Part 1 out of 2
This etext was produced by David Widger
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the
file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an
entire meal of them. D.W.]
THE INK STAIN BY RENE BAZIN
By RENE BAZIN
JOY AND MADNESS
These four days have seemed as if they never would end--especially the
last. But now it wants only two minutes of noon. In two minutes, if
Lampron is not late--
"It is twelve o'clock, my friend; are you coming?"
It was Lampron.
For the last hour I had had my hat on my head, my stick between my legs,
and had been turning over my essay with gloved hands. He laughed at me.
I don't care. We walked, for the day was clear and warm. All the world
was out and about. Who can stay indoors on May Day? As we neared the
Chamber of Deputies, perambulators full of babies in white capes came
pouring from all the neighboring streets, and made their resplendent way
toward the Tuileries. Lampron was in a talkative mood. He was pleased
with the hanging of his pictures, and his plan of compaign against
"She is sure to have heard of it, Fabien, and perhaps is there already.
Who can tell?"
"Oh, cease your humbug! Yes, very possibly she is there before us. I
have had a feeling that she would be for these last four days."
"You don't say so!"
"I have pictured her a score of times ascending the staircase on her
father's arm. We are at the foot, lost in the crowd. Her noble, clear-
cut profile stands out against the Gobelin tapestries which frame it with
their embroidered flowers; one would say some maiden of bygone days had
come to life, and stepped down from her tapestried panel."
"Gentlemen!" said Lampron, with a sweep of his arm which took in the
whole of the Place de la Concorde, "allow me to present to you the
intending successor of Counsellor Mouillard, lawyer, of Bourges. Every
inch of him a man of business!"
We were getting near. Crowds were on their way to the exhibition from
all sides, women in spring frocks, many of the men in white waistcoats,
one hand in pocket, gayly flourishing their canes with the other, as much
as to say, "Look at me-well-to-do, jaunty, and out in fine weather." The
turnstiles were crowded, but at last we got through. We made but one
step across the gravel court, the realm of sculpture where antique gods
in every posture formed a mythological circle round the modern busts in
the central walk. There was no loitering here, for my heart was
elsewhere. We cast a look at an old wounded Gaul, an ancestor unhonored
by the crowd, and started up the staircase--no Jeanne to lead the way.
We came to the first room of paintings. Sylvestre beamed like a man who
feels at home.
"Quick, Sylvestre, where is the sketch? Let's hurry to it."
But he dragged me with him around several rooms.
Have you ever experienced the intoxication of color which seizes the
uninitiated at the door of a picture-gallery? So many staring hues
impinge upon the eyes, so many ideas take confused shape and struggle
together in the brain, that the eyes grow weary and the brain harassed.
It hovers undecided like an insect in a meadow full of flowers. The
buzzing remarks of the crowd add to the feeling of intoxication. They
distract one's attention before it can settle anywhere, and carry it off
to where some group is gathered before a great name, a costly frame, an
enormous canvas, or an outrage on taste; twenty men on a gallows against
a yellow sky, with twenty crows hovering over them, or an aged
antediluvian, some mighty hunter, completely nude and with no property
beyond a loaded club. One turns away, and the struggle begins again
between the eye, attracted by a hundred subjects, and the brain, which
would prefer to study one.
With Lampron this danger has no existence; he takes in a room at a
glance. He has the sportsman's eye which, in a covey of partridges,
marks its bird at a glance. He never hesitates. "That is the thing to
make for," he says, "come along"--and we make for it. He plants himself
right in front of the picture, with both hands in his overcoat pockets,
and his chin sunk in his collar; says nothing, but is quite happy
developing an idea which has occurred to him on his way to it; comparing
the picture before him with some former work by the same artist which he
remembers. His whole soul is concentrated on the picture. And when he
considers that I have understood and penetrated the meaning of the work,
he gives his opinion in few words, but always the right ones, summing up
a long sequence of ideas which I must have shared with him, since I see
exactly as he does.
In this way we halted before the "Martyrdom of Saint Denis," by Bonnat,
the two "Adorations," by Bouguereau, a landscape of Bernier's, some other
landscapes, sea pieces, and portraits.
At last we left the oil paintings.
In the open gallery, which runs around the inside of the huge oblong and
looks on the court, the watercolors, engravings, and drawings slumbered,
neglected. Lampron went straight to his works. I should have awarded
them the medaille d'honneur; an etching of a man's head, a large
engraving of the Virgin and Infant Jesus from the Salon Carre at the
Louvre, and the drawing which represents--
"Great Heavens! Sylvestre, she's perfectly lovely; she will make a great
mistake if she does not come and see herself!"
"She will come, my dear sir; but I shall not be there to see her."
"Are you going?"
"I leave you to stalk your game; be patient, and do not forget to come
and tell me the news this evening."
And Lampron vanished.
The drawing was hung about midway between two doorways draped with
curtains, that opened into the big galleries. I leaned against the
woodwork of one of them, and waited. On my left stretched a solitude
seldom troubled by the few visitors who risk themselves in the realms of
pen and pencil. These, too, only came to get fresh air, or to look down
on the many-colored crowd moving among the white statues below.
At my right, on the contrary, the battling currents of the crowd kept
passing and repassing, the provincial element easily distinguished by its
jaded demeanor. Stout, exhausted matrons, breathless fathers of
families, crowded the sofas, raising discouraged glances to the walls,
while around them turned and tripped, untiring as at a dance, legions of
Parisiennes, at ease, on their high heels, equally attentive to the
pictures, their own carriage, and their neighbors' gowns.
O peaceful functionaries, you whose business it is to keep an eye upon
this ferment! unless the ceaseless flux of these human phenomena lull
you to a trance, what a quantity of silly speeches you must hear! I
picked up twenty in as many minutes.
