretched in his right hand, while his left hand
feels in his purse. Monsieur Plumet looks very stiff, very unhappy,
and very nervous. He evidently wants to get his customer off the
"The rustling of skirts is heard on the staircase. Plumet turns
pale, and glancing at the half-opened door, through which the
terrier is pushing its nose, steps forward to close it. It is too
"Some one has noiselessly opened it, and on the threshold stands
Mademoiselle Jeanne in walking-dress, looking, with bright eyes and
her most charming smile, at Plumet, who steps back in a fright, and
Dufilleul, who has not yet seen her.
"'Well, sir, and so I've caught you!'
"Dufilleul starts, and involuntarily clutches the portrait to his
"'Mademoiselle-- No, really, you have come--?'
"'To see Madame Plumet. What wrong is there in that?'
"'None whatever--of course not.'
"'Not the least in the world, eh? Ha, ha! What a trifle flurries
you. Come now, collect yourself. There is nothing to be frightened
at. As I was coming upstairs, your dog put his muzzle out; I
guessed he was not alone, so I left my maid with Madame Plumet, and
came in at the right-hand door instead of the left. Do you think it
"'Oh, no, Mademoiselle.'
"'However, I am inquisitive, and I should like to see what you are
"'It's a portrait.'
"'Hand it to me.'
"'With pleasure; unfortunately it's only a portrait of myself.'
"'Why unfortunately? On the contrary, it flatters you--the nose is
not so long as the original; what do you say, Monsieur Plumet?'
"'Do you think it good?'
"'How do you like the frame?'
"'It's very pretty.'
"'Then I make you a present of it, Mademoiselle.'
"'Why! wasn't it intended for me?'
"'I mean--well! to tell the truth, it wasn't; it's a wedding
present, a souvenir--there's nothing extraordinary in that, is
"'Nothing whatever. You can tell me whom it's for, I suppose?'
"'Don't you think that you are pushing your curiosity too far?'
"'Yes, I mean it.'
"'Since you make such a secret of it, I shall ask Monsieur Plumet to
tell me. Monsieur Plumet, for whom is this portrait?'
"Plumet, pale as death, fumbled at his workman's cap, like a naughty
"'Why, you see, Mademoiselle--I am only a poor framemaker.'
"'Very well! I shall go to Madame Plumet, who is sure to know, and
will not mind telling me.'
"Madame Plumet, who must have been listening at the door, came in at
that moment, trembling like a leaf, and prepared to dare all.
"I beg you won't, Mademoiselle,' broke in Dufilleul; 'there is no
secret. I only wanted to tease you. The portrait is for a friend
of mine who lives at Fontainebleau.'
"'Gonin--he's a solicitor.'
"'It was time you told me. How wretched you both looked. Another
time tell me straight out, and frankly, anything you have no reason
to conceal. Promise you won't act like this again.'
"'Then, let us make peace.'
"She held out her hand to him. Before he could grasp it, Madame
Plumet broke in:
"'Excuse me, Mademoiselle, I can not have you deceived like this in
my house. Mademoiselle, it is not true!'
"'What is not true, Madame?'
"'That this portrait is for Monsieur Gonin, or anybody else at
"Mademoiselle Charnot drew back in surprise.
"'For whom, then?'
"'Take care what you are saying, Madame.'
"'For Mademoiselle Tigra of the Bouffes.'
"'Lies!' cried Dufilleul. 'Prove it, Madame; prove your story,
"'Look at the back,' answered Madame Plumet, quietly.
"Mademoiselle Jeanne, who had not put down the miniature, turned it
over, read what was on the back, grew deathly pale, and handed it to
"'What does it say?' said Dufilleul, stooping over it.
"It said: 'From Monsieur le Baron D----- to Mademoiselle T-----,
Boulevard Haussmann. To be delivered on Thursday.'
"'You can see at once, Mademoiselle, that this is not my writing.
It's an abominable conspiracy. Monsieur Plumet, I call upon you to
give your wife the lie. She has written what is false; confess it!'
"The frame-maker hid his face in his hands and made no reply.
"'What, Plumet, have you nothing to say for me?'
"Mademoiselle Charnot was leaving the room.
"'Where are you going, Mademoiselle? Stay, you will soon see that
"She was already half-way across the landing when Dufilleul caught
her and seized her by the hand.
"'Stay, Jeanne, stay!'
"'Let me go, sir!'
"'No, hear me first; this is some horrible mistake. I swear'
"At this moment a high-pitched voice was heard on the staircase.
"'Well, George, how much longer are you going to keep me?'
"Dufilleul suddenly lost countenance and dropped Mademoiselle
"The young girl bent over the banisters, and saw, at the bottom of
the staircase, exactly underneath her, a woman looking up, with head
thrown back and mouth still half-opened. Their eyes met. Jeanne at
once turned away her gaze.
"Then, turning to Madame Plumet, who leaned motionless against the
"'Come, Madame,' she said, 'we must go and choose a hat.' And she
closed the dressmaker's door behind her.
"This, my friend, is the true account of what happened in the Rue
Hautefeuille. I learned the details from Madame Plumet in person,
who could not contain herself for joy as she described the success
of her conspiracy, and how her little hand had guided old Dame
Fortune's. For, as you will doubtless have guessed, the meeting
between Jeanne and her lover, so dreaded by the framemaker, had been
arranged by Madame Plumet unknown to all, and the damning
inscription was also in her handwriting.
"I need not add that Mademoiselle Charnot, upset by the scene, had a
momentary attack of faintness. However, she soon regained her usual
firm and dignified demeanor, which seems to show that she is a woman
"But the interest of the story does not cease here. I think the
betrothal is definitely at an end. A betrothal is always a
difficult thing to renew, and after the publicity which attended the
rupture of this one, I do not see how they can make it up again.
One thing I feel sure of is, that Mademoiselle Jeanne Charnot will
never change her name to Madame Dufilleul.
"Do not, however, exaggerate your own chances. They will be less
than you think for some time yet. I do not believe that a young
girl who has thus been wounded and deceived can forget all at once.
There is even the possibility of her never forgetting--of living
with her sorrow, preferring certain peace of mind, and the simple
joys of filial devotion, to all those dreams of married life by
which so many simple-hearted girls have been cruelly taken in.
"In any case do not think of returning yet, for I know you are
capable of any imprudence. Stay where you are, examine your
documents, and wait.
"My mother and I are passing through a bitter trial. She is ill, I
may say seriously ill. I would sooner bear the illness than my
"P. S.--Just as I was about to fasten up this letter, I got a note
from Madame Plumet to tell me that Monsieur and Mademoiselle Charnot
have left Paris. She does not know where they have gone."
I became completely absorbed over this letter. Some passages I read a
second time; and the state of agitation into which it threw me did not at
once pass away. I remained for an indefinite time without a notion of
what was going on around me, entirely wrapped up in the past or the
The Italian attendant brought me back to the present with a jerk of his
elbow. He was replacing the last register in the huge drawers of the
table. He and I were alone. My colleagues had left, and our first
sitting had come to an end without my assistance, though before my eyes.
