Part 3 out of 8
was Sebastien Ruys. She had never known her mother. She was the fruit
of one of those transient loves which used to enter suddenly into the
bachelor life of the sculptor like swallows into a dovecote of which
the door is always open, and who leave it again because no nest can be
This time, the lady, ere she flew away, had left to the great artist,
then about forty years of age, a beautiful child whom he had brought
up, and who became the joy and the passion of his life. Until she was
thirteen, Felicia had lived in her father's house, introducing a
childish and tender note into that studio full of idlers, models, and
huge greyhounds lying at full length on the couches. There was a
corner reserved for her, for her attempts at sculpture, a whole
miniature equipment, a tripod, wax, etc., and old Ruys would cry to
those who entered:
"Don't go there. Don't move anything. That is the little one's
So it came about that at ten years old she scarcely knew how to read
and could handle the boasting-tool with marvellous skill. Ruys would
have liked to keep always with him this child whom he never felt to be
in the way, a member of the great brotherhood from her earliest years.
But it was pitiful to see the little girl amid the free behaviour of
the frequenters of the house, the constant going and coming of the
models, the discussions of an art, so to speak, entirely physical, and
even at the noisy Sunday dinner-parties, sitting among five or six
women, to all of whom her father spoke familiarly. There were
actresses, dancers or singers, who, after dinner, would settle
themselves down to smoke with their elbows on the table absorbed in
the indecent stories so keenly relished by their host. Fortunately,
childhood is protected by a resisting candour, by an enamel over which
all impurities glide. Felicia became noisy, turbulent, ill-behaved,
but without being touched by all that passed over her little soul so
near to earth.
Every year, in the summer, she used to go to stay for a few days with
her godmother, Constance Crenmitz, the elder Crenmitz, whom all Europe
had called for so long "the famous dancer," and who lived in peaceful
retirement at Fontainebleau.
The arrival of the "little demon" used to bring into the life of the
old dancer an element of disturbance from which she had afterward all
the year to recover. The frights which the child caused her by her
daring in climbing, in jumping, in riding, all the passionate
transports of her wild nature made this visit for her at once
delicious and terrible; delicious for she adored Felicia, the one
family tie that remained to this poor old salamander in retirement
after thirty years of fluttering in the glare of the footlights;
terrible, for the demon used to upset without pity the dancer's house,
decorated, carefully ordered, perfumed, like her dressing-room at the
opera, and adorned with a museum of souvenirs dated from every stage
in the world.
Constance Crenmitz was the one feminine element in Felicia's
childhood. Futile, limited in mind, she had at least a coquettish
taste, agile fingers that knew how to sew, to embroider, to arrange
things, to leave in every corner of the room their dainty and
individual trace. She alone undertook to train up the wild young
plant, and to awaken with discretion the woman in this strange being
on whom cloaks, furs, everything elegant devised by fashion, seemed to
take odd folds or look curiously awkward.
It was the dancer again--in what neglect must she not have lived, this
little Ruys--who, triumphing over the paternal selfishness, insisted
upon a necessary separation, when Felicia was twelve or thirteen years
old; and she took also the responsibility of finding a suitable
school, a school which she selected of deliberate purpose, very
comfortable and very respectable, right at the upper end of an airy
road, occupying a roomy, old-world building surrounded by high walls,
big trees, a sort of convent without its constraint and contempt of
Much work, on the contrary, was done in Mme. Belin's institution,
where the pupils went out only on the principal holidays and had no
communication with outside except the visits of relatives on
Thursdays, in a little garden planted with flowering shrubs or in the
immense parlour with carved and gilded work over its doors. The first
entry of Felicia into this almost monastic house caused indeed a
certain sensation; her dresses chosen by the Austrian dancer, her hair
curling to her waist, her gait free and easy like a boy's, aroused
some hostility, but she was a Parisian and could adapt herself quickly
to every situation and to all surroundings. A few days later, she
looked better than any one in the little black apron, to which the
more coquettish were wont to hang their watches, the straight skirt--a
severe and hard prescription at that period when fashion expanded
women's figures with an infinity of flounces--the regulation coiffure,
two plaits tied rather low, at the neck, after the manner of the Roman
Strange to say, the regularity of the classes, their calm exactitude,
suited Felicia's nature, intelligent and quick, in which the taste for
study was relieved by a juvenile expansion at ease in the noisy good-
humour of playtime. She was popular. Among those daughters of wealthy
businessmen, of Parisian lawyers or of gentlemen-farmers, a
respectable and rather affectedly serious world, the well-known name
of old Ruys, the respect with which at Paris an artist's reputation is
surrounded, created for Felicia a greatly envied position, rendered
more brilliant still by her successes in the school-work, a genuine
talent for drawing, and her beauty, that superiority which asserts its
power even among young girls. In the wholesale atmosphere of the
boarding-school, she was conscious of an extreme pleasure as she grew
feminized, in resuming her sex, in learning to know order, regularity,
otherwise than these were taught by that amiable dancer whose kisses
seemed always to keep the taste of paint and her embraces somewhat
artificial in the curving of her arms. Ruys, her father, was
enraptured each time that he came to see his daughter, to find her
more grown, womanly, knowing how to enter, to walk, and to leave a
room with that pretty courtesy which caused all Mme. Belin's pupils to
long for the trailing rustle of a long skirt.
At first he came often, then, as he had not time enough for all his
commissions, accepted and undertaken, the advances on which went to
pay for the scrapes, the pleasures of his existence, he was seen more
seldom in the parlour. Finally, sickness intervened. Stricken by an
incurable anaemia, he would remain for weeks without leaving his
house, without doing any work. Thereupon he wished to have his
daughter with him again; and from the boarding-school, sheltered by so
healthy a tranquility, Felicia returned once more to her father's
studio, haunted still by the same boon companions, the parasites which
swarm around every celebrity, into the midst of which sickness had
introduced a new personage, Dr. Jenkins.
His fine open countenance, the air of candour, of serenity that seemed
to dwell about the person of this physician, already famous, who was
wont to speak of his art so carelessly and yet seemed to work
miraculous cures, the care with which he surrounded her father, these
things made a great impression on the young girl. Jenkins became
immediately her friend, confidant, a vigilant and kind guardian.
Occasionally, when, in the studio, somebody--her father most likely of
all--uttered a risky jest, the Irishman would contract his eyebrows,
give a little click of the tongue, or perhaps distract Felicia's
He often used to take her to pass the day with Mme. Jenkins,
endeavouring to prevent her from becoming again the wild young thing
she was before going to school, or even something worse, as she
threatened to do in the moral neglect, sadder than all other, in which
she was left.
But the young girl had as a protection something even better than the
irreproachable and worldly example of the handsome Mme. Jenkins: the
art that she adored, the enthusiasm which it implanted in her nature
wholly occupied with outside things, the sentiment of beauty, of
truth, which, from her thoughtful brain, full of ideas, passed into
her fingers with a little quivering of the nerves, a desire of the
idea accomplished, of the realized image. All day long she would work
at her sculpture, giving shape to her dreams with that happiness of
instinctive youth which lends so much charm to early work; this
prevented her from any excessive regret for the austerity of the Belin
institution, sheltering and light as the veil of a novice before her
vows, and preserved her also from dangerous conversations, unheard
amid her unique preoccupation.
Ruys was proud of this talent growing up at his side. Growing every
day feebler, already at that stage in which the artist regrets
himself, he found in following Felicia's progress a certain
consolation for his own ended career. He saw the boasting-tool, which
trembled in his hand, taken up again under his eye with a virile
firmness and assurance, tempered by all those delicacies of her being
which a woman can apply to the realization of an art. A strange
sensation, this double paternity, this survival of genius as it
abandons the man whose day is over to pass into him who is at his
dawn, like those beautiful, familiar birds which, on the eve of a
death, will desert the menaced roof to fly away to a less mournful
During the last period of her father's life, Felicia--a great artist
and still a mere child--used to execute half of his works; and nothing
was more touching than this collaboration of father and daughter, in
the same studio, around the same group. The operation did not always
proceed peaceably; although her father's pupil, Felicia already felt
her own personality rebel against any despotic direction. She had
those audacities of the beginner, those intuitions of the future which
are the heritage of young talents, and, in opposition to the romantic
traditions of Sebastien Ruys, a tendency to modern realism, a need to
plant that glorious old flag upon some new monument.
These things were the occasion of terrible arguments, of discussions
from which the father came out beaten, conquered by his daughter's
logic, astonished at the progress made by the young, while the old,
who have opened the way for them, remain motionless at the point from
which they started. When she was working for him, Felicia would yield
more easily; but, where her own sculpture was concerned she was found
to be intractable. Thus the /Joueur de Boules/, her first exhibited
work, which obtained so great a success at the Salon of 1862, was the
subject of violent scenes between the two artists, of contradictions
so strong, that Jenkins had to intervene and help to secure the safety
of the plaster-cast which Ruys had threatened to destroy.
Apart from such little dramas, which in no way affected the tenderness
of their hearts, these two beings adored each other with the
presentiment and, gradually, the cruel certitude of an approaching
separation, when suddenly there occurred in Felicia's life a horrible
event. One day, Jenkins had taken her to dine at his house, as often
happened. Mme. Jenkins was away on a couple of days' visit, as also
her son; but the doctor's age, his semi-paternal intimacy, allowed him
to have with him, even in his wife's absence, this young girl whose
fifteen years, the fifteen years of an Eastern Jewess glorious in her
precocious beauty, left her still near childhood.
The dinner was very gay, and Jenkins pleasant and cordial as usual.
Afterwards they went into the doctor's study, and suddenly, on the
couch, in the middle of an intimate and quite friendly conversation
about her father, his health, their work together, Felicia felt as it
were the chill of a gulf between herself and this man, then the brutal
grasp of a faun. She beheld an unknown Jenkins, wild-looking,
stammering with a besotted laugh and outraging hands. In the surprise,
the unexpectedness of this bestial attack, any other than Felicia--a
child of her own age, really innocent, would have been lost. As for
her, poor little thing! what saved her was her knowledge. She had
heard so many stories of this kind of thing at her father's table! and
then art, and the life of the studio-- She was not an /ingenue/. In a
moment she understood the object of this grasp, struggled, sprang up,
then, not being strong enough, cried out. He was afraid, released his
hold, and suddenly she found herself standing up, free, with the man
on his knees weeping and begging forgiveness. He had yielded to a fit
of madness. She was so beautiful; he loved her so much. For months he
had been struggling. But now it was over, never again, oh, never
again! Not even would he so much as touch the hem of her dress. She
made no reply, trembled, put her hair and her clothes straight again
with the fingers of a woman demented. To go home--she wished to go
home instantly, quite alone. He sent a servant with her; and, quite
low, as she was getting into the carriage, whispered:
"Above all, not a word. It would kill your father."
He knew her so well, he was so sure of his power over her through that
suggestion, the blackguard! that he returned on the morrow looking
bright as ever and with loyal face as though nothing had happened. In
fact, she never spoke of the matter to her father, nor to any one.
But, dating from that day, a change came over her, a sudden
development, as it were, of her haughty ways. She was subject to
caprices, wearinesses, a curl of disgust in her smile, and sometimes
quick fits of anger against her father, a glance of contempt which
reproached him for not having known how to watch over her.
