Part 3 out of 4
go out with them, for instance, and practise in the Rue Drouot. But he
had one resource, one way of getting out of it; namely, dominoes. No!
you never would believe what a revolutionary appearance these inoffensive
mutton-bones took on under the seditious hands of the habitues of the
Cafe de Seville. These miniature pavements simulated upon the marble
table the subjugation of the most complicated of barricades, with all
sorts of bastions, redans, and counterscarps. It was something after the
fashion of the small models of war-ships that one sees in marine museums.
Any one, not in the secret, would have supposed that the "beards" simply
played dominoes. Not at all! They were pursuing a course of technical
insurrection. When they roared at the top of their lungs "Five on all
sides!" certain players seemed to order a general discharge, and they had
a way of saying, "I can not!" which evidently expressed the despair of a
combatant who has burned his last cartridge. A "beard" in glasses and a
stovepipe hat, who had been refused in his youth at the Ecole
Polytechnique, was frightful in the rapidity and mathematical precision
with which he added up in three minutes his barricade of dominoes. When
this man "blocked the six," you were transported in imagination to the
Rue Transnonain, or to the Cloitre St. Merry. It was terrible!
As to foreign politics, or the remodelling of the map of Europe, it was,
properly speaking, only sport and recreation to the "beards." It added
interest to the game, that was all. Is it not agreeable, when you are
preparing a discard, at the decisive moment, with one hundred at piquet,
which gives you 'quinte' or 'quatorze', to deliver unhappy Poland; and
when one has the satisfaction to score a king and take every trick, what
does it cost to let the Russians enter Constantinople?
Nevertheless, some of the most solemn "beards" of the Cafe de Seville
attached themselves to international questions, to the great problem of
European equilibrium. One of the most profound of these diplomats--who
probably had nothing to buy suspenders with, for his shirt always hung
out between his waistcoat and trousers--was persuaded that an indemnity
of two million francs would suffice to obtain from the Pope the transfer
of Rome to the Italians; and another Metternich on a small scale assumed
for his specialty the business of offering a serious affront to England
and threatening her, if she did not listen to his advice, with a loss in
a short time of her Indian Empire and other colonial possessions.
Thus the "beards," absorbed by such grave speculations, did not trouble
themselves about the vanity called literature, and did not care a pin for
Amedee Violette's book. Among the long-haired ones, however, we repeat,
the emotion was great. They were furious, they were agitated, and
bristled up; the first enthusiasm over Amedee Violette's verses could not
be lasting and had been only a mere flash. The young man saw these
Merovingians as they really were toward a man who succeeded, that is,
severe almost to cruelty. What! the first edition of Poems from Nature
was exhausted and Massif had another in press! What! the bourgeoisie,
far from being "astonished" at this book, declared themselves delighted
with it, bought it, read it, and perhaps had it rebound! They spoke
favorably of it in all the bourgeois journals, that is to say, in those
that had subscribers! Did they not say that Violette, incited by
Jocquelet, was working at a grand comedy in verse, and that the Theatre-
Francais had made very flattering offers to the poet? But then, if he
pleased the bourgeoisie so much he was--oh, horror!--a bourgeois himself.
That was obvious. How blind they had been not to see it sooner! When
Amedee had read his verses not long since at Sillery's, by what
aberration had they confounded this platitude with simplicity, this
whining with sincere emotion, these stage tricks with art? Ah! you may
rest assured, they never will be caught again!
As the poets' tables at the Cafe de Seville had been for some time
transformed into beds of torture upon which Amedee Violette's poems were
stretched out and racked every day from five to seven, the amiable Paul
Sillery, with a jeering smile upon his lips, tried occasionally to cry
pity for his friend's verses, given up to such ferocious executioners.
But these literary murderers, ready to destroy a comrade's book, are
more pitiless than the Inquisition. There were two inquisitors more
relentless than the others; first, the little scrubby fellow who claimed
for his share all the houris of a Mussulman's palace; another, the great
elegist from the provinces. Truly, his heartaches must have made him
gain flesh, for very soon he was obliged to let out the strap on his
Of course, when Amedee appeared, the conversation was immediately
changed, and they began to talk of insignificant things that they had
read in the journals; for example, the fire-damp, which had killed
twenty-five working-men in a mine, in a department of the north; or of
the shipwreck of a transatlantic steamer in which everything was lost,
with one hundred and fifty passengers and forty sailors--events of no
importance, we must admit, if one compares them to the recent discovery
made by the poet inquisitors of two incorrect phrases and five weak
rhymes in their comrade's work.
Amedee's sensitive nature soon remarked the secret hostility of which he
was the object in this group of poets, and he now came to the Cafe de
Seville only on rare occasions, in order to take Paul Sillery by the
hand, who, in spite of his ironical air, had always shown himself a good
and faithful friend.
It was there that he recognized one evening his classmate of the Lycee,
Arthur Papillon, seated at one of the political tables. The poet
wondered to himself how this fine lawyer, with his temperate opinions,
happened to be among these hot-headed revolutionists, and what interest
in common could unite this correct pair of blond whiskers to the
uncultivated, bushy ones. Papillon, as soon as he saw Amedee, took leave
of the group with whom he was talking and came and offered his hearty
congratulations to the author of Poems from Nature, leading him out upon
the boulevard and giving him the key to the mystery.
All the old parties were united against the Empire, in view of the coming
elections; Orleanists and Republicans were, for the time being, close
friends. He, Papillon, had just taken his degree, and had attached
himself to the fortunes of an old wreck of the July government; who,
having rested in oblivion since 1852, had consented to run as candidate
for the Liberal opposition in Seine-et-Oise. Papillon was flying around
like a hen with her head cut off, to make his companion win the day. He
came to the Seville to assure himself of the neutral goodwill of the
unreconciled journalists, and he was full of hope.
"Oh! my dear friend, how difficult it is to struggle against an official
candidate! But our candidate is an astonishing man. He goes about all
day upon the railroads in our department, unfolding his programme before
the travelling countrymen and changing compartments at each station.
What a stroke of genius! a perambulating public assembling. This idea
came to him from seeing a harpist make the trip from Havre to Honfleur,
playing 'Il Bacio' all the time. Ah, one must look alive! The prefect
does not shrink from any way of fighting us. Did he not spread through
one of our most Catholic cantons the report that we were Voltairians,
enemies to religion and devourers of priests? Fortunately, we have yet
four Sundays before us, from now until the voting-day, and the patron
will go to high mass and communion in our four more important parishes.
That will be a response! If such a man is not elected, universal
suffrage is hopeless!"
Amedee was not at that time so disenchanted with political matters as he
became later, and he asked himself with an uneasy feeling whether this
model candidate, who was perhaps about to give. himself sacrilgious
indigestion, and who showed his profession of faith as a cutler shows his
knives, was not simply a quack.
Arthur Papillon did not give him time to devote himself to such
unpleasant reflections, but said to him, in a frank, protecting tone:
"And you, my boy, let us see, where do you stand? You have been very
successful, have you not? The other evening at the house of Madame la
Comtesse Fontaine, you know--the widow of one of Louis Philippe's
ministers and daughter of Marshal Lefievre--Jocquelet recited your
'Sebastopol' with enormous success. What a voice that Jocquelet has!
We have not his like at the Paris bar. Fortunate poet! I have seen your
book lying about in the boudoir of more than one beautiful woman. Well,
I hope that you will leave the Cafe de Seville and not linger with all
these badly combed fellows. You must go into society; it is
indispensable to a man of letters, and I will present you whenever you
For the time being Amedee's ardor was a little dampened concerning the
Bohemians with whom he enjoyed so short a favor, and who had also in many
ways shocked his delicacy. He was not desirous to be called "thou" by
But to go into society! His education had been so modest! Should he
know how to appear, how to conduct himself properly? He asked this of
Papillon. Our poet was proud, he feared ridicule, and would not consent
to play an inferior role anywhere; and then his success just then was
entirely platonic. He was still very poor and lived in the Faubourg St.-
Jacques. Massif ought to pay him in a few days five hundred francs for
the second edition of his book; but what is a handful of napoleons?
"It is enough," said the advocate, who thought of his friend's dress.
"It is all that is necessary to buy fine linen, and a well cut dress-
coat, that is the essential thing. Good form consists, above all things,
in keeping silent. With your fine and yielding nature you will become at
once a gentleman; better still, you are not a bad-looking fellow; you
have an interesting pallor. I am convinced that you will please. It is
now the beginning of July, and Paris is almost empty, but Madame la
Comtesse Fontaine does not go away until the vacations, as she is looking
after her little son, who is finishing his studies at the Lycee
Bonaparte. The Countess's drawing-rooms are open every evening until the
end of the month, and one meets there all the chic people who are delayed
in Paris, or who stop here between two journeys. Madame Fontaine is a
very amiable and influential old lady; she has a fancy for writers when
they are good company. Do not be silly, but go and order yourself some
evening clothes. By presenting you there, my dear fellow, I assure you,
perhaps in fifteen years, a seat in the Academy. It is agreed! Get
ready for next week."
Attention! Amedee Violette is about to make his first appearance in
Although his concierge, who aided him to finish his toilette and saw him
put on his white cravat, had just said to him, "What a love of a husband
you would make!" the poet's heart beat rapidly when the carriage in
which he was seated beside Arthur Papillon stopped before the steps of an
old house in the Rue de Bellechasse, where Madame la Comtesse Fontaine
In the vestibule he tried to imitate the advocate's bearing, which was
full of authority; but quickly despaired of knowing how to swell out his
starched shirt-front under the severe looks of four tall lackeys in silk
stockings. Amedee was as much embarrassed as if he were presented naked
before an examining board. But they doubtless found him "good for
service," for the door opened into a brightly lighted drawing-room into
which he followed Arthur Papillon, like a frail sloop towed in by an
imposing three-master, and behold the timid Amedee presented in due form
to the mistress of the house! She was a lady of elephantine proportions,
in her sixtieth year, and wore a white camellia stuck in her rosewood-
colored hair. Her face and arms were plastered with enough flour to make
a plate of fritters; but for all that, she had a grand air and superb
eyes, whose commanding glance was softened by so kindly a smile that
Amedee was a trifle reassured.