They could not have gone far, so, somewhat ashamed of my want of
attention, I put on my hat, and went to find them and apologize. The
little attendant caught me by the sleeve, and gave a knowing smile at the
letter which I was slipping into my pocketbook.
"E d'una donna?" he asked.
"What's that to you?"
"I am sure of it; a letter from a man would never take so long to read;
and, 'per Bacco', you were a time about it! 'Oh, le donne, illustre
signore, le downe!'"
"That's enough, thank you."
I made for the door, but he threw himself nimbly in my way, grimacing,
raising his eyebrows, one finger on his ribs. "Listen, my lord, I can
see you are a true scholar, a man whom fame alone can tempt. I could get
your lordship such beautiful manuscripts--Italian, Latin, German
manuscripts that never have been edited, my noble lord!"
"Stolen, too!" I replied, and pushed past him.
I went out, and in the neighboring square, amicably seated at the same
table, under the awning of a cafe, I found my French colleagues and the
Italian judge. At a table a little apart the clerk was sucking something
through a straw. And they all laughed as they saw me making my way
toward them through the still scorching glare of the sun.
MILAN, June 25th.
Our mission was concluded to-day. Zampini is a mere rogue. Brought face
to face with facts he could not escape from, he confessed that he had
intended to "have a lark" with the French heirs by claiming to be the
rightful heir himself, though he lacked two degrees of relationship to
establish his claim.
We explained to him that this little "lark" was a fraudulent act which
exposed him at least to the consequence of having to pay the costs of the
action. He accepted our opinion in the politest manner possible. I
believe he is hopelessly insolvent. He will pay the usher in macaroni,
and the barrister in jests.
My colleagues, the record man and the translator, leave Milan to-morrow.
I shall go with them.
A SURPRISING ENCOUNTER
MILAN, June 26th.
I have just had another letter from Sylvestre. My poor friend is very
miserable; his mother is dead--a saint if ever there was one. I was very
deeply touched by the news, although I knew this lovable woman very
slightly--too slightly, indeed, not having been a son, or related in any
way to her, but merely a passing stranger who found his way within the
horizon of her heart, that narrow limit within which she spread abroad
the treasures of her tenderness and wisdom. How terribly her son must
feel her loss!
He described in his letter her last moments, and the calmness with which
she met death, and added:
"One thing, which perhaps you will not understand, is the remorse
which is mingled with my sorrow. I lived with her forty years, and
have some right to be called 'a good son.' But, when I compare the
proofs of affection I gave her with those she gave me, the
sacrifices I made for her with those she made for me; when I think
of the egoism which found its way into our common life, on which I
founded my claims to merit, of the wealth of tenderness and sympathy
with which she repaid a few walks on my arm, a few kind words, and
of her really great forbearance in dwelling beneath the same roof
with me--I feel that I was ungrateful, and not worthy of the
happiness I enjoyed.
"I am tortured by the thought that it is impossible for me to repair
all my neglect, to pay a debt the greatness of which I now recognize
for the first time. She is gone. All is over. My prayers alone
can reach her, can tell her that I loved her, that I worshipped her,
that I might have been capable of doing all that I have left undone
"Oh, my friend, what pleasant duties have I lost! I mean, at least,
to fulfil her last wishes, and it is on account of one of them that
I am writing to you.
"You know that my mother was never quite pleased at my keeping at
home the portrait of her who was my first and only love. She would
have preferred that my eyes did not recall so often to my heart the
recollection of my long-past sorrows. I withstood her. On her
death-bed she begged me to give up the picture to, those who should
have had it long ago. 'So long as I was here to comfort you in the
sorrows which the sight of it revived in you,' she said, 'I did not
press this upon you; but soon you will be left alone, with no one to
raise you when your spirits fail you. They have often begged you to
give up the picture to them. The time is come for you to grant
"And now, dear friend, help me to keep my promise. I do not wish to
write to them. My hand would tremble, and they would tremble when
they saw my writing. Go and see them.
"They live about nine miles from Milan, on the Monza road, but
beyond that town, close to the village of Desio. The villa is
called Dannegianti, after its owners. It used to be hidden among
poplars, and its groves were famous for their shade. You must send
in your card to the old lady of the house together with mine. They
will receive you. Then you must break the news to them as you think
best, that, in accordance with the dying wish of Sylvestre Lampron's
mother, the portrait of Rafaella is to be given in perpetuity to the
Villa Dannegianti. Given, you understand.
"You may even tell them that it is on its way. I have just arranged
with Plumet about packing it. He is a good workman, as you know.
To-morrow all will be ready, and my home an absolute void.
"I intend to take refuge in hard work, and I count upon you to
alleviate to some extent the hardships of such a method of
When I got Lampron's letter, at ten in the morning, I went at once to see
the landlord of the Albergo dell' Agnello.
"You can get me a carriage for Desio, can't you?"
"Oh, your lordship thinks of driving to Desio? That is quite right. It
is much more picturesque than going by train. A little way beyond Monza.
Monza, sir, is one of our richest jewels; you will see there--"
"Yes," said I, repeating my Baedeker as accurately as he, "the Villa
Reale, and the Iron Crown of the Emperors of the West."
"Exactly so, sir, and the cathedral built--"
"By Theodolinda, Queen of the Lombards, A.D. 595, restored in the
sixteenth century. I know; I only asked whether you could get me a
"A matchless one! At half-past three, when the heat is less intense,
your lordship will find the horses harnessed. You will have plenty of
time to get to Desio before sunset, and be back in time for supper."
At the appointed time I received notice. My host had more than kept his
word, for the horses sped through Milan at a trot which they did not
relinquish when we got into the Como road, amid the flat and fertile
country which is called the garden of Italy.
After an hour and a half, including a brief halt at Monza, the coachman
drew up his horses before the first house in Desio--an inn.
It was a very poor inn, situated at the corner of the main street and of
a road which branched off into the country. In front of it a few plane-
trees, trained into an arbor, formed an arch of shade. A few feet of
vine clambered about their trunks. The sun was scorching the leaves and
the heavy bunches of grapes which hung here and there. The shutters were
closed, and the little house seemed to have been lulled to sleep by the
heat and light of the atmosphere and the buzzing of the gnats.
"Oh, go in; they'll wake up at once," said the coachman, who had divined
Then, without waiting for my answer, like a man familiar with the customs
of the country, he took his horses down the road to the stable.
I went in. A swarm of bees and drones were buzzing like a whirlwind
beneath the plane-trees; a frightened white hen ran cackling from her
nest in the dust. No one appeared. I opened the door; still nobody was
to be seen. Inside I found a passage, with rooms to right and left and a
wooden staircase at the end. The house, having been kept well closed,
was cool and fresh. As I stood on the threshold striving to accustom my
eyes to the darkness of the interior, I heard the sound of voices to my
"Picturesque as you please, but the journey has been a failure! These
people are no better than savages; introductions, distinctions, and I may
say even fame, had no effect upon them!"
"Do you think they have even read your letters?" "That would be still
worse, to refuse to read letters addressed to them! No, I tell you,
there's no excuse."