"What is the matter with her?" Ruys, her father, used to say; and
Jenkins, with the authority of a doctor, would put it down to her age
and some physical disturbance. He avoided speaking to the girl
herself, counting on time to efface the sinister impression, and not
despairing of attaining his end, for he desired it still, more than
ever, prey to the exasperated love of a man of forty-seven to one of
those incurable passions of maturity; and that was this hypocrite's
punishment. This unusual condition of his daughter was a real grief to
the sculptor; but this grief was of short duration. Without warning,
Ruys flickered out of life, fell to pieces in a moment, as was the way
with all the Irishman's patients. His last words were:
"Jenkins, I beg you to look after my daughter."
They were so ironically mournful that Jenkins could not prevent
himself from turning pale.
Felicia was even more stupefied than grief-stricken. To the amazement
caused by death, which she had never seen and which now came before
her wearing features so dear, there was joined the sense of a vast
solitude surrounded by darkness and perils.
A few of the sculptor's friends gathered together as a family council
to consider the future of this unfortunate child without relatives or
fortune. Fifty francs had been discovered in the box where Sebastien
used to put his money, on a piece of the studio furniture well known
to its needy frequenters and visited by them without scruple. There
was no other inheritance, at least in cash; only a quantity of
artistic and curious furniture of the most sumptuous description, a
few valuable pictures, and a certain amount of money owing but
scarcely sufficing to cover numberless debts. It was proposed to
organize a sale. Felicia, when she was consulted, replied that she
would not care if everything were sold, but, for God's sake, let them
leave her in peace.
The sale did not take place, however, thanks to the godmother, the
excellent Crenmitz, who suddenly made her appearance, calm and gentle
"Don't listen to them, my child. Sell nothing. Your old Constance has
an income of fifteen thousand francs, which was destined to come to
you later on. You will take advantage of it at once, that is all. We
will live here together. You will see, I shall not be in the way. You
will work at your sculpture, I shall manage the house. Does that suit
It was said so tenderly, with that childishness of accent which
foreigners have when expressing themselves in French, that the girl
was deeply moved. Her heart that had seemed turned to stone opened, a
burning flood came pouring from her eyes, and she rushed, flung
herself into the arms of the dancer. "Ah, godmother, how good you are
to me! Yes, yes, don't leave me any more. Stay with me always. Life
frightens and disgusts me. I see so much hypocrisy in it, so much
falsehood." And the old woman arranged for herself a silken and
embroidered nest in this house so like a traveller's camp laden with
treasures from every land, and the suggested dual life began for these
two different natures.
It was no small sacrifice that Constance had made for the dear demon
in quitting her Fontainebleau retreat for Paris, which inspired her
with terror. Ever since the day when this dancer, with her extravagant
caprices, who made princely fortunes flow and disappear through her
five open fingers, had descended from her triumphant position, a
little of its dazzling glitter still in her eyes, and had attempted to
resume an ordinary existence, to manage her little income and her
modest household, she had been the object of a thousand impudent
exploitations, of frauds that were easy in view of the ignorance of
this poor butterfly that was frightened by reality and came into
collision with all its unknown difficulties. Living in Felicia's
house, the responsibility became still more serious by reason of the
wastefulness introduced long ago by the father and continued by the
daughter, two artists knowing nothing of economy. She had, moreover,
other difficulties to conquer. She found the studio insupportable with
its permanent atmosphere of tobacco smoke, an impenetrable cloud for
her, in which the discussions on art, the analysis of ideas, were lost
and which infallibly gave her a headache. "Chaff," above all,
frightened her. As a foreigner, as at one time a divinity of the
green-room, brought up on out-of-date compliments, on gallantries /a
la Dorat/, she did not understand it, and would feel terrified in the
presence of the wild exaggerations, the paradoxes of these Parisians
refined by the liberty of the studio.
That kind of thing was intimidating to her who had never possessed wit
save in the vivacity of her feet, and reduced her simply to the rank
of a lady-companion; and, seeing this amiable old dame sitting, silent
and smiling, her knitting in her lap, like one of Chardin's
/bourgeoises/, or hastening by the side of her cook up the long Rue de
Chaillot, where the nearest market happened to be, one would never
have guessed that that simple old body had ruled kings, princes, the
whole class of amorous nobles and financiers, at the caprice of her
step and pirouettings.
Paris is full of such fallen stars, extinguished by the crowd.
Some of these famous ones, these conquerors of a former day, cherish a
rage in their heart; others, on the contrary, enjoy the past
blissfully, digest in an ineffable content all their glorious and
ended joys, asking only repose, silence, shadow, good enough for
memory and contemplations, so that when they die people are quite
astonished to learn that they had been still living.
Constance Crenmitz was among these fortunate ones. The household of
these two women was a curious one. Both were childlike, placing side
by side in a common domain, inexperience and ambition, the tranquility
of an accomplished destiny and the fever of a life plunged in
struggle, all the different qualities manifest even in the serene
style of dress affected by this blonde who seemed all white like a
faded rose, with something beneath her bright colours that vaguely
suggested the footlights, and that brunette with the regular features,
who almost always clothed her beauty in dark materials, simple in
fold, a semblance, as it were, of virility.
Things unforeseen, caprices, ignorance of even the least important
details, led to an extreme disorder in the finances of the household,
disorder which was only rectified by dint of privations, by the
dismissal of servants, by reforms that were laughable in their
exaggeration. During one of these crises, Jenkins had made veiled
delicate offers, which, however, were repulsed with contempt by
"It is not nice of you," Constance would remark to her, "to be so hard
on the poor doctor. After all, there was nothing offensive in his
suggestion. An old friend of your father."
"He, any one's friend! Ah, the hypocrite!"
And Felicia, hardly able to contain herself, would give an ironical
turn to her wrath, imitating Jenkins with his oily manner and his hand
on his heart; then, puffing out her cheeks, she would say in a loud,
deep voice full of lying unction:
"Let us be humane, let us be kind. To do good without hope of reward!
That is the whole point."
Constance used to laugh till the tears came, in spite of herself. The
resemblance was so perfect.
"All the same, you are too hard. You will end by driving him away
"Little fear of that," a shake of the girl's head would reply.
In effect he always came back, pleasant, amiable, dissimulating his
passion, which was visible only when it grew jealous of newcomers,
paying assiduous attention to the old dancer, who, in spite of
everything, found his good-nature pleasing and recognised in him a man
of her own time, of the time when one accosted a woman with a kiss on
her hand, with a compliment on her appearance.
One morning, Jenkins having called in the course of his round, found
Constance alone and doing nothing in the antechamber.
"You see, doctor, I am on guard," she remarked tranquilly.
"How is that?"
"Felicia is at work. She wishes not to be disturbed; and the servants
are so stupid, I am myself seeing that her orders are obeyed."
Then, seeing that the Irishman made a step towards the studio:
"No, no, don't go in. She told me very particularly not to let any one
"I beg you not. You would get me a scolding."
Jenkins was about to take his leave when a burst of laughter from
Felicia, coming through the curtains, made him prick up his ears.
"She is not alone, then?"
"No, the Nabob is with her. They are having a sitting for the
"And why this mystery? It is a very singular thing." He commenced to
walk backward and forward, evidently very angry, but containing his
At last he burst forth.
It was an unheard-of impropriety to let a girl thus shut herself in
with a man.
He was surprised that one so serious, so devoted as Constance-- What
did it look like?
The old lady looked at him with stupefaction. As though Felicia were
like other girls! And then what danger was there with the Nabob, so
staid a man and so ugly? Besides, Jenkins ought to know quite well
that Felicia never consulted anybody, that she always had her own way.
"No, no, it is impossible! I cannot tolerate this," exclaimed the
And, without paying any further heed to the dancer, who raised her
arms to heaven as a call upon it to witness what was about to happen,
he moved towards the studio; but, instead of entering immediately, he
softly half-opened the door and raised a corner of the hangings,
whereby the portion of the room in which the Nabob was posing became
visible to him, although at a considerable distance.
Jansoulet, seated without cravat and with his waist-coat open, was
talking apparently in some agitation and in a low voice. Felicia was
replying in a similar tone, in laughing whispers. The sitting was very
animated. Then a silence, a silken rustle of skirts, and the artist,
going up to her model, turned down his linen collar all round with
familiar gesture, allowing her light hand to run over the sun-tanned
That Ethiopian face on which the muscles stood out in the very
intoxication of health, with its long drooping eyelashes as of some
deer being gently stroked in its sleep; the bold profile of the girl
as she leaned over those strange features in order to verify their
proportions; then a violent, irresistible gesture, clutching the
delicate hand as it passed and pressing it to two thick, passionate
lips. Jenkins saw all that in one red flash.
The noise that he made in entering caused the two personages instantly
to resume their respective positions, and, in the strong light which
dazzled his prying eyes, he saw the young girl standing before him,
"Who is that? Who has taken the liberty?" and the Nabob, on his
platform, with his collar turned down, petrified, monumental.
Jenkins, a little abashed, frightened by his own audacity, murmured
some excuses. He had something very urgent to say to M. Jansoulet, a
piece of news which was most important and would suffer no delay. "He
knew upon the best authority that certain decorations were to be
bestowed on the 16th of March."
Immediately the face of the Nabob, that for a moment had been
"Ah! can it be true?"
He abandoned his pose. The thing was worth the trouble, /que diable!/
M. de la Perriere, a secretary of the department involved had been
commissioned by the Empress to visit the Bethlehem Refuge. Jenkins had
come in search of the Nabob to take him to see the secretary at the
Tuileries and to appoint a day. This visit to Bethlehem, it meant the
cross for him.
"Quick, let us start, my dear doctor. I follow you."
He was no longer angry with Jenkins for having disturbed him, and he
knotted his cravat feverishly, forgetting in his new emotions how he
had been upset a moment earlier, for ambition with him came before all
While the two men were talking in a half-whisper, Felicia, standing
motionless before them, with quivering nostrils and her lip curled in
contempt, watched them with an air of saying, "Well, I am waiting."
Jansoulet apologized for being obliged to interrupt the sitting; but a
visit of the most extreme importance-- She smiled in pity.
"Don't mention it, don't mention it. At the point which we have
reached I can work without you."
"Oh, yes," said the doctor, "the work is almost completed."
He added with the air of a connoisseur:
"It is a fine piece of work."
And, counting upon covering his retreat with this compliment, he made
for the door with shoulders drooped; but Felicia detained him
"Stay, you. I have something to say to you."
He saw clearly from her look that he would have to yield, on pain of
"You will excuse me, /cher ami/? Mademoiselle has a word for me. My
brougham is at the door. Get in. I will be with you immediately."
As soon as the door of the studio had closed on that heavy, retreating
foot, each of them looked at the other full in the face.
"You must be either drunk or mad to have allowed yourself to behave in
this way. What! you dare to enter my house when I am not at home? What
does this violence mean? By what right--"
"By the right of a despairing and incurable passion."
"Be silent, Jenkins, you are saying words that I will not hear. I
allow you to come here out of pity, from habit, because my father was
fond of you. But never speak to me again of your--love"--she uttered
the word in a very low voice, as though it were shameful--"or you
shall never see me again, even though I should have to kill myself in
order to escape you once and for all."
A child caught in mischief could not bend its head more humbly than
did Jenkins, as he replied:
"It is true. I was in the wrong. A moment of madness, of blindness--
But why do you amuse yourself by torturing my heart as you do?"
"I think of you often, however."
"Whether you think of me or not, I am there, I see what goes on, and
your coquetry hurts me terribly."
A touch of red mounted to her cheeks at this reproach.
"A coquette, I? And with whom?"
"With that," said the Irishman, indicating the ape-like and powerful
She tried to laugh.