She had much applauded M. Violette's beautiful verse, she said, that
Jocquelet had recited at her house on the last Thursday of her season;
and she had just read with the greatest pleasure his Poems from Nature.
She thanked M. Papillon--who bows his head and lets his monocle fall--for
having brought M. Violette. She was charmed to make his acquaintance.
Amedee was very much embarrassed to know what to reply to this
commonplace compliment which was paid so gracefully. Fortunately he was
spared this duty by the arrival of a very much dressed, tall, bony woman,
toward whom the Countess darted off with astonishing vivacity,
exclaiming, joyfully: "Madame la Marechale!" and Amedee, still following
in the wake of his comrade, sailed along toward the corner of the
drawing-room, and then cast anchor before a whole flotilla of black
coats. Amedee's spirits began to revive, and he examined the place, so
entirely new to him, where his growing reputation had admitted him.
It was a vast drawing-room after the First Empire style, hung and
furnished in yellow satin, whose high white panels were decorated with
trophies of antique weapons carved in wood and gilded. A dauber from the
Ecole des Beaux-Arts would have branded with the epithet "sham" the
armchairs and sofas ornamented with sphinx heads in bronze, as well as
the massive green marble clock upon which stood, all in gold, a favorite
court personage, clothed in a cap, sword, and fig-leaf, who seemed to be
making love to a young person in a floating tunic, with her hair dressed
exactly like that of the Empress Josephine. But the dauber would have
been wrong, for this massive splendor was wanting neither in grandeur nor
character. Two pictures only lighted up the cold walls; one, signed by
Gros, was an equestrian portrait of the Marshal, Madame Fontaine's
father, the old drummer of Pont de Lodi, one of the bravest of Napoleon's
lieutenants. He was represented in full-dress uniform, with an enormous
black-plumed hat, brandishing his blue velvet baton, sprinkled with
golden bees, and under the rearing horse's legs one could see in the dim
distance a grand battle in the snow, and mouths of burning cannons. The
other picture, placed upon an easel and lighted by a lamp with a
reflector, was one of Ingre's the 'chef-d'oeuvres'. It was the portrait
of the mistress of the house at the age of eighteen, a portrait of which
the Countess was now but an old and horrible caricature.
Arthur Papillon talked in a low voice with Amedee, explaining to him how
Madame Fontaine's drawing-room was neutral ground, open to people of all
parties. As daughter of a Marshal of the First Empire, the Countess
preserved the highest regard for the people at the Tuileries, although
she was the widow of Count Fontaine, who was one of the brood of Royer-
Collard's conservatives, a parliamentarian ennobled by Louis-Philippe,
twice a colleague of Guizot on the ministerial bench, who died of spite
and suppressed ambition after '48 and the coup d'etat. Besides, the
Countess's brother, the Duc d'Eylau, married, in 1829, one of the
greatest heiresses in the Faubourg St. Germain; for his father, the
Marshal, whose character did not equal his bravery, attached himself to
every government, and carried his candle in the processions on Corpus
Christi Day under Charles X, and had ended by being manager of the
Invalides at the beginning of the July monarchy. Thanks to this
fortunate combination of circumstances, one met several great lords,
many Orleanists, a certain number of official persons, and even some
republicans of high rank, in this liberal drawing-room, where the
Countess, who was an admirable hostess, knew how to attract learned men,
writers, artists, and celebrities of all kinds, as well as young and
pretty women. As the season was late, the gathering this evening was not
large. However, neglecting the unimportant gentlemen whose ancestors had
perhaps been fabricated by Pere Issacar, Papillon pointed out to his
friend a few celebrities. One, with the badge of the Legion of Honor
upon his coat, which looked as if it had come from the stall of an old-
clothes man, was Forgerol, the great geologist, the most grasping of
scientific men; Forgerol, rich from his twenty fat sinecures, for whom
one of his confreres composed this epitaph in advance: "Here lies
Forgerol, in the only place he did not solicit."
That grand old man, with the venerable, shaky head, whose white, silky
hair seemed to shed blessings and benedictions, was M. Dussant du Fosse,
a philanthropist by profession, honorary president of all charitable
works; senator, of course, since he was one of France's peers, and who
in a few years after the Prussians had left, and the battles were over,
would sink into suspicious affairs and end in the police courts.
That old statesman, whose rough, gray hairs were like brushes for
removing cobwebs, a pedant from head to foot, leaning in his favorite
attitude against the mantel decorated only with flowers, by his mulish
obstinacy contributed much to the fall of the last monarchy. He was
respectfully listened to and called "dear master" by a republican orator,
whose red-hot convictions began to ooze away, and who, soon after, as
minister of the Liberal empire, did his best to hasten the government's
Although Amedee was of an age to respect these notabilities, whom
Papillon pointed out to him with so much deference, they did not impress
him so much as certain visitors who belonged to the world of art and
letters. In considering them the young man was much surprised and a
little saddened at the want of harmony that he discovered between the
appearance of the men and the nature of their talents. The poet Leroy
des Saules had the haughty attitude and the Apollo face corresponding to
the noble and perfect beauty of his verses; but Edouard Durocher, the
fashionable painter of the nineteenth century, was a large, common-
looking man with a huge moustache, like that of a book agent; and
Theophile de Sonis, the elegant story-writer, the worldly romancer, had a
copper-colored nose, and his harsh beard was like that of a chief in a
What attracted Amedee's attention, above all things, were the women--the
fashionable women that he saw close by for the first time. Some of them
were old, and horrified him. The jewels with which they were loaded made
their fatigued looks, dark-ringed eyes, heavy profiles, thick flabby
lips, like a dromedary's, still more distressing; and with their bare
necks and arms--it was etiquette at Madame Fontaine's receptions--which
allowed one to see through filmy lace their flabby flesh or bony
skeletons, they were as ridiculous as an elegant cloak would be upon an
As he saw these decrepit, painted creatures, the young man felt the
respect that he should have for the old leave him. He would look only at
the young and beautiful women, those with graceful figures and triumphant
smiles upon their lips, flowers in their hair, and diamonds upon their
necks. All this bare flesh intimidated Amedee; for he had been brought
up so privately and strictly that he was distressed enough to lower his
eyes at the sight of so many arms, necks, and shoulders. He thought of
Maria Gerard as she looked the other day, when he met her going to work
in the Louvre, so pretty in her short high-necked dress, her magnificent
hair flying out from her close bonnet, and her box of pastels in her
hand. How much more he preferred this simple rose, concealed among
thorns, to all these too full-blown peonies!
Soon the enormous and amiable Countess came to the poet and begged him,
to his great confusion, to recite a few verses. He was forced to do it.
It was his turn to lean upon the mantel. Fortunately it was a success
for him; all the full-blown peonies, who did not understand much of his
poetry, thought him a handsome man, with his blue eyes, and their ardent,
melancholy glance; and they applauded him as much as they could without
bursting their very tight gloves. They surrounded him and complimented
him. Madame Fontaine presented him to the poet Leroy des Saules, who
congratulated him with the right word, and invited him with a paternal
air to come and see him. It would have been a very happy moment for
Amedee, if one of the old maids with camel-like lips, whose stockings
were probably as blue as her eyelids, had not monopolized him for a
quarter of an hour, putting him through a sort of an examination on
contemporary poets. At last the poet retired, after receiving a cup of
tea and an invitation to dinner for the next Tuesday. Then he was once
more seated in the carriage with Arthur Papillon, who gave him a slap on
the thigh, exclaiming, joyfully:
"Well, you are launched!"
It was true; he was launched, and he will wear out more than one suit of
evening clothes before he learns all that this action "going into
society," which seems nothing at all at first, and which really is
nothing, implies, to an industrious man and artist, of useless activity
and lost time. He is launched! He has made a successful debut! A
dinner in the city! At Madame Fontaine's dinner on the next Tuesday,
some abominable wine and aged salmon was served to Amedee by a butler
named Adolphe, who ought rather to have been called Exili or Castaing,
and who, after fifteen years' service to the Countess, already owned two
good paying houses in Paris. At the time, however, all went well, for
Amedee had a good healthy stomach and could digest buttons from a
uniform; but when all the Borgias, in black-silk stockings and white-silk
gloves, who wish to become house-owners, have cooked their favorite
dishes for him, and have practised only half a dozen winters, two or
three times a week upon him, we shall know more as to his digestion.
Still that dinner was enjoyable. Beginning with the suspicious salmon,
the statesman with the brush-broom head, the one who had overthrown
Louis-Philippe without suspecting it, started to explain how, if they had
listened to his advice, this constitutional king's dynasty would yet be
upon the throne; and at the moment when the wretched butler poured out
his most poisonous wine, the old lady who looked like a dromedary with
rings in its ears, made Amedee--her unfortunate neighbor--undergo a new
oral examination upon the poets of the nineteenth century, and asked him
what he thought of Lamartine's clamorous debts, and Victor Hugo's foolish
pride, and Alfred de Musset's intemperate habits.
The worthy Amedee is launched! He will go and pay visits of indigestion;
appear one day at Madame such a one's, and at the houses of several other
"Madames." At first he will stay there a half-hour, the simpleton!
until he sees that the cunning ones only come in and go out exactly as
one does in a booth at a fair. He will see pass before him--but this
time in corsages of velvet or satin-all the necks and shoulders of his
acquaintances, those that he turned away from with disgust and those that
made him blush. Each Madame this one, entering Madame that one's house,
will seat herself upon the edge of a chair, and will always say the same
inevitable thing, the only thing that can be or should be said that day;
for example, "So the poor General is dead!" or "Have you heard the new
piece at the Francais? It is not very strong, but it is well played!"
