Part 4 out of 5
"You've been having sport, I hear."
"Well, this morning, between eight and nine, there were a few nibbles;
but since then the sport has been very poor. However, I'm very glad to
see you again, Mouillard. That essay of yours was extremely good."
The eminent professor had risen, displaying a face still red from his
having slept with his head on his chest, but beaming with good-will. He
grasped my hand with heartiness and vigor.
"Here's rod and line for you, Monsieur Mouillard, all ready baited,"
broke in Jupille. "If you'll come with me I'll show you a good place."
"No, no, Jupille, I'm going to keep him," answered M. Flamaran; "I
haven't uttered a syllable for three hours. I must let myself out a
little. We will fish side by side, and chat."
"As you please, Monsieur Flamaran; but I don't call that fishing."
He handed me the implement, and sadly went his way.
M. Flamaran and I sat down together on the bank, our feet resting on the
soft sand strewn with dead branches. Before us spread the little pool I
have mentioned, a slight widening of the stream of the Bievre, once a
watering-place for cattle. The sun, now at high noon, massed the trees'
shadow close around their trunks. The unbroken surface of the water
reflected its rays back in our eyes. The current was barely indicated by
the gentle oscillation of a few water-lily leaves. Two big blue
dragonflies poised and quivered upon our floats, and not a fish seemed to
care to disturb them.
"Well," said M. Flamaran, "so you are still managing clerk to Counsellor
"For the time."
"Do you like it?"
"What are you waiting for?"
"For something to turn up."
"And carry you back to Italy, I suppose?"
"Then you know I have just been there?"
"I know all about it. Charnot told me of your meeting, and your romantic
drive by moonlight. By the way, he's come back with a bad cold; did you
I assumed an air of sympathy:
"Poor man! When did he get back?"
"The day before yesterday. Of course I was the first to hear of it, and
we spent yesterday evening together. It may surprise you, Mouillard, and
you may think I exaggerate, but I think Jeanne has come back prettier
than she went."
"Do you really think so?"
"I really do. That southern sun--look out, my dear Mouillard, your line
is half out of water--has brought back her roses (they're brighter than
ever, I declare), and the good spirits she had lost, too, poor girl. She
is cheerful again now, as she used to be. I was very anxious about her
at one time. You know her sad story?"
"The fellow was a scoundrel, my dear Mouillard, a regular scoundrel!
I never was in favor of the match, myself. Charnot let himself be drawn
into it by an old college friend. I told him over and over again, 'It's
Jeanne's dowry he's after, Charnot--I'm convinced of it. He'll treat
Jeanne badly and make her miserable, mark my words.' But I wasted my
breath; he wouldn't listen to a word. Anyhow, it's quite off now. But
it was no slight shock, I can tell you; and it gave me great pain to
witness the poor child's sufferings."
"You are so kind-hearted, Monsieur Flamaran!"
"It's not that, Mouillard; but I have known Jeanne ever since she was
born. I watched her grow up, and I loved her when she was still a little
mite; she's as good as my adoptive daughter. You understand me when I
say adoptive. I do not mean that there exists between us that legal bond
in imitation of nature which is permitted by our codes--'adoptio imitatur
naturam'; not that, but that I love her like a daughter--Sidonie never
having presented me with a daughter, nor with a son either, for that
A cry from Jupille interrupted M. Flamaran:
"Can't you hear it rattle?"
The good man was tearing to us, waving his arms like a madman, the folds
of his trousers flapping about his thin legs like banners in the wind.
We leaped to our feet, and my first idea, an absurd one enough, was that
a rattlesnake was hurrying through the grass to our attack.
I was very far from the truth. The matter really was a new line,
invented by M. Jupille, cast a little further than an ordinary one, and
rigged up with a float like a raft, carrying a little clapper. The fish
rang their own knell as they took the hook.
"It's rattling like mad!" cried Jupille, "and you don't stir! I
couldn't have thought it of you, Monsieur Flamaran."
He ran past us, brandishing a landing-net as a warrior his lance; he
might have been a youth of twenty-five. We followed, less keen and also
less confident than he. He was right, though; when he drew up his line,
the float of which was disappearing in jerks, carrying the bell along
with it beneath the water, he brought out a fair-sized jack, which he
declared to be a giant.
He let it run for some time, to tire it, and to prolong the pleasure of
"Gentlemen," he cried, "it is cutting my finger off!"
A stroke from the landing-net laid the monster at our feet, its strength
all spent. It weighed rather under four pounds. Jupille swore to six.
My learned tutor and I sat down again side by side, but the thread of our
conversation had been broken past mending. I tried to talk of her, but
M. Flamaran insisted on talking of me, of Bourges, of his election as
professor, and of the radically distinct characteristics by which you can
tell the bite of a gudgeon from that of a stickleback.
The latter part of this lecture was, however, purely theoretical, for he
got up two hours before sunset without having hooked a fish.
"A good day, all the same," he said. "It's a good place, and the fish
were biting this morning. We'll come here again some day, Jupille; with
an east wind you ought to catch any quantity of gudgeons." He kept pace
beside me on our way home, but wearied, no doubt, with long sitting, with
the heat, and the glare from the water, fell into a reverie, from which
the incidents of the walk were unable to rouse him.
Jupille trotted before us, carrying his rod in one hand, a luncheon-
basket and a fish-bag in the other. He turned round and gave us a look
at each cross-road, smiled beneath his heavy moustache, and went on
faster than before. I felt sure that something out of the way was about
to happen, and that the silent quill-driver was tasting a quiet joke.
I had not guessed the whole truth.
At a turn of the road M. Flamaran suddenly pulled up, looked all around
him, and drew a deep breath.
"Hallo, Jupille! My good sir, where are you taking us? If I can believe
my eyes, this is the Chestnut Knoll, down yonder is Plessis Piquet, and
we are two miles from the station and the seven o'clock train!"
There was no denying it. A donkey emerged from the wood, hung with
tassels and bells, carrying in its panniers two little girls, whose
parents toiled behind, goad in hand. The woods had become shrubberies,
through which peeped the thatched roofs of rustic summerhouses, mazes,
artificial waterfalls, grottoes, and ruins; all the dread handiwork of
the rustic decorator burst, superabundant, upon our sight, with shy odors
of beer and cooking. Broken bottles strewed the paths; the bushes all
looked weary, harassed, and overworked; a confused murmur of voices and
crackers floated toward us upon the breeze. I knew full well from these
signs that we were nearing "ROBINSON CRUSOE," the land of rustic inns.
And, sure enough, here they all were: "THE OLD ROBINSON," "THE NEW
ROBINSON," "THE REAL ORIGINAL ROBINSON," "THE ONLY GENUINE ROBINSON,"
"ROBINSON's CHESTNUT GROVE," "ROBINSON'S PARADISE," each unique and each
authentic. All alike have thatched porches, sanded paths, transparencies
lighted with petroleum lamps, tinsel stars, summerhouses, arrangements
for open-air illumination and highly colored advertisements, in which are
set forth all the component elements of a "ROBINSON," such as shooting-
galleries, bowling-alleys, swings, private arbors, Munich beer, and
dinner in a tree.
"Jupille!" exclaimed M. Flamaran, "you have shipwrecked us! This is
Crusoe's land; and what the dickens do you mean by it?"
The old clerk, utterly discomfited, and wearing that hangdog look which
he always assumed at the slightest rebuke from Counsellor Boule, pulled a
face as long as his arm, went up to M. Flamaran and whispered a word in
"Upon my word! Really, Jupille, what are you thinking of? And I a
professor, too! Thirty years ago it would have been excusable, but to-
day! Besides, Sidonie expects me home to dinner--"
He stopped for a moment, undecided, looking at his watch.
Jupille, who was eying him intently, saw his distinguished friend
gradually relax his frown and burst into a hearty laugh.
"By Jove! it's madness at my age, but I don't care. We'll renew our
youth for an hour or so. My dear Mouillard, Jupille has ordered dinner
for us here. Had I been consulted I should have chosen any other place.
Yet what's to be done? Hunger, friendship, and the fact that I can't
catch the train, combine to silence my scruples. What do you say?"
"That we are in for it now."
"So be it, then." And led by Jupille, still carrying his catch, we
entered THE ONLY GENUINE ROBINSON.
M. Flamaran, somewhat ill at ease, cast inquiring glances on the
clearings in the sgrubberies. I thought I heard stifled laughter behind
"You have engaged Chestnut Number Three, gentlemen," said the proprietor.
"Up these stairs, please."