"The Nabob? What folly!"
"Don't tell an untruth about it now. Do you think I am blind, that I
do not notice all your little manoeuvres? You remain alone with him
for very long at a time. Just now, I was there. I saw you." He dropped
his voice as though breath had failed him. "What do you want, strange
and cruel child? I have seen you repulse the most handsome, the most
noble, the greatest. That little de Gery devours you with his eyes;
you take no notice. The Duc de Mora himself has not been able to reach
your heart. And it is that man there who is ugly, vulgar, who had no
thought of you, whose head is full of quite other matters than love.
You saw how he went off just now. What can you mean? What do you
expect from him?"
"I want--I want him to marry me. There!"
Coldly, in a softened tone, as though this avowal had brought her
nearer the level of the man whom she so much despised, she explained
her motives. The life which she led was pushing her into a situation
from which there was no way out. She had luxurious and expensive
tastes, habits of disorder which nothing could conquer and which would
bring her inevitably to poverty, both her and that good Crenmitz, who
was allowing herself to be ruined without saying a word. In three
years, four years at the outside, all would be over with them. And
then the wretched expedients, the debts, the tatters and old shoes of
poor artists' households. Or, indeed, the lover, the man who keeps a
mistress--that is to say, slavery and infamy.
"Come, come," said Jenkins. "And what of me, am I not here?"
"Anything rather than you," she exclaimed, stiffening. "No, what I
require, what I want, is a husband who will protect me from others and
from myself, who will save me from many terrible things of which I am
afraid in my moments of ennui, from the gulfs in which I feel that I
may perish, some one who will love me while I am at work and relieve
my poor old wearied fairy of her sentry duty. This man here suits my
purpose, and I thought of him from the first time I met him. He is
ugly, but he has a kind manner; then, too, he is ridiculously rich,
and wealth, upon that scale, must be amusing. Oh, I know well enough.
No doubt there is in his life some blemish that has brought him luck.
All that money cannot be made honestly. But come, truly now, Jenkins,
with your hand on that heart you so often invoke, do you think me a
wife who should be very attractive to an honest man? See: among all
these young men who ask permission as a favour to be allowed to come
here, which one has dreamed of offering me marriage? Never a single
one. De Gery no more than the rest. I am attractive, but I make men
afraid. It is intelligible enough. What can one imagine of a girl
brought up as I have been, without a mother, among my father's models
and mistresses? What mistresses, /mon Dieu/! And Jenkins for sole
guardian. Oh, when I think, when I think!"
And from that far-off memory things surged up that stirred her to a
"Ah, yes, /parbleu/! I am a daughter of adventure, and this adventurer
is, of a truth, the fit husband for me."
"You must wait at least till he is a widower," replied Jenkins calmly.
"And, in that case, you run the risk of having a long time to wait,
for his Levantine seems to enjoy excellent health."
Felicia Ruys turned pale.
"He is married?"
"Married? certainly, and father of a bevy of children. The whole camp
of them landed a couple of days ago."
For a minute she remained overwhelmed, looking into space, her cheeks
quivering. Opposite her, the Nabob's large face, with its flattened
nose, its sensual and weak mouth, spoke insistently of life and
reality in the gloss of its clay. She looked at it for an instant,
then made a step forward and, with a gesture of disgust, overturned,
with the high wooden stool on which it stood, the glistening and
greasy block, which fell on the floor shattered to a heap of mud.
JANSOULET AT HOME
Married he was and had been so for twelve years, but he had mentioned
the fact to no one among his Parisian acquaintances, through Eastern
habit, that silence which the people of those countries preserve upon
affairs of the harem. Suddenly it was reported that madame was coming,
that apartments were to be prepared for herself, her children, and her
female attendants. The Nabob took the whole second floor of the house
on the Place Vendome, the tenant of which was turned out at an expense
worthy of a Nabob. The stables also were extended, the staff doubled;
then, one day, coachmen and carriages went to the Gare de Lyon to meet
madame, who arrived by train heated expressly for her during the
journey from Marseilles and filled by a suite of negresses, serving-
maids, and little negro boys.
She arrived in a condition of frightful exhaustion, utterly worn out
and bewildered by her long railway journey, the first of her life,
for, after being taken to Tunis while still quite a child, she had
never left it. From her carriage, two negroes carried her into her
apartments on an easy chair which, subsequently, always remained
downstairs beneath the entrance porch, in readiness for these
difficult removals. Mme. Jansoulet could not mount the staircase,
which made her dizzy; she would not have lifts, which creaked under
her weight; besides, she never walked. Of enormous size, bloated to
such a degree that it was impossible to assign to her any particular
age between twenty-five and forty, with a rather pretty face but grown
shapeless in its features, dull eyes beneath lids that drooped,
vulgarly dressed in foreign clothes, laden with diamonds and jewels
after the fashion of a Hindu idol, she was as fine a sample as could
be found of those transplanted European women called Levantines--a
curious race of obese creoles whom speech and costume alone attach to
our world, but whom the East wraps round with its stupefying
atmosphere, with the subtle poisons of its drugged air in which
everything, from the tissues of the skin to the waists of garments,
even to the soul, is enervated and relaxed.
This particular specimen of it was the daughter of an immensely rich
Belgian who was engaged in the coral trade at Tunis, and in whose
business Jansoulet, after his arrival in the country, had been
employed for some months. Mlle. Afchin, in those days a delicious
little doll of twelve years old, with radiant complexion, hair, and
health, used often to come to fetch her father from the counting-house
in the great chariot with its yoke of mules which carried them to
their fine villa at La Marsu, in the vicinity of Tunis. This
mischievous child with splendid bare shoulders, had dazzled the
adventurer as he caught glimpses of her amid her luxurious
surroundings, and, years afterward, when, having become rich and the
favourite of the Bey, he began to think of settling down, it was to
her that his thoughts went. The child had grown into a fat young
woman, heavy and white. Her intelligence, dull in the first instance,
had become still more obscured through the inertia of a dormouse's
existence, the carelessness of a father given over to business, the
use of opium-saturated tobacco and of preserves made from rose-leaves,
the torpor of her Flemish blood, re-enforced by Oriental indolence.
Furthermore, she was ill-bred, gluttonous, sensual, arrogant, a
Levantine jewel in perfection.
But Jansoulet saw nothing of all this.
For him she was, and remained, up to the time of her arrival in Paris,
a superior creature, a lady of the most exalted rank, a Demoiselle
Afchin. He addressed her with respect, in her presence maintained an
attitude which was a little constrained and timid, gave her money
without counting, satisfied her most costly fantasies, her wildest
caprices, all the strange desires of a Levantine's brain disordered
through boredom and idleness. One word alone excused everything. She
was a Demoiselle Afchin. Beyond this, no intercourse between them; he
always at the Kasbah or the Bardo, courting the favour of the Bey, or
else in his counting-houses; she passing her days in bed, wearing in
her hair a diadem of pearls worth three hundred thousand francs which
she never took off, befuddling her brain with smoking, living as in a
harem, admiring herself in the glass, adorning herself, in company
with a few other Levantines, whose supreme distraction consisted in
measuring with their necklaces arms and legs which rivalled each other
in plumpness, and bearing children about whom she never gave herself
the least trouble, whom she never used to see, who had not even cost
her a pang, for she gave birth to them under chloroform. A lump of
white flesh perfumed with musk. And, as Jansoulet used to say with
pride: "I married a Demoiselle Afchin!"
Under the sky of Paris and its cold light the disillusion began.
Determined to settle down, to receive, to give entertainments, the
Nabob had brought his wife over with the idea of setting her at the
head of the establishment; but when he saw the arrival of that display
of gaudy draperies of Palais-Royal jewelry, and all the strange
paraphernalia in her suite, he had the vague impression of a Queen
Pomare in exile. The fact was that now he had seen real women of the
world, and he made comparisons. After having planned a great ball to
celebrate her arrival, he prudently changed his mind. Besides, Mme.
Jansoulet desired to see nobody. Here her natural indolence was
increased by the home-sickness which she suffered, from the first hour
of her coming, by the chilliness of a yellow fog and the dripping
rain. She passed several days without getting up, weeping aloud like a
child, saying that it was in order to cause her death that she had
been brought to Paris, and not permitting her women to do even the
least thing for her. She lay there bellowing among the laces of her
pillow, with her hair bristling in disorder about her diadem, the
windows of the room closed, the curtains drawn close, the lamps
lighted night and day, crying out that she wanted to go away-y, to go
away-y; and it was pitiful to see, in that funeral gloom, the half-
unpacked trunks scattered over the carpets, the frightened maids, the
negresses crouched around their mistress in her nervous attack, they
also groaning, with haggard eyes like those dogs of artic travellers
that go mad without the sun.
The Irish doctor, called in to deal with all this trouble, had no
success with his fatherly manners, the pretty phrases that issued from
his compressed lips. The Levantine would have nothing to do at any
price with the arsenic pearls as a tonic. The Nabob was in
consternation. What was to be done? Send her back to Tunis with the
children? It was scarcely possible. He was decidedly in disgrace in
that quarter. The Hemerlingues were triumphant. A last affront had
filled up the measure. At Jansoulet's departure, the Bey had
commissioned him to have gold-pieces struck at the Paris Mint of a new
design to the value of several millions; then the order, suddenly
withdrawn, had been given to Hemerlingue. Publicly outraged, Jansoulet
had replied by a public demonstration, offering for sale all his
possessions, his palace at the Bardo given to him by the former Bey,
his villas of La Marsu all of white marble, surrounded by splendid
gardens, his counting-houses which were the largest and the most
sumptuous in the city, and, charging, finally, the intelligent Bompain
to bring over to him his wife and children in order to make a clear
affirmation of a definitive departure. After such an uproar, it was no
easy thing for him to return there; this was what he endeavoured to
make evident to Mlle. Afchin, who only replied to him by deep groans.
He tried to console her, to amuse her, but what distraction could be
found to appeal to that monstrously apathetic nature? And then, could
he change the sky of Paris, restore to the unhappy Levantine her
/patio/ paved with marble, where she used to pass long hours in a
cool, delicious sleepiness, listening to the water as it dripped on
the great alabaster fountain with its three basins, one over the
other, and her gilded barge, with its awning of crimson, which eight
Tripolitan boatmen supple and vigorous rowed after sunset on the
beautiful lake of El-Baheira? However luxurious the apartment of the
Place Vendome might be, it could not compensate for the loss of these
marvels. And then she would be more miserable than ever. At last, a
man who was a frequent visitor to the house succeeded in lifting her
out of her despair. This was Cabassu, the man who described himself on
his cards as "professor of massage," a big, dark, thick-set man,
smelling of garlic and pomade, square-shouldered, hairy to the eyes,
and who knew stories of Parisian seraglios, tales within the reach of
madame's intelligence. Having once come to massage her, she wished to
see him again, retained him. He had to give up all his other clients,
and became, at the salary of a senator, the masseur of this stout
lady, her page, her reader, her body-guard. Jansoulet, delighted to
see his wife contented, was unconscious of the ridicule attached to
Cabassu was now seen in the Bois, seated beside the favourite maid in
the huge and sumptuous open carriage, also at the back of the theatre
boxes taken by the Levantine, for she began to go out, since she had
grown less torpid under the treatment of her masseur and was
determined to amuse herself. The theatre pleased her, especially
farces or melodramas. The apathy of her large body found a stimulus in
the false glare of the footlights. But it was to Cardailhac's theatre
that she went for preference. There, the Nabob found himself in his
own house. From the chief superintendent to the humblest /ouvreuse/,
the whole staff was under his control. He had a key which enabled him
to pass from the corridors on to the stage; and the small drawing-room
communicating with his box was decorated in Oriental manner, with a
concave ceiling like a beehive, its couches covered in camel's hair,
the flame of the gas inclosed in a little Moorish lantern. Here one
could enjoy a siesta during rather long intervals between the acts; a
gallant attention on the part of the manager to the wife of his
partner. Nor did that ape of a Cardailhac stop at this. Remarking the
taste of the Demoiselle Afchin for the drama, he had ended by
persuading her that she also possessed the intuition, the knowledge of
it, and by begging her when she had nothing better to do to glance
over and let him know what she thought of the pieces that were
submitted to him. A good way of cementing the partnership more firmly.