"This will be delicious;" and Amedee will admire, above all things,
Madame this one's play of countenance, when Madame G------ tells her that
Madame B-------'s daughter is to marry Madame C-----'s nephew. While she
hardly knows these people, she will manifest as lively a joy as if they
had announced the death of an old aunt, whose money she is waiting for to
renew the furniture in her house. And, on the contrary, when Madame D---
announces that Madame E-----'s little son has the whooping-cough, at
once, without transition, by a change of expression that would make the
fortune of an actress, the lady of the house puts on an air of
consternation, as if the cholera had broken out the night before in the
Amedee is launched, I repeat it. He is still a little green and will
become the dupe, for a long time, of all the shams, grimaces, acting, and
false smiles, which cover so many artificial teeth. At first sight all
is elegance, harmony, and delicacy. Since Amedee does not know that the
Princess Krazinska's celebrated head of hair was cut from the heads of
the Breton girls, how could he suspect that the austere defender of the
clergy, M. Lemarguillier, had been gravely compromised in a love affair,
and had thrown himself at the feet of the chief of police, exclaiming,
"Do not ruin me!" When the king of society is announced, the young Duc
de la Tour-Prends-Garde, whose one ancestor was at the battle of the
bridge, and who is just now introducing a new style in trousers, Amedee
could not suspect that the favorite amusement of this fashionable rake
consisted in drinking in the morning upon an empty stomach, with his
coachman, at a grog-shop on the corner. When the pretty Baroness des
Nenuphars blushed up to her ears because someone spoke the word "tea-
spoon" before her, and she considered it to be an unwarrantable
indelicacy--nobody knows why--it is assuredly not our young friend who
will suspect that, in order to pay the gambling debts of her third lover,
this modest person had just sold secretly her family jewels.
Rest assured Amedee will lose all these illusions in time. The day will
come when he will not take in earnest this grand comedy in white cravats.
He will not have the bad taste to show his indignation. No! he will
pity these unfortunate society people condemned to hypocrisy and
falsehood. He will even excuse their whims and vices as he thinks of the
frightful ennui that overwhelms them. Yes, he will understand how the
unhappy Duc de la Tour-Prends-Garde, who is condemned to hear La Favorita
seventeen times during the winter, may feel at times the need of a
violent distraction, and go to drink white wine with his servant. Amedee
will be full of indulgence, only one must pardon him for his plebeian
heart and native uncouthness; for at the moment when he shall have
fathomed the emptiness and vanity of this worldly farce, he will keep
all of his sympathy for those who retain something like nature. He will
esteem infinitely more the poorest of the workmen--a wood-sawyer or a
bell-hanger--than a politician haranguing from the mantel, or an old
literary dame who sparkles like a window in the Palais-Royal, and is
tattooed like a Caribbean; he will prefer an old; wrinkled, village
grand-dame in her white cap, who still hoes, although sixty years old,
her little field of potatoes.
A SERPENT AT THE FIRESIDE
A little more than a year has passed. It is now the first days of
October; and when the morning mist is dissipated, the sky is of so limpid
a blue and the air so pure and fresh, that Amedee Violette is almost
tempted to make a paper kite and fly it over the fortifications, as he
did in his youth. But the age for that has passed; Amedee's real kite is
more fragile than if it had been made of sticks and pieces of old paper
pasted on one over another; it does not ascend very high yet, and the
thread that sails it is not very strong. Amedee's kite is his growing
reputation. He must work to sustain it; and always with the secret hope
of making little Maria his wife. Amedee works. He is not so poor now,
since he earns at the ministry two hundred francs a month, and from time
to time publishes a prose story in journals where his copy is paid for.
He has also left his garret in the Faubourg St.-Jacques and lives on the
Ile St. Louis, in one room only, but large and bright, from whose window
he can see, as he leans out, the coming and going of boats on the river
and the sun as it sets behind Notre-Dame.
Amedee has been working mostly upon his drama, for the Comedie-Francaise
this summer, and it is nearly done; it is a modern drama in verse,
entitled L'Atelier. The action is very simple, like that of a tragedy,
but he believes it is sympathetic and touching, and it ends in a popular
way. Amedee thinks he has used for his dialogue familiar but
nevertheless poetic lines, in which he has not feared to put in certain
graphic words and energetic speeches from the mouths of working-people.
The grateful poet has destined the principal role for Jocquelet, who has
made a successful debut in the 'Fourberies de Scapin', and who, since
then, has won success after success. Jocquelet, like all comic actors,
aspires to play also in drama. He can do so in reality, but under
particular conditions; for in spite of his grotesque nose, he has strong
and spirited qualities, and recites verses very well. He is to represent
an old mechanic, in his friend's work, a sort of faubourg Nestor, and
this type will accommodate itself very well to the not very aristocratic
face of Jocquelet, who more and more proves his cleverness at "making-
up." However, at first the actor was not satisfied with his part. He
fondles the not well defined dream of all actors, he wishes, like all the
others, the "leading part." They do not exactly know what they mean by
it, but in their dreams is vaguely visible a wonderful Almanzor, who
makes his first entrance in an open barouche drawn by four horses
harnessed a la Daumont, and descends from it dressed in tight-fitting
gray clothes, tasselled boots, and decorations. This personage is as
attractive as Don Juan, brave as Murat, a poet like Shakespeare, and as
charitable as St. Vincent de Paul. He should have, before the end of the
first act, crushed with love by one single glance, the young leading
actress; dispersed a dozen assassins with his sword; addressed to the
stars--that is to say, the spectators in the upper gallery--a long speech
of eighty or a hundred lines, and gathered up two lost children under the
folds of his cloak.
A "fine leading part" should also, during the rest of the piece,
accomplish a certain number of sublime acts, address the multitude from
the top of a staircase, insult a powerful monarch to his face, dash into
the midst of a conflagration--always in the long-topped boots. The ideal
part would be for him to discover America, like Christopher Columbus; win
pitched battles, like Bonaparte, or some other equally senseless thing;
but the essential point is, never to leave the stage and to talk all the
time--the work, in reality, should be a monologue in five acts.
This role of an old workman, offered to Jocquelet by Amedee, obtained
only a grimace of displeasure from the actor. However, it ended by his
being reconciled to the part, studying it, and, to use his own
expression, "racking his brains over it," until one day he ran to
Violette's, all excited, exclaiming:
"I have the right idea of my old man now! I will dress him in a tricot
waistcoat with ragged sleeves and dirty blue overalls. He is an
apprentice, is he not? A fellow with a beard! Very well! in the great
scene where they tell him that his son is a thief and he defies the whole
of the workmen, he struggles and his clothes are torn open, showing a
hairy chest. I am not hairy, but I will make myself so--does that fill
the bill? You will see the effect."
While reserving the right to dissuade Jocquelet from making himself up in
this way, Amedee carried his manuscript to the director of the Theatre
Francais, who asked a little time to look it over, and also promised the
young poet that he would read it aloud to the committee.
Amedee is very anxious, although Maurice Roger, to whom he has read the
piece, act by act, predicts an enthusiastic acceptance.
The handsome Maurice has been installed for more than a year in a studio
on the Rue d'Assas and leads a jolly, free life there. Does he work?
Sometimes; by fits and starts. And although he abandons his sketches at
the first attack of idleness, there is a charm about these sketches,
suspended upon the wall; and he will some day show his talent. One of
his greatest pleasures is to see pass before him all his beautiful
models, at ten francs an hour. With palette in hand, he talks with the
young women, tells them amusing stories, and makes them relate all their
love-affairs. When friends come to see him, they can always see a model
just disappearing behind a curtain. Amedee prefers to visit his friend
on Sunday afternoons, and thus avoid meeting these models; and then, too,
he meets there on that day Arthur Papillon, who paves the way for his
political career by pleading lawsuits for the press. Although he is, at
heart, only a very moderate Liberalist, this young man, with the very
chic side whiskers, defends the most republican of "beards," if it can be
called defending; for in spite of his fine oratorical efforts, his
clients are regularly favored with the maximum of punishment. But they
are all delighted with it, for the title of "political convict" is one
very much in demand among the irreconcilables. They are all convinced
that the time is near when they will overthrow the Empire, without
suspecting, alas! that in order to do that twelve hundred thousand
German bayonets will be necessary. The day after the triumph, the month
of imprisonment will be taken into account, and St. Pelagie is not the
'carcere duro'. Papillon is cunning and wishes to have a finger in every
pie, so he goes to dine once a week with those who owe their sojourn in
this easy-going jail to him, and regularly carries them a lobster.
Paul Sillery, who has also made Maurice's acquaintance, loiters in this
studio. The amiable Bohemian has not yet paid his bill to Pere Lebuffle,
but he has cut his red fleece close to his head, and publishes every
Sunday, in the journals, news full of grace and humor. Of course they
will never pardon him at the Cafe de Seville; the "long-haired" ones have
disowned this traitor who has gone over to the enemy, and is now only a
sickening and fetid bourgeois; and if the poetical club were able to
enforce its decrees, Paul Sillery, like an apostate Jew in the times of
the Inquisition, would have been scourged and burned alive. Paul Sillery
does not trouble himself about it, however; and from time to time returns
to the "Seville" and treats its members to a bumper all around, which he
pays for with the gold of his dishonor. Sometimes Jocquelet appears,
with his smooth-shaved face; but only rarely, for he is at present a very
busy man and already celebrated. His audacious nose is reproduced in all
positions and displayed in photographers' windows, where he has for
neighbors the negatives most in demand; for instance, the fatherly and
benevolent face of the pope; Pius IX, or the international limbs of
Mademoiselle Ketty, the majestic fairy, in tights. The journals, which
print Jocquelet's name, treat him sympathetically and conspicuously, and
are full of his praises. "He is good to his old aunt," "gives alms,"
"picked up a lost dog in the street the other evening." An artist such
as he, who stamps immortality on all the comic repertory, and takes
Moliere under his wing, has no time to go to visit friends, that is
understood. However, he still honors Maurice Roger with short visits.
He only has time to make all the knickknacks and china on the sideboard
tremble with the noise of his terrible voice; only time to tell how, on
the night before, in the greenroom, when still clothed in Scapin's
striped cloak, he deigned to receive, with the coldest dignity, the
compliments of a Royal Highness, or some other person of high rank. A
prominent society lady has been dying of love for him the past six
months; she occupies stage box Number Six--and then off he goes. Good
Amedee enjoys himself in his friend's studio, where gay and witty artists
come to talk. They laugh and amuse themselves, and this Sunday resting-
place is the most agreeable of the hard-working poet's recreations.
Amedee prolongs them as long as possible, until at last he is alone with
his friend; then the young men stretch themselves out upon the Turkish
cushions, and they talk freely of their hopes, ambitions, and dreams for
Amedee, however, keeps one secret to himself; he never has told of his
love for Maria Gerard. Upon his return from Italy the traveller inquired
several times for the Gerards, sympathized politely with their
misfortune, and wished to be remembered to them through Amedee. The
latter had been very reserved in his replies, and Maurice no longer
broaches the subject in their conversation. Is it through neglect?