We ascended a staircase winding around the trunk. Chestnut Number 3 is a
fine old tree, a little bent, its sturdy lower branches supporting a
platform surrounded by a balustrade, six rotten wooden pillars, and a
thatched roof, shaped like a cocked hat, to shelter the whole. All the
neighboring trees contain similar constructions, which look from a little
distance like enormous nests. They are greatly in demand at the dinner
hour; you dine thirty feet up in the air, and your food is brought up by
a rope and pulley.
When M. Flamaran appeared on the platform he took off his hat, and leaned
with both hands on the railing to give a look around. The attitude
suggested a public speaker. His big gray head was conspicuous in the
light of the setting sun.
"He's going to make a speech!" cried a voice. "Bet you he isn't,"
This was the signal. A rustling was heard among the leaves, and numbers
of inquisitive faces peeped out from all corners of the garden. A
general rattling of glasses announced that whole parties were leaving the
tables to see what was up. The waiters stopped to stare at Chestnut
Number 3. The whole population of Juan Fernandez was staring up at
Flamaran without in the least knowing the reason why.
"Gentlemen," said a voice from an arbor, "Professor Flamaran will now
begin his lecture."
A chorus of shouts and laughter rose around our tree.
"Hi, old boy, wait till we're gone!"
"Ladies, he will discourse to you on the law of husband and wife!"
"No, on the foreclosure of mortgages!"
"No, on the payment of debts!"
"Oh, you naughty old man! You ought to be shut up!"
M. Flamaran, though somewhat put out of countenance for the moment, was
seized with a happy inspiration. He stretched out an arm to show that he
was about to speak. He opened his broad mouth with a smile of fatherly
humor, and the groves, attentive, heard him thunder forth these words:
"Boys, I promise to give you all white marks if you let me dine in
The last words were lost in a roar of applause.
"Three cheers for old Flamaran!"
Three cheers were given, followed by clapping of hands from various
quarters, then all was silence, and no one took any further notice of our
M. Flamaran left the railing and unfolded his napkin.
"You may be sure of my white marks, young men," he said, as he sat down.
He was delighted at his success as an orator, and laughed gayly.
Jupille, on the other hand, was as pale as if he had been in a street
riot, and seemed rooted to the spot where he stood.
"It's all right, Jupille; it's all right, man! A little ready wit is all
you need, dash my wig!"
The old clerk gradually regained his composure, and the dinner grew very
merry. Flamaran's spirits, raised by this little incident, never
flagged. He had a story for every glass of wine, and told them all with
a quiet humor of his own.
Toward the end of dinner, by the time the waiter came to offer us
"almonds and raisins, pears, peaches, preserves, meringues, brandy
cherries," we had got upon the subject of Sidonie, the pearl of Forez.
M. Flamaran narrated to us, with dates, how a friend of his one day
depicted to him a young girl at Montbrison, of fresh and pleasing
appearance, a good housekeeper, and of excellent family; and how he--
M. Flamaran--had forthwith started off to find her, had recognized her
before she was pointed out to him, fell in love with her at first sight,
and was not long in obtaining her affection in return. The marriage had
taken place at St. Galmier.
"Yes, my dear Mouillard," he added, as if pointing a moral, "thirty years
ago last May I became a happy man; when do you think of following my
At this point, Jupille suddenly found himself one too many, and vanished
down the corkscrew stair.
"We once spoke of an heiress at Bourges," M. Flamaran went on.
"Apparently that's all off?"
"You were within your rights; but now, why not a Parisienne?"
"Yes, indeed; why not?"
"Perhaps you are prejudiced in some way against Parisiennes?"
"I? Not the least."
"I used to be, but I've got over it now. They have a charm of their own,
a certain style of dressing, walking, and laughing which you don't find
outside the fortifications. For a long time I used to think that these
qualities stood them in lieu of virtues. That was a slander; there are
plenty of Parisiennes endowed with every virtue; I even know a few who
At this point, M. Flamaran looked me straight in the eyes, and, as I made
no reply, he added:
"I know one, at least: Jeanne Charnot. Are you listening?"
"Yes, Monsieur Flamaran."
"Isn't she a paragon?"
"As sensible as she is tender-hearted?"
"So I believe."
"And as clever as she is sensible?"
"That is my opinion."
"Well, then, young man, if that's your opinion--excuse my burning my
boats, all my boats--if that's your opinion, I don't understand why--
Do you suppose she has no money?"
"I know nothing about her means."
"Don't make any mistake; she's a rich woman. Do you think you're too
young to marry?"
"Do you fancy, perhaps, that she is still bound by that unfortunate
"I trust she is not."
"I'm quite sure she is not. She is free, I tell you, as free as you.
Well, why don't you love her?"
"But I do love her, Monsieur Flamaran!"
"Why, then, I congratulate you, my boy!"
He leaned across the table and gave me a hearty grasp of the hand. He
was so agitated that he could not speak--choking with joyful emotion, as
if he had been Jeanne's father, or mine.
After a minute or so, he drew himself up in his chair, reached out, put a
hand on each of my shoulders and kept it there as if he feared I might
"So you love her, you love her! Good gracious, what a business I've had
to get you to say so! You are quite right to love her, of course, of
course--I could not have understood your doing otherwise; but I must say
this, my boy, that if you tarry too long, with her attractions, you know
what will happen."
"Yes, I ought to ask for her at once."
"To be sure you ought."
"Alas! Monsieur Flamaran, who is there that I can send on such a mission
for me? You know that I am an orphan."
"But you have an uncle."
"We have quarrelled."
"You might make it up again, on an occasion like this."
"Out of the question; we quarrelled on her account; my uncle hates
"Damn it all, then! send a friend--a friend will do under the
"Yes, but he doesn't know Monsieur Charnot. It would only be one
stranger pleading for another. My chances would be small.
What I want--"
"Is a friend of both parties, isn't it? Well, what am I?"
"The very man!"
"Very well. I undertake to ask for her hand! I shall ask for the hand
of the charming Jeanne for both of us; for you, who will make her happy;
and for myself, who will not entirely lose her if she marries one of my
pupils, one of my favorite graduates--my friend, Fabien Mouillard.
And I won't be refused--no, damme, I won't!"
He brought down his fist upon the table with a tremendous blow which made
the glasses ring and the decanters stagger.
"Coming!" cried a waiter from below, thinking he was summoned.
"All right, my good fellow!" shouted M. Flamaran, leaning over the
railings. "Don't trouble. I don't want anything."
He turned again toward me, still filled with emotion, but somewhat calmer
than he had been.
"Now," said he, "let us talk, and do you tell me all."
And we began a long and altogether delightful talk.
A more genuine, a finer fellow never breathed than this professor let
loose from school and giving his heart a holiday--a simple, tender heart,
preserved beneath the science of the law like a grape in sawdust. Now he
would smile as I sang Jeanne's praises; now he would sit and listen to my
objections with a truculent air, tightening his lips till they broke
forth in vehement denial. "What! You dare to say! Young man, what are
you afraid of?" His overflowing kindness discharged itself in the
sincerest and most solemn asseverations.
We had left Juan Fernandez far behind us; we were both far away in that
Utopia where mind penetrates mind, heart understands heart. We heard
neither the squeaking of a swing beneath us, nor the shouts of laughter
along the promenades, nor the sound of a band tuning up in a neighboring
pavilion. Our eyes, raised to heaven, failed to see the night descending
upon us, vast and silent, piercing the foliage with its first stars. Now
and again a warm breath passed over us, blown from the woods; I tasted
its strangely sweet perfume; I saw in glimpses the flying vision of a
huge dark tulip, striped with gold, unfolding its petals on the moist
bank of a dyke, and I asked myself whether a mysterious flower had really
opened in the night, or whether it was but a new feeling, slowly budding,
unfolding, blossoming within my heart.
PLEASURES OF EAVESDROPPING
At two o'clock to-day I went to see Sylvestre, to tell him all the great
events of yesterday. We sat down on the old covered sofa in the shadow
of the movable curtain which divides the studio, as it were, into two
rooms, among the lay figures, busts, varnish-bottles, and paint-boxes.
Lampron likes this chiaroscuro. It rests his eyes.
Some one knocked at the door.
"Stay where you are," said Sylvestre; "it's a customer come for the
background of an engraving. I'll be with you in two minutes. Come in!"
As he was speaking he drew the curtain in front of me, and through the
thin stuff I could see him going toward the door, which had just opened.
"I am he, Monsieur."
"You don't recognize me, Monsieur?"
"I'm surprised at that."
"Why so? I have never seen you."
"You have taken my portrait!"