"They have suffered great trouble, I hear, and that is some excuse for
"No, my dear, there is no possible excuse for their keeping hidden
treasures of such scientific interest. I do not consider that even an
Italian nobleman, were he orphan from his cradle, and thrice a widower,
has any right to keep locked up from the investigation of scholars an
unequalled collection of Roman coins, and a very presentable show of
medallions and medals properly so-called. Are you aware that this
boorish patrician has in his possession the eight types of medal of the
"I am certain of it, and he has the thirty-seven of the gens Cassia, one
hundred and eighteen to one hundred and twenty-one of the gens Cornelia,
the eleven Farsuleia, and dozens of Numitoria, Pompeia, and Scribonia,
all in perfect condition, as if fresh from the die. Besides these, he
has some large medals of the greatest rarity; the Marcus Aurelius with
his son on the reverse side, Theodora bearing the globe, and above all
the Annia Faustina with Heliogabalus on the reverse side, an incomparable
treasure, of which there is only one other example, and that an imperfect
one, in the world--a marvel which I would give a day of my life to see;
yes, my dear, a day of my life!"
Such talk as this, in French, in such an inn as this!
I felt a presentiment, and stepped softly to the right-hand door.
In the darkened room, lighted only by a few rays filtered between the
slats of the shutters, sat a young girl. Her hat was hung upon a nail
above her head; one arm rested on a wretched white wood table; her head
was bent forward in mournful resignation. On the other side of the
table, her father was leaning back in his chair against the whitewashed
wall, with folded arms, heightened color, and every sign of extreme
disgust. Both rose as I entered--Jeanne first, M. Charnot after her.
They were astonished at seeing me.
I was no less astounded than they.
We stood and stared at each other for some time, to make sure that we
were not dreaming.
M. Charnot was the first to break the silence. He did not seem
altogether pleased at my appearance, and turned to his daughter, whose
face had grown very red and yet rather chilling:
"Jeanne, put your hat on; it is time to go to the station." Then he
"We shall leave you the room to yourself, sir; and since the most
extraordinary coincidence"--he emphasized the words--"has brought you to
this damnable village, I hope you will enjoy your visit."
"Have you been here long, Monsieur?"
"Two hours, Monsieur, two mortal hours in this inn, fried by the sun,
bored to death, murdered piecemeal by flies, and infuriated by the want
of hospitality in this out-of-the-way hole in Lombardy."
"Yes, I noticed that the host was nowhere to be seen, and that is the
reason why I came in here; I had no idea that I should have the honor of
"Good God! I'm not complaining of him! He's asleep in his barn over
there. You can wake him up; he doesn't mind showing himself; he even
makes himself agreeable when he has finished his siesta."
"I only wish to ask him one question, which perhaps you could answer,
Monsieur; then I need not waken him. Could you tell me the way to the
M. Charnot walked up to me, looked me straight in the eyes, shrugged his
shoulders, and burst out laughing.
"The Villa Dannegianti!"
"Are you going to the Villa Dannegianti?"
"Then you may as well turn round and go home again."
"Because there's no admission."
"But I have a letter of introduction."
"I had two, Monsieur, without counting the initials after my name, which
are worth something and have opened the doors of more than one foreign
collection for me; yet they denied me admission! Think of it! The
porter of that insolent family denied me admission! Do you expect to
succeed after that?"
"I do, Monsieur."
My words seemed to him the height of presumption.
"Come, Jeanne," he said, "let us leave this gentleman to his youthful
illusions. They will soon be shattered--very soon."
He gave me an ironical smile and made for the door.
At this moment Jeanne dropped her sunshade. I picked it up for her.
"Thank you, Monsieur," she said.
Of course these words were no more than ordinarily polite. She would
have said the same to the first comer. Nothing in her attitude or her
look displayed any emotion which might put a value on this common form of
speech. But it was her voice, that music I so often dream of. Had it
spoken insults, I should have found it sweet. It inspired me with the
sudden resolution of detaining this fugitive apparition, of resting, if
possible, another hour near her to whose side an unexpected stroke of
fortune had brought me.
M. Charnot had already left the room; his rotund shadow rested on the
wall of the passage. He held a travelling-bag in his hand.
"Monsieur," said I, "I am sorry that you are obliged to return already to
Milan. I am quite certain of admission to the Villa Dannegianti, and it
would have given me pleasure to repair a mistake which is clearly due
only to the stupidity of the servants."
He stopped; the stroke had told.
"It is certainly quite possible that they never looked at my card or my
letters. But allow me to ask, since my card did not reach the host, what
secret you possess to enable yours to get to him?"
"No secret at all, still less any merit of my own. I am the bearer of
news of great importance to the owners of the villa, news of a purely
private nature. They will be obliged to see me. My first care, when I
had fulfilled my mission, would have been to mention your name. You
would have been able to go over the house, and inspect a collection of
medals which, I have heard, is a very fine one."
"Unfortunately you are going away, and to-morrow I have to leave Milan
myself, for Paris."
"You have been some time in Italy, then?"
"Nearly a fortnight."
M. Charnot gave his daughter a meaning look, and suddenly became more
"I thought you had just come. We have not been here so long," he added;
"my daughter has been a little out of sorts, and the doctor advised us to
travel for change of air. Paris is not healthful in this very hot
He looked hard at me to see whether his fib had taken me in. I replied,
with an air of the utmost conviction, "That is putting it mildly. Paris,
in July, is uninhabitable."
"That's it, Monsieur, uninhabitable; we were forced to leave it. We soon
made up our minds, and, in spite of the time of the year, we turned our
steps toward the home of the classics, to Italy, the museum of Europe.
And you really think, then, that by means of your good offices we should
have been admitted to the villa?"
"Yes, Monsieur, but owing only to the missive with which I am entrusted."
M. Charnot hesitated. He was probably thinking of the blot of ink, and
certainly of M. Mouillard's visit. But he doubtless reflected that
Jeanne knew nothing of the old lawyer's proceedings, that we were far
from Paris, that the opportunity was not to be lost; and in the end his
passion for numismatics conquered at once his resentment as a bookworm
and his scruples as a father.
"There is a later train at ten minutes to eight, father," said Jeanne.
"Well, dear, do you care to try your luck again, and return to the
assault of that Annia Faustina?"
"As you please, father."
We left the inn together by the by-road down the hill. I could not
believe my eyes. This old man with refined features who walked on my
left, leaning on his malacca cane, was M. Charnot. The same man who
received me so discourteously the day after I made my blot was now
relying on me to introduce him to an Italian nobleman; on me, a lawyer's
clerk. I led him on with confidence, and both of us, carried away by our
divers hopes, he dreaming of medals, I of the reopened horizon full of
possibilities, conversed on indifferent subjects with a freedom hitherto
unknown between us.
And this charming Parisienne, whose presence I divined rather than saw,
whom I dared not look in the face, who stepped along by her father's
side, light of foot, her eyes seeking the vault of heaven, her ear
attentive though her thoughts were elsewhere, catching her Parisian
sunshade in the hawthorns of Desio, was Jeanne, Jeanne of the flower-
market, Jeanne whom Lampron had sketched in the woods of St. Germain! It
did not seem possible.
Yet it was so, for we arrived together at the gates of the Villa
Dannegianti, which is hardly a mile from the inn.