After all, he hardly knew the ladies; still, Amedee is not sorry to talk
of them no longer with his friend, and it is never without a little
embarrassment and unacknowledged jealousy that he replies to Maria when
she asks for news of Maurice.
She no longer inquires. The pretty Maria is cross and melancholy, for
now they talk only of one thing at the Gerards; it is always the same,
the vulgar and cruel thought, obtaining the means to live; and within a
short time they have descended a few steps lower on the slippery ladder
of poverty. It is not possible to earn enough to feed three mouths with
a piano method and a box of pastels--or, at least, it does not hold out.
Louise has fewer pupils, and Pere Issacar has lessened his orders. Mamma
Gerard, who has become almost an old woman, redoubles her efforts; but
they can no longer make both ends meet. Amedee sees it, and how it makes
The poor women are proud, and complain as little as possible; but the
decay inside this house, already so modest, is manifested in many ways.
Two beautiful engravings, the last of their father's souvenirs, had been
sold in an hour of extreme want; and one could see, by the clean spots
upon the wall, where the frames once hung. Madame Gerard's and her
daughters' mourning seemed to grow rusty, and at the Sunday dinner Amedee
now brings, instead of a cake, a pastry pie, which sometimes constitutes
the entire meal. There is only one bottle of old wine in the cellar,
and they drink wine by the pot from the grocer's. Each new detail that
proves his friends' distress troubles the sensitive Amedee. Once, having
earned ten Louis from some literary work, he took the poor mother aside
and forced her to accept one hundred francs. The unfortunate woman,
trembling with emotion, while two large tears rolled down her cheeks,
admitted that the night before, in order to pay the washerwoman, they had
pawned the only clock in the house.
What can he do to assist them, to help them to lead a less terrible life?
Ah! if Maria would have it so, they could be married at once, without any
other expense than the white dress, as other poor people do; and they
would all live together. He has his salary of twenty-four hundred
francs, besides a thousand francs that he has earned in other ways. With
Louise's lessons this little income would be almost sufficient. Then he
would exert himself to sell his writings; he would work hard, and they
could manage. Of course it would be quite an undertaking on his part to
take all this family under his charge. Children might be born to them.
Had he not begun to gain a reputation; had he not a future before him?
His piece might be played and meet with success. This would be their
salvation. Oh! the happy life that the four would lead together! Yes,
if Maria could love him a little, if he persisted in hoping, if she had
the courage, it was the only step to take.
Becoming enthusiastic upon this subject, Amedee decided to submit the
question to the excellent Louise, in whom he had perfect confidence, and
considered to be goodness and truth personified. Every Thursday, at six
o'clock, she left a boarding-school in the Rue de la Rochechouart, where
she gave lessons to young ladies in singing. He would go and wait for
her as she came out that very evening. And there he met her. Poor
Louise! her dress was lamentable; and what a sad countenance! What a
tired, distressed look!
"What, you, Amedee!" said she, with a happy smile, as he met her.
"Yes, my dear Louise. Take my arm and let me accompany you part of the
way. We will talk as we walk; I have something very serious to say to
you, confidentially--important advice to ask of you."
The poet then began to make his confession. He recalled their childhood
days in the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, when they played together; it was
as long ago as that that he had first begun to be charmed by little
Maria. As soon as he became a young man he felt that he loved the dear
child, and had always cherished the hope that he might inspire her with a
tender sentiment and marry her some day. If he had not spoken sooner it
was because he was too poor, but he had always loved her, he loved her
now, and never should love any other woman. He then explained his plan
of life in simple and touching terms; he would become Madame Gerard's son
and his dear Louise's brother; the union of their two poverties would
become almost comfort. Was it not very simple and reasonable? He was
very sure that she would approve of it, and she was wisdom itself and the
head of the family.
While he was talking Louise lowered her eyes and looked at her feet.
He did not feel that she was trembling violently. Blind, blind Amedee!
You do not see, you will never see, that she is the one who loves you!
Without hope! she knows that very well; she is older than you, she is
not pretty, and she will always be in your eyes an adopted elder sister,
who once showed you your alphabet letters with the point of her knitting-
needle. She has suspected for a long time your love for Maria; she
suffers, but she is resigned to it, and she will help you, the brave
girl! But this confession that you make, Maria's name that you murmur
into her ear in such loving accents, this dream of happiness in which,
in your artless egotism, you reserve for her the role of an old maid who
will bring up your children, is cruel, oh! how cruel! They have reached
the Boulevard Pigalle; the sun has set; the sky is clear and bright as a
turquoise, and the sharp autumn wind detaches the last of the dried
leaves from the trees. Amedee is silent, but his anxious glance solicits
and waits for Louise's reply.
"Dear Amedee," said she, raising her frank, pure eyes to his face, "you
have the most generous and best of hearts. I suspected that you loved
Maria, and I would be glad to tell you at once that she loves you, so
that we might hereafter be but one family--but frankly I can not.
Although the dear child is a little frivolous, her woman's instinct must
suspect your feeling for her, but she has never spoken of it to mamma or
to me. Have confidence; I do not see anything that augurs ill for you in
that. She is so young and so innocent that she might love you without
suspecting it herself. It is very possible, probable even, that your
avowal will enlighten her as to the state of her own heart. She will be
touched by your love, I am sure, as well as by your devotion to the whole
family. I hope, with all my heart, Amedee, that you will succeed; for,
I can say it to you, some pleasure must happen in poor Maria's life soon.
She has moments of the deepest sadness and attacks of weeping that have
made me uneasy for some time. You must have noticed, too, that she is
overwhelmed with ennui. I can see that she suffers more than mamma or I,
at the hard life that we lead. It is not strange that she feels as she
does, for she is pretty and attractive, and made for happiness; and to
see the present and the future so sad! How hard it is! You can
understand, my friend, how much I desire this marriage to take place.
You are so good and noble, you will make Maria happy; but you have said
it, I am the one who represents wisdom in our house. Let me have then a
few days in which to observe Maria, to obtain her confidence, to discover
perhaps a sentiment in her heart of which she is ignorant; and remember
that you have a sure and faithful ally in me."
"Take your own time, dear Louise," replied the poet. "I leave everything
to you. Whatever you do will be for the best."
He thanked her and they parted at the foot of the Rue Lepic. It was a
bitter pleasure for the slighted one to give the young man her poor,
deformed, pianist's hand, and to feel that he pressed it with hope and
She desired and must urge this marriage. She said this over and over
again to herself, as she walked up the steep street, where crowds of
people were swarming at the end of their day's work. No! no! Maria did
not care for Amedee. Louise was very sure of it; but at all events it
was necessary that she should try to snatch her young sister from the
discouragements and bad counsel of poverty. Amedee loved her and would
know how to make her love him. In order to assure their happiness these
two young people must be united. As to herself, what matter! If they
had children she would accept in advance her duties as coddling aunt and
old godmother. Provided, of course, that Maria would be guided, or, at
least, that she would consent. She was so pretty that she was a trifle
vain. She was nourishing, perhaps, nobody knew what fancy or vain hope,
based upon her beauty and youth. Louise had grave fears. The poor girl,
with her thin, bent shoulders wrapped up in an old black shawl, had
already forgotten her own grief and only thought of the happiness of
others, as she slowly dragged herself up Montmartre Hill. When she
reached the butcher's shop in front of the mayor's office, she remembered
a request of her mother's; and as is always the case with the poor, a
trivial detail is mixed with the drama of life. Louise, without
forgetting her thoughts, while sacrificing her own heart, went into the
shop and picked out two breaded cutlets and had them done up in brown
paper, for their evening's repast.
The day after his conversation with Louise, Amedee felt that distressing
impatience that waiting causes nervous people. The day at the office
seemed unending, and in order to escape solitude, at five o'clock he went
to Maurice's studio, where he had not been for fifteen days. He found
him alone, and the young artist also seemed preoccupied. While Amedee
congratulated him upon a study placed upon an easel, Maurice walked up
and down the room with his hands in his pocket, and eyes upon the floor,
making no reply to his friend's compliments. Suddenly he stopped and
looking at Amedee said:
"Have you seen the Gerard ladies during the past few days?"
Maurice had not spoken of these ladies for several months, and the poet
was a trifle surprised.
"Yes," he replied. "Not later than yesterday I met Mademoiselle Louise."
"And," replied Maurice, in a hesitating manner, "were all the family
"Ah!" said the artist, in a strange voice, and he resumed his silent
Amedee always had a slightly unpleasant sensation when Maurice spoke the
name of the Gerards, but this time the suspicious look and singular tone
of the young painter, as he inquired about them, made the poet feel
genuinely uneasy. He was impressed, above all, by Maurice's simple
exclamation, "Ah!" which seemed to him to be enigmatical and mysterious.
But nonsense! all this was foolish; his friend's questions were
"Shall we pass the evening together, my dear Maurice?"
"It is impossible this evening," replied Maurice, still continuing his
walk. "A duty--I have an engagement."
Amedee had the feeling that he had come at an unfortunate time, and
discreetly took his departure. Maurice had seemed indifferent and less
cordial than usual.
"What is the matter with him?" said the poet to himself several times,
while dining in the little restaurant in the Latin Quarter. He afterward
went to the Comedie Francaise, to kill time, as well as to inquire after
his drama of Jocquelet, who played that evening in 'Le Legataire
The comedian received him in his dressing-room, being already arrayed in
Crispin's long boots and black trousers. He was seated in his shirt-
sleeves be fore his toilet-table, and had just pasted over his smooth
lips the bristling moustache of this traditional personage. Without
rising, or even saying "Good-day," he cried out to the poet as he
recognized him in the mirror.