I was watching Lampron, who was plainly angered at this brusque
introduction. He left the chair which he had begun to push forward,
let it stand in the middle of the studio, and went and sat down on his
engraving-stool in the corner, with a somewhat haughty look, and a
defiant smile lurking behind his beard. He rested his elbow on the table
and began to drum with his fingers.
"What I have had the honor to inform you is the simple truth, Monsieur.
I am Monsieur Charnot of the Institute."
Lampron gave a glance in my direction, and his frown melted away.
"Excuse me, Monsieur; I only know you by your back. Had you shown me
that side of you I might perhaps have recognized--"
"I have not come here to listen to jokes, Monsieur; and I should have
come sooner to demand an explanation, but that it was only this morning
I heard of what I consider a deplorable abuse of your talents. But
picture-shows are not in my line. I did not see myself there. My friend
Flamaran had to tell me that I was to be seen at the last Salon, together
with my daughter, sitting on a tree-trunk in the forest of Saint-Germain.
Is it true, Monsieur, that you drew me sitting on a trunk?"
"That's a trifle too rustic for a man who does not go outside of Paris
three times a year. And my daughter you drew in profile--a good
likeness, I believe."
"It was as like as I could make it."
"Then you confess that you drew both my daughter and myself?"
"Yes, I do, Monsieur."
"It may not be so easy for you to explain by what right you did so; I
await your explanation, Monsieur."
"I might very well give you no explanation whatever," replied Lampron,
who was beginning to lose patience. "I might also reply that I no more
needed to ask your permission to sketch you than to ask that of the
beeches, oaks, elms, and willows. I might tell you that you formed part
of the landscape, that every artist who sketches a bit of underwood has
the right to stick a figure in--"
"A figure, Monsieur! do you call me a figure?"
"A gentleman, I mean. Artists call it figure. Well, I might give you
this reason, which is quite good enough for you, but it is not the real
one. I prefer to tell you frankly what passed. You have a very
beautiful daughter, Monsieur."
M. Charnot made his customary bow.
"One of my friends is in love with her. He is shy, and dares not tell
his love. We met you by chance in the wood, and I was seized with the
idea of making a sketch of Mademoiselle Jeanne, so like that she could
not mistake it, and then exhibiting it with the certainty of her seeing
it and guessing its meaning. I trusted she would recall to her mind, not
myself, for my youth is past, but a young friend of mine who is of the
age and build of a lover. If this was a crime, Monsieur, I am ready to
take the blame for it upon myself, for I alone committed it."
"It certainly was criminal, Monsieur; criminal in you, at any rate--you
who are a man of weight, respected for your talent and your character--
to aid and abet in a frivolous love-affair."
"It was the deepest and most honorable sentiment, Monsieur."
"A blaze of straw!"
"Nothing of the sort!"
"Don't tell me! Your friend's a mere boy."
"So much the better for him, and for her, too! If you want a man of
middle age for your son-in-law, just try one and see what they are worth.
You may be sorry that you ever refused this boy, who, it is true, is only
twenty-four, has little money, no decided calling, nor yet that gift of
self-confidence which does instead of merit for so many people; but who
is a brave and noble soul, whom I can answer for as for myself. Go,
Monsieur, you will find your daughter great names, fat purses, gold lace,
long beards, swelling waistbands, reputations, pretensions, justified or
not, everything, in short, in which he is poor; but him you will never
find again! That is all I have to tell you."
Lampron had become animated and spoke with heat. There was the slightest
flash of anger in his eyes.
I saw M. Charnot get up, approach him, and hold out his hand.
"I did not wish you to say anything else, Monsieur; that is enough for
me. Flamaran asked my daughter's hand for your friend only this morning.
Flamaran loses no time when charged with a commission. He, too, told me
much that was good of your friend. I also questioned Counsellor Boule.
But however flattering characters they might give him, I still needed
another, that of a man who had lived in complete intimacy with Monsieur
Mouillard, and I could find no one but you."
Lampron stared astonished at this little thin-lipped man who had just
changed his tone and manner so unexpectedly.
"Well, Monsieur," he answered, "you might have got his character from me
with less trouble; there was no need to make a scene."
"Excuse me. You say I should have got his character; that is exactly
what I did not want; characters are always good. What I wanted was a cry
from the heart of a friend outraged and brought to bay. That is what I
got, and it satisfies me. I am much obliged to you, Monsieur, and beg
you will excuse my conduct."
"But, since we are talking sense at present, allow me to put you a
question in my turn. I am not in the habit of going around the point.
Is my friend's proposal likely to be accepted or not?"
"Monsieur Lampron, in these delicate matters I have decided for the
future to leave my daughter entirely free. Although my happiness is at
stake almost as entirely as hers, I shall not say a word save to advise.
In accordance with this resolve I communicated Flamaran's proposal to
"I expected she would refuse it."
"But she said 'Yes'?"
"She did not say 'No;' if she had, you can guess that I should not be
At this reply I quite lost my head, and was very near tearing aside the
curtain, and bursting forth into the studio with a shout of gratitude.
But M. Charnot added:
"Don't be too sure, though. There are certain serious, and, perhaps,
insurmountable obstacles. I must speak to my daughter again. I will let
your friend know of our final decision as soon as I can. Good-by,
Lampron saw him to the street, and I heard their steps grow distant in
the passage. A moment later Sylvestre returned and held out both hands
to me, saying:
"Well, are you happy now?"
"Of course I am, to a certain extent."
"'To a certain extent'! Why, she loves you."
"But the obstacles, Sylvestre!"
"Perhaps insurmountable--those were his words."
"Why, obstacles are the salt of all our joys. What a deal you young men
want before you can be called happy! You ask Life for certainties, as if
she had any to give you!"
And he began to discuss my fears, but could not quite disperse them, for
neither of us could guess what the obstacles could be.
After ten days of waiting, during which I have employed Lampron and M.
Flamaran to intercede for me, turn and turn about; ten days passed in
hovering between mortal anguish and extravagant hopes, during which I
have formed, destroyed, taken up again and abandoned more plans than I
ever made in all my life before, yesterday, at five o'clock, I got a note
from M. Charnot, begging me to call upon him the same evening.
I went there in a state of nervous collapse. He received me in his
study, as he had done seven months before, at our first interview, but
with a more solemn politeness; and I noticed that the paper-knife, which
he had taken up from the table as he resumed his seat, shook between his
fingers. I sat in the same chair in which I had felt so ill at ease.
To tell the truth, I felt very much the same, yesterday. M. Charnot
doubtless noticed it, and wished to reassure me.
"Monsieur," said he, "I receive you as a friend. Whatever may be the
result of our interview, you may be assured of my esteem. Therefore do
not fear to answer me frankly."
He put several questions to me concerning my family, my tastes, and my
acquaintance in Paris. Then he requested me to tell the simple story of
my boyhood and my youth, the recollections of my home, of the college at
La Chatre, of my holidays at Bourges, and of my student life.
He listened without interruption, playing with the ivory paperknife.
When I reached the date--it was only last December--when I saw Jeanne for
the first time
"That's enough," said he, "I know or guess the rest. Young man, I
promised you an answer; this is it--"
For the moment, I ceased to breathe; my very heart seemed to stop
"My daughter," went on M. Charnot, "has at this moment several proposals
of marriage to choose from. You see I hide nothing from you. I have
left her time to reflect; she has weighed and compared them all, and
communicated to me yesterday the result of her reflections. To richer
and more brilliant matches she prefers an honest man who loves her for
herself, and you, Monsieur, are that honest man."
"Oh, thank you, thank you, Monsieur!" I cried.
"Wait a moment, there are two conditions."
"Were there ten, I would accept them without question!"
"Don't hurry. You will see; one is my daughter's, the other comes from
both of us."
"You wish me to have some profession, perhaps?"
"No, that's not it. Clearly my son-in-law will never sit idle. Besides,
I have some views on that subject, which I will tell you later if I have
the chance. No, the first condition exacted by my daughter, and dictated
by a feeling which is very pleasant to me, is that you promise never to
"That I swear to, with all the pleasure in life!"
"Really? I feared you had some ties."
"Or dislike for Paris."
"No, Monsieur; only a preference for Paris, with freedom to indulge it.
Your second condition?"
"The second, to which my daughter and I both attach importance, is that
you should make your peace with your uncle. Flamaran tells me you have
"That is true."
"I hope it is not a serious difference. A mere cloud, isn't it?"
"Unfortunately not. My uncle is very positive--"
"But at the same time his heart is in the right place, so far as I could
judge from what I saw of him--in June, I think it was."