Poor manuscripts in your blue or yellow covers, bound by hope with
fragile ribbons, that set out full of ambition and dreams, who knows
what hands may touch you, turn over your pages, what indiscreet
fingers deflower your charm, the charm of the unknown, that glittering
dust which lies on new ideas? Who may judge you and who condemn?
Sometimes, before dining out, Jansoulet, mounting to his wife's room,
would find her on her lounge, smoking, her head thrown back, bundles
of manuscripts by her side, and Cabassu, armed with a blue pencil,
reading in his thick voice and with the Bourg-Saint-Andeol accent,
some dramatic lucubration which he cut and scored without pity at the
least criticism from the lady.
"Don't disturb yourselves," the good Nabob would signal with his hand,
entering on tiptoe. He would listen, shake his head with an admiring
air, as he watched his wife: "She is astonishing!" for he himself
understood nothing about literature, and there, at least, he could
discover once again the superiority of Mlle. Afchin.
"She had the instinct of the stage," as Cardailhac used to say; but,
on the other hand, the maternal instinct was wanting in her. Never did
she take any interest in her children, abandoning them to the hands of
strangers, and, when they were brought to her once a month, contenting
herself with offering to them the flaccid and inanimate flesh of her
cheeks between two puffs of cigarette-smoke, without making any
inquiries into those details of their bringing up and of their health
which perpetuate the physical bond of maternity and make the hearts of
true mothers bleed at the least suffering of their children.
They were three big, dull and apathetic boys of eleven, nine, and
seven years, having, with the sallow complexion and the precocious
bloatedness of the Levantine, the kind, black, velvety eyes of their
father. They were ignorant as young lords of the middle ages. At
Tunis, M. Bompain had directed their studies; but at Paris, the Nabob,
anxious to give them the benefit of a Parisian education, had sent
them to that smartest and most expensive of boarding-schools, the
College Bourdaloue, managed by good priests who sought less to
instruct their pupils than to make of them good-mannered and right-
thinking men of the world, and succeeded in turning them out
affectedly grave and ridiculous little prigs, disdainful of games,
absolutely ignorant, without anything spontaneous or boyish about
them, and of a desperate precocity. The little Jansoulets were not
very happy in this forcing-house, notwithstanding the immunities which
they enjoyed by reason of their immense wealth; they were, indeed,
utterly left to themselves. Even the creoles in the charge of the
institution had some friend whom they visited and people who came to
see them; but the Jansoulets were never summoned to the parlour, no
one knew any of their relatives; from time to time they received
basketfuls of sweetmeats, piles of confectionery, and that was all.
The Nabob, doing some shopping in Paris, would strip for them the
whole of a pastry-cook's window and send the spoils to the college,
with that generous impulse of the heart mingled with negro ostentation
which characterized all his actions. It was the same in the matter of
playthings. They were always too pretty, tricked out too finely,
useless--those toys that are for show but which the Parisian does not
buy. But that which above all attracted to the little Jansoulets the
respect both of pupils and masters, were their purses heavy with gold,
ever ready for school subscriptions, for the professors' birthdays,
and the charity visits, those famous visits organized by the College
Bourdaloue, one of the tempting things in the prospectus, the marvel
of sensitive souls.
Twice a month, turn and turn about, the pupils who were members of the
miniature Society of St. Vincent de Paul founded in the college upon
the model of the great one, went in little squads, alone, as though
they had been grown-up, to bear succour and consolation into the
deepest recesses of the more densely populated quarters of the town.
This was designed to teach them a practical charity, the art of
knowing the needs, the miseries of the lower classes, and to heal
these heart-rending evils by a nostrum of kind words and
ecclesiastical maxims. To console, to evangelize the masses by the
help of childhood, to disarm religious incredulity by the youth and
/naivete/ of the apostles, such was the aim of this little society; an
aim entirely missed, moreover. The children, healthy, well-dressed,
well-fed, calling only at addresses previously selected, found poor
persons of good appearance, sometimes rather unwell, but very clean,
already on the parish register and in receipt of aid from the wealthy
organization of the Church. Never did they chance to enter one of
those nauseous dwellings wherein hunger, grief, humiliation, all
physical and moral ills are written in leprous mould on the walls, in
indelible lines on the brows. Their visits were prepared for, like
that of the sovereign who enters a guard-room to taste the soldiers'
soup: the guard-room is warmed and the soup seasoned for the royal
palate. Have you seen those pictures in pious books, where a little
communicant, with candle in hand, and perfectly groomed, comes to
minister to a poor old man lying sick on his straw pallet and turning
the whites of his eyes to heaven? These visits of charity had the same
conventionality of setting and of accent. To the measured gestures of
the little preachers were corresponding words learned by heart and
false enough to make one squint. To the comic encouragement, to the
"consolations lavished" in prize-book phrases by the voices of young
urchins with colds, were the affecting benedictions, the whining and
piteous mummeries of a church-porch after vespers. And the moment the
young visitors departed, what an explosion of laughter and shouting in
the garret, what a dance in a circle round the present brought, what
an upsetting of the arm-chair in which one had pretended to be lying
ill, of the medicine spilt in the fire, a fire of cinders very
When the little Jansoulets went out to visit their parents at home,
they were intrusted to the care of the man with the red fez, the
indispensable Bompain. It was Bompain who conducted them to the
Champs-Elysees, clad in English jackets, bowler hats of the latest
fashion--at seven years old!--and carrying little canes in their dog-
skin-gloved hands. It was Bompain who stuffed the race-wagonette with
provisions. Here he mounted with the children, who, with their
entrance-cards stuck in their hats round which green veils were
twisted, looked very like those personages in Liliputian pantomimes
whose entire funniness lies in the enormous size of their heads
compared with their small legs and dwarf-like gestures. They smoked
and drank; it was a painful sight. Sometimes the man in the fez,
hardly able to hold himself upright, would bring them home frightfully
sick. And yet Jansoulet was fond of them, the youngest especially,
who, with his long hair, his doll-like manner, recalled to him the
little Afchin passing in her carriage. But they were still of the age
when children belong to the mother, when neither the fashionable
tailor, nor the most accomplished masters, nor the smart boarding-
school, nor the ponies girthed specially for the little men in the
stable, nor anything else can replace the attentive and caressing
hand, the warmth and the gaiety of the home-nest. The father could not
give them that; and then, too, he was so busy!
A thousand irons in the fire: the Territorial Bank, the installation
of the picture gallery, drives to Tattersall's with Bois l'Hery, some
/bibelot/ to inspect, here or there, at the houses of collectors
indicated by Schwalbach, hours passed with trainers, jockeys, dealers
in curiosities, the encumbered and multiple existence of a /bourgeois
gentilhomme/ in modern Paris. This rubbing of shoulders with all sorts
and conditions of people brought him improvement, in that each day he
was becoming a little more Parisianized; he was received at Monpavon's
club, in the green-room of the ballet, behind the scenes at the
theatres, and presided regularly at his famous bachelor luncheons, the
only receptions possible in his household. His existence was really a
very busy one, and de Gery relieved him of the heaviest part of it,
the complicated department of appeals and of charities.
The young man now became acquainted with all the audacious and
burlesque inventions, all the serio-comic combinations of that
mendicancy of great cities, organized like a department of state,
innumerable as an army, which subscribes to the newspapers and knows
its /Bottin/ by heart. He received the blonde lady, bold, young, and
already faded, who only asks for a hundred napoleons, with the threat
that she will throw herself into the river when she leaves if they are
not given to her, and the stout matron of prepossessing and
unceremonious manner, who says, as she enters: "Sir, you do not know
me. Neither have I the honour of knowing you. But we shall soon make
each other's acquaintance. Be kind enough to sit down and let us have
a chat." The merchant at bay, on the verge of bankruptcy--sometimes it
is true--who comes to entreat you to save his honour, with a pistol
ready to shoot himself, bulging out the pocket of his overcoat--
sometimes it is only his pipe-case. And often genuine distresses,
wearisome and prolix, of people who are unable even to tell how little
competent they are to earn a livelihood. Side by side with this open
begging, there was that which wears various kinds of disguise:
charity, philanthropy, good works, the encouragement of projects of
art, the house-to-house begging for infant asylums, parish churches,
rescued women, charitable societies, local libraries. Finally, those
who wear a society mask, with tickets for concerts, benefit
performances, entrance-cards of all colours, "platform, front seats,
reserved seats." The Nabob insisted that no refusals should be given,
and it was a concession that he no longer burdened his own shoulders
with such matters. For quite a long time, in generous indifference, he
had gone on covering with gold all that hypocritical exploitation,
paying five hundred francs for a ticket for the concert of some
Wurtemberg cithara-player or Languedocian flutist, which at the
Tuileries or at the Duc de Mora's might have fetched ten francs. There
were days when the young de Gery issued from these audiences
nauseated. All the honesty of his youth revolted; he approached the
Nabob with schemes of reform. But the Nabob's face, at the first word,
would assume the bored expression of weak natures when they have to
make a decision, or he would perhaps reply: "But that is Paris, my
dear boy. Don't get frightened or interfere with my plans. I know what
I am doing and what I want."
At that time he wanted two things: a deputyship and the cross of the
Legion of Honour. These were for him the first two stages of the great
ascent to which his ambition pushed him. Deputy he would certainly be
through the influence of the Territorial Bank, at the head of which he
stood. Paganetti of Porto-Vecchio was often saying it to him: "When
the day arrives, the island will rise and vote for you as one man."
It is not enough, however, to control electors; it is necessary also
that there be a seat vacant in the Chamber, and the representation of
Corsica was complete. One of its members, however, the old Popolusca,
infirm and in no condition to do his work, might perhaps, upon certain
conditions, be willing to resign his seat. It was a difficult matter
to negotiate, but quite feasible, the old fellow having a numerous
family, estates which produced little or nothing, a palace in ruins at
Bastia, where his children lived on /polenta/, and a furnished
apartment at Paris in an eighteenth-rate lodging-house. If a hundred
or two hundred thousand francs were not a consideration, one ought to
be able to obtain a favourable decision from this honourable pauper
who, sounded by Paganetti, would say neither yes nor no, tempted by
the large sum of money, held back by the vainglory of his position.
The matter had reached that point, it might be decided from one day to
As for the cross, things were going still better. The Bethlehem
Society had assuredly made the devil of a noise at the Tuileries. They
were now only waiting until after the visit of M. de la Perriere and
his report, which could not be other than favorable, before inscribing
on the list for the 16th March, on the date of an imperial
anniversary, the glorious name of Jansoulet. The 16th March; that was
to say, within a month. What would the fat Hemerlingue find to say of
this signal favour, he who for so long had had to content himself with
the Nisham? And the Bey, who had been misled into believing that
Jansoulet was cut by Parisian society, and the old mother, down yonder
at Saint-Romans, ever so happy in the successes of her son! Was that
not worth a few millions cleverly squandered along the path of glory
which the Nabob was treading like a child, all unconscious of the fate
that lay waiting to devour him at its end? And in these external joys,
these honours, this consideration so dearly bought, was there not a
compensation for all the troubles of this Oriental won back to
European life, who desired a home and possessed only a caravansary,
looked for a wife and found only a Levantine?