Suddenly there came a sound of little footsteps in the gallery. Two
little girls had just come in, two sisters, doubtless, for both had the
same black eyes, pink dresses, and white feathers in their hats.
Hesitating, with outstretched necks, like fawns on the border of a glade,
they seemed disappointed at the unexpected length of the gallery. They
looked at each other and whispered. Then both smiled, and turning their
backs on each other, they set off, one to the right, the other to the
left, to examine the drawings which covered the walls. They made a rapid
examination, with which art had obviously little to do; they were looking
for something, and I thought it might be for Jeanne's portrait. And so
it turned out; the one on my side soon came to a stop, pointed a finger
to the wall, and gave a little cry. The other ran up; they clapped their
Then off they went again through the farther door.
I guessed what they were about to do.
I trembled from head to foot, and hid myself farther behind the curtains.
Not a minute elapsed before they were back, not two this time, but three,
and the third was Jeanne, whom they were pulling along between them.
They brought her up to Lampron's sketch, and curtsied neatly to her.
Jeanne bent down, smiled, and seemed pleased. Then, a doubt seizing her,
she turned her head and saw me. The smile died away; she blushed, a tear
seemed ready to start to her eyes. Oh, rapture! Jeanne, you are
touched; Jeanne, you understand!
A deep joy surged across my soul, so deep that I never have felt its
Alas! at that instant some one called, "Jeanne!"
She stood up, took the two little girls by the hand, and was gone.
Far better had it been had I too fled, carrying with me that dream of
But no, I leaned forward to look after them. In the doorway beyond I saw
M. Charnot. A young man was with him, who spoke to Jeanne. She answered
him. Three words reached me:
"It's nothing, George."
The devil! She loves another!
In what a state of mind did I set out this morning to face my examiners!
Downhearted, worn out by a night of misery, indifferent to all that might
befall me, whether for good or for evil.
I considered myself, and indeed I was, very wretched, but I never thought
that I should return more wretched than I went.
It was lovely weather when at half past eleven I started for the Law
School with an annotated copy of my essay under my arm, thinking more of
the regrets for the past and plans for the future with which I had
wrestled all night, than of the ordeal I was about to undergo. I met in
the Luxembourg the little girl whom I had kissed the week before. She
stopped her hoop and stood in my way, staring with wideopen eyes and a
coaxing, cunning look, which meant, "I know you, I do!" I passed by
without noticing. She pouted her lip, and I saw that she was thinking,
"What's the matter with him?"
What was the matter? My poor little golden-locks, when you are grown a
fair woman I trust you may know as little of it as you do to-day.
I went up the Rue Soufliot, and entered the stuffy courtyard on the
stroke of noon.
The morning lectures were over. Beneath the arcades a few scattered
students were walking up and down. I avoided them for fear of meeting a
friend and having to talk. Several professors came running from their
lunch, rather red in the face, at the summons of the secretary. These
were my examiners.
It was time to get into costume, for the candidate, like the criminal,
has his costume. The old usher, who has dressed me up I don't know how
many times in his hired gowns, saw that I was downcast, and thought I
must be suffering from examination fever, a peculiar malady, which is
like what a young soldier feels the first time he is under fire.
We were alone in the dark robing-room; he walked round me, brushing and
encouraging me; doctors of law have a moral right to this touch of the
"It will be all right, Monsieur Mouillard, never fear. No one has been
refused a degree this morning."
"I am not afraid, Michu."
"When I say 'no one,' there was one refused--you never heard the like.
Just imagine--a little to the right, please, Monsieur Mouillard--imagine,
I say, a candidate who knew absolutely nothing. That is nothing
extraordinary. But this fellow, after the examination was over,
recommended himself to mercy. 'Have compassion on me, gentlemen,' he
said, 'I only wish to be a magistrate!' Capital, isn't it?"
"You don't seem to think so. You don't look like laughing this morning."
"No, Michu, every one has his bothers, you know."
"I said to myself as I looked at you just now, Monsieur Mouillard has
some bother. Button up all the way, if you please, for a doctor's essay;
if-you-please. It's a heartache, then?"
"Something of the kind."
He shrugged his shoulders and went before me, struggling with an
asthmatic chuckle, until we came to the room set apart for the
It was the smallest and darkest of all, and borrowed its light from a
street which had little enough to spare, and spared as little as it
could. On the left against the wall is a raised desk for the candidate.
At the end, on a platform before a bookcase, sit the six examiners in red
robes, capes with three bands of ermine, and gold-laced caps. Between
the candidate's desk and the door is a little enclosure for spectators,
of whom there were about thirty when I entered.
My performance, which had a chance of being brilliant, was only fair.
The three first examiners had read my essay, especially M. Flamaran, who
knew it well and had enjoyed its novel and audacious propositions. He
pursed up his mouth preparatory to putting the first question, like an
epicure sucking a ripe fruit. And when at length he opened it, amid the
general silence, it was to carry the discussion at once up to such
heights of abstraction that a good number of the audience, not
understanding a word of it, stealthily made for the door.
Each successive answer put fresh spirit into him.
"Very good," he murmured, "very good; let us carry it a step farther.
Now supposing "
And, the demon of logic at his heels, we both went off like inspired
lunatics into a world of hypotheses where never man had set foot. He was
examining no longer, he was inventing and intoxicating himself with
deductions. No one was right or wrong. We were reasoning about
chimeras, he radiant, I cool, before his gently tickled colleagues. I
never realized till then what imagination a jurist's head could contain.
Perspiring freely, he set down a white mark, having exceeded by ten
minutes the recognized time for examination.
The second examiner was less enthusiastic. He made very few
suppositions, and devoted all his art to convicting me of a contradiction
between page seventeen and page seventy-nine. He kept repeating, "It's a
serious matter, sir, very serious." But, nevertheless, he bestowed a
second white mark on me. I only got half white from the third. The rest
of the examination was taken up in matters extraneous to the subject of
my essay, a commonplace trial of strength, in which I replied with
threadbare arguments to outworn objections.