"You don't mind taking the first step?"
"I will take as many as may be needed."
"I was sure you would. You can not remain on bad terms with your
father's brother, the only relative you have left. In our eyes this
reconciliation is a duty, a necessity. You should desire it as much as,
and even more than, we."
"I shall use every effort, Monsieur, I promise you."
"And in that case you will succeed, I feel sure."
M. Charnot, who had grown very pale, held out his hand to me, and tried
hard to smile.
"I think, Monsieur Fabien, that we are quite at one, and that the hour
He did not finish the sentence, but rose and went to open a door between
two bookcases at the end of the room.
" Jeanne," he said, "Monsieur Fabien accepts the two conditions, my
And I saw Jeanne come smiling toward me.
And I, who had risen trembling, I, who until then had lost my head at the
mere thought of seeing her, I, who had many a time asked myself in terror
what I should say on meeting her, if ever she were mine, I felt myself
suddenly bold, and the words rushed to my lips to thank her, to express
My happiness, however, was evident, and I might have spared my words.
For the first half-hour all three of us talked together.
Then M. Charnot pushed back his armchair, and we two were left to
He had taken up a newspaper, but I am pretty sure he held it upside down.
In any case he must have been reading between the lines, for he did not
turn the page the whole evening.
He often cast a glance over the top of the paper, folded in four, to the
corner where we were sitting, and from us his eyes travelled to a pretty
miniature of Jeanne as a child, which hung over the mantelpiece.
What comparisons, what memories, what regrets, what hopes were struggling
in his mind? I know not, but I know he sighed, and had not we been there
I believe he would have wept.
To me Jeanne showed herself simple as a child, wise and thoughtful as a
woman. A new feeling was growing every instant within me, of perfect
rest of heart; the certainty of happiness for all my life to come.
Yes, my happiness travelled beyond the present, as I looked into the
future and saw along series of days passed by her side; and while she
spoke to me, tranquil, confident, and happy too, I thought I saw the
great wings of my dream closing over and enfolding us.
We spoke in murmurs. The open window let in the warm evening air and the
confused roar of the city.
"I am to be your friend and counsellor?" said she.
"You promise that you will ask my advice in all things, and that we shall
act in concert?"
"If this very first evening I ask you for a proof of this, you won't be
"On the contrary."
"Well, from what you have told me of your uncle, you seem to have
accepted the second condition, of making up your quarrel, rather
"I have only promised to do my best."
"Yes, but my father counts upon your success. How do you intend to act?"
"I haven't yet considered."
"That's just what I foresaw, and I thought it would perhaps be a good
thing if we considered it together."
"Mademoiselle, I am listening; compose the plan of campaign, and I will
Jeanne clasped her hands over her knees and assumed a thoughtful look.
"Suppose you wrote to him."
"There is every chance that he would not answer."
"Mademoiselle, you are laughing; you are no counsellor any longer."
"Yes, I am. Let us be serious. Suppose you go to see him."
"That's a better idea. He may perhaps receive me."
"In that case you will capture him. If you can only get a man
"Not my uncle, Mademoiselle. He will listen, and do you know what his
answer will be?"
"This, or something like it: 'My worthy nephew, you have come to tell me
two things, have you not? First, that you are about to marry a
Parisienne; secondly, that you renounce forever the family practice.
You merely confirm and aggravate our difference. You have taken a step
further backward. It was not worth while your coming out of your way to
tell me this, and you may return as soon as you please.'"
"You surprise me. There must be some way of getting at him, if he is
really good-hearted, as you say. If I could see your uncle I should soon
find out a way."
"If you could see him! Yes, that would be the best way of all; it
couldn't help succeeding. He imagines you as a flighty Parisienne; he is
afraid of you; he is more angry with me for loving you than for refusing
to carry on his practice. If he could only see you, he would soon
"You think so?"
"I'm sure of it."
"Do you think that if I were to look him in the face, as I now look at
you, and to say to him: 'Monsieur Mouillard, will you not consent to my
becoming your niece?' do you think that then he would give in?"
"Alas! Mademoiselle, why can not it be tried?"
"It certainly is difficult, but I won't say it can not."
We explained, or rather Jeanne explained, the case to M. Charnot, who is
assuredly her earliest and most complete conquest. At first he cried out
against the idea. He said it was entirely my business, a family matter
in which he had no right to interfere. She insisted. She carried his
scruples by storm. She boldly proposed a trip to Bourges, and a visit to
M. Mouillard. She overflowed with reasons, some of them rather weak, but
all so prettily urged! A trip to Bourges would be delightful--something
so novel and refreshing! Had M. Charnot complained on the previous
evening, or had he not, of having to stop in Paris in the heat of August?
Yes, he had complained, and quite right too, for his colleagues did not
hesitate to leave their work and rush off to the country. Then she cited
examples: one off to the Vosges, another at Arcachon, yet another at
Deauville. And she reminded him, too, that a certain old lady, one of
his old friends of the Faubourg St. Germain, lived only a few miles out
of Bourges, and had invited him to come and see her, she didn't know how
many times, and that he had promised and promised and never kept his
word. Now he could take the opportunity of going on from Bourges to her
chateau. Finally, as M. Charnot continued to urge the singularity of
such behavior, she replied:
"My dear father! not at all; in visiting Monsieur Mouillard you will be
only fulfilling a social duty."
"How so, I should like to know?"
"He paid you a visit, and you will be returning it!"
M. Charnot tossed his head, like a father who, though he may not be
convinced, yet admits that he is beaten.
As for me, Jeanne, I'm beginning to believe in the fairies again.
A COOL RECEPTION
I have made another visit to the Rue de l'Universite. They have decided
to make the trip. I leave for Bourges tomorrow, a day in advance of M.
and Mademoiselle Charnot, who will arrive on the following morning.
I am sent on first to fulfil two duties: to engage comfortable rooms at
the hotel--first floor with southern aspect--and then to see my uncle and
prepare him for his visitors.
I am to prepare him without ruffling him. Jeanne has sketched my plan of
campaign. I am to be the most affectionate of nephews, though he show
himself the crustiest of uncles; to prevent him from recurring to the
past, to speak soberly of the present, to confess that Mademoiselle
Charnot is aware of my feelings for her, and shows herself not entirely
insensible to them; but I am to avoid giving details, and must put off a
full explanation until later, when we can study the situation together.
M. Mouillard can not fail to be appeased by such deference, and to
observe a truce while I hint at the possibility of a family council.
Then, if these first advances are well received, I am to tell him that
M. Charnot is actually travelling in the neighborhood, and, without
giving it as certain, I may add that if he stops at Bourges he may like
to return my uncle's visit.
There my role ends. Jeanne and M. Charnot will do the rest. It is with
Jeanne, by the light of her eyes and her smile, that M. Mouillard is "to
study the situation;" he will have to struggle against the redoubtable
arguments of her youth and beauty. Poor man!
Jeanne is full of confidence. Her father, who has learned his lesson
from her, feels sure that my uncle will give in. Even I, who can not
entirely share this optimism, feel that I incline to the side of hope.
When I reached home, the porter handed me two cards from Larive. On the
first I read:
P. P. C.
The second, on glazed cardboard, announced, likewise in initials, another
piece of news:
Formerly Managing Clerk.
P. F. P. M.
So the Parisian who swore he could not exist two days in the country is
leaving Paris. That was fated. He is about to be married; I'm sure I
don't object. The only consequence to me is that we never shall meet
again, and I shall not weep over that.
BOURGES, August 4th.
If you have ever been in Bourges, you may have seen the little Rue Sous-
les-Ceps, the Cours du Bat d'Argent and de la Fleur-de-lys, the Rues de
la Merede-Dieu, des Verts-Galants, Mausecret, du Moulin-le-Roi, the Quai
Messire-Jacques, and other streets whose ancient names, preserved by a
praiseworthy sentiment or instinctive conservatism, betoken an ancient
city still inhabited by old-fashioned people, by which I mean people
attached to the soil, strongly marked with the stamp of the provincial in
manners as in language; people who understand all that a name is to a
street--its honor, its spouse if you will, from which it must not be
My Uncle Mouillard, most devoted and faithful citizen of Bourges,
naturally lives in one of these old streets, the Rue du Four, within the
shadow of the cathedral, beneath the swing of its chimes.
Within fifteen minutes after my arrival at Bourges I was pulling the
deer's foot which hangs, depilated with long use, beside his door. It
was five o'clock, and I knew for certain that he would not be at home.