I rang the bell. The fat, idle, insolent Italian porter was beginning to
refuse me admission, with the same words and gestures which he had so
often used. But I explained, in my purest Tuscan, that I was not of the
ordinary kind of importunate tourist. I told him that he ran a serious
risk if he did not immediately hand my card and my letter--Lampron's card
in an envelope--to the Comtesse Dannegianti.
From his stony glare I could not tell whether I had produced any
impression, nor even whether he had understood. He turned on his heel
with his keys in one hand and the letter in the other, and went on his
way through the shady avenue, rolling his broad back from side to side,
attired in a jacket which might have fitted in front, but was all too
The shady precincts of which Lampron wrote did not seem to have been
pruned. The park was cool and green. At the end of the avenue of plane-
trees, alternating with secular hawthorns cut into pyramids, we could see
the square mass of the villa just peeping over the immense clumps of
trees. Beyond it the tops and naked trunks of a group of umbrella pines
stood silhouetted against the sky.
The porter returned, solemn and impassive. He opened the gate without a
word. We all passed through--M. Charnot somewhat uneasy at entering
under false pretenses, as I guessed from the way he suddenly drew up his
head. Jeanne seemed pleased; she smoothed down a fold which the wind had
raised in her frock, spread out a flounce, drew herself up, pushed back a
hairpin which her fair tresses had dragged out of its place, all in
quick, deft, and graceful movements, like a goldfinch preening its
We reached the terrace, and arranged that M. and Mademoiselle Charnot
should wait in an alley close at hand till I received permission to visit
I entered the house, and following a lackey, crossed a large mosaic-paved
hall, divided by columns of rare marbles into panels filled with mediocre
frescoes on a very large scale. At the end of this hall was the
Countess's room, which formed a striking contrast, being small, panelled
with wood, and filled with devotional knick-knacks that gave it the look
of a chapel.
As I entered, an old lady half rose from an armchair, which she could
have used as a house, the chair was so large and she was so small. At
first I could distinguish only two bright, anxious eyes. She looked at
me like a prisoner awaiting a verdict. I began by telling her of the
death of Lampron's mother. Her only answer was an attentive nod. She
guessed something else was coming and stood on guard, so to speak. I
went on and told her that the portrait of her daughter was on its way to
her. Then she forgot everything--her age, her rank, and the mournful
reserve which had hitherto hedged her about. Her motherly heart alone
spoke within her; a ray of light had come to brighten the incurable gloom
which was killing her; she rushed toward me and fell into my arms, and I
felt against my heart her poor aged body shaking with sobs. She thanked
me in a flood of words which I did not catch. Then she drew back and
gazed at me, seeking to read in my eyes some emotion responsive to her
own, and her eyes, red and swollen and feverishly bright, questioned me
more clearly than her words.
"How good are you, sir! and how generous is he! What life does he lead?
Has he ever lived down the sorrow which blasted his youth here? Men
forget more easily, happily for them. I had given up all hope of
obtaining the portrait. Every year I sent him flowers which meant,
'Restore to us all that is left of our dead Rafaella.' Perhaps it was
unkind. I did reproach myself at times for it. But I was her mother,
you know; the mother of that peerless girl! And the portrait is so good,
so like! He has never altered it? tell me; never retouched it? Time
has not marred the lifelike coloring? I shall now have the mournful
consolation I have so long desired; I shall always have before me the
counterpart of my lost darling, and can gaze upon that face which none
could depict save he who loved her; for, dreadful though it be to think
of, the image of the best beloved will change and fade away even in a
mother's heart, and at times I doubt whether my old memory is still
faithful, and recalls all her grace and beauty as clearly as it used to
do when the wound was fresh in my heart and my eyes were still filled
with the loveliness of her. Oh, Monsieur, Monsieur! to think that I
shall see that face once more!"
She left me as quickly as she had come, and went to open a door on the
left, into an adjoining room, whose red hangings threw a ruddy glow upon
the polished floor.
"Cristoforo!" she cried, "Cristoforo! come and see a French gentleman
who brings us great news. The portrait of our Rafaella, Cristoforo, the
portrait we have so long desired, is at last to be given to us!"
I heard a chair move, and a slow footstep. Cristoforo appeared, with
white hair and black moustache, his tall figure buttoned up in an old-
fashioned frockcoat, the petrified, mummified remains of a once handsome
man. He walked up to me, took both my hands and shook them
ceremoniously. His face showed no traces of emotion; his eyes were dry,
and he had not a word to say. Did he understand? I really do not know.
He seemed to think the affair was an ordinary introduction. As I looked
at him his wife's words came back to me, "Men forget sooner." She gazed
at him as if she would put blood into his veins, where it had long ceased
"Cristoforo, I know this will be a great joy to you, and you will join
with me in thanking Monsieur Lampron for his generosity. You, sir, will
express to him all the Count's gratitude and my own, and also the
sympathy we feel for him in his recent loss. Besides, we shall write to
him. Is Monsieur Lampron rich?"
"I had forgotten to tell you, Madame, that my friend will accept nothing
"Ah, that is truly noble of him, is it not, Cristoforo?"
All the answer the old Count made was to take my hands and shake them
I used the opportunity to put forward my request in behalf of M. Charnot.
He listened attentively.
"I will give orders. You shall see everything--everything."
Then, considering our interview at an end, he bowed and withdrew to his
I looked for the Countess Dannegianti. She had sunk into her great
armchair, and was weeping hot tears.
Ten minutes later, M. Charnot and Jeanne entered with me into the
jealously guarded museum.
Museum was the only name to give to a collection of such artistic value,
occupying, as it did, the whole of the ground floor to the right of the
hall. Two rooms ran parallel to each other, filled with pictures,
medals, and engravings, and were connected by a narrow gallery devoted to
Hardly was the door opened when M. Charnot sought the famous medals with
his eye. There they were in the middle of the room in two rows of cases.
He was deeply moved. I thought he was about to make a raid upon them,
attracted after his kind by the 'auri sacra fames', by the yellow gleam
of those ancient coins, the names, family, obverse and reverse of which
he knew by heart. But I little understood the enthusiast.
He drew out his handkerchief and spectacles, and while he was wiping the
glasses he gave a rapid and impatient glance at the works that adorned
the walls. None of them could charm the numismatist's heart. After he
had enjoyed the pleasure of proving how feeble in comparison were the
charms of a Titian or a Veronese, then only did M. Charnot walk step by
step to the first case and bend reverently over it.
Yet the collection of paintings was unworthy of such disdain. The
pictures were few, but all were signed with great names, most of them
Italian, a few Dutch, Flemish, or German. I began to work systematically
through them, pleased at the want of a catalogue and the small number of
inscriptions on the frames. To be your own guide doubles your pleasure;
you can get your impression of a picture entirely at first hand; you are
filled with admiration without any one having told you that you are bound
to go into ecstasies. You can work out for yourself from a picture, by
induction and comparison, its subject, its school, and its author, unless
it proclaims, in every stroke of the brush, "I am a Hobbema,"
"a Perugino," or "a Giotto."
I was somewhat distracted, however, by the voice of the old numismatist,
as he peered into the cases, and constrained his daughter to share in the
exuberance of his learned enthusiasm.