And then it ended. Two hours had passed.
I left the room while the examiners made up their minds.
A few friends came up to me.
"Congratulations, old man, I bet on six whites."
"Hallo, Larive! I never noticed you."
"I quite believe you; you didn't notice anybody, you still look
bewildered. Is it the emotion inseparable from--"
"I dare say."
"The candidate is requested to return to the examination room!" said the
And old Michu added, in a whisper, "You have passed. I told you so. You
won't forget old Michu, sir."
M. Flamaran conferred my degree with a paternal smile, and a few kind
words for "this conscientious study, full of fresh ideas on a difficult
I bowed to the examiners. Larive was waiting for me in the courtyard,
and seized me by the arm.
"Uncle Mouillard will be pleased."
"I suppose so."
"Better pleased than you."
"That's very likely."
"He might easily be that. Upon my word I can't understand you. These
two years you have been working like a gang of niggers for your degree,
and now you have got it you don't seem to care a bit. You have won a
smile from Flamaran and do not consider yourself a spoiled child of
Fortune! What more did you want? Did you expect that Mademoiselle
Charnot would come in person--"
"Look here, Larive--"
"To look on at your examination, and applaud your answers with her neatly
gloved hands? Surely you know, my dear fellow, that that is no longer
possible, and that she is going to be married."
"Going to be married?"
"Don't pretend you didn't know it."
"I have suspected as much since yesterday; I met her at the Salon, and
saw a young man with her."
"Dufilleul, old chap, friend Dufilleul. Don't you know Dufilleul?"
"Oh, yes you do--a bit of a stockjobber, great at ecarte, studied law in
our year, and is always to be seen at the Opera with little Tigra of the
"You pity her?"
"It's too awful."
"To see an unhappy child married to a rake who--"
"She will not be the first."
"Yes, there is that, to be sure."
"A fool, as it seems, who, in exchange for her beauty, grace, and youth,
can offer only an assortment of damaged goods! Yes, I do pity girls
duped thus, deceived and sacrificed by the very purity that makes them
believe in that of others."
"You've some queer notions! It's the way of the world. If the innocent
victims were only to marry males of equal innocence, under the
guardianship of virtuous parents, the days of this world would be
numbered, my boy. I assure you that Dufilleul is a good match, handsome
for one thing--"
"That's worth a deal!"
"The deuce he is!"
"And then a name which can be divided."
"With all the ease in the world. A very rare quality. At his marriage
he describes himself as Monsieur du Filleul. A year later he is Baron du
Filleul. At the death of his father, an old cad, he becomes Comte du
Filleul. If the young wife is pretty and knows how to cajole her
husband, she may even become a marquise."
"You are out of spirits, my poor fellow; I will stand you an absinthe,
the only beverage that will suit the bitterness of your heart."
"No, I shall go home."
"Good-by, then. You don't take your degree cheerfully."
He spun round on his heels and went down the Boulevard St. Michel.
So all is over forever between her and me, and, saddest of all, she is
even more to be pitied than I. Poor girl! I loved her deeply, but I did
it awkwardly, as I do everything, and missed my chance of speaking. The
mute declaration which I risked, or rather which a friend risked for me,
found her already engaged to this beast who has brought more skill to the
task, who has made no blots at the National Library, who has dared all
when he had everything to fear--
I have allowed myself to be taken by her maiden witchery. All the fault,
all the folly is mine. She has given me no encouragement, no sign of
liking me. If she smiled at St. Germain it was because she was surprised
and flattered. If she came near to tears at the Salon it was because she
pitied me. I have not the shadow of a reproach to make her.
That is all I shall ever get from her--a tear, a smile. That's all;
never mind, I shall contrive to live on it. She has been my first love,
and I shall keep her a place in my heart from which no other shall drive
her. I shall now set to work to shut this poor heart which did so wrong
to open.... I thought to be happy to-night, and I am full of sorrow.
Henceforward I think I shall understand Sylvestre better. Our sorrows
will bring us nearer. I will go to see him at once, and will tell him
But first I must write to my uncle to tell him that his nephew is a
Doctor of Law. All the rest, my plans, my whole future can be put off
till to-morrow, or the day after, unless I get disgusted at the very
thought of a future and decide to conjugate my life in the present
indicative only. That is what I feel inclined to do.
Lampron has gone to the country to pass a fortnight in an out-of-the-way
place with an old relative, where he goes into hiding when he wishes to
finish an engraving.
But Madame Lampron was at home. After a little hesitation I told her
all, and I am glad I did so. She found in her simple, womanly heart just
the counsel that I needed. One feels that she is used to giving
consolation. She possesses the secret of that feminine deftness which is
the great set-off to feminine weakness. Weak? Yes, women perhaps are
weak, yet less weak than we, the strong sex, for they can raise us to our
feet. She called me, "My dear Monsieur Fabien," and there was balm in
the very way she said the words. I used to think she wanted refinement;
she does not, she only lacks reading, and lack of reading may go with the
most delicate and lofty feelings. No one ever taught her certain turns
of expression which she used. "If your mother was alive," said she,
"this is what she would say." And then she spoke to me of God, who alone
can determinate man's trials, either by the end He ordains, or the
resignation He inspires. I felt myself carried with her into the regions
where our sorrows shrink into insignificance as the horizon broadens
around them. And I remember she uttered this fine thought, "See how my
son has suffered! It makes one believe, Monsieur Fabien, that the elect
of the earth are the hardest tried, just as the stones that crown the
building are more deeply cut than their fellows."
I returned from Madame Lampron's, softened, calmer, wiser.
A VISIT FROM MY UNCLE
A letter from M. Mouillard breathing fire and fury. Were I not so low
spirited I could laugh at it.