When the courts rise, one of the clerks carries back his papers to the
office, while he moves slowly off, his coat-tails flapping in the breeze,
either to visit a few friends and clients, respectable dames who were his
partners in the dance in the year 1840, or more often to take a
"constitutional" along the banks of the Berry Canal, where, in the poplar
shade, files of little gray donkeys are towing string after string of big
So I was sure not to meet him.
Madeleine opened the door to me, and started as if shot.
"Myself, Madeleine. My uncle is not at home?"
"No, Monsieur. Do you really mean to come in, Monsieur?"
"The master's so changed since his visit to Paris, Monsieur Fabien!"
Madeleine stood still, with one hand holding up her apron, the other
hanging, and gazed at me with reproachful anxiety.
"I must come in, Madeleine. I have a secret to tell you."
She made no answer, but turned and walked before me into the house.
It was not thus that I used to be welcomed in days gone by! Then
Madeleine used to meet me at the station. She used to kiss me, and tell
me how well I looked, promising the while a myriad sweet dishes which she
had invented for me. Hardly did I set foot in the hall before my uncle,
who had given up his evening walk for my sake, would run out of his
study, heart and cravat alike out of their usual order at seeing me--
me, a poor, awkward, gaping schoolboy: Today that is ancient history.
To-day I am afraid to meet my uncle, and Madeleine is afraid to let me
She told me not a word of it, but I easily guessed that floods of tears
had streamed from her black eyes down her thin cheeks, now pale as wax.
Her face is quite transparent, and looks as if a tiny lamp were lighting
it from within. There are strong feelings, too, beneath that impassive
mask. Madeleine comes from Bayonne, and has Spanish blood in her.
I have heard that she was lovely as a girl of twenty. With age her
features have grown austere. She looks like a widow who is a widow
indeed, and her heart is that of a grandmother.
She glided before me in her slippers to that realm of peace and silence,
her kitchen. I followed her in. Two things that never found entrance
there are dust and noise. A lonely goldfinch hangs in a wicker cage from
the rafters, and utters from time to time a little shrill call. His note
and the metallic tick-tick of Madeleine's clock alone enliven the silent
flight of time. She sat down in the low chair where she knits after
"Madeleine, I am about to be married; did you know it?"
She slowly shook her head.
"Yes, in Paris, Monsieur Fabien; that's what makes the master so
"You will soon see her whom I have chosen, Madeleine."
"I do not think so, Monsieur Fabien."
"Yes, yes, you will; and you will see that it is my uncle who is in the
"I have not often known him in the wrong."
"That has nothing to do with it. My marriage is fully decided upon, and
all I want is to get my uncle's consent to it. Do you understand?
I want to make friends with him."
Madeleine shook her head again.
"You won't succeed."
"My dear Madeleine!"
"No, Monsieur Fabien, you won't succeed."
"He must be very much changed, then!"
"So much that you could hardly believe it; so much that I can hardly keep
myself from changing too. He, who had such a good appetite, now has
nothing but fads. It's no good my cooking him dainties, or buying him
early vegetables; he never notices them, but looks out of the window as
I come in at the door with a surprise for him. In the evening he often
forgets to go out in the garden, and sits at table, his elbows on his
rumpled napkin, his head between his hands, and what he thinks of he
keeps to himself. If I try to talk of you--and I have tried, Monsieur
Fabien--he gets up in a rage, and forbids me to open my mouth on the
subject. The house is not cheerful, Monsieur Fabien. Every one notices
how he has changed; Monsieur Lorinet and his lady never enter the doors;
Monsieur Hublette and Monsieur Horlet come and play dummy, looking all
the time as if they had come for a funeral, thinking it will please the
master. Even the clients say that the master treats them like dogs, and
that he ought to sell his practice."
"Then it isn't sold?"
"Not yet, but I think it will be before long."
"Listen to me, Madeleine; you have always been good and devoted to me;
I am sure you still are fond of me; do me one last service. You must
manage to put me up here without my uncle knowing it."
"Without his knowing it, Monsieur Fabien!"
"Yes, say in the library; he never goes in there. From there I can study
him, and watch him, without his seeing me, since he is so irritable and
so easily upset, and as soon as you see an opportunity I shall make use
of it. A sign from you, and down I come."
"Really, Monsieur Fabien--"
"It must be done, Madeleine; I must manage to speak to him before ten
o'clock to-morrow morning, for my bride is coming."
"The Parisienne? She coming here!"
"Yes, with her father, by the train which gets in at six minutes past
"Good God! is it possible?"
"To see you, Madeleine; to see my uncle, to make my peace with him.
Isn't it kind of her?"
"Kind? Monsieur Fabien! I tremble to think of what will happen. All
the same, I shall be glad to have a sight of your young lady, of course."
And so we settled that Madeleine was not to say a word to my uncle about
my being in Bourges, within a few feet of him. If she perceived any
break in the gloom which enveloped M. Mouillard, she was to let me know;
if I were obliged to put off my interview to the morrow, and to pass the
night on the sofa-bed in the library, she was to bring me something to
eat, a rug, and "the pillow you used in your holidays when you were a
I was installed then in the big library on the first-floor, adjoining the
drawing-room, its other door opening on the passage opposite M.
Mouillard's door, and its two large windows on the garden. What a look
of good antique middle-class comfort there was about it, from the floor
of bees'-waxed oak, with its inequalities of level, to the four bookcases
with glass doors, surmounted by four bronzed busts of Herodotus, Homer,
Socrates, and Marmontel! Nothing had been moved; the books were still in
the places where I had known them for twenty years; Voltaire beside
Rousseau, the Dictionary of Useful Knowledge, and Rollin's Ancient
History, the slim, well bound octavos of the Meditations of St.
Ignatius, side by side with an enormous quarto on veterinary surgery.
The savage arrows, said to be poisoned, which always used to frighten me
so much, were still arranged like a peacock's tail over the mantel-shelf,
each end of which was adorned by the same familiar lumps of white coral.
The musical-box, which I was not allowed to touch till I was eighteen,
still stood in the left-hand corner, and on the writing-table, near the
little blotting-book that held the note-paper, rose, still majestic,
still turning obedient to the touch within its graduated belts, the
terrestrial globe "on which are marked the three voyages of Captain Cook,
both outward and homeward." Ah, captain, how often have we sailed those
voyages together! What grand headway we made as we scoured the tropics
in the heel of the trade-wind, our ship threading archipelagoes whose
virgin forests stared at us in wonder, all their strange flowers opening
toward us, seeking to allure us and put us to sleep with their dangerous
perfumes. But we always guessed the snare, we saw the points of the
assegais gleaming amid the tall grasses; you gave the word in your full,
deep voice, and our way lay infinite before us; we followed it, always on
the track of new lands, new discoveries, until we reached the fatal isle
of Owhyhee, the spot where this terrestrial globe is spotted with a tear
--for I wept over you, my captain, at the age when tears unlock
themselves and flow easily from a heart filled with enchantment!
Seven o'clock sounded from the cathedral; the garden door slammed to;
my uncle was returning.
I saw him coming down the winding path, hat in hand, with bowed head.
He did not stop before his graftings; he passed the clump of petunias
without giving them that all-embracing glance I know so well, the glance
of the rewarded gardener. He gave no word of encouragement to the
Chinese duck which waddled down the path in front of him.
Madeleine was right. The time was not ripe for reconciliation; and more,
it would need a great deal of sun to ripen it. O Jeanne, if only you
"Any one called while I've been out?"
This, by the way, is the old formula to which my uncle has always been
faithful. I heard Madeleine answer, with a quaver in her voice:
"No, nobody for you, sir."
"Someone for you, then? A lover, perhaps, my faithful Madeleine? The
world is so foolish nowadays that even you might take it into your head
to marry and leave me. Come, serve my dinner quickly, and if the
gentleman with the decoration calls--you know whom I mean?"
"The tall, thin gentleman?"
"Yes. Show him into the drawing-room."
"A gentleman by himself into the drawing-room?
"No, sir, no. The floor was waxed only yesterday, and the furniture's not
yet in order."
"Very well! I'll see him in here."
My uncle went into the dining-room underneath me, and for twenty minutes
I heard nothing more of him, save the ring of his wineglass as he struck
on it to summon Madeleine.
He had hardly finished dinner when there came a ring at the street door.
Some one asked for M. Mouillard, the gentleman with the decoration,
I suppose, for Madeleine showed him in, and I could tell by the noise
of his chair that my uncle had risen to receive his visitor.