THE BETHLEHEM SOCIETY
BETHLEHEM! Why did it give one such a chill to see written in letters
of gold over the iron gate that historic name, sweet and warm like the
straw of the miraculous stable! Perhaps it was partly to be accounted
for by the melancholy of the landscape, that immense gloomy plain
which stretches from Nanterre to Saint Cloud, broken only by a few
clumps of trees or the smoke of factory chimneys. Possibly also by the
disproportion that existed between the humble little straggling
village which you expected to find and the grandiose establishment,
this country mansion in the style of Louis XIII, an agglomeration of
mortar looking pink through the branches of its leafless park,
ornamented with wide pieces of water thick with green weeds. What is
certain is that as you passed this place your heart was conscious of
an oppression. When you entered it was still worse. A heavy
inexplicable silence weighed on the house, and the faces you might see
at the windows had a mournful air behind the little, old-fashioned
greenish panes. The goats scattered along the paths nibbled languidly
at the new spring grass, with "baas" at the woman who was tending
them, and looked bored, as she followed the visitors with a lack-
lustre eye. A mournfulness was over the place, like the terror of a
contagion. Yet it had been a cheerful house, and one where even
recently there had been high junketings. Replanted with timber for the
famous singer who had sold it to Jenkins, it revealed clearly the kind
of imagination which is characteristic of the opera-house in a bridge
flung over the miniature lake, with its broken punt half filled with
mouldy leaves, and in its pavilion all of rockery-work, garlanded by
ivy. It had witnessed gay scenes, this pavilion, in the singer's time;
now it looked on sad ones, for the infirmary was installed in it.
To tell the truth, the whole establishment was one vast infirmary. The
children had hardly arrived when they fell ill, languished, and ended
by dying, if their parents did not quickly take them away and put them
again under the protection of home. The cure of Nanterre had to go so
often to Bethlehem with his black vestments and his silver cross, the
undertaker had so many orders from the house, that it became known in
the district, and indignant mothers shook their fists at the model
nurse; from a long way off, it is true, for they might chance to have
in their arms pink-and-white babies to be preserved from all the
contagions of the place. It was these things that gave to the poor
place so heart-rending an aspect. A house in which children die cannot
be gay; you cannot see trees break into flower there, birds building,
streams flowing like rippling laughter.
The thing seemed altogether false. Excellent in itself, Jenkins's
scheme was difficult, almost impracticable in its application. Yet,
God knows, the affair had been started and carried out with the
greatest enthusiasm to the last details, with as much money and as
large a staff as were requisite. At its head, one of the most skilful
of practitioners, M. Pondevez, who had studied in the Paris hospitals;
and by his side, to attend to the more intimate needs of the children,
a trusty matron, Mme. Polge. Then there were nursemaids, seamstresses,
infirmary-nurses. And how many the arrangements and how thorough was
the maintenance of the establishment, from the water distributed by a
regular system from fifty taps to the omnibus trotting off with
jingling of its posting bells to meet every train of the day at Rueil
station! Finally, magnificent goats, Thibetan goats, silky, swollen
with milk. In regard to organization, everything was admirable; but
there was a point where it all failed. This artificial feeding, so
greatly extolled by the advertisements, did not agree with the
children. It was a singular piece of obstinacy, a word which seemed to
have been passed between them by a signal, poor little things! for
they couldn't yet speak, most of them indeed were never to speak at
all: "Please, we will not suck the goats." And they did not suck them,
they preferred to die one after another rather than suck them. Was
Jesus of Bethlehem in his stable suckled by a goat? On the contrary,
did he not press a woman's soft breast, on which he could go to sleep
when he was satisfied? Who ever saw a goat between the ox and the ass
of the story on that night when the beasts spoke to each other? Then
why lie about it, why call the place Bethlehem?
The director had been moved at first by the spectacle of so many
victims. This Pondevez, a waif of the life of the "Quarter," mere
student still after twenty years, and well known in all the resorts of
the Boulevard St. Michel under the name of Pompon, was not an unkind
man. When he perceived the small success of the artificial feeding, he
simply brought in four or five vigorous nurses from the district
around and the children's appetites soon returned. This humane impulse
went near costing him his place.
"Nurses at Bethlehem!" said Jenkins, furious, when he came to pay his
weekly visit. "Are you out of your mind? Well! why then have we goats
at all, and meadows to pasture them; what becomes of my idea, and the
pamphlets upon my idea? What happens to all that? But you are going
against my system. You are stealing the founder's money."
"All the same, /mon cher maitre/," the student tried to reply, passing
his hands through his long red beard, "all the same, they will not
take this nourishment."
"Well, then, let them go without, but let the principle of artificial
lactation be respected. That is the whole point. I do not wish to have
to repeat it to you again. Send off these wretched nurses. For the
rearing of our children we have goats' milk, cows' milk in case of
absolute necessity. I can make no further concession in the matter."
He added, with an assumption of his apostle's air: "We are here for
the demonstration of a philanthropic idea. It must be made to triumph,
even at the price of some sacrifices."
Pondevez insisted no further. After all the place was a good one, near
enough to Paris to allow of descents upon Nanterre of a Sunday from
the Quarter, or to allow the director to pay a visit to his old
/brasseries/. Mme. Polge, to whom Jenkins always referred as "our
intelligent superintendent," and whom he had placed there to
superintend everything, and chiefly the director himself, was not so
austere, as her prerogatives might have led one to suppose, and
submitted willingly to a few liqueur-glasses of cognac or to a game of
bezique. He dismissed the nurses, therefore, and endeavoured to harden
himself in advance to everything that could happen. What did happen? A
veritable Massacre of the Innocents. Consequently the few parents in
fairly easy circumstances, workpeople or suburban tradesfolk, who,
tempted by the advertisements, had severed themselves from their
children, very soon took them home again, and there only remained in
the establishment some little unfortunates picked up on doorsteps or
in out-of-the-way places, sent from the foundling hospitals, doomed to
all evil things from their birth. As the mortality continued to
increase, even these came to be scarce, and the omnibus which had
posted to the railway station would return bouncing and light as an
empty hearse. How long would the thing last? How long would the
twenty-five or thirty little ones who remained take to die? This was
what Monsieur the Director, or rather, to give him the nickname which
he had himself invented, Monsieur the Grantor-of-Certificates-of-death
Pondevez, was asking himself one morning as he sat opposite Mme.
Polge's venerable ringlets, taking a hand in this lady's favourite
"Yes, my good Mme. Polge, what is to become of us? Things cannot go on
much longer as they are. Jenkins will not give way; the children are
as obstinate as mules. There is no denying it, they will all slip
through our fingers. There is the little Wallachian--I mark the king,
Mme. Polge--who may die from one moment to another. Just think, the
poor little chap for the last three days has had nothing in his
stomach. It is useless for Jenkins to talk. You cannot improve
children like snails by making them go hungry. It is disheartening all
the same not to be able to save one of them. The infirmary is full. It
is really a wretched outlook. Forty and bezique."
A double ring at the entrance gate interrupted his monologue. The
omnibus was returning from the railway station and its wheels were
grinding on the sand in an unusual manner.
"What an astonishing thing," remarked Pondevez, "the conveyance is not
Indeed it did draw up at the foot of the steps with a certain pride,
and the man who got out of it sprang up the staircase at a bound. He
was a courier from Jenkins bearing a great piece of news. The doctor
would arrive in two hours to visit the Home, accompanied by the Nabob
and a gentleman from the Tuileries. He urgently enjoined that
everything should be ready for their reception. The thing had been
decided at such short notice that he had not had the time to write;
but he counted on M. Pondevez to do all that was necessary.
"That is good!--necessary!" murmured Pondevez in complete dismay. The
situation was critical. This important visit was occurring at the
worst possible moment, just as the system had utterly broken down. The
poor Pompon, exceedingly perplexed, tugged at his beard, thoughtfully
gnawing wisps of it.
"Come," said he suddenly to Mme. Polge, whose long face had grown
still longer between her ringlets, "we have only one course to take.
We must remove the infirmary and carry all the sick into the
dormitory. They will be neither better nor worse for passing another
half-day there. As for those with the rash, we will put them out of
the way in some corner. They are too ugly, they must not be seen. Come
along, you up there! I want every one on the bridge."
The dinner-bell being violently rung, immediately hurried steps are
heard. Seamstresses, infirmary-nurses, servants, goatherds, issue from
all directions, running, jostling each other across the court-yards.
Others fly about, cries, calls; but that which dominates is the noise
of a mighty cleansing, a streaming of water as though Bethlehem had
been suddenly attacked by fire. And those groanings of sick children
snatched from the warmth of their beds, all those little screaming
bundles carried across the damp park, their coverings fluttering
through the branches, powerfully complete the impression of a fire. At
the end of two hours, thanks to a prodigious activity, the house is
ready from top to bottom for the visit which it is about to receive,
all the staff at their posts, the stove lighted, the goats
picturesquely sprinkled over the park. Mme. Polge has donned her green
silk dress, the director a costume somewhat less /neglige/ than usual,
but of which the simplicity excluded all idea of premeditation. The
Departmental Secretary may come.
And here he is.
He alights with Jenkins and Jansoulet from a splendid coach with the
red and gold livery of the Nabob. Feigning the deepest astonishment,
Pondevez rushes forward to meet his visitors.
"Ah, M. Jenkins, what an honour! What a surprise!"
Greetings are exchanged on the flight of steps, bows, shakings of
hands, introductions. Jenkins with his flowing overcoat wide open over
his loyal breast, beams his best and most cordial smile; there is a
significant wrinkle on his brow, however. He is uneasy about the
surprises which may be held in store for them by the establishment, of
the distressful condition of which he is better aware than any one. If
only Pondevez had taken proper precautions. Things begin well, at any
rate. The rather theatrical view from the entrance, of those white
fleeces frisking about among the bushes, have enchanted M. de la
Perriere, who himself, with his honest eyes, his little white beard,
and the continual nodding of his head, resembles a goat escaped from
"In the first place, gentlemen, the apartment of principal importance
in the house, the nursery," said the director, opening a massive door
at the end of the entrance-hall. His guests follow him, go down a few
steps and find themselves in an immense, low room, with a tiled floor,
formerly the kitchen of the mansion. The most striking object on
entering is a lofty and vast fireplace built on the antique model, of
red brick, with two stone benches opposite one another beneath the
chimney, and the singer's coat of arms--an enormous lyre barred with a
roll of music--carved on the monumental pediment. The effect is
startling; but a frightful draught comes from it, which joined to the
coldness of the tile floor and the dull light admitted by the little
windows on a level with the ground, may well terrify one for the
health of the children. But what was do be done? The nursery had to be
installed in this insalubrious spot on account of the sylvan and
capricious nurses, accustomed to the unconstraint of the stable. You
only need to notice the pools of milk, the great reddish puddles
drying up on the tiles, to breathe in the strong odour that meets you
as you enter, a mingling of whey, of wet hair, and of many other
things besides, in order to be convinced of the absolute necessity of
The gloomy-walled apartment is so large that to the visitors at first
the nursery seems to be deserted. However, at the farther end, a group
of creatures, bleating, moaning, moving about, is soon distinguished.