He would have liked me, after taking my degree at two in the afternoon,
to take the train for Bourges the same evening, where my uncle, his
practice, and provincial bliss awaited me. M. Mouillard's friends had
had due notice, and would have come to meet me at the station. In short,
I am an ungrateful wretch. At least I might have fixed the hour of my
imminent arrival, for I can not want to stop in Paris with nothing there
to detain me. But no, not a sign, not a word of returning; simply the
announcement that I have passed. This goes beyond the bounds of mere
folly and carelessness. M. Mouillard, his most elementary notions of
life shaken to their foundations, concludes in these words:
"Fabien, I have long suspected it; some creature has you in bondage.
I am coming to break the bonds!
I know him well; he will be here tomorrow.
No uncle as yet.
No more uncle than yesterday.
Total eclipse continues. No news of M. Mouillard. This is very strange.
This evening at seven o'clock, just as I was going out to dine, I saw, a
few yards away, a tall, broad-brimmed hat surmounting a head of lank
white hair, a long neck throttled in a white neckcloth, a frock-coat
flapping about a pair of attenuated legs. I lifted up my voice:
He opened his arms to me and I fell into them. His first remark was:
"I trust at least that you have not yet dined."
"To Foyot's, then!"
When you expect to meet a man in his wrath and get an invitation to
dinner, you feel almost as if you had been taken in. You are heated,
your arguments are at your fingers' ends, your stock of petulance is
ready for immediate use; and all have to be stored in bond.
When I had recovered from my surprise, I said:
"I expected you sooner, from your letter."
"Your suppositions were correct. I have been two days here, at the Grand
Hotel. I went there on account of the dining-room, for my friend
Hublette (you remember Hublette at Bourges) told me: 'Mouillard, you must
see that room before you retire from business.'"
"I should have gone to see you there, uncle, if I had known it."
"You would not have found me. Business before pleasure, Fabien. I had
to see three barristers and five solicitors. You know that business of
that kind can not wait. I saw them. Business over, I can indulge my
feelings. Here I am. Does Foyot suit you?"
"Come on, then nephew, quick, march! Paris, makes one feel quite young
And really Uncle Mouillard did look quite young, almost as young as he
looked provincial. His tall figure, and the countrified cut of his coat,
made all who passed him turn to stare, accustomed as Parisians are to
curiosities. He tapped the wood pavement with his stick, admired the
effects of Wallace's philanthropy, stopped before the enamelled street-
signs, and grew enthusiastic over the traffic in the Rue de Vaugirard.
The dinner was capital--just the kind a generous uncle will give to a
blameless nephew. M. Mouillard, who has a long standing affection for
chambertin, ordered two bottles to begin with. He drank the whole of one
and half of the other, eating in proportion, and talked unceasingly and
positively at the top of his voice, as his wont was. He told me the
story of two of his best actions this year, a judicial separation--my
uncle is very strong in judicial separations--and the abduction of a
minor. At first I looked out for personal allusions. But no, he told
the story from pure love of his art, without omitting an interlocutory
judgment, or a judgment reserved, just as he would have told the story of
Helen and Paris, if he had been employed in that well-known case. Not a
word about myself. I waited, yet nothing came but the successive steps
in the action.
After the ice, M. Mouillard called for a cigar.
"Waiter, what cigars have you got?"
"Londres, conchas, regalias, cacadores, partagas, esceptionales. Which
would you like, sir?"
"Damn the name! a big one that will take some time to smoke."
Emile displayed at the bottom of a box an object closely resembling a
distaff with a straw through the middle, doubtless some relic of the last
International Exhibition, abandoned by all, like the Great Eastern, on
account of its dimensions. My uncle seized it, stuck it in the amber
mouthpiece that is so familiar to me, lighted it, and under the pretext
that you must always first get the tobacco to burn evenly, went out
trailing behind him a cloud of smoke, like a gunboat at full speed.
We "did" the arcades round the Odeon, where my uncle spent an eternity
thumbing the books for sale. He took them all up one after another, from
the poetry of the decedents to the Veterinary Manual, gave a glance at
the author's name, shrugged his shoulders, and always ended by turning to
"You know that writer?"
"Why, yes, uncle."
"He must be quite a new author; I can't recall that name."
M. Mouillard forgot that it was forty-five years since he had last
visited the bookstalls under the Odeon.
He thought he was a student again, loafing along the arcades after
dinner, eager for novelty, careless of draughts. Little by little he
lost himself in dim reveries. His cigar never left his lips. The ash
grew longer and longer yet, a lovely white ash, slightly swollen at the
tip, dotted with little black specks, and connected with the cigar by a
thin red band which alternately glowed and faded as he drew his breath.
M. Mouillard was so lost in thought, and the ash was getting so long,
that a young student--of the age that knows no mercy-was struck by these
twin phenomena. I saw him nudge a friend, hastily roll a cigarette, and,
doffing his hat, accost my uncle.
"Might I trouble you for a light, sir!"
M. Mouillard emitted a sigh, turned slowly round, and bent two terrible
eyes upon the intruder, knocked off the ash with an angry gesture, and
held out the ignited end at arm's length.
"With pleasure, sir!"
Then he replaced the last book he had taken up--a copy of Musset--and
Arm in arm we strolled up the Rue de Medicis along the railings of the
I felt the crisis approaching. My uncle has a pet saying: "When a thing
is not clear to me, I go straight to the heart of it like a ferret."
The ferret began to work.
"Now, Fabien, about these bonds I mentioned? Did I guess right?"
"Yes, uncle, I have been in bondage."
"Quite right to make a clean breast of it, my boy; but we must break your
"They are broken."
"How long ago?"
"Some days ago."
"On your honor?"
"That's quite right. You'd have done better to keep out of bondage. But
there, you took your uncle's advice; you saw the abyss, and drew back
from it. Quite right of you."