"No news as to your piece! The manager has not one moment to himself;
we are getting ready for the revival of Camaraderie. But we shall be
through with it in two days, and then--"
And immediately, talking to hear himself talk, and to exercise his
terrible organ, he belched out, like the noise from an opened dam, a
torrent of commonplace things. He praised Scribe's works, which they had
put on the stage again; he announced that the famous Guillery, his senior
in the comedy line, would be execrable in this performance, and would
make a bungle of it. He complained of being worried to death by the
pursuit of a great lady--"You know, stage box Number Six," and showed,
with a conceited gesture, a letter, tossed in among the jars of paint and
pomade, which smelled of musk. Then, ascending to subjects of a more
elevated order, he scored the politics of the Tuileries, and scornfully
exposed the imperial corruption while recognizing that this "poor
Badingue," who, three days before, had paid a little compliment to the
actor, was of more account than his surroundings.
The poet went home and retired, bewildered by such gossip. When he
awoke, the agony of his thoughts about Maria had become still more
painful. When should he see Louise again? Would her reply be favorable?
In spite of the fine autumn morning his heart was troubled, and he felt
that he had no courage. His administrative work had never seemed more
loathsome than on that day. His fellow-clerk, an amateur in hunting,
had just had two days' absence, and inflicted upon him, in an unmerciful
manner, his stories of slaughtered partridges, and dogs who pointed,
so wonderfully well, and of course punctuated all this with numerous
Pan-Pans! to imitate the report of a double-barrelled gun.
When he left the office Amedee regained his serenity a little; he
returned home by the quays, hunting after old books and enjoying the
pleasures of a beautiful evening, watching, in the golden sky, around the
spires of Ste.-Chapelle, a large flock of swallows assembling for their
At nightfall, after dining, he resolved to baffle his impatience by
working all the evening and retouching one act of his drama with which he
was not perfectly content. He went to his room, lighted his lamp, and
seated himself before his open manuscript. Now, then! to work! He had
been silly ever since the night before. Why should he imagine that
misfortune was in the air? Do such things as presentiments exist?
Suddenly, three light, but hasty and sharp knocks were struck upon his
door. Amedee arose, took his lamp, and opened it. He jumped back--there
stood Louise Gerard in her deep mourning!
"You?--At my rooms?--At this hour?--What has happened?"
She entered and dropped into the poet's armchair. While he put the lamp
upon the table he noticed that the young girl was as white as wax. Then
she seized his hands and pressing them with all her strength, she said,
in a voice unlike her own--a voice hoarse with despair:
"Amedee, I come to you by instinct, as toward our only friend, as to a
brother, as to the only man who will be able to help us repair the
frightful misfortune which overwhelms us!" She stopped, stifled with
"A misfortune!" exclaimed the young man. "What misfortune? Maria?"
"An accident?--An illness?"
Louise made a rapid gesture with her arm and head which signified: "If it
were only that!" With her mouth distorted by a bitter smile and with
lowered eyes, talking confusedly, she said:
"Monsieur Maurice Roger--yes--your friend Maurice! A miserable wretch!--
he has deceived and ruined the unhappy child! Oh! what infamy!--and now
Her deathly pale face flushed and became purple to the roots of her hair.
"Now Maria will become a mother!"
At these words the poet gave a cry like some enraged beast; he reeled,
and would have fallen had the table not been near. He sat down on the
edge of it, supporting himself with his hands, completely frozen as if
from a great chill. Louise, overcome with shame, sat in the armchair,
hiding her face in her hands while great tears rolled down between the
fingers of her ragged gloves.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Good form consists, above all things, in keeping silent
Intimate friend, whom he has known for about five minutes
My good fellow, you are quite worthless as a man of pleasure
Society people condemned to hypocrisy and falsehood
A ROMANCE OF YOUTH
By FRANCOIS COPPEE
It had been more than three months since Maria and Maurice had met again.
One day the young man went to the Louvre to see his favorite pictures of
the painters of the Eighteenth Century. His attention was attracted by
the beautiful hair of a young artist dressed in black, who was copying
one of Rosalba's portraits. It was our pretty pastel artist whose
wonderful locks disturbed all the daubers in the museum, and which made
colorists out of Signol's pupils themselves. Maurice approached the
copyist, and then both exclaimed at once:
She had recognized him so quickly and with such a charming smile, she had
not, then, forgotten him? When he used to visit Pere Gerard he had
noticed that she was not displeased with him; but after such a long time,
at first sight, to obtain such a greeting, such a delighted exclamation--
it was flattering!
The young man standing by her easel, with his hat off, so graceful and
elegant in his well-cut garments, began to talk with her. He spoke
first, in becoming and proper terms, of her father's death; inquired for
her mother and sister, congratulated himself upon having been recognized
thus, and then yielding to his bold custom, he added:
"As to myself, I hesitated at first. You have grown still more beautiful
in two years."
As she blushed, he continued, in a joking way, which excused his
"Amedee told me that you had become delicious, but now I hardly dare ask
him for news of you. Ever since you have lived at Montmartre--and I know
that he sees you every Sunday--he has never offered to take me with him
to pay my respects. Upon my word of honor, Mademoiselle Maria, I believe
that he is in love with you and as jealous as a Turk."
She protested against it, confused but still smiling.
Ah! if he had known of the dream that Maria had kept concealed in one
corner of her heart ever since their first meeting. If he had known that
her only desire was to be chosen and loved by this handsome Maurice, who
had gone through their house and among poor Papa Gerard's bric-a-brac
like a meteor! Why not, after all? Did she not possess that great
power, beauty? Her father, her mother, and even her sister, the wise
Louise, had often said so to her. Yes! from the very first she had been
charmed by this young man with the golden moustache, and the ways of a
young lord; she had hoped to please him, and later, in spite of poverty
and death, she had continued to be intoxicated with this folly and to
dream of this narcotic against grief, of the return of this Prince
Charming. Poor Maria, so good and so artless, who had been told too many
times that she was pretty! Poor little spoiled child!
When he left you yesterday, little Maria, after half an hour's pleasing
conversation, Maurice said to you jokingly: "Do not tell Violette, above
all, that we have met. I should lose my best friend." You not only said
nothing to Amedee, but you told neither your mother nor your sister. For
Louise and Madame Gerard are prudent and wise, and they would tell you to
avoid this rash fellow who has accosted you in a public place, and has
told you at once that you are beautiful and beloved. They would scold
you; they would tell you that this young man is of a rich and
distinguished family; that his mother has great ambitions for him; that
you have only your old black dress and beautiful eyes, and to-morrow,
when you return to the Louvre, Madame Gerard will establish herself near
your easel and discourage the young gallant.
But, little Maria, you conceal it from your mother and Louise! You have
a secret from your family! To-morrow when you make your toilette before
the mirror and twist up your golden hair, your heart will beat with hope
and vanity. In the Louvre your attention will be distracted from your
work when you hear a man's step resound in a neighboring gallery, and
when Maurice arrives you will doubtless be troubled, but very much
surprised and not displeased, ah! only too much pleased. Little Maria,
little Maria, he talks to you in a low tone now. His blond moustache is
very near your cheek, and you do well to lower your eyes, for I see a
gleam of pleasure under your long lashes. I do not hear what he says,
nor your replies; but how fast he works, how he gains your confidence!
You will compromise yourself, little Maria, if you keep him too long by
your easel. Four o'clock will soon strike, and the watchman in the green
coat, who is snoozing before Watteau's designs, will arouse from his
torpor, stretch his arms, look at his watch, get up from his seat, and
call out "Time to close." Why do you allow Maurice to help you arrange
your things, to accompany you through the galleries, carrying your box of
pastels? The long, lanky girl in the Salon Carre, who affects the
English ways, the one who will never finish copying the "Vierge au
coussin vert," has followed you into the Louvre court. Take care! She
has noticed, envious creature, that you are very much moved as you take
leave of your companion, and that you let your hand remain for a second
in his! This old maid 'a l'anglaise' has a viper's tongue. To-morrow
you will be the talk of the Louvre, and the gossip will spread to the
'Ecole des Beaux-Arts', even to Signol's studio, where the two daubers,
your respectful admirers, who think of cutting their throats in your
honor, will accost each other with a "Well, the pretty pastellist! Yes,
I know, she has a lover."
If it was only a lover! But the pretty pastellist has been very
careless, more foolish than the old maid or the two young fellows dream
of. It is so sweet to hear him say: "I love you!" and so delicious to
listen for the question: "And you, do you love me a little?" when she is
dying to say, "Yes!" Bending her head and blushing with confusion under
Maurice's ardent gaze, the pretty Maria ends by murmuring the fatal
"Yes." Then she sees Maurice turn pale with joy, and he says to her,
"I must talk to you alone; not before these bores." She replies: "But
how? It is impossible!" Then he asks whether she does not trust him,
whether she does not believe him to be an honest man, and the young
girl's looks say more than any protestation would.
"Well! to-morrow morning at ten o'clock--instead of coming to the
Louvre--will you? I will wait for you on the Quai d'Orsay, before the
She was there at the appointed hour, overwhelmed with emotion and ready
to faint. He took her by the arm and led her aboard the boat.
"Do you see, now we are almost alone. Give me the pleasure of wandering
through the fields with you. It is such beautiful weather. Be tranquil,
we shall return early."
Oh, the happy day! Maria sees pass before her, as she is seated beside
Maurice, who is whispering in her ear loving words and whose glances
cover her with caresses, as if in a dream, views of Paris that were not
familiar to her, high walls, arches of bridges, then the bare suburbs,
the smoking manufactories of Grenelle, the Bas Meudon, with its boats and
public-houses. At last, on the borders of the stream, the park with its
extensive verdure appeared.
They wandered there for a long time under the chestnut-trees, loaded with
their fruit in its green shells. The sun, filtering through the foliage,
dotted the walks with patches of light, and Maurice continued to repeat
to Maria that he loved her; that he had never loved any one but her!
that he had loved her from the very first time that he saw her at Pere
Gerard's, and that neither time nor absence had been able to drive away
the remembrance of her. And at this moment he imagined that it was true.
He did not think that he was telling a lie. As to poor Maria, do not be
too severe upon her! think of her youth, her poverty and imprisonment--
she was overwhelmed with happiness. She could think of nothing to say,
and, giving herself up into the young man's arms, she had hardly the
strength to turn upon him, from time to time, her eyes tortured with
Is it necessary to tell how she succumbed? how they went to a restaurant
and dined? Emotion, the heavy heat of the afternoon, champagne, that
golden wine that she tasted for the first time, stunned the imprudent
child. Her charming head slips down upon the sofa-pillow, she is nearly
"You are too warm," said Maurice. "This bright light makes you ill."