"Jeanne, look at this; crowned head of Cleopatra, Mark Antony on the
reverse; in perfect condition, isn't it? See, an Italian 'as-Iguvium
Umbriae', which my friend Pousselot has sought these thirty years! Oh,
my dear, this is important: Annius Verus on the reverse of Commodus, both
as children, a rare example--yet not as rare as--Jeanne, you must engrave
this gold medal in your heart, it is priceless: head of Augustus with
laurel, Diana walking on the reverse. You ought to take an interest in
her. Diana the fair huntress.
This collection is heavenly! Wait a minute; we shall soon come to the
Jeanne made no objection, but smiled softly upon the Cleopatra, the
Umbrian 'as', and the fair huntress.
Little by little her father's enthusiasm expanded over the vast
collection of treasures. He took out his pocketbook and began to make
notes. Jeanne raised her eyes to the walls, took one glance, then a
second, and, not being called back to the medals, stepped softly up to
the picture at which I had begun.
She went quickly from one to another having evidently no more than a
child's untutored taste for pictures. As I, on the contrary, was getting
on very slowly, she was bound to overtake me. You may be sure I took no
steps to prevent it, and so in a very short time we were both standing
before the same picture, a portrait of Holbein the younger. A subject of
conversation was ready to hand.
"Mademoiselle," said I, "do you like this Holbein?"
"You must admit, sir, that the old gentleman is exceedingly plain."
"Yes, but the painting is exquisite. See how powerful is the drawing of
the head, how clear and deep the colors remain after more than three
hundred years. What a good likeness it must have been! The subject
tells his own story: he must have been a nobleman of the court of Henry
VIII, a Protestant in favor with the King, wily but illiterate,
and wishing from the bottom of his heart that he were back with the
companions of his youth at home in his country house, hunting and
drinking at his ease. It is really the study of a man's character.
Look at this Rubens beside it, a mere mass of flesh scarcely held
together by a spirit, a style that is exuberantly material, all color and
no expression. Here you have spirituality on one side and materialism on
the other, unconscious, perhaps, but unmistakable. Compare, again,
with these two pictures this little drawing, doubtless by Perugino,
just a sketch of an angel for an Annunciation; notice the purity of
outline, the ideal atmosphere in which the painter lives and with which
he impregnates his work. You see he comes of a school of poets and
mystics, gifted with a second sight which enabled them to beautify this
world and raise themselves above it."
I was pleased with my little lecture, and so was Jeanne. I could tell it
by her surprised expression, and by the looks she cast toward her father,
who was still taking notes, to see whether she might go on with her first
lesson in art.
He smiled in a friendly way, which meant:
"I'm happy here, my dear, thank you; 'va piano va sano'."
This was as good as permission. We went on our way, saluting, as we
passed, Tintoretto and Titian, Veronese and Andrea Solari, old Cimabue,
and a few early paintings of angular virgins on golden backgrounds.
Jeanne was no longer bored.
"And is this," she would say, "another Venetian, or a Lombard, or a
We soon completed the round of the first room, and made our way into the
gallery beyond, devoted to sculpture. The marble gods and goddesses,
the lovely fragments of frieze or cornice from the excavations at Rome,
Pompeii, or Greece, had but a moderate interest for Mademoiselle Charnot.
She never gave more than one glance to each statue, to some none at all.
We soon came to the end of the gallery, and the door which gave access
into the second room of paintings.
Suddenly Jeanne gave an exclamation of surprise.
"What is that?" she said.
Beneath the large and lofty window, fanned on the outside by leafy
branches, a wooden panel, bearing an inscription, stood upright against
the wall. The words were painted in black on a white ground, and
arranged with considerable skill, after the style of the classic epitaphs
which the Italians still cultivate.
I drew aside the folds of a curtain:
"It is one of those memorial tablets, Mademoiselle, such as people hang
up in this part of the country upon the church doors on the day of the
funeral. It means:
"To thee, Rafaella Dannegianti--who, aged twenty years and few months--
having fully experienced the sorrows and illusions of this world--on
January 6--like an angel longing for its heavenly home--didst wing thy
way to God in peace and happiness--the clergy of Desioand the laborers
and artificers of the noble house of Dannegianti--tender these last
"This Rafaella, then, was the Count's daughter?"
"His only child, a girl lovely and gracious beyond rivalry."
"Oh, of course, beyond rivalry. Are not all only daughters lovely and
perfect when once they are dead?" she replied with a bitter smile.
"They have their legend, their cult, and usually a flattering portrait.
I am surprised that Rafaella's is not here. I imagine her portrait as
representing a tall girl, with long, well-arched eyebrows, and brown
"Green, if you prefer it; a small nose, cherry lips, and a mass of light
"Golden brown would be more correct."
"Have you seen it, then? Is there one?"
"Yes, Mademoiselle, and it lacks no perfection that you could imagine,
not even that smile of happy youth which was a falsehood ere the paint
had yet dried on the canvas. Here, before this relic, which recalls it
to my thoughts, I must confess that I am touched."
She looked at me in astonishment.
"Where is the portrait? Not here?"
"No, it is at Paris, in my friend Lampron's studio."
"O--oh!" She blushed slightly.
"Yes, Mademoiselle, it is at once a masterpiece and a sad reminder. The
story is very simple, and I am sure my friend would not mind my telling
it to you--to you if to no other--before these relics of the past.
"When Lampron was a young man travelling in Italy he fell in love with
this young girl, whose portrait he was painting. He loved her, perhaps
without confessing it to himself, certainly without avowing it to her.
Such is the way of timid and humble men of heart, men whose love is
nearly always misconstrued when it ceases to be unnoticed. My friend
risked the happiness of his life, fearlessly, without calculation--and
lost it. A day came when Rafaella Dannegianti was carried off by her
parents, who shuddered at the thought of her stooping to a painter, even
though he were a genius."
"So she died?"
"A year later. He never got over it. Even while I speak to you, he in
his loneliness is pondering and weeping over these very lines which you
have just read without a suspicion of the depth of their bitterness."
"He has known bereavement," said she; "I pity him with all my heart."
Her eyes filled with tears. She repeated the words, whose meaning was
now clear to her, "A to Rafaella." Then she knelt down softly before the
mournful inscription. I saw her bow her head. Jeanne was praying.
It was touching to see the young girl, whom chance had placed before this
simple testimony of a sorrow now long past, deeply moved by the sad tale
of love, filled with tender pity for the dead Rafaella, her fellow in
youth and beauty and perhaps in destiny, finding in her heart the tender
impulse to kneel without a word, as if beside the grave of a friend. The
daylight's last rays streaming in through the window illumined her bowed
I drew back, with a touch of awe.
M. Charnot appeared.
He went up to his daughter and tapped her on the shoulder. She rose with
"What are you doing there?" he said.
Then he adjusted his glasses and read the Italian inscription.
"You really take unnecessary trouble in kneeling down to decipher a thing
like that. You can see at once that it's a modern panel, and of no
value. Monsieur," he added, turning to me, "I do not know what your
plans are, but unless you intend to sleep at Desio, we must be off, for
the night is falling."
We left the villa.