They sat down and entered into conversation. An indistinct murmur
reached me through the ceiling. Occasionally a clearer sound struck my
ear, and I thought I knew that high, resonant voice. It was no doubt
delusion, still it beset me there in the silence of the library, haunting
my thoughts as they wandered restlessly in search of occupation. I tried
to recollect all the men with fluty voices that I had ever met in
Bourges: a corn-factor from the Place St. Jean; Rollet, the sacristan; a
fat manufacturer, who used to get my uncle to draw up petitions for him
claiming relief from taxation. I hunted feverishly in my memory as the
light died away from the windows, and the towers of St. Stephen's
gradually lost the glowing aureole conferred on them by the setting sun.
After about an hour the conversation grew heated.
My uncle coughed, the flute became shrill. I caught these fragments of
"But the law?"
"Is as I tell you."
"But this is tyranny!"
"Then our business is at an end."
Apparently it was not, though; for the conversation gradually sank down
the scale to a monotonous murmur. A second hour passed, and yet a third.
What could this interminable visit portend?
It was near eleven o'clock. A ray from the rising moon shone between the
trees in the garden. A big black cat crept across the lawn, shaking its
wet paws. In the darkness it looked like a tiger. In my mind's eye I
saw Madeleine sitting with her eyes fixed on her dead hearth, telling her
beads, her thoughts running with mine: "It is years since Monsieur
Mouillard was up at such an hour." Still she waited, for never had any
hand but hers shot the bolt of the street door; the house would not be
shut if shut by any other than herself.
At last the dining-room door opened. "Let me show you a light; take care
of the stairs."
Then followed the "Good-nights" of two weary voices, the squeaking of the
big key turning in the lock, a light footstep dying away in the distance,
and my uncle's heavy tread as he went up to his bedroom. The business
How slowly my uncle went upstairs! The burden of sorrow was no metaphor
in his case. He, who used to be as active as a boy, could now hardly-
support his own weight.
He crossed the landing and went into his room. I thought of following,
him; only a few feet lay between us. No doubt it was late, but his
excited state might have predisposed him in my favor. Suddenly I heard a
sigh--then a sob. He was weeping; I determined to risk all and rush to
But just as I was about to leave the library a skirt rustled against the
wall, though I had heard no sound of footsteps preceding it. At the same
instant a little bit of paper was slipped in under the door--a letter
from the silent Madeleine. I unfolded the paper and saw the following
words written across from one corner to the other, with a contempt for
French spelling, which was thoroughly Spanish:
"Ni allais pat ceux soire."
Very well, Madeleine, since that's your advice, I'll refrain.
I lay down to sleep on the sofa. Yet I was very sorry for the delay.
I hated to let the night go by without being reconciled to the poor old
man, or without having attempted it at least. He was evidently very
wretched to be affected to tears, for I had never known him to weep, even
on occasions when my own tears had flowed freely. Yet I followed my old
and faithful friend's advice, for I knew that she had the peace of the
household as much at heart as I; but I felt that I should seek long and
vainly before I could discover what this latest trouble was, and what
part I had in it.
JEANNE THE ENCHANTRESS
BOURGES, August 5th.
I woke up at seven; my first thought was for M. Mouillard. Where could
he be? I listened, but could hear no sound. I went to the window; the
office-boy was lying flat on the lawn, feeding the goldfish in the
fountain. This proved beyond a doubt that my uncle was not in.
I went downstairs to the kitchen.
"Well, Madeleine, has he gone out?"
"He went at six o'clock, Monsieur Fabien."
"Why didn't you wake me?"
"How could I guess? Never, never does he go out before breakfast.
I never have seen him like this before, not even when his wife died."
"What can be the matter with him?"
"I think it's the sale of the practice. He said to me last night, at the
fool of the staircase: 'I am a brokenhearted man, Madeleine, a broken-
hearted man. I might have got over it, but that monster of ingratitude,
that cannibal'--saving your presence, Monsieur Fabien--'would not have it
so. If I had him here I don't know what I should do to him.'"
"Didn't he tell you what he would do to the cannibal?"
"No. So I slipped a little note under your door when I went upstairs."
"Yes. I am much obliged to you for it. Is he any calmer this morning?"
"He doesn't look angry any longer, only I noticed that he had been
"Where is he?"
"I don't know at all. Besides, you might as well try to catch up with a
deer as with him."
"That's true. I'd better wait for him. When will he be in?"
"Not before ten. I can tell you that it's not once a year that he goes
out like this in the morning."
"But, Madeleine, Jeanne will be here by ten!"
"Oh, is Jeanne her name?"
"Yes. Monsieur Charnot will be here, too. And my uncle, whom I was to
have prepared for their visit, will know nothing about it, nor even that
I slept last night beneath his roof."
"To tell the truth, Monsieur Fabien, I don't think you've managed well.
Still, there is Dame Fortune, who often doesn't put in her word till the
"Entreat her for me, Madeleine, my dear."
But Dame Fortune was deaf to prayers. My uncle did not return, and I
could find no fresh expedient. As I made my way, vexed and unhappy, to
the station, I kept asking myself the question that I had been turning
over in vain for the last hour:
"I have said nothing to Monsieur Mouillard. Had I better say anything
now to Monsieur Charnot?"
My fears redoubled when I saw Jeanne and M. Charnot at the windows of the
train, as it swept past me into the station.
A minute later she stepped on to the platform, dressed all in gray, with
roses in her cheeks, and a pair of gull's wings in her hat.
M. Charnot shook me by the hand, thoroughly delighted at having escaped
from the train and being able to shake himself and tread once more the
solid earth. He asked after my uncle, and when I replied that he was in
excellent health, he went to get his luggage.
"Well!" said Jeanne. "Is all arranged?"
"On the contrary, nothing is."
"Have you seen him?"
"Not even that. I have been watching for a favorable opportunity without
finding one. Yesterday evening he was busy with a visitor; this morning
he went out at six. He doesn't even know that I am in Bourges."
"And yet you were in his house?"
"I slept on a sofa in his library."
She gave me a look which was as much as to say, "My poor boy, how very
unpractical you are!"
"Go on doing nothing," she said; "that's the best you can do. If my
father didn't think he was expected he would beat a retreat at once."
At this instant, M. Charnot came back to us, having seen his two trunks
and a hatbox placed on top of the omnibus of the Hotel de France.
"That is where you have found rooms for us?"
"It is now twelve minutes past nine; tell Monsieur Mouillard that we
shall call upon him at ten o'clock precisely."
I went a few steps with them, and saw them into the omnibus, which was
whirled off at a fast trot by its two steeds.
When I had lost them from my sight I cast a look around me, and noticed
three people standing in line beneath the awning, and gazing upon me with
interest. I recognized Monsieur, Madame, and Mademoiselle Lorinet. They
were all smiling with the same look of contemptuous mockery. I bowed.
The man alone returned my salute, raising his hat. By some strange freak
of fate, Berthe was again wearing a blue dress.
I went back in the direction of the Rue du Four, happy, though at my
wits' end, forming projects that were mutually destructive; now
expatiating in the seventh heaven, now loading myself with the most
appalling curses. I slipped along the streets, concealed beneath my
umbrella, for the rain was falling; a great storm-cloud had burst over
Bourges, and I blessed the rain which gave me a chance to hide my face.
From the banks of the Voizelle to the old quarter around the cathedral is
a rather long walk. When I turned from the Rue Moyenne, the Boulevard
des Italiens of Bourges, into the Rue du Four, a blazing sun was drying
the rain on the roofs, and the cuckoo clock at M. Festuquet's--a neighbor
of my uncle--was striking the hour of meeting.
I had not been three minutes at the garden door, a key to which had been
given me by Madeleine, when M. Charnot appeared with Jeanne on his arm.
"To think that I've forgotten my overshoes, which I never fail to take
with me to the country!"
"The country, father?" said Jeanne, "why, Bourges is a city!--"
"To be sure--to be sure," answered M. Charnot, who feared he had hurt my
He put on his spectacles and began to study the old houses around him.
"Yes, a city; really quite a city."
I do not remember what commonplace I stammered.
Little did I care for M. Charnot's overshoes or the honor of Bourges at
that moment! On the other side of the wall, a few feet off, I felt the
presence of M. Mouillard. I reflected that I should have to open the
door and launch the Academician, without preface, into the presence of
the lawyer, stake my life's happiness, perhaps, on my uncle's first
impressions, play at any rate the decisive move in the game which had
been so disastrously opened.
Jeanne, though she did her best to hide it, was extremely nervous. I
felt her hand tremble in mine as I took it.
"Trust in God!" she whispered, and aloud: "Open the door."