He draws the curtains; they are in the darkness, and he takes the young
girl in his arms, covering her hands, eyes, and lips with kisses.
Doubtless he swears to her that she shall be his wife. He asks only a
little time, a few weeks, in which to prepare his mother, the ambitious
Madame Roger, for his unexpected marriage. Maria never doubts him, but
overcome by her fault, she feels an intense shame, and buries her face on
her lover's shoulder. She thinks then, the guilty girl, of her past;
of her innocence and poverty, of her humble but honest home; her dead
father, her mother and sister---her two mothers, properly speaking---who
yet call her "little one" and always consider her as a child, an infant
in all its purity. She feels impressed with her sin, and wishes that she
might die there at once.
Oh! I beg of you, be charitable to the poor, weak Maria, for she is young
and she must suffer!
Maurice was not a rascal, after all; he was in earnest when he promised
to marry her without delay. He even meant to admit all to his mother the
next day; but when he saw her she never had appeared so imposing to him,
with her gray hair under her widow's cap. He shivered as he thought of
the tearful scenes, the reproaches and anger, and in his indolence he
said to himself: "Upon my honor, I will do it later!" He loves Maria
after his fashion. He is faithful to her, and when she steals away an
hour from her work to come to see him, he is uneasy at the least delay.
She is truly adorable, only Maurice does not like the unhappy look that
she wears when she asks him, in a trembling voice: "Have you spoken to
your mother?" He embraces her, reassures her. "Be easy. Leave me time
to arrange it." The truth is, that now he begins to be perplexed at the
idea of this marriage. It is his duty, he knows that very well; but he
is not twenty three years old yet. There is no hurry. After all, is it
duty? the little one yielded easily enough. Has he not the right to test
her and wait a little? It is what his mother would advise him, he is
certain. That is the only reasonable way to look at it.
Alas, egotists and cowards always have a reason for everything!
How dearly poor Maria's foolish step has cost her! How heavily such a
secret weighs upon the child's heart! For a few moments of uneasy
intoxication with this man, whom she already doubts and who sometimes
makes her afraid, she must lie to her mother without blushing or lowering
her eyes, and enter Maurice's house veiled and hiding like a thief. But
that is nothing yet. After some time of this agonizing life her health
is troubled. Quickly she goes to find Maurice! She arrives unexpectedly
and finds him lying upon the sofa smoking a cigar. Without giving him
time to rise, she throws herself into his arms, and, bursting into sobs,
makes her terrible avowal. At first he only gives a start of angry
astonishment, a harsh glance.
"Bah! you must be mistaken."
"I am sure of it, I tell you, I am sure of it!"
She has caught his angry glance and feels condemned in advance. However,
he gives her a cold kiss, and it is with a great effort that she
"Maurice--you must--speak to your mother--"
He rises with an impatient gesture and Maria seats herself--her strength
is leaving her--while he walks up and down the room.
"My poor Maria," he begins in a hesitating manner, "I dared not tell you,
but my mother will not consent to our marriage--now, at least."
He lies! He has not spoken to his mother; she knows it. Ah! unhappy
creature! he does not love her! and, discouraged, with a rumbling noise
in her ears, she listens to Maurice as he speaks in his soft voice.
"Oh! be tranquil. I shall not abandon you, my poor child. If what you
say is true-if you are sure of it, then the best thing that you can do,
you see, is to leave your family and come and live with me. At first we
will go away from Paris; you can be confined in the country. We can put
the child out to nurse; they will take care of the little brat, of
course. And later, perhaps, my mother will soften and will understand
that we must marry. No, truly, the more I think of it, the more I
believe that that is the best way to do. Yes! I know very well it will
be hard to leave your home, but what can you do, my darling? You can
write your mother a very affectionate letter."
And going to her he takes her, inert and heartbroken, into his arms, and
tries to show himself loving.
"You are my wife, my dear little wife, I repeat it. Are you not glad,
eh! that we can live together?"
This is what he proposes to do. He thinks to take her publicly to his
house and to blazon her shame before the eyes of everybody! Maria feels
that she is lost. She rises abruptly and says to him in the tone of a
somnambulist: "That will do. We will talk of it again."
She goes away and returns to Montmartre at a crazy woman's pace, and
finds her mother knitting and her sister ready to lay the table-yes! as
if nothing at all was the matter. She takes their hands and falls at
Ah, poor women!
They had already been very much tried. The decay of this worthy family
was lamentable; but in spite of all, yesterday even, they endured their
fate with resignation. Yes! the economy, the degrading drudgery, the
old, mended gowns--they accepted all this without a murmur. A noble
sentiment sustained and gave them courage. All three--the old mother in
a linen cap doing the cooking and the washing, the elder sister giving
lessons at forty sous, and the little one working in pastels--were
vaguely conscious of representing something very humble, but sacred and
noble--a family without a blemish on their name. They felt that they
moved in an atmosphere of esteem and respect. "Those ladies upon the
first floor have so many accomplishments," say the neighbors. Their
apartment--with its stained woodwork, its torn wall, paper, but where
they were all united in work and drawn closer and closer to each other in
love--had still the sweetness of a home; and upon their ragged mourning,
their dilapidated furniture, the meagre meat soup at night, the pure
light of honor gleamed and watched over them. Now, after this guilty
child's avowal, all this was ended, lost forever! There was a blemish
upon their life of duty and poverty, upon their irreproachable past, even
upon the father's memory. Certainly the mother and elder sister excused
the poor creature who sobbed under their kisses and begged their pardon.
However, when they gazed at each other with red eyes and dry lips, they
measured the fall of the family; they saw for the first time how
frightful were their destitution and distress; they felt the unbearable
feeling of shame glide into their hearts like a sinister and unexpected
guest who, at the first glance, makes one understand that he has come to
be master of the lodging. This was the secret, the overwhelming secret,
which the distracted Louise Gerard revealed that evening to her only
friend, Amedee Violette, acting thus by instinct, as a woman with too
heavy a burden throws it to the ground, crying for help.
When she had ended her cruel confidence, to which the poet listened with
his face buried in his hands, and he uncovered his face creased and
furrowed by the sudden wrinkles of despair, Louise was frightened.
"How I have wounded him!" she thought. "How he loves Maria!"
But she saw shining in the young man's eyes a gloomy resolution.
"Very well, Louise, "muttered he, between his teeth. "Do not tell me any
more, I beg of you. I do not know where to find Maurice at this hour,
but he will see me to-morrow morning, rest easy. If the evil is not
repaired--and at once!"
He did not finish; his voice was stifled with grief and rage, and upon an
almost imperious gesture to leave, Louise departed, overcome by her
No, Maurice Roger was not a villain. After Maria's departure he felt
ashamed and displeased with himself. A mother! poor little thing!
Certainly he would take charge of her and the child; he would behave like
a gentleman. But, to speak plainly, he did not now love her as much as
he did. His vagabond nature was already tired of his love-affair. This
one was watered too much by tears. Bah! he was usually lucky, and this
troublesome affair would come out all right like the others. Truly, it
was as bad an accident as if one had fallen into a hole and broken his
leg. But then, who could tell? Chance and time arrange many things.
The child might not live, perhaps; at any rate, it was perfectly natural
that he should wait and see what happened.
The next morning the reckless Maurice--who had not slept badly--was
tranquilly preparing his palette while awaiting his model, when he saw
Amedee Violette enter his studio. At the first glance he saw that the
poet knew all.
"Maurice," said Amedee, in a freezing tone, "I received a visit from
Mademoiselle Louise Gerard last evening. She told me everything--all,
do you understand me perfectly? I have come to learn whether I am
mistaken regarding you--whether Maurice Roger is an honest man."
A flame darted from the young artist's eyes. Amedee, with his livid
complexion and haggard from a sleepless night and tears, was pitiful to
see. And then it was Amedee, little Amedee whom Maurice sincerely loved,
for whom he had kept, ever since their college days, a sentiment, all the
more precious that it flattered his vanity, the indulgent affection and
protection of a superior.
"Oh! Grand, melodramatic words already!" said he, placing his palette
upon the table. "Amedee, my dear boy, I do not recognize you, and if you
have any explanation that you wish to ask of your old friend, it is not
thus that you should do it. You have received, you tell me, Mademoiselle
Gerard's confidence. I know you are devoted to those ladies.
I understand your emotion and I think your intervention legitimate;
but you see I speak calmly and in a friendly way. Calm yourself in your
turn and do not forget that, in spite of your zeal for those ladies, I am
the best and dearest companion of your youth. I am, I know, in one of
the gravest situations of my life. Let us talk of it. Advise me; you
have the right to do so; but not in that tone of voice--that angry,
threatening tone which I pardon, but which hurts and makes me doubt, were
it possible, your love for me."
"Ah! you know very well that I love you," replied the unhappy Amedee,
"but why do you need my advice? You are frank enough to deny nothing.
You admit that it is true, that you have seduced a young girl. Does not
your conscience tell you what to do?"
"To marry her? That is my intention. But, Amedee, do you think of my
mother? This marriage will distress her, destroy her fond hopes and
ambitions. I hope to be able to gain her consent; only I must have time
to turn myself. Later--very soon. I do not say--if the child lives."
This word, torn from Maurice by the cynicism which is in the heart of all
egotists, made Amedee angry.
"Your mother!" exclaimed he. "Your mother is the widow of a French
officer who died facing the enemy. She will understand it, I am sure,
as a matter of honor and duty. Go and find her, tell her that you have
ruined this unfortunate child. Your mother will advise you to marry her.
She will command you to do it."
This argument was forcible and direct, and impressed Maurice; but his
friend's violence irritated him.
"You go to work badly, Amedee, I repeat it," said he, raising his tone.
"You have no right to prejudge my mother's opinion, and I receive no
orders from anybody. After all, nothing authorizes you to do it; if it
is because you were in love with Maria--"
A furious cry interrupted him. Amedee, with wild eyes and shaking his
fists, walked toward Maurice, speaking in a cutting tone:
"Well, yes! I loved her," said he, "and I wished to make her my wife.