Two peasant women, hard and brutalized in appearance, with dirty
faces, two "dry-nurses," who well deserve the name, are seated on
mats, each with an infant in her arms and a big nanny-goat in front of
her, offering its udder with legs parted. The director seems
"Truly, gentlemen, this is lucky. Two of our children are having their
little luncheon. We shall see how well the nurses and infants
understand each other."
"What can he be doing? He is mad," said Jenkins to himself in
But the director on the contrary knows very well what he is doing and
has himself skilfully arranged the scene, selecting two patient and
gentle beasts and two exceptional subjects, two little desperate
mortals who want to live at any price and open their mouths to
swallow, no matter what food, like young birds still in the nest.
"Come nearer, gentlemen, and observe."
Yes, they are indeed sucking, these little cherubs! One of them, lying
close to the ground, squeezed up under the belly of the goat, is going
at it so heartily that you can hear the gurglings of the warm milk
descending, it would seem, even into the little limbs that kick with
satisfaction at the meal. The other, calmer, lying down indolently,
requires some little encouragement from his Auvergnoise attendant.
"Suck, will you suck then, you little rogue!" And at length, as though
he had suddenly come to a decision, he begins to drink with such
avidity that the woman leans over to him, surprised by this
extraordinary appetite, and exclaims laughing:
"Ah, the rascal, is he not cunning?--it is his thumb that he is
sucking instead of the goat."
The angel has hit on that expedient so that he may be left in peace.
The incident does not create a bad impression. M. de la Perriere is
much amused by this notion of the nurse that the child was trying to
take them all in. He leaves the nursery, delighted. "Positively
de-e-elighted," he repeats, nodding his head as they ascend the great
staircase with its echoing walls decorated with the horns of stags,
leading to the dormitory.
Very bright, very airy, is this vast room, running the whole length of
one side of the house, with numerous windows and cots, separated one
from another by a little distance, hung with fleecy white curtains
like clouds. Women go and come through the large arch in the centre,
with piles of linen on their arms, or keys in their hands, nurses with
the special duty of washing the babies.
Here too much has been attempted and the first impression of the
visitors is a bad one. All this whiteness of muslin, this polished
parquet, the brightness of the window-panes reflecting the sky sad at
beholding these things, seem to throw into bold relief the thinness,
the unhealthy pallor of these dying little ones, already the colour of
their shrouds. Alas! the oldest are only aged some six months, the
youngest barely a fortnight, and already there is in all these faces,
these faces in embryo, a disappointed expression, a scowling, worn
look, a suffering precocity visible in the numerous lines on those
little bald foreheads, cramped by linen caps edged with poor, narrow
hospital lace. What are they suffering? What diseases can they have?
They have everything, everything that one can have: diseases of
children and diseases of men. The fruit of vice and poverty, they
bring into the world hideous phenomena of heredity at their very
birth. This one has a perforated palate, and this great copper-
coloured patches on the forehead, all of them rickety. Then they are
dying of hunger. Notwithstanding the spoonfuls of milk, of sweetened
water, which are forced down their throats, notwithstanding the
feeding-bottle employed now and then, though against orders, they
perish of inanition. These little creatures, worn out before birth,
require the most tender and the most strengthening food; the goats
might perhaps be able to give it, but apparently they have sworn not
to suck the goats. And this is what makes the dormitory mournful and
silent, not one of those little clinched-fisted tempers, one of those
cries showing the pink and firm gums in which the child makes trial of
his lungs and strength; only a plaintive moaning, as it were the
disquiet of a soul that turns over and over in a little sick body,
without being able to find a comfortable place to rest there.
Jenkins and the director, who have seen the bad impression produced on
their guests by this inspection of the dormitory, try to put a little
life into the situation, talk very loudly in a good-natured,
complacent, satisfied way. Jenkins shakes hands warmly with the
"Well, Mme. Polge, and how are our little nurslings getting on?"
"As you see, M. le Docteur," she replies, pointing to the beds.
This tall Mme. Polge is funereal in her green dress, the ideal of dry-
nurses. She completes the picture.
But where has Monsieur the Departmental Secretary gone? He has stopped
before a cot which he examines sadly, as he stands nodding his head.
"/Bigre de bigre!/" says Pompon in a low voice to Mme. Polge. "It is
The little blue placard hung over the cot, as in the foundling
hospitals, states the child's nationality: "Moldo, Wallachian." What a
piece of ill-luck that Monsieur the Secretary's attention should have
been attracted to that particular child! Oh, that poor little head
lying on the pillow, its linen cap askew, with pinched nostrils, and
mouth half opened by a quick, panting respiration, the breathing of
the newly born, of those also who are about to die.
"Is he ill?" asked Monsieur the Secretary softly of the director, who
has come up to him.
"Not the least in the world," the shameless Pompon replies, and,
advancing to the side of the cot, he tries to make the little one
laugh by tickling him with his finger, straightens the pillow, and
says in a hearty voice, somewhat overcharged with tenderness: "Well,
old fellow?" Shaken out of his torpor, escaping for a moment from the
shades which already are closing on him, the child opens his eyes on
those faces leaning over him, glances at them with a gloomy
indifference, then, returning to his dream which he finds more
interesting, clinches his little wrinkled hands and heaves an elusive
sigh. Mystery! Who shall say for what end that baby had been born into
life? To suffer for two months and to depart without having seen
anything, understood anything, without any one even knowing the sound
of his voice.
"How pale he is!" murmurs M. de la Perriere, very pale himself. The
Nabob is livid also. A cold breath seems to have passed over the
place. The director assumes an air of unconcern.
"It is the reflection. We are all of us green here."
"Yes, yes, that is so," remarks Jenkins, "it is the reflection of the
lake. Come and look, Monsieur the Secretary." And he draws him to the
window to point out to him the large sheet of water with its dipping
willows, while Mme. Polge makes haste to draw over the eternal dream
of the little Wallachian the parted curtains of his cradle.
The inspection of the establishment must be continued very quickly in
order to destroy this unfortunate impression.
To begin with, M. de la Perriere is shown a splendid laundry, with
stoves, drying-rooms, thermometers, immense presses of polished
walnut, full of babies' caps and frocks, labelled and tied up in
dozens. When the linen has been warmed, the linen-room maid passes it
out through a little door in exchange for the number left by the
nurse. A perfect order reigns, one can see, and everything, down to
its healthy smell of soap-suds, gives to this apartment a wholesome
and rural aspect. There is clothing here for five hundred children.
That is the number which Bethlehem can accommodate, and everything has
been arranged upon a corresponding scale; the vast pharmacy,
glittering with bottles and Latin inscriptions, pestles and mortars of
marble in every corner, the hydropathic installation, its large rooms
built of stone, with gleaming baths possessing a huge apparatus
including pipes of all dimensions for douches, upward and downward,
spray, jet, or whip-lash, and the kitchens adorned with superb kettles
of copper, and with economical coal and gas ovens. Jenkins wished to
institute a model establishment; and he found the thing easy, for the
work was done on a large scale, as it can be when funds are not
lacking. You feel also over it all the experience and the iron hand of
"our intelligent superintendent," to whom the director cannot refrain
from paying a public tribute. This is the signal for general
congratulations. M. de la Perriere, delighted with the manner in which
the establishment is equipped, congratulates Dr. Jenkins upon his fine
creations, Jenkins compliments his friend Pondevez, who, in his turn,
thanks the Departmental secretary for having consented to honour
Bethlehem with a visit. The good Nabob makes his voice heard in this
chorus of eulogy, finds a kind word for each one, but is a little
surprised all the same that he has not been congratulated himself,
since they were about it. It is true that the best of congratulations
awaits him on the 16th March on the front page of the /Official
Journal/ in a decree which flames in advance before his eyes and makes
him glance every now and then at his buttonhole.
These pleasant words are exchanged as the party passes along a big
corridor in which the voices ring out in all their honest accents; but
suddenly a frightful noise interrupts the conversation and the advance
of the visitors. It seems to be made up of the mewing of cats in
delirium, of bellowings, of the howlings of savages performing a war-
dance, an appalling tempest of human cries, reverberated, swelled, and
prolonged by the echoing vaults. It rises and falls, ceases suddenly,
then goes on again with an extraordinary effect of unanimity.
Monsieur the Director begins to be uneasy, makes an inquiry. Jenkins
rolls furious eyes.
"Let us go on," says the director, rather anxious this time. "I know
what it is."
He knows what it is; but M. de la Perriere wishes to know also what it
is, and, before Pondevez has had the time to unfasten it, he pushes
open the massive door whence this horrible concert proceeds.
In a sordid kennel which the great cleansing has passed over, for, in
fact, it was not intended to be exhibited, on mattresses ranged on the
floor, a dozen little wretches are laid, watched over by an empty
chair on which the beginning of a knitted vest lies with an air of
dignity, and by a little broken saucepan, full of hot wine, boiling on
a smoky wood fire. These are the children with ringworm, with rashes,
the disfavoured of Bethlehem, who had been hidden in this retired
corner with recommendation to their dry-nurse to rock them, to soothe
them, to sit on them, if need were, in order to keep them from crying;
but whom this country-woman, stupid and inquisitive, had left alone
there in order to see the fine carriage standing in the court-yard.
Her back turned, the infants had very quickly grown weary of their
horizontal position; and then all these little scrofulous patients
raised their lusty concert, for they, by a miracle, are strong, their
malady saves and nourishes them. Bewildered and kicking like beetles
when they are turned on their backs, helping themselves with their
hips and their elbows, some fallen on one side and unable to regain
their balance, others raising in the air their little benumbed,
swaddled legs, spontaneously they cease their gesticulations and cries
as they see the door open; but M. de la Perrier's nodding goatee beard
reassures them, encourages them anew, and in the renewed tumult the
explanation given by the director is only heard with difficulty:
"Children kept separate--Contagion--Skin-diseases." This is quite
enough for Monsieur the Departmental Secretary; less heroic than
Bonaparte on his visit to the plague-stricken of Jaffa, he hastens
towards the door, and in his timid anxiety, wishing to say something
and yet not finding words, murmurs with an ineffable smile: "They are
Next, the inspection at an end, see them all gathered in the salon on
the ground floor, where Mme. Polge has prepared a little luncheon. The
cellar of Bethlehem is well stocked. The keen air of the table-land,
these climbs up and downstairs have given the old gentleman from the
Tuileries an appetite such as he has not known for a long time, so
that he chats and laughs as if he were at a picnic, and at the moment
of departure, as they are all standing, raises his glass, nodding his
head, to drink, "To Be-Be-Bethlehem!" Those present are moved, glasses
are touched, then, at a quick trot, the carriage bears the party away
down the long avenue of limes, over which a red and cold sun is just
setting. Behind them the park resumes its dismal silence. Great dark
masses gather in the depths of the copses, surround the house, gain
little by little the paths and open spaces. Soon all is lost in gloom
save the ironical letters embossed above the entrance-gate, and, away
over yonder, at a first-floor window, one red and wavering spot, the
light of a candle burning by the pillow of the dead child.
"By a decree dated the 12th March, 1865, issued upon the proposal
of the Minister of the Interior, Monsieur the Doctor Jenkins,
President and Founder of the Bethlehem Society is named a
Chevalier of the Imperial Order of the Legion of Honour. Great
devotion to the cause of humanity."