Out of doors it was still light, but with the afterglow. The sun was out
of sight, but the earth was still enveloped, as it were, in a haze of
M. Charnot pulled out his watch.
"Seven minutes past eight. What time does the last train start, Jeanne?"
"At ten minutes to eight."
"Confusion! we are stranded in Desio! The mere thought of passing the
night in that inn gives me the creeps. I see no way out of it unless
Monsieur Mouillard can get us one of the Count's state coaches. There
isn't a carriage to be got in this infernal village!"
"There is mine, Monsieur, which luckily holds four, and is quite at your
"Upon my word, I am very much obliged to you. The drive by moonlight
will be quite romantic."
He drew near to Jeanne and whispered in her ear:
"Are you sure you've wraps enough? a shawl, or a cape, or some kind of
She gave a merry nod of assent.
"Don't worry yourself, father; I am prepared for all emergencies."
At half-past eight we left Desio together, and I silently blessed the
host of the Albergo dell' Agnello, who had assured me that the carriage
road was "so much more picturesque." I found it so, indeed.
M. Charnot and Jeanne faced the horses. I sat opposite to M. Charnot,
who was in the best of spirits after all the medals he had seen.
Comfortably settled in the cushions, careless of the accidents of the
road, with graphic and untiring forefinger, he undertook to describe his
travels in Greece, whither he had been sent on some learned enterprise by
the Minister of Education, and had carried an imagination already
prepossessed and dazzled with Homeric visions. He told his story well
and with detail, combining the recollections of the scholar with the
impressions of an artist. The pediment of the Parthenon, the oleanders
of the Ilissus, the stream "that runs in rain-time," the naked peak of
Parnassus, the green slopes of Helicon, the blue gulf of Argus, the pine
forest beside Alpheus, where the ancients worshipped "Death the Gentle"--
all of them passed in recount upon his learned lips.
I must acknowledge, to my shame, that I did not listen to all he said,
but, in a favorite way I have, reserved some of my own freedom of
thought, while I gave him complete freedom of speech. And I am bound to
say he did not abuse it, but consented to pause at the frontiers of
Thessaly. Then followed silence. I gave him room to stretch. Soon,
lulled by the motion of the carriage, the stream of reminiscence ran more
slowly--then ran dry. M. Charnot slept.
We bowled at a good pace, without jolting, over the white road. A warm
mist rose around us laden with the smell of vegetation, ripe corn, and
clover from the overheated earth and the neighboring fields, which had
drunk their full of sunlight. Now and again a breath of fresh air was
blown to us from the mountains. As the darkness deepened the country
grew to look like a vast chessboard, with dark and light squares of grass
and corn land, melting at no great distance into a colorless and unbroken
horizon. But as night blotted out the earth, the heaven lighted up its
stars. Never have I seen them so lustrous nor in such number. Jeanne
reclined with her eyes upturned toward those limitless fields of prayer
and vision; and their radiance, benignly gentle, rested on her face. Was
she tired or downcast, or merely dreaming? I knew not. But there was
something so singularly poetic in her look and attitude that she seemed
to me to epitomize in herself all the beauty of the night.
I was afraid to speak. Her father's sleep, and our consequent isolation,
made me ill at ease. She, too, seemed so careless of my presence, so far
away in dreamland, that I had to await opportunity, or rather her leave,
to recall her from it.
Finally she broke the silence herself. A little beyond Monza she drew
closer her shawl, that the night wind had ruffled, and bent over toward
"You must excuse my father; he is rather tired this evening, for he has
been on his feet since five o'clock."
"The day has been so hot, too, Mademoiselle, and the medals 'came not in
single spies, but in battalions'; he has a right to sleep after the
"Dear old father! You gave him a real treat, for which he will always be
obliged to you."
"I trust the recollection of to-day will efface that of the blot of ink,
for which I am still filled with remorse."
"Remorse is rather a serious word."
"No, Mademoiselle, I really mean remorse, for I wounded the feelings of a
gentleman who has every claim on my respect. I never have dared to speak
of this before. But if you would be kind enough to tell Monsieur Charnot
how sorry I have been for it, you would relieve me of a burden."
I saw her eyes fixed upon me for a moment with a look of attention not
previously granted to me. She seemed pleased.
"With all my heart," she said.
There was a moment's silence.
"Was this Rafaella, whose story you have told me, worthy of your friend's
"I must believe so."
"It is a very touching story. Are you fond of Monsieur Lampron?"
"Beyond expression, Mademoiselle; he is so openhearted, so true a friend,
he has the soul of the artist and the seer. I am sure you would rate him
very highly if you knew him."
"But I do know him, at least by his works. Where am I to be seen now,
by the way? What has become of my portrait?"
"It's at Lampron's house, in his mother's room, where Monsieur Charnot
can go and see it if he likes."
"My father does not know of its existence," she said, with a glance at
the slumbering man of learning.
"Has he not seen it?"
"No, he would have made so much ado about nothing. So Monsieur Lampron
has kept the sketch? I thought it had been sold long ago."
"Sold! you did not think he would sell it!"
"Why not? Every artist has the right to sell his works."
"Not work of that kind."
"Just as much as any other kind."
"No, he could not have done that. He would no more sell it than he would
sell the portrait of Rafaella Dannegianti. They are two similar relics,
two precious reminiscences."
Mademoiselle Charnot turned, without a reply, to look at the country
which was flying past us in the darkness.
I could just see her profile, and the nervous movement of her eyelids.
As she made no attempt to speak, her silence emboldened me.
"Yes, Mademoiselle, two similar relics, yet sometimes in my hours of
madness--as to-day, for instance, here, with you near me--I dare to think
that I might be less unfortunate than my friend--that his dream is gone
forever--but that mine might return to me--if you were willing."
She quickly turned toward me, and in the darkness I saw her eyes fixed on
Did the darkness deceive me as to the meaning of this mute response? Was
I the victim of a fresh delusion? I fancied that Jeanne looked sad, that
perhaps she was thinking of the oaths sworn only to be broken by her
former lover, but that she was not quite displeased.
However, it lasted only for a second. When she spoke, it was in a higher
"Don't you think the breeze is very fresh this evening?"
A long-drawn sigh came from the back part of the carriage. M. Charnot
was waking up.
He wished to prove that he had only been meditating.
"Yes, my dear, it's a charming evening," he replied; "these Italian
nights certainly keep up their reputation."
Ten minutes later the carriage drew up, and M. Charnot shook hands with
me before the door of his hotel.
"Many thanks, my dear young sir, for this delightful drive home! I hope
we shall meet again. We are off to Florence to-morrow; is there anything
I can do for you there?"
"No, thank you."
Mademoiselle Charnot gave me a slight bow. I watched her mount the first
few steps of the staircase, with one hand shading her eyes from the glare
of the gaslights, and the other holding up her wraps, which had come
unfolded and were falling around her.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Came not in single spies, but in battalions
Men forget sooner
Skilful actor, who apes all the emotions while feeling none
Sorrows shrink into insignificance as the horizon broadens
Surprise goes for so much in what we admire
To be your own guide doubles your pleasure
You must always first get the tobacco to burn evenly
THE INK STAIN BY RENE BAZIN
By RENE BAZIN
BACK TO PARIS
MILAN, June 27th. Before daybreak.