I turned the key in the lock. I had arranged that Madeleine should go at
once to M. Mouillard and tell him that there were some strangers waiting
in the garden. But either she was not on the lookout, or she did not at
once perceive us, and we had to wait a few minutes at the bottom of the
lawn before any one came.
I hid myself behind the trees whose leafage concealed the wall.
M. Charnot was evidently pleased with the view before him, and turned
from side to side, gently smacking his lips like an epicure. And, in
truth, my uncle's garden was perfection; the leaves, washed by the rain,
were glistening in the fulness of their verdure, great drops were falling
from the trees with a silvery tinkle, the petunias in the beds were
opening all their petals and wrapping us in their scent; the birds, who
had been mute while the shower lasted, were now fluttering, twittering,
and singing beneath the branches. I was like one bewitched, and thought
these very birds were discussing us. The greenfinch said:
"Old Mouillard, look! Here's Princess Goldenlocks at your garden gate."
The tomtit said:
"Look out, old man, or she'll outwit you."
The blackbird said:
"I have heard of her from my grandfather, who lived in the Champs
Elysees. She was much admired there."
The swallow said:
"Jeanne will have your heart in the time it takes me to fly round the
The rook, who was a bit of a lawyer, came swooping down from the
cathedral tower, crying:
"Caw, caw, caw! Let her show cause--cause!"
And all took up the chorus:
"If you had our eyes, Monsieur Mouillard, you would see her looking at
your study; if you had our ears, you would hear her sigh; if you had our
wings, you would fly to Jeanne."
No doubt it was this unwonted concert which attracted Madeleine's
attention. We saw her making her way, stiffly and slowly, toward the
study, which stood in the corner of the garden.
M. Mouillard's tall figure appeared on the threshold, filling up the
"In the garden, did you say? Whatever is your idea in showing clients
into the garden? Why did you let them in?"
"I didn't let them in; they came in of themselves."
"Then the door can't have been shut. Nothing is shut here. I'll have
them coming in next by the drawing-room chimney. What sort of people are
"There's a gentleman and a young lady whom I don't know."
"A young lady whom you don't know--a judicial separation, I'll warrant--
it's indecent, upon my word it is. To think that there are people who
come to me about judicial separations and bring their young ladies with
As Madeleine fled before the storm and found shelter in her kitchen, my
uncle smoothed back his white hair with both his hands--a surviving touch
of personal vanity--and started down the walk around the grass-plot.
I effaced myself behind the trees. M. Charnot, thinking I was just
behind him, stepped forward with airy freedom.
My uncle came down the path with a distracted air, like a man overwhelmed
with business, only too pleased to snatch a moment's leisure between the
parting and the coming client. He always loved to pass for being
overwhelmed with work.
On his way he flipped a rosebud covered with blight, kicked off a snail
which was crawling on the path; then, halfway down the path, he suddenly
raised his head and gave a look at his disturber.
His bent brows grew smooth, his eyes round with the stress of surprise.
"Is it possible? Monsieur Charnot of the Institute!"
"The same, Monsieur Mouillard."
"And this is Mademoiselle Jeanne?"
"Just so; she has come with me to repay your kind visit."
"Really, that's too good of you, much too good, to come such a way to see
"On the contrary, the most natural thing in the world, considering what
the young people are about."
"Oh! is your daughter about to be married?"
"Certainly, that's the idea," said M. Charnot, with a laugh.
"I congratulate you, Mademoiselle!"
"I have brought her here to introduce her to you, Monsieur Mouillard, as
is only right."
"Right! Excuse me, no."
"Indeed it is."
"Excuse me, sir. Politeness is all very well in its way, but frankness
is better. I went to Paris chiefly to get certain information which you
were good enough to give me. But, really, it was not worth your while to
come from Paris to Bourges to thank me, and to bring your daughter too."
"Excuse me in my turn! There are limits to modesty, Monsieur Mouillard,
and as my daughter is to marry your nephew, and as my daughter was in
Bourges, it was only natural that I should introduce her to you."
"Monsieur, I have no longer a nephew."
"He is here."
"And I never asked for your daughter."
"No, but you have received your nephew beneath your roof, and
"Monsieur Fabien has been in your house since yesterday; he told you we
"No, I have not seen him; I never should have received him! I tell you I
no longer have a nephew! I am a broken man, a--a--a "
His speech failed him, his face became purple, he staggered and fell
heavily, first in a sitting posture, then on his back, and lay motionless
on the sanded path.
I rushed to the rescue.
When I got up to him Jeanne had already returned from the little fountain
with her handkerchief dripping, and was bathing his temples with fresh
water. She was the only one who kept her wits about her. Madeleine had
raised her master's head and was wailing aloud.
"Alas!" she said, "it's that dreadful colic he had ten years ago which
has got him again. Dear heart! how ill he was! I remember how it came
on, just like this, in the garden."
I interrupted her lamentations by saying:
"Monsieur Charnot, I think we had better take Monsieur Mouillard up to
"Then why don't you do it?" shouted the numismatist, who had completely
lost his temper. "I didn't come here to act at an ambulance; but, since
I must, do you take his head."
I took his head, Madeleine walked in front, Jeanne behind. My uncle's
vast proportions swayed between M. Charnot and myself. M. Charnot, who
had skilfully gathered up the legs, looked like a hired pallbearer.
As we met with some difficulty in getting upstairs, M. Charnot said, with
"You've managed this trip nicely, Monsieur Fabien; I congratulate you
I saw that he intended to treat me to several variations on this theme.
But there was no time for talk. A moment later my uncle was laid, still
unconscious, upon his bed, and Jeanne and Madeleine were preparing a
mustard-plaster together, in perfect harmony. M. Charnot and I waited
in silence for the doctor whom we had sent the office-boy to fetch.
M. Charnot studied alternately my deceased aunt's wreath of orange-
blossoms, preserved under a glass in the centre of the chimney-piece,
and a painting of fruit and flowers for which it would have been hard
to find a buyer at an auction. Our wait for the doctor lasted ten long
minutes. We were very anxious, for M. Mouillard showed no sign of
returning consciousness. Gradually, however, the remedies began to act
upon him. The eyelids fluttered feebly; and just as the doctor opened
the door, my uncle opened his eyes.
We rushed to his bedside.
"My old friend," said the doctor, "you have had plenty of people to look
after you. Let me feel your pulse--rather weak; your tongue? Say a word
"A shock--rather sudden--" said my uncle.
The doctor, following the direction of the invalid's eyes, which were
fixed on Jeanne, upright at the foot of the bed, bowed to the young girl,
whom he had not at first noticed; turned to me, who blushed like an
idiot; then looked again at my uncle, only to see two big tears running
down his cheeks.
"Yes, I understand; a pretty stiff shock, eh? At our age we should only
be stirred by our recollections, emotions of bygone days, something we're
used to; but our children take care to provide us with fresh ones, eh?"
M. Mouillard's breast heaved.
"Come, my dear fellow," proceeded the doctor; "I give you leave to give
your future niece one kiss, and that in my presence, that I may be quite
sure you don't abuse the license. After that you must be left quite
alone; no more excitement, perfect rest."
Jeanne came forward and raised the invalid's head.
"Will you give me a kiss, uncle?"
She offered him her rosy cheek.
"With all my heart," said my uncle as he kissed her; "good girl--dear
Then he melted into tears, and hid his face in his pillow.
"And now we must be left alone," said the doctor.
He came down himself in a moment, and gave us an encouraging account of
Hardly had the street door closed behind him when we heard the lawyer's
powerful voice thundering down the stairs.
The old numismatist flew up the flight of stairs.
"Did you call me, Monsieur?"
"Yes, to invite you to dinner. I couldn't say the words just now, but it
was in my mind."
"It is very kind of you, but we leave at nine o'clock."
"I dine at seven; that's plenty of time."
"It will tire you too much."
"Tire me? Why, don't you think I dine everyday?"
"I promise to come and inquire after you before leaving."
"I can tell you at once that I am all right again. No, no, it shall
never be said that you came all the way from Paris to Bourges only to
see me faint. I count upon you and Mademoiselle Jeanne."
"On all three of us?"
"That makes three, with me; yes, sir."
"Excuse me, four."
"I hope the fourth will have the sense to go and dine elsewhere."
"Come, come, Monsieur Mouillard; your nephew, your ward--"
"I ceased to be his guardian four years ago, and his uncle three weeks
"He longs to put an end to this ill feeling--"
"Allow me to rest a little," said M. Mouillard, "in order that I may be
in a better condition to receive my guests."
He lay down again, and showed clearly his intention of saying not another
word on the subject.