"Uncle, I will not deceive you. Your letter arrived after the event.
The cause of the rupture was quite apart from that."
"And the cause was?"
"The sudden shattering of my illusions."
"Men still have illusions about these creatures?"
"She was a perfect creature, and worthy of all respect."
"I must ask you to believe me. I thought her affections free."
"And she was--"
"Really now, that's very funny!"
"I did not find it funny, uncle. I suffered bitterly, I assure you."
"I dare say, I dare say. The illusions you spoke of anyhow, it's all
"Well, that being the case, Fabien, I am ready to help you. Confess
frankly to me. How much is required?"
"Yes, you want something, I dare say, to close the incident. You know
what I mean, eh? to purchase what I might call the veil of oblivion.
"Why, nothing at all, uncle."
"Don't be afraid, Fabien; I've got the money with me."
"You have quite mistaken the case, uncle; there is no question of money.
I must tell you again that the young lady is of the highest
My uncle stared.
"I assure you, uncle. I am speaking of Mademoiselle Jeanne Charnot."
"I dare say."
"The daughter of a member of the Institute."
My uncle gave a jump and stood still.
"Yes, of Mademoiselle Charnot, whom I was in love with and wished to
marry. Do you understand?"
He leaned against the railing and folded his arms.
"Marry! Well, I never! A woman you wanted to marry?"
"Why, yes; what's the matter?"
"To marry! How could I have imagined such a thing? Here were matters of
the utmost importance going on, and I knew nothing about them. Marry!
You might be announcing your betrothal to me at this moment if you'd-
Still you are quite sure she is betrothed?"
"Larive told me so."
"A friend of mine."
"Oh, so you have only heard it through a friend?"
"Yes, uncle. Do you really think there may still be hope, that I still
have a chance?"
"No, no; not the slightest. She is sure to be betrothed, very much
betrothed. I tell you I am glad she is. The Mouillards do not come to
Paris for their wives, Fabien--we do not want a Parisienne to carry on
the traditions of the family, and the practice. A Parisienne! I shudder
at the thought of it. Fabien, you will leave Paris with me to-morrow.
"Certainly not, uncle."
"Because I can not leave my friends without saying goodby, and because I
have need to reflect before definitely binding myself to the legal
"To reflect! You want to reflect before taking over a family practice,
which has been destined for you since you were an infant, in view of
which you have been working for five years, and which I have nursed for
you, I, your uncle, as if you had been my son?"
"Don't be a fool! You can reflect at Bourges quite as well as here.
Your object in staying here is to see her again."
"It is not."
"To wander like a troubled spirit up and down her street. By the way,
which is her street?"
"Rue de l'Universite."
My uncle took out his pocketbook and made a note, "Charnot, Rue de
l'Universite." Then all his features expanded. He gave a snort, which I
understood, for I had often heard it in court at Bourges, where it meant,
"There is no escape now. Old Mouillard has cornered his man."
My uncle replaced his pencil in its case, and his notebook in his pocket,
and merely added:
"Fabien, you're not yourself to-night. We'll talk of the matter another
time. Five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten." He was counting on his
fingers. "These return tickets are very convenient; I need not leave
before to-morrow evening. And, what's more, you'll go with me, my boy."
M. Mouillard talked only on indifferent subjects during our brief walk
from the Rue Soufflot to catch the omnibus at the Odeon. There he shook
me by the hand and sprang nimbly into the first bus. A lady in black,
with veil tightly drawn over a little turned up nose, seeing my uncle
burst in like a bomb, and make for the seat beside her, hurriedly drew in
the folds of her dress, which were spread over the seat. My uncle
noticed her action, and, fearing he had been rude, bent over toward her
with an affable expression. "Do not disturb yourself, Madame. I am not
going all the way to Batignolles; no farther, indeed, than the
Boulevards. I shall inconvenience you for a few moments only, a very few
moments, Madame." I had time to remark that the lady, after giving her
neighbor a glance of Juno-like disdain, turned her back upon him, and
proceeded to study the straps hanging from the roof.
The brake was taken off, the conductor whistled, the three horses, their
hoofs hammering the pavement, strained for an instant amid showers of
sparks, and the long vehicle vanished down the Rue de Vaugirard, bearing
with it Brutus and his fortunes.
A FAMILY BREACH
It is an awful fate to be the nephew of M. Mouillard! I always knew he
was obstinate, capable alike of guile and daring, but I little imagined
what his intentions were when he left me!
My refusal to start, and my prayer for a respite before embarking in his
practice, drove him wild. He lost his head, and swore to drag me off,
'per fas et nefas'. He has mentally begun a new action--Mouillard v.
Mouillard, and is already tackling the brief; which is as much as to say
that he is fierce, unbridled, heartless, and without remorse.
Some might have bent. I preferred to break.
We are strangers for life. I have just seen him to the landing of my
He came here about a quarter of an hour ago, proud, and, I may say,
swaggering, as he does over his learned friends when he has found a flaw
in one of their pleadings.
"I've got some news for you."
M. Mouillard banged his hat down furiously upon my table.
"Yes, you know my maxim: when anything does not seem quite clear to me--"
"You ferret it out."
"Quite so; I have always found it answer. Your business did not seem
clear to me. Was Mademoiselle Charnot betrothed, or was she not? To
what extent had she encouraged your attentions? You never would have
told me the story correctly, and I never should have known. That being
so, I put my maxim into practice, and went to see her father."
"You did that?"
"Certainly I did."
"You have been to see Monsieur Charnot?"
"In the Rue de l'Universite. Wasn't it the simplest thing to do?
Besides, I was not sorry to make the acquaintance of a member of the
Institute. And I must admit that he behaved very nicely to me--not a bit
"And you told him?"
"My name to begin with: Brutus Mouillard. He reflected a bit, just a
moment, and recalled your appearance: a shy youth, a bachelor of arts,
wearing an eyeglass."