As he read these words on the front page of the /Official Journal/, on
the morning of the 16th, the poor Nabob felt dazed.
Was it possible?
Jenkins decorated, and not he!
He read the paragraph twice over, distrusting his own eyes. His ears
buzzed. The letters danced double before his eyes with those great red
rings round them which they have in strong sunlight. He had been so
confident of seeing his name in this place; Jenkins, only the evening
before, had repeated to him with so much assurance, "It is already
done!" that he still thought his eyes must have deceived him. But no,
it was indeed Jenkins. The blow was heavy, deep, prophetic, as it were
a first warning from destiny, and one that was felt all the more
intensely because for years this man had been unaccustomed to failure.
Everything good in him learned mistrust at the same time.
"Well," said he to de Gery as he came as usual every morning into his
room, and found him visibly affected, holding the newspaper in his
hand, "have you seen? I am not in the /Official/."
He tried to smile, his features puckered like those of a child
restraining his tears. Then, suddenly, with that frankness which was
such a pleasing quality in him: "It is a great disappointment to me. I
was looking forward to it too confidently."
The door opened upon these words, and Jenkins rushed in, out of
breath, stammering, extraordinarily agitated.
"It is an infamy, a frightful infamy! The thing cannot be, it shall
The words stumbled over each other in disorder on his lips, all trying
to get out at once; then he seemed to despair of finding expression
for his thoughts and in disgust threw on the table a small box and a
large envelope, both bearing the stamp of the chancellor's office.
"There are my cross and my brevet. They are yours, friend. I could not
At bottom the words did not signify much. Jansoulet adorning himself
with Jenkins's ribbon might very well have been guilty of illegality.
But a piece of theatrical business is not necessarily logical; this
one brought about between the two men an effusion of feeling,
embraces, a generous battle, at the end of which Jenkins replaced the
objects in his pocket, speaking of protests, letters to the
newspapers. The Nabob was again obliged to check him.
"Be very careful you do no such thing. To begin with, it would be to
injure my chances for another time--who knows, perhaps on the 15th of
August, which will soon be here."
"Oh, as to that," said Jenkins, jumping at this idea, and stretching
out his arm as in the /Oath/ of David, "I solemnly swear it."
The matter was dropped at this point. At luncheon the Nabob was as gay
as usual. This good humour was maintained all day, and de Gery, for
whom the scene had been a revelation of the true Jenkins, the
explanation of the ironies and the restrained wrath of Felicia Ruys
whenever she spoke of the doctor, asked himself in vain how he could
enlighten his dear patron about such hypocrisy. He should have been
aware, however, that in southerners, with all their superficiality and
effusion, there is no blindness, no enthusiasm, so complete as to
remain insensible before the wisdom of reflection. In the evening the
Nabob had opened a shabby little letter-case, worn at the corners, in
which for ten years he had been accustomed to work out the
calculations of his millions, writing down in hieroglyphics understood
only by himself his receipts and expenditures. He buried himself in
his accounts for a moment, then turning to de Gery:
"Do you know what I am doing, my dear Paul?" he asked.
"I am just calculating"--and his mocking glance thoroughly
characteristic of his race, rallied the good nature of his smile--"I
am just calculating that I have spend four hundred and thirty thousand
francs to get a decoration for Jenkins."
Four hundred and thirty thousand francs! And that was not the end.
Paul de Gery went three times a week in the evening to take his lesson
in bookkeeping in the Joyeuses' dining-room, not far from that little
parlour in which he had seen the family the first day, and while with
his eyes fixed on his teacher he was being initiated into all the
mysteries of "debtor and creditor," he used to listen, in spite of
himself, for the light sounds coming from the industrious group behind
the door, with thoughts dwelling regretfully on the vision of all
those pretty brows bent in the lamplight. M. Joyeuse never said a word
of his daughters; jealous of their charms as a dragon watching over
beautiful princesses in a tower, and excited by the fantastic
imaginings of his excessive affection for them, he would answer with
marked brevity the inquiries of his pupil regarding the health of "the
young ladies," so that at last the young man ceased to mention them.
He was surprised, however, at not once seeing that Bonne Maman whose
name was constantly recurring in the conversation of M. Joyeuse,
entering into the least details of his existence, hovering over the
household like the emblem of its perfect ordering and of its peace.
So great a reserve on the part of a venerable lady who must assuredly
have passed the age at which the interest of young men is to be
feared, seemed to him exaggerated. The lessons, however, were good
ones, given with great clearness, the teacher having an excellent
system of demonstration, and only one fault, that of becoming absorbed
in silences, broken by sudden starts and exclamations let off like
rockets. Apart from this, he was the best of masters, intelligent,
patient, and conscientious, and Paul learned to know his way through
the complex labyrinth of commercial books and resigned himself to ask
One evening, towards nine o'clock, as the young man had risen to go,
M. Joyeuse asked him if he would do him the honour of taking a cup of
tea with his family, a custom dating from the time when Mme. Joyeuse,
/nee/ de Saint-Amand, was alive, she having been used to receive her
friends on Thursdays. Since her death and the change in the financial
position, the friends had become dispersed; but his little weekly
function had been kept up.
Paul having accepted, the good old fellow opened the door and called:
An alert footstep in the passage, and immediately the face of a girl
of twenty, in a halo of abundant brown hair, made its appearance.
De Gery, stupefied, looked at M. Joyeuse.
"Yes, it is a name that we gave her when she was a little girl. With
her frilled cap, her authority as the eldest child, she had a quaint
little air. We thought her like her grandmother. The name has clung to
From the honest fellow's tone as he spoke thus, one felt that to him
this grandparent's title applied to such an embodiment of attractive
youth seemed the most natural thing in the world. Every one else
thought as he did on the point; both her sisters, who had hastened to
their father's side, grouping themselves round him somewhat as in the
portrait exhibited in the window on the ground floor, and the old
servant who placed on the table in the little drawing-room a
magnificent tea-service, a relic of the former splendours of the
household. Every one called the girl "Bonne Maman" without her ever
once having grown tired of it, the influence of that sacred title
touching the affection of each one with a deference which flattered
her and gave to her ideal authority a singular gentleness of
Whether or not it were by reason of this appellation of grandmother
which as a child he had learned to reverence, de Gery felt an
inexpressible attraction towards this young girl. It was not like the
sudden shock which he had received from that other, that emotional
agitation in which were mingled the desire to flee, to escape from a
possession and the persistent melancholy of the morrow of a festivity,
extinguished candles, the lost refrains of songs, perfumes vanished
into the night. In the presence of this young girl as she stood
superintending the family table, seeing if anything were wanting,
enveloping her children, her grandchildren, with the active tenderness
of her eyes, there came to him a longing to know her, to be counted
among her old friends, to confide to her things which he confessed
only to himself; and when she offered him his cup of tea without any
of the mincings of society or drawing-room affectations, he would have
liked to say with the rest a "Thank you, Bonne Maman," in which he
would have put all his heart.
Suddenly, a cheerful knock at the door made everybody start.
"Ah, here comes M. Andre. Elise, a cup quickly. Jaia, the little
cakes." At the same time, Mlle. Henriette, the third of M. Joyeuse's
daughters, who had inherited from her mother, /nee/ de Saint-Amand, a
certain instinct for society, observing the number of visitors who
seemed likely to crowd their rooms that evening, rushed to light the
two candles on the piano.
"My fifth act is finished," cried the newcomer as he entered, then he
stopped short. "Ah, pardon," and his face assumed a rather discomfited
expression in the presence of the stranger. M. Joyeuse introduced them
to each other: "M. Paul de Gery--M. Andre Maranne," not without a
certain solemnity. He remembered the receptions held formerly by his
wife, and the vases on the chimneypiece, the two large lamps, the
what-not; the easy chairs grouped in a circle had an air of joining in
this illusion, and seemed more brilliant by reason of this
"So your play is finished?"
"Finished, M. Joyeuse, and I hope to read it to you one of these
"Oh, yes, M. Andre. Oh, yes," said all the girls in chorus.
Their neighbour was in the habit of writing for the stage, and no one
here doubted of his success. Photography, in any case, promised fewer
profits. Clients were very rare, passers-by little disposed to
business. To keep his hand in and to save his new apparatus from
rusting, M. Andre was accustomed to practise anew on the family of his
friends on each succeeding Sunday. They lent themselves to his
experiments with unequalled long-suffering; the prosperity of this
suburban photographer's business was for them all an affair of /amour
propre/, and awakened, even in the girls, that touching confraternity
of feeling which draws together the destinies of people as
insignificant in importance as sparrows on a roof. Andre Maranne, with
the inexhaustible resources of his great brow full of illusion, used
to explain without bitterness the indifference of the public.
Sometimes the season was unfavourable, or, again, people were
complaining of the bad state of business generally, and he would
always end with the same consoling reflection, "When /Revolt/ is
produced!" That was the title of his play.
"It is surprising all the same," said the fourth of M. Joyeuse's
daughters, twelve years old, with her hair in a pigtail, "it is
surprising that with such a good balcony so little business should
"And, if he were established on the Boulevard des Italiens," remarks
M. Joyeuse thoughtfully, and he is launched forth!--riding his chimera
till it is brought to the ground suddenly with a gesture and these
words uttered sadly: "Closed on account of bankruptcy." In the space
of a moment the terrible visionary has just installed his friend in
splendid quarters on the Boulevard, where he gains enormous sums of
money, at the same time, however, increasing his expenditure to so
disproportionate an extent that a fearful failure in a few months
engulfs both photographer and his photography. They laugh heartily
when he gives this explanation; but all agree that the Rue Saint-
Ferdinand, although less brilliant, is much more to be depended upon
than the Boulevard des Italiens. Besides, it happens to be quite near
the Bois de Boulogne, and if once the fashionable world got into the
way of passing through it-- That exalted society which was so much
sought by her mother, is Mlle. Henriette's fixed idea, and she is
astonished that the thought of receiving "le high-life" in his little
apartment on the fifth floor makes their neighbour laugh. The other
week, however, a carriage with livery had called on him. Only just
now, too, he had a very "swell" visit.
"Oh, quite a great lady!" interrupts Bonne Maman. "We were at the
window on the lookout for father. We saw her alight from her carriage
and look at the show-frame; we made sure that her visit was for you."
"It was for me," said Andre, a little embarrassed.
"For a moment we were afraid that she was going to pass on like so
many others, on account of your five flights of stairs. So all four of
us tried to attract her without her knowing it, by the magnetism of
our four staring pairs of eyes. We drew her gently by the feathers of
her hat and the laces of her cape. 'Come up then, madame, come up,'
and finally she entered. There is so much magnetism in eyes that are
Magnetism she certainly had, the dear creature, not only in her
glances, indeterminate of colour, veiled or gay like the sky of her
Paris, but in her voice, in the draping of her dress, in everything
about her, even to the long curl, falling over the neck erect and
delicate as a statue's.
Tea having been served, while the gentlemen finished their cups and
talked--old Joyeuse was always very long over everything he did, by
reason of his sudden expeditions to the moon--the girls brought out
their work, the table became covered with wicker baskets,
embroideries, pretty wools that rejuvenated with their bright tints
the faded flowers of the old carpet, and the group of the other
evening gathered once more within the bright circle defined by the
lamp-shade, to the great satisfaction of Paul de Gery. It was the
first evening of the kind that he had spent in Paris; it recalled to
him others of a like sort very far away, lulled by the same innocent
laughter, the peaceful sound produced by scissors as they are put down
on the table, by a needle as it pierces through linen, or the rustle
of a page turned over, and dear faces, disappeared for ever, gathered
also around the family lamp, alas! so abruptly extinguished.