He asked me whether there was anything he could do for me at Florence.
There is something, but he would refuse to do it; for I wish him to
inform his charming daughter that my thoughts are all of her; that I have
spent the night recalling yesterday's trip--now the roads of Desio and
the galleries of the villa, now the drive back to Milan. M. Charnot only
figured in my dreams as sleeping. I seemed to have found my tongue, and
to be pouring forth a string of well-turned speeches which I never should
have ready at real need. If I could only see her again now that all my
plans are weighed and thought out and combined! Really, it is hard that
one can not live one's life over twice--at least certain passages in it-
this episode, for instance . . . .
What is her opinion of me? When her eyes fixed themselves on mine I
thought I could read in their depths a look of inquiry, a touch of
surprise, a grain of disquiet. But her answer? She is going to Florence
bearing with her the answer on which my life depends. They are leaving
by the early express. Shall I take it, too? Florence, Rome, Naples--why
not? Italy is free to all, and particularly to lovers. I will toss my
cap over the mill for the second time. I will get money from somewhere.
If I am not allowed to show myself, I will look on from a distance,
hidden in the crowd. At a pinch I will disguise myself--as a guide at
Pompeii, a lazzarone at Naples. She shall find a sonnet in the bunch of
fresh flowers offered her by a peasant at the door of her hotel. And at
least I shall bask in her smile, the sound of her voice, the glints of
gold about her temples, and the pleasure of knowing that she is near even
when I do not see her.
On second thoughts; no; I will not go to Florence. As I always distrust
first impulses, which so often run reason to a standstill, I had recourse
to a favorite device of mine. I asked myself: What would Lampron advise?
And at once I conjured up his melancholy, noble face, and heard his
answer: "Come back, my dear boy."
PARIS, July 2d.
When you arrive by night, and from the windows of the flying train, as it
whirls past the streets at full speed, you see Paris enveloped in red
steam, pierced by starry lines of gas-lamps crisscrossing in every
direction, the sight is weird, and almost beautiful. You might fancy it
the closing scene of some gigantic gala, where strings upon strings of
colored lanterns brighten the night above a moving throng, passing,
repassing, and raising a cloud of dust that reddens in the glow of
expiring Bengal lights.
Moreover, the illusion is in part a reality, for the great city is in
truth lighted for its nightly revel. Till one o'clock in the morning it
is alight and riotous with the stir and swing of life.
But the dawn is bleak enough.
That, delicious hour which puts a spirit of joy into green field and
hedgerow is awful to look upon in Paris. You leave the train half-
frozen, to find the porters red-eyed from their watch. The customs
officials, in a kind of stupor, scrawl cabalistic signs upon your trunk.
You get outside the station, to find a few scattered cabs, their drivers
asleep inside, their lamps blinking in the mist.
"Cabby, are you disengaged?"
"Depends where you want to go."
"No. 91 Rue de Rennes."
The blank streets stretch out interminably, gray and silent; the shops on
either hand are shuttered; in the squares you will find only a dog or a
scavenger; theatre bills hang in rags around the kiosks, the wind sweeps
their tattered fragments along the asphalt in yesterday's dust, with here
and there a bunch of faded flowers. The Seine washes around its
motionless boats; two great-coated policemen patrol the bank and wake the
echoes with their tramp. The fountains have ceased to play, and their
basins are dry. The air is chilly, and sick with evil odors. The whole
drive is like a bad dream. Such was my drive from the Gare de Lyon to my
rooms. When I was once at home, installed in my own domains, this
unpleasant impression gradually wore off. There was friendliness in my
sticks of furniture. I examined those silent witnesses, my chair, my
table, and my books. What had happened while I was away? Apparently
nothing important. The furniture had a light coating of dust, which
showed that no one had touched it, not even Madame Menin. It was funny,
but I wished to see Madame Menin. A sound, and I heard my opposite
neighbor getting to work. He is a hydrographer, and engraves maps for a
neighboring publisher. I never could get up as early as he. The willow
seemed to have made great progress during the summer. I flung up the
window and said "Good-morning!" to the wallflowers, to the old wall of
the Carmelites, and the old black tower. Then the sparrows began.
What o'clock could it be? They came all together with a rush, chirping,
the hungry thieves, wheeling about, skirting the walls in their flight,
quick as lightning, borne on their pointed wings. They had seen the sun
--day had broken!
And almost immediately I heard a cart pass, and a hawker crying:
"Ground-SEL! Groundsel for your dickey-birds!"
To think that there are people who get up at that unearthly hour to buy
groundsel for their canaries! I looked to see whether any one had called
in my absence; their cards should be on my table. Two were there:
"Monsieur Lorinet, retired solicitor, town councillor, of Bourbonnoux-
les-Bourges, deputy-magistrate"; "Madame Lorinet, nee Poupard."
I was surprised not to find a third card: "Berthe Lorinet, of no
occupation, anxious to change her name." Berthe will be difficult to get
rid of. I presume she didn't dare to leave a card on a young man, it
wouldn't have been proper. But I have no doubt she was here. I scent a
trick of my uncle's, one of those Atlantic cables he takes for spider's
threads and makes his snares of. The Lorinet family have been here, with
the twofold intention of taking news of me to my "dear good uncle," and
discreetly recalling to my forgetful heart the charms of Berthe of the
"Good-morning, Monsieur Mouillard!"
"Hallo! Madame Menin! Good-morning, Madame Menin!"
"So you are back at last, sir! How brown you have got--quite sunburnt.
You are quite well, I hope, sir?"
"Very well, thank you; has any one been here in my absence?"
"I was going to tell you, sir; the plumber has been here, because the tap
of your cistern came off in my hand. It wasn't my fault; there had been
a heavy rain that morning. So--"
"Never mind, it's only a tap to pay for. We won't say any more about it.
But did any one come to see me?"
"Ah, let me see--yes. A big gentleman, rather red-faced, with his wife,
a fat lady, with a small voice; a fine woman, rather in my style, and
their daughter--but perhaps you know her, sir?"
"Yes, Madame Menin, you need not describe her. You told them that I was
away, and they said they were very sorry."
"Especially the lady. She puffed and panted and sighed: 'Dear Monsieur
Mouillard! How unlucky we are, Madame Menin; we have just come to Paris
as he has gone to Italy. My husband and I would have liked so much to
see him! You may think it fanciful, but I should like above all things
to look round his rooms. A student's rooms must be so interesting.
Stay there, Berthe, my child.' I told them there was nothing very
interesting, and that their daughter might just as well come in too, and
then I showed them everything."
"They didn't stay long, I suppose?"
"Quite long enough. They were an age looking at your photograph album.
I suppose they haven't got such things where they come from. Madame
Lorinet couldn't tear herself away from it. 'Nothing but men,' she said,
'have you noticed that, Jules?'--'Well, Madame,' I said, 'that's just how
it is here; except for me, and I don't count, only gentlemen come here.
I've kept house for bachelors where--well, there are not many--'
"That will do, Madame Menin; that will do. I know you always think too
highly of me. Hasn't Lampron been here?"