"Was that all his description?"
"Yes, he remembered seeing you at the National Library, and once at his
house. I said to him, 'That is my nephew, Monsieur Charnot.' He replied,
'I congratulate you, sir; he seems a youth of parts.'--'That he is, but
his heart is very inflammable.'--'At his age, sir, who is not liable to
take fire?' That was how we began. Your friend Monsieur Charnot has a
pretty wit. I did not want to be behindhand with him, so I answered,
'Well, sir, it caught fire in your house.' He started with fright and
looked all round the room. I was vastly amused. Then we came to
explanations. I put the case before him, that you were in love with his
daughter, without my consent, but with perfectly honorable intentions;
that I had guessed it from your letters, from your unpardonable neglect
of your duties to your family, and that I hurried hither from Bourges to
take in the situation. With that I concluded, and waited for him to
develop. There are occasions when you must let people develop. I could
not jump down his throat with, 'Sir, would you kindly tell me whether
your daughter is betrothed or not?' You follow me? He thought, no
doubt, I had come to ask for his daughter's hand, and passing one hand
over his forehead, he replied, 'Sir, I feel greatly flattered by your
proposal, and I should certainly give it my serious attention, were it
not that my daughter's hand is already sought by the son of an old
schoolfellow of mine, which circumstance, as you will readily understand,
does not permit of my entertaining an offer which otherwise should have
received the most mature consideration.' I had learned what I came for
without risking anything. Well, I didn't conceal from him that, so far
as I was concerned, I would rather you took your wife from the country
than that you brought home the most charming Parisienne; and that the
Mouillards from father to son had always taken their wives from Bourges.
He entered perfectly into my sentiments, and we parted the best of
friends. Now, my boy, the facts are ascertained: Mademoiselle Charnot is
another's; you must get your mourning over and start with me to-night.
To-morrow morning we shall be in Bourges, and you'll soon be laughing
over your Parisian delusions, I warrant you!"
I had heard my uncle out without interrupting him, though wrath,
astonishment, and my habitual respect for M. Mouillard were struggling
for the mastery within me. I needed all my strength of mind to answer,
with apparent calm.
"Yesterday, uncle, I had not made up my mind; today I have."
"You are coming?"
"I am not. Your action in this matter, uncle--I do not know if you are
aware of it--has been perfectly unheard-of. I can not acknowledge your
right to act thus. It puts between you and me two hundred miles of rail,
and that forever. Do you understand me? You have taken the liberty of
disclosing a secret which was not yours to tell; you have revealed a
passion which, as it was hopeless, should not have been further
mentioned, and certainly not exposed to such humiliation. You went to
see Monsieur Charnot without reflecting whether you were not bringing
trouble into his household; without reflecting, further, whether such
conduct as yours, which may perhaps be usual among your business
acquaintances, was likely to succeed with me. Perhaps you thought it
would. You have merely completed an experiment, begun long ago, which
proves that we do not understand life in the same way, and that it will
be better for both of us if I continue to live in Paris, and you continue
to live at Bourges."
"Ha! that's how you take it, young man, is it? You refuse to come? you
try to bully me?"
"Consider carefully before you let me leave here alone. You know the
amount of your fortune--fourteen hundred francs a year, which means
poverty in Paris."
"Yes, I do."
"Well, then, attend to what I am about to say. For years past I have
been saving my practice for you--that is, an honorable and lucrative
position all ready for you to step into. But I am tired at length of
your fads and your fancies. If you do not take up your quarters at
Bourges within a fortnight from now, the Mouillard practice will change
its name within three weeks!" My uncle sniffed with emotion as he looked
at me, expecting to see me totter beneath his threats. I made no answer
for a moment; but a thought which had been harassing me from the
beginning of our interview compelled me to say:
"I have only one thing to ask you, Monsieur Mouillard."
"Further respite, I suppose? Time to reflect and fool me again? No, a
hundred times no! I've had enough of you; a fortnight, not a day more!"
"No, sir; I do not ask for respite."
"So much the better, for I should refuse it. What do you want?"
"Monsieur Mouillard, I trust that Jeanne was not present at the
interview, that she heard none of it, that she was not forced to blush--"
My uncle sprang to his feet, seized his gloves, which lay spread out on
the table, bundled them up, flung them passionately into his hat, clapped
the whole on his head, and made for the door with angry strides.
I followed him; he never looked back, never made answer to my "Good-by,
uncle." But, at the sixth step, just before turning the corner, he
raised his stick, gave the banisters a blow fit to break them, and went
on his way downstairs exclaiming:
And so we have parted with an oath, my uncle and I! That is how I have
broken with the only relative I possess. It is now ten days since then.
I now have five left in which to mend the broken thread of the family
tradition, and become a lawyer. But nothing points to such conversion.
On the contrary, I feel relieved of a heavy weight, pleased to be free,
to have no profession. I feel the thrill of pleasure that a fugitive
from justice feels on clearing the frontier. Perhaps I was meant for a
different course of life than the one I was forced to follow. As a child
I was brought up to worship the Mouillard practice, with the fixed idea
that this profession alone could suit me; heir apparent to a lawyer's
stool--born to it, brought up to it, without any idea, at any rate for a
long time, that I could possibly free myself from the traditions of the
law's sacred jargon.
I have quite got over that now. The courts, where I have been a frequent
spectator, seem to me full of talented men who fine down and belittle
their talents in the practice of law. Nothing uses up the nobler virtues
more quickly than a practice at the bar. Generosity, enthusiasm,
sensibility, true and ready sympathy--all are taken, leaving the man, in
many instances nothing but a skilful actor, who apes all the emotions
while feeling none. And the comedy is none the less repugnant to me
because it is played through with a solemn face, and the actors are
Lampron is not like this. He has given play to all the noble qualities
of his nature. I envy him. I admire his disinterestedness, his broad
views of life, his faith in good in spite of evil, his belief in poetry
in spite of prose, his unspoiled capacity for receiving new impressions
and illusions--a capacity which, amid the crowds that grow old in mind
before they are old in body, keeps him still young and boyish. I think
I might have been devoted to his profession, or to literature, or to
anything but law.