During the conversation between M. Charnot and my uncle, to which we had
listened from the foot of the staircase, Jeanne, who had a moment before
been rejoicing over the completeness of the victory which she thought she
had achieved, grew quite downhearted.
"I thought he had forgiven you when he kissed me," she said. "What can
we do now? Can't you help us, Madeleine?"
Madeleine, whose heart was beginning to warm to Jeanne, sought vainly for
an expedient, and shook her head.
"Ought he to go and see his uncle?" asked Jeanne.
"No," said Madeleine.
"Well, suppose you write to him, Fabien?"
Madeleine nodded approval, and drew from the depths of her cupboard a
little glass inkstand, a rusty penholder, and a sheet of paper, at the
top of which was a dove with a twig in its beak.
"My cousin at Romorantin died just before last New Year's Day," she
explained; "so I had one sheet more than I needed."
I sat down at the kitchen table with Jeanne leaning over me, reading
as I wrote. Madeleine stood upright and attentive beside the clock,
forgetting all about her kitchen fire as she watched us with her black
This is what I wrote beneath the dove:
"MY DEAR UNCLE:
"I left Paris with the intention of putting an end to the
misunderstanding between us, which has lasted only too long, and
which has given me more pain than you can guess. I had no possible
opportunity of speaking to you between five o'clock yesterday
afternoon, when I arrived here, and ten o'clock this morning. If I
had been able to speak with you, you would not have refused to
restore me to your affection, which, I confess, I ought to have
respected more than I have. You would have given your consent to
my, union, on which depends your own happiness, my dear uncle, and
that of your nephew,
"Rather too formal," said Jeanne. "Now, let me try."
And the enchantress added, with ready pen:
"It is I, Monsieur Mouillard, who am chiefly in need of forgiveness.
Mine is the greater fault by far. You forbade Monsieur Fabien to love
me, and I took no steps to prevent his doing so. Even yesterday, when he
came to your house, it was my doing. I had assured him that your kind
heart would not be proof against his loving confession.
"Was I really wrong in that?
"The words that you spoke just now have led me to hope that I was not.
"But if I was wrong, visit your anger on me alone. Forgive your nephew,
invite him to dinner instead of us, and let me depart, regretting only
that I was not judged worthy of calling you uncle, which would have been
so pleasant and easy a name to speak.
I read the two letters over aloud. Madeleine broke into sobs as she
A smile flickered about the corners of Jeanne's mouth.
We left the house, committing to Madeleine the task of choosing a
favorable moment to hand M. Mouillard our joint entreaty.
And here I may as well confess that from the instant we got out of the
house, all through breakfast at the hotel, and for a quarter of an hour
after it, M. Charnot treated me, in his best style, to the very hottest
"talking-to" that I had experienced since my earliest youth. He ended
with these words: "If you have not made your peace with your uncle by
nine o'clock this evening, Monsieur, I withdraw my consent, and we shall
return to Paris."
I strove in vain to shake his decision. Jeanne made a little face at me,
which warned me I was on the wrong track.
"Very well," I said to her, "I leave the matter in your hands."
"And I leave it in the hands of God," she answered. "Be a man. If
trouble awaits us, hope will at any rate steal us a happy hour or two."
We were just then in front of the gardens of the Archbishop's palace, so
M. Charnot walked in. The current of his reflections was soon changed by
the freshness of the air, the groups of children playing around their
mothers--whom he studied ethnologically and with reference to the racial
divisions of ancient Gaul--by the beauty of the landscape--its foreground
of flowers, the Place St. Michel beyond, and further yet, above the
barrack-roofs, the line of poplars lining the Auron. He ceased to be a
father-in-law, and became a tourist again.
Jeanne stepped with airy grace among the groups of strollers, and the
murmurs which followed her path, though often envious, sounded none the
less sweetly in my ears for that. I hoped to meet Mademoiselle Lorinet.
After we had seen the gardens, we had to visit the Place Seraucourt, the
Cours Chanzy, the cathedral, Saint-Pierrele-Guillard, and the house of
Jacques-Coeur. It was six o'clock by the time we got back to the Hotel
A letter was waiting for us in the small and badly furnished entrance--
hall. It was addressed to Mademoiselle Jeanne Charnot.
I recognized at once the ornate hand of M. Mouillard, and grew as white
as the envelope.
M. Charnot cried, excitedly:
"Read it, Jeanne. Read it, can't you!"
Jeanne alone of us three kept a brave face.
"MY DEAR CHILD:
"I treated you perhaps with undue familiarity this morning, at a
moment when I was not quite myself. Nevertheless, now that I have
regained my senses, I do not withdraw the expressions of which I
made use--I love you with all my heart; you are a dear girl.
"You will not get an old stager like me to give up his prejudices
against the capital. Let it suffice that I have surrendered to a
Parisienne. My niece, I forgive him for your sake.
"Come this evening, all three of you.
"I have several things to tell you, and several questions to ask
you. My news is not all good. But I trust that all regrets will be
overwhelmed in the gladness you will bring to my old heart.
When we rang at M. Mouillard's door, it was opened to us by Baptiste, the
office-boy, who waits at table on grand occasions.
My uncle received us in the large drawing-room, in full dress, with his
whitest cravat and his most camphorous frock-coat: "not a moth in ten
years," is Madeleine's boast concerning this garment.
He saluted us all solemnly, without his usual effusiveness; bearing
himself with simple and touching dignity. Strong emotion, which excites
most natures, only served to restrain his. He said not a word of the
past, nor of our marriage. This, the decisive engagement, opened with
I have often noticed this phenomenon; people meeting to "have it out"
usually begin by saying nothing at all.
M. Mouillard offered his arm to Jeanne, to escort her to the dining-room.
Jeanne was in high spirits. She asked him question after question about
Bourges, its dances, fashions, manufactures, even about the procedure of
"I am sure you know that well, uncle," she said.
"Uncle" smiled at each question, his face illumined with a glow like that
upon a chimney-piece when someone is blowing the fire. He answered her
questions, but presently fell into a state of dejection, which even his
desire to do honor to his guests could not entirely conceal. His
thoughts betrayed themselves in the looks he kept casting upon me, no
longer of anger, but of suffering, almost pleading, affection.
M. Charnot, who was rather tired, and also absorbed in Madeleine's feats
of cookery, cast disjointed remarks and ejaculations into the gaps in the
I knew my uncle well enough to feel sure that the end of the dinner would
be quite unlike the beginning.
I was right. During dessert, just as the Academician was singing the
praises of a native delicacy, 'la forestine', my uncle, who had been
revolving a few drops of some notable growth of Medoc in his glass for
the last minute or two, stopped suddenly, and put down his glass on the
"My dear Monsieur Charnot," said he, "I have a painful confession to make
"Eh? What? My dear friend, if it's painful to you, don't make it."
"Fabien," my uncle went on, "has behaved badly to me on certain
occasions. But I say no more of it. His faults are forgotten. But I
have not behaved to him altogether as I should."
"Alas! It is so, my dear child. My practice, the family practice, which
I faithfully promised your father to keep for you--"
"You have sold it?"
My uncle buried his face in his hands.
"Last night, my poor child, only last night!"
"I thought so."
"I was weak I listened to the prompting of anger; I have compromised your
future. Fabien, forgive me in your turn."
He rose from the table, and came and put a trembling hand on my shoulder.
"No, uncle, you've not compromised anything, and I've nothing to forgive
"You wouldn't take the practice if I could still offer it to you?"
"Upon your word?"
"Upon my word!"
M. Mouillard drew himself up, beaming:
"Ah! Thank you for that speech, Fabien; you have relieved me of a great
With one corner of his napkin he wiped away two tears, which, having
arisen in time of war, continued to flow in time of peace.
"If Mademoiselle Jeanne, in addition to all her other perfections, brings
you fortune, Fabien, if your future is assured--"
"My dear Monsieur Mouillard," broke in the Academician with ill-concealed
satisfaction. "My colleagues call me rich. They slander me. Works on
numismatics do not make a man rich. Monsieur Fabien, who made some
investigations into the subject, can prove it to you. No; I possess no
more than an honorable competence, which does not give me everything, but
lets me lack nothing."
"Aurea mediocritas," exclaimed my uncle, delighted with his quotation.
"Oh, that Horace! What a fellow he was!"
"He was indeed. Well, as I was saying, our daily bread is assured; but
that's no reason why my son-in-law should vegetate in idleness which I do
not consider my due, even at my age."
"So he must work."
"But what is he to work at?"
"There are other professions besides the law, Monsieur Mouillard. I have