You, who no longer love her, who took her out of caprice, as you have
taken others, you have destroyed all of my dreams for the future. She
preferred you, and, understand me, Maurice, I am too proud to complain,
too just to hold spite against you. I am only here to prevent your
committing an infamy. Upon my honor! If you repulse me, our friendship
is destroyed forever, and I dare not think of what will happen between
us, but it will be terrible! Alas! I am wrong, I do not talk to you as
I ought. Maurice, there is time yet! Only listen to your heart, which I
know is generous and good. You have wronged an innocent child and driven
a poor and worthy family to despair. You can repair the evil you have
caused. You wish to. You will! I beg of you, do it out of respect for
yourself and the name you bear. Act like a brave man and a gentleman!
Give this young girl--whose only wrong has been in loving you too much--
give the mother of your child your name, your heart, your love. You will
be happy with her and through her. Go! I shall not be jealous of your
happiness, but only too glad to have found my friend, my loyal Maurice
once more, and to be able still to love and admire him as heretofore."
Stirred by these warm words, and fatigued by the discussion and struggle,
the painter reached out his hands to his friend, who pressed them in his.
Suddenly he looked at Amedee and saw his eyes shining with tears, and,
partly from sorrow, but more from want of will and from moral weakness,
to end it he exclaimed:
"You are right, after all. We will arrange this matter without delay.
What do you wish me to do?"
Ah, how Amedee bounded upon his neck!
"My good, my dear Maurice! Quickly dress yourself. Let us go to those
ladies and embrace and console that dear child. Ah! I knew very well
that you would understand me and that your heart was in the right place.
How happy the poor women will be! Now then, my old friend, is it not
good to do one's duty?"
Yes, Maurice found that it was good now; excited and carried away by his
friend, he hurried toward the good action that was pointed out to him as
he would to a pleasure-party, and while putting on his coat to go out, he
"After all, my mother can only approve, and since she always does as I
wish, she will end by adoring my little Maria. It is all right; there is
no way of resisting you, Violette. You are a good and persuasive
Violette. Now, then, here I am, ready--a handkerchief--my hat. Off we
They went out and took a cab which carried them toward Montmartre.
The easy-going Maurice, reconciled to his future, sketched out his plan
of life. Once married, he would work seriously. At first, immediately
after the ceremony, he would leave with his wife to pass the winter in
the South, where she could be confined. He knew a pretty place in the
Corniche, near Antibes, where he should not lose his time, as he could
bring back marine and landscape sketches. But it would not be until the
next winter that he would entirely arrange his life. The painter Laugeol
was going to move; he would hire his apartment--"a superb studio, my dear
fellow, with windows looking out upon the Luxembourg." He could see
himself there now, working hard, having a successful picture in the
Salon, wearing a medal. He chose even the hangings in the sleeping-rooms
in advance. Then, upon beautiful days, how convenient the garden would
be for the child and the nurse.
Suddenly, in the midst of this chattering, he noticed Amedee's sad face
as he shrank into the back of the carriage.
"Forgive me, my dear friend," said he, taking him affectionately by the
hand. "I forgot what you told me just now. Ah! fate is ridiculous,
when I think that my happiness makes you feel badly."
The poet gave his friend a long, sad look.
"Be happy with Maria and make her happy, that is all I ask for you both."
They had reached the foot of Montmartre, and the carriage went slowly up
the steep streets.
"My friend," said Amedee, "we shall arrive there soon. You will go in
alone to see these ladies, will you not? Oh! do not be afraid. I know
Louise and the mother. They will not utter one word of reproach. Your
upright act will be appreciated by them as it merits--but you will excuse
me from going with you, do you see? It would be too painful for me."
"Yes, I understand, my poor Amedee. As it pleases you. Now then,
courage, you will be cured of it. Everything is alleviated in time,"
replied Maurice, who supposed everybody to have his fickle nature.
"I shall always remember the service that you have rendered me, for I
blush now as I think of it. Yes, I was going to do a villainous act.
Amedee, embrace me."
They threw their arms about each other's neck, and the carriage stopped.
Once on the sidewalk, Amedee noticed his friend's wry face as he saw the
home of the Gerards, a miserable, commonplace lodging-house, whose
crackled plastered front made one think of the wrinkles on a poor man's
face. On the right and on the left of the entrance-door were two shops,
one a butcher's, the other a fruiterer's, exhaling their fetid odors.
But Amedee paid no attention to the delicate Maurice's repugnance,
"Do you see that little garden at the end of the walk? It is there. Au
They separated with a last grasp of the hand. The poet saw Maurice enter
the dark alley, cross the narrow court and push the gate open into the
garden, and then disappear among the mass of verdure. How many times
Amedee had passed through there, moved at the thought that he was going
to see Maria; and Maurice crossed this threshold for the first time in
his life to take her away. He wanted her! He had himself given his
beloved to another! He had begged, almost forced his rival, so to speak,
to rob him of his dearest hope! What sorrow!
Amedee gave his address to the driver and entered the carriage again.
A cold autumn rain had commenced to fall, and he was obliged to close the
windows. As he was jolted harshly through the streets of Paris at a
trot, the young poet, all of a shiver, saw carriages streaming with
water, bespattered pedestrians under their umbrellas, a heavy gloom fall
from the leaden sky; and Amedee, stupefied with grief, felt a strange
sensation of emptiness, as if somebody had taken away his heart.
When he entered his room, the sight of his furniture, his engravings, his
books on their shelves, and his table covered with its papers distressed
him. His long evenings of study near this lamp, the long hours of
thought over some difficult work, the austere and cheerless year that he
had lived there, all had been dedicated to Maria. It was in order to
obtain her some day, that he had labored so assiduously and obstinately!
And now the frivolous and guilty child was doubtless weeping for joy in
Maurice's arms, her husband to-morrow?
Seated before his table, with his head buried in his hands, Amedee sank
into the depths of melancholy. His life seemed such a failure, his fate
so disastrous, his future so gloomy, he felt so discouraged and lonely,
that for the moment the courage to live deserted him. It seemed to him
that an invisible hand touched him upon the shoulder with compassion, and
he had at once a desire and a fear to turn around and look; for he knew
very well that this hand was that of the dead. He did not fancy it under
the hideous aspect of a skeleton, but as a calm, sad, but yet very sweet
face which drew him against its breast with a mother's tenderness, and
made him and his grief sleep--a sleep without dreams, profound and
eternal. Suddenly he turned around and uttered a frightful cry. For a
moment he thought he saw, extended at his feet, and still holding a razor
in his hand, the dead body of his unhappy father, a horrible wound in his
throat, and his thin gray hair in a pool of blood!
He was still trembling with this frightful hallucination when somebody
knocked at his door. It was the concierge, who brought him two letters.
The first was stamped with the celebrated name:
"Comedie Francaise, 1680." The manager announced in the most gracious
terms that he had read with the keenest pleasure his drama in verse,
entitled L'Atelier, and he hoped that the reading committee would accept
"Too late!" thought the young poet, as he tore open the other envelope.
This second letter bore the address of a Paris notary, and informed M.
Amedee Violette that M. Isidore Gaufre had died without leaving a will,
and that, as nephew of the defunct, he would receive a part of the
estate, still difficult to appraise, but which would not be less than two
hundred and fifty or three hundred thousand francs.
Success and fortune! Everything came at once! Amedee was at first
overwhelmed with surprise; but with all these unhoped-for favors of
fortune, which did not give him the power to repair his misfortune, the
noble poet deeply realized that riches and glory were not equal to a
great love or a beautiful dream, and, completely upset by the irony of
his fate, he broke into a harsh burst of laughter.
The late M. Violette was not mistaken when he supposed M. Gaufre capable
of disinheriting his family in favor of his servant-mistress, but
Berenice was wanting in patience. The rough beard and cap of an
irresistible sergeant-major were the ruin of the girl. One Sunday, when
M. Gaufre, as usual, recited vespers at St. Sulpice, he found that for
the first time in his life he had forgotten his snuff-box. The holy
offices were unbearable to this hypocritical person unless frequently
broken by a good pinch of snuff. Instead of waiting for the final
benediction and then going to take his usual walk, he left his church
warden's stall and returned unexpectedly to the Rue Servandoni, where he
surprised Berenice in a loving interview with her military friend. The
old man's rage was pitiful to behold. He turned the Normandy beauty
ignominiously out of doors, tore up the will he had made in her favor,
and died some weeks after from indigestion, and left, in spite of
himself, all his fortune to his natural heirs.
Amedee's drama had been accepted by the Comedie Francaise, but was not to
be brought out until spring. The notary in charge of his uncle's estate
had advanced him a few thousand francs, and, feeling sad and not having
the courage to be present at the marriage of Maurice and Maria, the poet
wished at least to enjoy, in a way, his new fortune and the independence
that it gave him; so he resigned his position and left for a trip to
Italy, in the hope of dissipating his grief.
Ah, never travel when the heart is troubled! You sleep with the echo of
a dear name in your thoughts, and the half sleep of nights on a train is
feverish and full of nightmares. Amedee suffered tortures from it. In
the midst of the continual noise of the cars he thought he could hear sad
voices crying loudly the name of a beloved lost one. Sometimes the
tumult would become quiet for a little; brakes, springs, wheels, all
parts of the furious cast-iron machine seemed to him tired of howling the
deafening rhythmical gallop, and the vigorously rocked traveller could
distinguish in the diminished uproar a strain of music, at first confused
like a groan, then more distinct, but always the same cruel, haunting
monotone--the fragment of a song that Maria once sang when they were both
children. Suddenly a mournful and prolonged whistle would resound
through the night. The express rushed madly into a tunnel. Under the
sonorous roof, the frightful concert redoubled, exasperating him among
all these metallic clamors; but Amedee still heard a distant sound like
that of a blacksmith's hammer, and each heavy blow made his heart bound
Ah! never travel, and above all, never travel alone, if your heart is
sad! How hostile and inhospitable the first sensation is that one feels
then when entering an unknown city! Amedee was obliged to submit to the
tiresome delay of looking after his baggage in a commonplace station; the
hasty packing into an omnibus of tired-out travellers, darting glances of
bad humor and suspicion; to the reception upon the hotel steps by the
inevitable Swiss porter with his gold-banded cap, murdering all the
European languages, greeting all the newcomers, and getting mixed in his
"Yes, sir," "Ja, wohl," and "Si, signor." Amedee was an inexperienced
tourist, who did not drag along with him a dozen trunks, and had not a
rich and indolent air; so he was quickly despatched by the Swiss polyglot
into a fourth-story room, which looked out into an open well, and was so
gloomy that while he washed his hands he was afraid of falling ill and
dying there without help. A notice written in four languages hung upon
the wall, and, to add to his cheerfulness, it advised him to leave all
his valuables at the office of the hotel--as if he had penetrated a
forest infested with brigands. The rigid writing warned him still
further that they looked upon him as a probable sharper, and that his
bill would be presented every five days.