We shall see. For the present I have taken a plunge into the unknown.
My time is all my own, my freedom is absolute, and I am enjoying it.
I have hidden nothing from Lampron. As my friend he is pleased, I can
see, at a resolve which keeps me in Paris; but his prudence cries out
"It is easy enough to refuse a profession," he said; "harder to find
another in its place. What do you intend to do?"
"I don't know."
"My dear fellow, you seem to be trusting to luck. At sixteen that might
be permissible, at twenty-four it's a mistake."
"So much the worse, for I shall make the mistake. If I have to live on
little--well, you've tried that before now; I shall only be following
"That's true; I have known want, and even now it attacks me sometimes;
it's like influenza, which does not leave its victims all at once; but it
is hard, I can tell you, to do without the necessaries of life; as for
"Oh, of course, no one can do without its luxuries."
"You are incorrigible," he answered, with a laugh. Then he said no more.
Lampron's silence is the only argument which struggles in my heart in
favor of the Mouillard practice. Who can guess from what quarter the
wind will blow?
IN THE BEATEN PATH
The die is cast; I will not be a lawyer.
The tradition of the Mouillards is broken for good, Sylvestre is defeated
for good, and I am free for good--and quite uncertain of my future.
I have written my uncle a calm, polite, and clearly worded letter to
confirm my decision. He has not answered it, nor did I expect an answer.
I expected, however, that he would be avenged by some faint regret on my
part, by one of those light mists that so often arise and hang about our
firmest resolutions. But no such mist has arisen.
Still, Law has had her revenge. Abandoned at Bourges, she has recaptured
me at Paris, for a time. I realized that it was impossible for me to
live on an income of fourteen hundred francs. The friends whom I
discreetly questioned, in behalf of an unnamed acquaintance, as to the
means of earning money, gave me various answers. Here is a fairly
complete list of their expedients:
"If your friend is at all clever, he should write a novel."
"If he is not, there is the catalogue of the National Library: ten hours
of indexing a day."
"If he has ambition, let him become a wine-merchant."
"No; 'Old Clo,' and get his hats gratis."
"If he is very plain, and has no voice, he can sing in the chorus at the
"Shorthand writer in the Senate is a peaceful occupation."
"Teacher of Volapuk is the profession of the future."
"Try 'Hallo, are you there?' in the telephones."
"Wants to earn money? Advise him first not to lose any!"
The most sensible one, who guessed the name of the acquaintance I was
interested in, said:
"You have been a managing clerk; go back to it."
And as the situation chanced to be vacant, I went back to my old master.
I took my old seat and den as managing clerk between the outer office and
Counsellor Boule's glass cage. I correct the drafts of the inferior
clerks; I see the clients and instruct them how to proceed. They often
take me for the counsellor himself. I go to the courts nearly every day,
and hang about chief clerks' and judges' chambers; and go to the theatre
once a week with the "paper" supplied to the office.
Do I call this a profession? No, merely a stop-gap which allows me to
live and wait for something to turn up. I sometimes have forebodings
that I shall go on like this forever, waiting for something which will
never turn up; that this temporary occupation may become only too
There is an old clerk in the office who has never had any other
occupation, whose appearance is a kind of warning to me. He has a red
face--the effect of the office stove, I think--straight, white hair,
the expression when spoken to of a startled sheep-gentle, astonished,
slightly flurried. His attenuated back is rounded off with a stoop
between the neck and shoulders. He can hardly keep his hands from
shaking. His signature is a work of art. He can stick at his desk for
six hours without stirring. While we lunch at a restaurant, he consumes
at the office some nondescript provisions which he brings in the morning
in a paper bag. On Sundays he fishes, for a change; his rod takes the
place of his pen, and his can of worms serves instead of inkstand.
He and I have already one point of resemblance. The old clerk was once
crossed in love with a flowergirl, one Mademoiselle Elodie. He has told
me this one tragedy of his life. In days gone by I used to think this
thirty-year-old love-story dull and commonplace; to-day I understand
M. Jupille; I relish him even. He and I have become sympathetic. I no
longer make him move from his seat by the fire when I want to ask him a
question: I go to him. On Sundays, on the quays by the Seine, I pick him
out from the crowd intent upon the capture of tittlebats, because he is
seated upon his handkerchief. I go up to him and we have a talk.
"Fish biting, Monsieur Jupille?"
"Hardly at all."
"Sport is not what it used to be?"
"Ah! Monsieur Mouillard, if you could have seen it thirty years ago!"
This date is always cropping up with him. Have we not all our own date,
a few months, a few days, perhaps a single hour of full-hearted joy, for
which half our life has been a preparation, and of which the other half
must be a remembrance?
"Monsieur Mouillard, here is an application for leave to sign judgment in
a fresh matter."
"Very well, give it me."
"To the President of the Civil Court:
"Monsieur Plumet, of 27 Rue Hauteville, in the city of Paris, by
Counsellor Boule, his advocate, craves leave--"
It was a proceeding against a refractory debtor, the commonest thing in
"Who brought these papers?"
"A very pretty little woman brought them this morning while you were out,
"Monsieur Massinot, whether she was pretty or not, it is no business of
yours to criticise the looks of the clients."
"I did not mean to offend you, Monsieur Mouillard."
"You have not offended me, but you have no business to talk of a 'pretty
client.' That epithet is not allowed in a pleading, that's all. The lady
is coming back, I suppose?"