"Yes, sir; the day before yesterday. He was going off for a fortnight or
three weeks into the country to paint a portrait of some priest--
a bishop, I think."
"Midi, roi des etes." I know by heart that poem by "Monsieur le Comte de
l'Isle," as my Uncle Mouillard calls him. Its lines chime in my ears
every day when I return from luncheon to the office I have left an hour
before. Merciful heaven, how hot it is! I am just back from a hot
climate, but it was nothing compared to Paris in July. The asphalt melts
underfoot; the wood pavement is simmering in a viscous mess of tar; the
ideal is forced to descend again and again to iced lager beer; the walls
beat back the heat in your face; the dust in the public gardens, ground
to atoms beneath the tread of many feet, rises in clouds from under the
water-cart to fall, a little farther on, in white showers upon the
passers-by. I wonder that, as a finishing stroke, the cannon in the
Palais Royal does not detonate all day long.
To complete my misery, all my acquaintances are out of town: the Boule
family is bathing at Trouville; the second clerk has not returned from
his holiday; the fourth only waited for my arrival to get away himself;
Lampron, detained by my Lord Bishop and the forest shades, gives no sign
of his existence; even Monsieur and Madame Plumet have locked up their
flat and taken the train for Barbizon.
Thus it happens that the old clerk Jupille and I have been thrown
together. I enjoy his talk. He is a simplehearted, honorable man,
with a philosophy that I am sure can not be in the least German,
because I can understand it. I have gradually told him all my secrets.
I felt the need of a confidant, for I was stifling, metaphorically as
well as literally. Now, when he hands me a deed, instead of saying "All
right," as I used to, I say, "Take a chair, Monsieur Jupille"; I shut the
door, and we talk. The clerks think we're talking law, but the clerks
Yesterday, for instance, he whispered to me:
"I have come down the Rue de l'Universite. They will soon be back."
"How did you learn that?"
"I saw a man carrying coals into the house, and asked for whom they were,
Again, we had a talk, just now, which shows what progress I have made in
the old clerk's heart. He had just submitted a draft to me. I had read
it through and grunted my approval, yet M. Jupille did not go.
"Anything further, Monsieur Jupille?"
"Something to ask of you--to do me a kindness, or, rather, an honor."
"Let's hear what it is."
"This weather, Monsieur Mouillard, is very good for fishing, though
"Rather warm, Monsieur Jupille!"
"It is not too warm. It was much hotter than this in 1844, yet the
fish bit, I can tell you! Will you join us next Sunday in a fishing
expedition? I say 'us,' because one of your friends is coming, a great
amateur of the rod who honors me with his friendship, too."
"Who is he?"
"A secret, Monsieur Mouillard, a little secret. You will be surprised.
It is settled then--next Sunday?"
"Where shall I meet you?"
"Hush, the office-boy is listening. That boy is too sharp; I'll tell you
some other time."
"As you please, Monsieur Jupille; I accept the invitation
"I am so glad you will come, Monsieur Mouillard. I only wish we could
have a little storm between this and then."
He spoke the truth; his satisfaction was manifest, for I never have seen
him rub the tip of his nose with the feathers of his quill pen so often
as he did that afternoon, which was with him the sign of exuberant joy,
all his gestures having subdued themselves long since to the limits of
I have seen Lampron once more. He bears his sorrow bravely. We spoke
for a few moments of his mother. I spoke some praise of that humble soul
for the good she had done me, which led him to enlarge upon her virtues.
"Ah," he said, "if you had only seen more of her! My dear fellow, if I
am an honest man; if I have passed without failing through the trials of
my life and my profession; if I have placed my ideal beyond worldly
success; in a word, if I am worth anything in heart or brain, it is to
her I owe it. We never had been parted before; this is our first
separation, and it is the final one. I was not prepared for it."
Then he changed the subject brusquely:
"What about your love-affair?"
"Fresher than ever."
"Did it survive half an hour's conversation?"
"It grew the stronger for it."
"Does she still detest you?"
I told him the story of our trip to Desio, and our conversation in the
carriage, without omitting a detail.
He listened in silence. At the end he said:
"My dear Fabien, there must be no delay. She must hear your proposal
within a week."
"Within a week! Who is to make it for me?"
"Whoever you like. That's your business. I have been making inquiries
while you were away; she seems a suitable match for you. Besides, your
present position is ridiculous; you are without a profession; you have
quarrelled, for no reason, with your only relative; you must get out of
the situation with credit, and marriage will compel you to do so."
A FISHING-TRIP AND AN OLD FRIEND
M. Jupille had written to tell me where I was to meet him on the Sunday,
giving me the most minute directions. I might take the train to Massy,
or to Bievres. However, I preferred to take the train to Sceaux and walk
from there, leaving Chatenay on my left, striking across the woods of
Verrieres toward the line of forts, coming out between Igny and
Amblainvilliers, and finally reaching a spot where the Bievre broadens
out between two wooded banks into a pool as clear as a spring and as full
of fish as a nursery-pond.
"Above all things, tell nobody where it is!" begged Jupille. "It is our
secret; I discovered it myself."
When I left Sceaux to meet Jupille, who had started before daybreak, the
sun was already high. There was not a cloud nor a breath of wind; the
sway of summer lay over all things. But, though the heat was broiling,
the walk was lovely. All about me was alive with voice or perfume.
Clouds of linnets fluttered among the branches, golden beetles crawled
upon the grass, thousands of tiny whirring wings beat the air--flies,
gnats, gadflies, bees--all chorusing the life--giving warmth of the day
and the sunshine that bathed and penetrated all nature. I halted from
time to time in the parched glades to seek my way, and again pushed
onward through the forest paths overarched with heavy-scented leafage,
onward over the slippery moss up toward the heights, below which the
Bievre stole into view.
There it lay, at my feet, gliding between banks of verdure which seemed a
season younger than the grass I stood on. I began to descend the slope,
knowing that M. Jupille was awaiting me somewhere in the valley. I broke
into a run. I heard the murmur of water in the hollows, and caught
glimpses of forget-me-not tufts in low-lying grassy corners. Suddenly a
rod outlined itself against the sky, between two trees. It was he, the
old clerk; he nodded to me and laid down his line.
"I thought you never were coming."
"That shows you don't know me. Any sport?"
"Not so loud! Yes, capital sport. I'll bait a line for you."
"And where is your friend, Monsieur Jupille?"
"There he is."
"Staring you in the face; can't you see him?".
Upon my word, I could see nobody, until he directed my gaze with his
fishing-rod, when I perceived, ten yards away, a large back view of white
trousers and brown, unbuckled waistcoat, a straw hat which seemed to
conceal a head, and a pair of shirt-sleeves hanging over the water.
This mass was motionless.
"He must have got a bite," said Jupille, "else he would have been here
before now. Go and see him."
Not knowing whom I was about to address, I gave a warning cough as I came
The unknown drew a loud breath, like a man who wakes with a start.
"That you, Jupille?" he said, turning a little way; "are you out of
"No, my dear tutor, it is I."
"Monsieur Mouillard, at last!"
"Monsieur Flamaran! Jupille told the truth when he said I should be
surprised. Are you fond of fishing?"
"It's a passion with me. One must keep one or two for one's old age,