Having been admitted to this charming intimacy, he remained in it,
took his lessons in the presence of the girls and was encouraged to
chat with them when the good old man closed his big book. Here
everything rested him after the whirl of that life into which he was
thrown by the luxurious social existence of the Nabob; he come to
renew his strength in this atmosphere of honesty, of simplicity,
tried, too, to find healing there for the wounds with which a hand
more indifferent than cruel stabbed his heart mercilessly.
"Some women have hated me, other women have loved me. She who has hurt
me most never either loved or hated me." Paul had met that woman of
whom Henri Heine speaks. Felicia was full of welcome and cordiality
for him. There was no one whom she treated with more favour. She used
to reserve for him a special smile wherein one felt the kindliness of
an artist's eye arrested by and dwelling on a pleasing type, and the
satisfaction of a jaded mind amused by anything new, however simple in
appearance it may be. She liked that reserve, suggestive in a
southerner, the honesty of that judgment, independent of every
artistic or social formula and enlivened by a touch of provincial
accent. These things were a change for her from the zigzag stroke of
the thumb illustrating a eulogy with its gesture of the studio, from
the compliments of comrades on the way in which she would snub some
old fellow, or again from those affected admirations, from the
"char-ar-ming, very nice indeed's" with which young men about town,
sucking the knobs of their canes, were accustomed to regale her. This
young man at any rate did not say such things as that to her. She had
nicknamed him Minerva, on account of his apparent tranquility and the
regularity of his profile; and the moment she saw him, however far-
off, she would call:
"Ah, here comes Minerva. Hail, beautiful Minerva! Put down your helmet
and let us have a chat."
But this familiar, almost fraternal, tone convinced the young man that
he would make no further advance into that feminine comradeship in
which tenderness was wanting, and that he lost each day something of
his charm--the charm of the unforeseen--in the eyes of that woman born
weary, who seemed to have already lived her life and found in all that
she heard or saw the insipidity of a repetition. Felicia was bored.
Her art alone could distract her, carry her away, transport her into a
dazzling fairyland, whence she would fall back worn out, surprised
each time by this awakening like a physical fall. She used to draw a
comparison between herself and those jelly-fish whose transparent
brilliancy, so much alive in the cool movements of the waves, drift to
their death on the shore in little gelatinous pools. During those
times devoid of inspiration, when the artist's hand was heavy on his
instrument, Felicia, deprived of the one moral support of her
intellectual being, became unsociable, unapproachable, a tormenting
mocker--the revenge taken of human weakness on the tired brains of
genius. After having brought tears to the eyes of every one who cared
for her, raking up painful recollections or enervating anxieties, she
reached the lowest depths of her fatigue, and as there was always some
fun in her, even in her /ennui/ in a kind of caged wild-beast's howl,
which she called "the cry of the jackal in the desert," and which used
to make the good Crenmitz turn pale.
Poor Felicia! That life of hers was indeed a frightful desert when art
did not beguile it with its illusions; a desert mournful and flat,
where everything was lost, reduced to one level, beneath the same
monotonous immensity, the naive love of a child of twenty, a
passionate duke's caprice, in which all was overwhelmed by an arid
sand driven by blasting fates. Paul was conscious of that void,
desired to escape it; but something held him back, like a weight which
unrolls a chain, and in spite of the calumnies he heard, and
notwithstanding the odd whims of the strange creature, he dallied
deliciously after her, at the price of bearing away with him from this
long lover's contemplation only the despair of a believer reduced to
the adoring of images alone.
The refuge lay down there, in that remote quarter of the town where
the wind blew so hard, yet without preventing the flame from mounting
white and straight--it was the family circle presided over by Bonne
Maman. Oh! she at least was not bored, she never uttered the cry of
the "jackal in the desert." Her life was far too full; the father to
encourage, to sustain, the children to teach, all the material cares
of a home where the mother's hand is wanting, those preoccupations
that awake with the dawn and are put to sleep by the evening, unless
indeed it bring them back in dream, one of those devotions, tireless
but without apparent effort, very pleasant for poor human egotism,
because they dispense from all gratitude and hardly make themselves
felt, so light is their hand. She was not the courageous daughter who
works to support her parents, gives private lessons from morning to
night, forgets in the excitement of a profession all the troubles of
the household. No, she had understood her task in a different sense, a
sedentary bee restricting her cares to the hive, without once humming
out of doors in the open air among the flowers. A thousand functions:
tailoress, milliner, mender of clothes, bookkeeper also for M.
Joyeuse, who, incapable of all responsibility, left to her the free
disposal of their means, to be pianoforte-teacher, governess.
As it happens in families that have been in a good position, Aline, as
the eldest daughter, had been educated at one of the best boarding-
schools in Paris. Elise had been with her there for two years; but the
last two, born too late, and sent to small day-schools in the
locality, had all their studies yet to complete, and this was no easy
matter, the youngest laughing upon every occasion from sheer good
health, warbling like a lark intoxicated with the delight of green
corn, and flying away far out of sight of desk and exercises, while
Mlle. Henriette, ever haunted by her ideas of grandeur, her love of
luxurious things, took to work hardly less unwillingly. This young
person of fifteen, to whom her father had transmitted something of his
imaginative faculties, was already arranging her life in advance and
declared formally that she should marry one of the nobility, and would
never have more than three children: "A boy to inherit the name and
two little girls--so as to be able to dress them alike."
"Yes, that's right," Bonne Maman would say, "you shall dress them
alike. In the meantime, let us attend to our participles a little."
But the one who caused the most concern was Elise, with her
examination taken thrice without success, always failing in history
and preparing herself anew, seized by a deep fear and a mistrust of
herself which made her carry about with her everywhere and open every
moment that unfortunate history of France, in the omnibus, in the
street, even at the luncheon-table; she was already a grown girl and
very pretty, and she no longer possessed that little mechanical memory
of childhood wherein dates and events lodge themselves for the whole
of one's life. Beset by other preoccupations, the lesson was forgotten
in an instant, despite the apparent application of the pupil, with her
long lashes fringing her eyes, her curls sweeping over the pages, and
her rosy mouth animated by a little quiver of attention, repeating ten
times in succession: "Louis, surnamed le Hutin, 1314-1316; Philip V,
surnamed the Long, 1316-1322. Ah, Bonne Maman, it's no good; I shall
never know them." Whereupon Bonne Maman would come to her assistance,
help her to concentrate her attention, to store up a few of those
dates of the Middle Ages, barbarous and sharp as the helmets of the
warriors of the period. And in the intervals of these occupations, of
this general and constant superintendence, she yet found time to do
some pretty needlework, to extract from her work-basket some delicate
crochet lace or a piece of tapestry on which she was engaged and to
which she clung as closely as the young Elise to her history of
France. Even when she talked, her fingers never remained unoccupied
for a moment.
"Do you never take any rest?" said de Gery to her, as she counted
under her breath the stitches of her tapestry, "three, four, five," to
secure the right variation in the shading of the colours.
"But this is a rest from work," she answered. "You men cannot
understand how good needlework is for a woman's mind. It gives order
to the thoughts, fixes by a stitch the moment that passes what would
otherwise pass with it. And how many griefs are calmed, anxieties
forgotten, thanks to this wholly physical act of attention, to this
repetition of an even movement, in which one finds--of necessity and
very quickly--the equilibrium of one's whole being. It does not hinder
me from following the conversation around me, from listening to you
still better than I should if I were doing something. Three, four,
Oh, yes, she listened. That was apparent in the animation of her face,
in the way in which she would suddenly straighten herself as she sat,
needle in air, the thread taut over her raised little finger. Then she
would quickly resume her work, sometimes after putting in a thoughtful
word, which agreed generally with the opinions of friend Paul.
An affinity of nature, responsibilities and duties similar in
character, drew these two young people together, interested each of
them in the other's occupations. She knew the names of his two
brothers Pierre and Louis, his plans for their future when they should
have left school. Pierre wanted to be a sailor. "Oh, no, not a
sailor," Bonne Maman would say, "it will be much better for him to
come to Paris with you." And when he admitted that he was afraid of
Paris for them, she laughed at his fears, called him provincial, full
of affection for the city in which she had been born, in which she had
grown to chaste young womanhood, and that gave her in return those
vivacities, those natural refinements, that jesting good-humour which
incline one to believe that Paris, with its rain, its fogs, its sky
which is no sky, is the veritable fatherland of woman, whose nerves it
heals gently and whose qualities of intelligence and patience it
Each day Paul de Gery came to appreciate Mlle. Aline better--he was
the only person in the house who so called her--and, strange
circumstance, it was Felicia who completed the cementing of their
intimacy. What relations could there exist between the artist's
daughter, moving in the highest spheres, and this little middle-class
girl buried in the depths of a suburb? Relations of childhood and of
friendship, common recollections, the great court-yard of the
Institution Belin, where they had played together for three years.
Paris is full of these juxtapositions. A name uttered by chance in the
course of a conversation brought out suddenly the bewildered question:
"You know her then?"
"Do I know Felicia? Why, our desks were next each other in the first
form. We had the same garden. Such a nice girl, and so handsome and
And, observing the pleasure with which she was listened to, Aline used
to recall the times which already formed a past for her, seductive and
melancholy like all pasts. She was very much alone in life, the little
Felicia. On Thursdays, when the visitors' names were called out in the
parlour, there was no one for her; except from time to time a good but
rather absurd lady, formerly a dancer, it was said, whom Felicia
called the Fairy. In the same way she used to have pet names for all
the people she cared for and whom she transformed in her imaginations.
In the holidays they used to see each other. Mme. Joyeuse, while she
refused to allow Aline to visit the studio of M. Ruys, used to invite
Felicia over for whole days, very short days they seemed, minglings of
study, music, dual dreams, young intimate conversations. "Oh, when she
used to talk to me of her art, with that enthusiasm which she put into
everything, how delighted I was to listen to her! How many things I
have understood through her, of which I should never have had any
idea. Even now when we go to the Louvre with papa, or to the
exhibition of the 1st of May, that special feeling I have about a
beautiful piece of sculpture, a good picture, carries me back
immediately to Felicia. In my early girlhood she represented art to
me, and it corresponded with her beauty. Her nature was a little
vague, but so kind, I always felt she was something superior to
myself, that bore me to great heights without frightening me. Suddenly
she stopped coming to see me. I wrote to her; no reply. Later on, fame
came to her; to me great sorrows, absorbing duties. And of all that
friendship, which was very deep, however, since I cannot speak of it
without--'three, four, five'--nothing now remains except old memories
like dead ashes."
Bending over her work, the brave girl made haste to count her
stitches, to imprison her regret in the capricious designs of her
tapestry, while de Gery, moved as he heard the testimony of those pure
lips against the calumnies of rejected young dandies or of jealous
comrades, felt himself raised, restored to the proud dignity of his
love. This sensation was so sweet to him that he returned in search of
it very often, not only on the evenings of the lessons, but on other
evenings, too, and almost forgot to go to see Felicia for the pleasure
of hearing Aline talk about her.
One evening, as he was leaving the Joyeuses' home, Paul met the
neighbour, M. Andre, on the landing, who was waiting for him and took
his arm feverishly.
"Monsieur de Gery," he said in a trembling voice, with eyes that
glittered behind their spectacles, the one feature of his face that
was visible in the darkness. "I have an explanation to ask from you.