Little Madame Plumet soon called again, tricked out from head to foot in
the latest fashion. She was a little flurried on entering a room full of
jocular clerks. Escorted by Massinot, both of them with their eyes fixed
on the ground, she reached my office. I closed the door after her. She
"Monsieur Mouillard! What a pleasant surprise!"
She held out her hand to me so frankly and gracefully that I gave her
mine, and felt sure, from the firm, expressive way in which she clasped
it, that Madame Plumet was really pleased to see me. Her ruddy cheeks
and bright eyes recalled my first impression of her, the little
dressmaker running from the workshop to the office, full of her love for
M. Plumet and her grievances against the wicked cabinetmaker.
"What, you are back again with Counsellor Boule? I am surprised!"
"So am I, Madame Plumet, very much surprised. But such is life! How is
Master Pierre progressing?"
"Not quite so well, poor darling, since I weaned him. I had to wean him,
Monsieur Mouillard, because I have gone back to my old trade."
"Yes, on my own account this time. I have taken the flat opposite to
ours, on the same floor. Plumet makes frames, while I make gowns.
I have already three workgirls, and enough customers to give me a start.
I do not charge them very dear to begin with.
One of my customers was a very nice young lady--you know who! I have not
talked to her of you, but I have often wanted to. By the way, Monsieur
Mouillard, did I do my errand well?"
"The important one, about the portrait at the Salon."
"Oh, yes; very well indeed. I must thank you."
"Yes, with her father."
"She must have been pleased! The drawing was so pretty. Plumet, who is
not much of a talker, is never tired of praising it. I tell you, he and
I did not spare ourselves. He made a bit of a fuss before he would take
the order; he was in a hurry--such a hurry; but when he saw that I was
bent on it he gave in. And it is not the first time he has given in.
Plumet is a good soul, Monsieur Mouillard. When you know him better you
will see what a good soul he is. Well, while he was cutting out the
frame, I went to the porter's wife. What a business it was! I am glad
my errand was successful!"
"It was too good of you, Madame Plumet; but it was useless, alas! she is
to marry another."
"Marry another? Impossible!"
I thought Madame Plumet was about to faint. Had she heard that her son
Pierre had the croup, she could not have been more upset. Her bosom
heaved, she clasped her hands, and gazed at me with sorrowful compassion.
"Poor Monsieur Mouillard!"
And two tears, two real tears, coursed down Madame Plumet's cheeks.
I should have liked to catch them. They were the only tears that had
been shed for me by a living soul since my mother died.
I had to tell her all, every word, down to my rival's name. When she
heard that it was Baron Dufilleul, her indignation knew no bounds. She
exclaimed that the Baron was an awful man; that she knew all sorts of
things about him! Know him? she should think so! That such a union was
impossible, that it could never take place, that Plumet, she knew, would
agree with her:
"Madame Plumet," I said, "we have strayed some distance from the business
which brought you here. Let us return to your affairs; mine are
hopeless, and you can not remedy them."
She got up trembling, her eyes red and her feelings a little hurt.
"My action? Oh, no! I can't attend to it to-day. I've no heart to talk
about my business. What you've told me has made me too unhappy. Another
day, Monsieur Mouillard, another day."
She left me with a look of mystery, and a pressure of the hand which
seemed to say: "Rely on me!"
I GO TO ITALY
In the train. We have passed the fortifications. The stuccoed houses of
the suburbs, the factories, taverns, and gloomy hovels in the debatable
land round Paris are so many points of sunshine in the far distance. The
train is going at full speed. The fields of green or gold are being
unrolled like ribbons before my eyes. Now and again a metallic sound and
a glimpse of columns and advertisements show that we are rushing through
a station in a whirlwind of dust. A flash of light across our path is a
tributary of the river. I am off, well on my way, and no one can stop
me--not Lampron, nor Counsellor Boule, nor yet Plum et. The dream of
years is about to be realized. I am going to see Italy--merely a corner
of it; but what a pleasure even that is, and what unlooked-for luck!
A few days ago, Counsellor Boule called me into his office.
"Monsieur Mouillard, you speak Italian fluently, don't you?"
"Yes, sir." "Would you like a trip at a client's expense?"
"With pleasure, wherever you like."
"With very great pleasure."
"I thought so, and gave your name to the court without asking your
consent. It's a commission to examine documents at Milan, to prove some
copies of deeds and other papers, put in by a supposititious Italian heir
to establish his rights to a rather large property. You remember the
case of Zampini against Veldon and others?"
"It is Zampini's copies of the deeds on which he bases his claim which
you will have to compare with the originals, with the help of a clerk
from the Record Office and a sworn translator. You can go by Switzerland
or by the Corniche route, as you please. You will be allowed six hundred
francs and a fortnight's holiday. Does that suit you?"
"I should think so!"
"Then pack up and be off. You must be at Milan by the morning of the
I ran to tell the news to Lampron, who was filled with surprise and not a
little emotion at the mention of Italy. And here I am flying along in
the Lyons express, without a regret for Paris. All my heart leaps
forward toward Switzerland, where I shall be to-morrow. I have chosen
this green route to take me to the land of blue skies. Up to the last
moment I feared that some obstacle would arise, that the ill-luck which
dogs my footsteps would keep me back, and I am quite surprised that it
has let me off. True, I nearly lost the train, and the horse of cab No.
7382 must have been a retired racer to make up for the loss of time
caused by M. Plumet.
Counsellor Boule sent me on a business errand an hour before I started.
On my way back, just as I was crossing the Place de l'Opera in the
aforesaid cab, a voice hailed me:
I looked first to the right and then to the left, till, on a refuge, I
caught sight of M. Plumet struggling to attract my attention. I stopped
the cab, and a smile of satisfaction spread over M. Plumet's countenance.
He stepped off the refuge. I opened the cab-door. But a brougham
passed, and the horse pushed me back into the cab with his nose. I
opened the door a second time; another brougham came by; then a third;
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.