The tiresome life of railroads and table-d'hotes began for him.
He would be dragged about from city to city, like a bag of wheat or a
cask of wine. He would dwell in pretentious and monumental hotels, where
he would be numbered like a convict; he would meet the same carnivorous
English family, with whom he might have made a tour of the world without
exchanging one word; swallowing every day the tasteless soup, old fish,
tough vegetables, and insipid wine which have an international
reputation, so to speak. But above all, he was to have the horror, every
evening upon going to his room, of passing through those uniform and
desolate corridors, faintly lighted by gas, where before each door are
pairs of cosmopolitan shoes--heavy alpine shoes, filthy German boots, the
conjugal boots of my lord and my lady, which make one think, by their
size, of the troglodyte giants--awaiting, with a fatigued air, their
The imprudent Amedee was destined to all sorts of weariness, all sorts of
deceptions, and all the homesickness of a solitary traveller. At the
sight of the famous monuments and celebrated sites, which have become in
some way looked upon as models for painters and material for literary
development, Amedee felt that sensation of "already seen" which paralyzes
the faculty of admiration. Dare we say it? The dome in Milan, that
enormous quiver of white marble arrows, did not move him. He was
indifferent to the sublime medley of bronze in the Baptistery in
Florence; and the leaning tower at Pisa produced simply the effect of
mystification. He walked miles through the museums and silent galleries,
satiated with art and glutted with masterpieces. He was disgusted to
find that he could not tolerate a dozen "Adorations of the Shepherds," or
fourteen "Descents from the Cross," consecutively, even if they were
signed with the most glorious names. The scenes of suffering and
martyrdom, so many times repeated, were particularly distasteful to him;
and he took a still greater dislike even to a certain monk, always
represented on his knees in prayer with an axe sticking in his tonsure,
than to the everlasting St. Sebastian pierced with arrows. His deadened
and depraved attention discerned only the disagreeable and ugly side of a
work of art. In the adorable artless originals he could see only
childish and barbarous drawing, and he thought the old colorists' yolk-
of-an-egg tone monotonous.
He wished to spur his sensations, to see something extraordinary. He
travelled toward Venice, the noiseless city, the city without birds or
verdure, toward that silent country of sky, marble, and water; but once
there, the reality seemed inferior to his dream. He had not that shock
of surprise and enthusiasm in the presence of St. Mark's and the Doges'
palace which he had hoped for. He had read too many descriptions of all
these wonders; seen too many more or less faithful pictures, and in his
disenchantment he recalled a lamp-shade which once, in his own home, had
excited his childish imagination--an ugly lampshade of blue pasteboard
upon which was printed a nocturnal fete, the illuminations upon the ducal
palace being represented by a row of pin-pricks.
Once more I repeat it, never travel alone, and above all, never go to
Venice alone and without love! For young married people in their
honeymoon, or a pair of lovers, the gondola is a floating boudoir, a nest
upon the waters like a kingfisher's. But for one who is sad, and who
stretches himself upon the sombre cushions of the bark, the gondola is a
Toward the last of January, Amedee suddenly returned to Paris. He would
not be obliged to see Maurice or his young bride at once. They had been
married one month and would remain in the South until the end of winter.
He was recalled by the rehearsals of his drama. The notary who had
charge of his affairs gave him twelve thousand pounds' income, a large
competency, which enabled him to work for the pure and disinterested love
of art, and without concessions to common people. The young poet
furnished an elegant apartment in an old and beautiful house on the Quai
d'Orsay, and sought out some of his old comrades--among others Paul
Sillery, who now held a distinguished place in journalism and reappeared
a little in society, becoming very quickly reconciled with life.
His first call was upon Madame Roger. He was very glad to see Maurice's
mother; she was a little sad, but indulgent to Maurice, and resigned to
her son's marriage, because she felt satisfied that he had acted like a
man of honor. He also went at once to Montmartre to embrace Louise and
Madame Gerard, who received him with great demonstrations. They were not
so much embarrassed in money matters, for Maurice was very generous and
had aided his wife's family. Louise gave lessons now for a proper
remuneration, and Madame Gerard was able to refuse, with tears of
gratitude, the poet's offer of assistance, who filially opened his purse
to her. He dined as usual with his old friends, and they had tact enough
not to say too much about the newly married ones; but there was one empty
place at the table. He was once more seized with thoughts of the absent,
and returned to his room that evening with an attack of the blues.
The rehearsal of his piece, which had just begun at the Comedie
Francaise, the long sittings at the theatre, and the changes to be made
from day to day, were a useful and powerful distraction for Amedee
Violette's grief. L'Atelier, when played the first week in April, did
not obtain more than a respectful greeting from the public; it was an
indifferent success. This vulgar society, these simple, plain,
sentiments, the sweetheart in a calico gown, the respectable old man in
short frock and overalls, the sharp lines where here and there boldly
rang out a slang word of the faubourg; above all, the scene representing
a mill in full activity, with its grumbling workmen, its machines in
motion, even the continual puffing of steam, all displeased the worldly
people and shocked them. This was too abrupt a change from luxurious
drawing-rooms, titled persons, aristocratic adulteresses, and
declarations of love murmured to the heroine in full toilette by a lover
leaning his elbow upon the piano, with all the airs and graces of a
first-class dandy. However, Jocquelet, in the old artisan's role, was
emphatic and exaggerated, and an ugly and commonplace debutante was an
utter failure. The criticisms, generally routine in character, were not
gracious, and the least surly ones condemned Amedee's attempt, qualifying
it as an honorable effort. There were some slashes; one "long-haired"
fellow from the Cafe de Seville failed in his criticism--the very one who
once wrote a description of the violation of a tomb--to crush the author
of L'Atelier in an ultra-classical article, wherein he protested against
realism and called to witness all the silent, sculptured authors in the
It was a singular thing, but Amedee was easily consoled over his failure.
He did not have the necessary qualities to succeed in the theatrical
line? Very well, he would give it up, that was all! It was not such a
great misfortune, upon the whole, to abandon the most difficult art of
all, but not the first; which did not allow a poet to act his own free
liking. Amedee began to compose verses for himself--for his own
gratification; to become intoxicated with his own rhymes and fancies; to
gather with a sad pleasure the melancholy flowers that his trouble had
caused to blossom in his heart.
Meanwhile summer arrived, and Maurice returned to Paris with his wife and
a little boy, born at Nice, and Amedee must go to see them, although he
knew in advance that the visit would make him unhappy.
The amateur painter was handsomer than ever. He was alone in his studio,
wearing his same red jacket. He had decorated and even crammed the room
full of luxurious and amusing knickknacks. The careless young man
received his friend as if nothing had happened between them, and after
their greetings and inquiries as to old friends, and the events that had
happened since their last meeting, they lighted their cigarettes.
"Well, what have you done?" asked the poet. "You had great projects of
work. Have you carried out your plans? Have you many sketches to show
"Upon my word, no! Almost nothing. Do you know, when I was there I
abandoned myself to living; I played the lizard in the sun. Happiness is
very engrossing, and I have been foolishly happy."
Then placing his hand upon his friend's, who sat near him, he added:
"But I owe that happiness to you, my good Amedee."
Maurice said this carelessly, in order to satisfy his conscience. Did he
remember, did he even suspect how unhappy the poet had been, and was now,
on account of this happiness? A bell rang.
"Ah!" exclaimed the master of the house, joyfully.
"It is Maria returning with the baby from a walk in the gardens. This
little citizen will be six weeks old to-morrow, and you must see what a
handsome little fellow he is already."
Amedee felt stifled with emotion. He was about to see her again! To see
her as a wife and a mother was quite different, of course.
She appeared, raising the portiere with one hand, while behind her
appeared the white bonnet and rustic face of the nurse. No! she was not
changed, but maternity, love, and a rich and easy life had expanded her
beauty. She was dressed in a fresh and charming toilette. She blushed
when she first recognized Amedee; and he felt with sadness that his
presence could only awaken unpleasant recollections in the young woman's
"Kiss each other, like old acquaintances," said the painter, laughing,
with the air of a man who is loved and sure of himself.
But Amedee contented himself with kissing the tips of her glove, and the
glance with which Maria thanked him for this reserve was one more torture
for him to endure. She was grateful to him and gave him a kind smile.
"My mother and my sister," said she, graciously, "often have the pleasure
of a visit from you, Monsieur Amedee. I hope that you will not make us
jealous, but come often to see Maurice and me."
"Maurice and me!" How soft and tender her voice and eyes became as she
said these simple words, "Maurice and me!" Ah, were they not one! How
she loved him! How she loved him!
Then Amedee must admire the baby, who was now awake in his nurse's arms,
aroused by his father's noisy gayety. The child opened his blue eyes, as
serious as those of an old man's, and peeped out from the depth of lace,
feebly squeezing the finger that the poet extended to him.
"What do you call him?" asked Amedee, troubled to find anything to say.
"Maurice, after his father," quickly responded Maria, who also put a mint
of love into these words.
Amedee could endure no more. He made some pretext for withdrawing and
went away, promising that he would see them again soon.
"I shall not go there very often!" he said to himself, as he descended
the steps, furious with himself that he was obliged to hold back a sob.
He went there, however, and always suffered from it. He was the one who
had made this marriage; he ought to rejoice that Maurice, softened by
conjugal life and paternity, did not return to his recklessness of former
days; but, on the contrary, the sight of this household, Maria's happy
looks, the allusions that she sometimes made of gratitude to Amedee;
above all Maurice's domineering way in his home, his way of speaking to
his wife like an indulgent master to a slave delighted to obey, all
displeased and unmanned him. He always left Maurice's displeased with
himself, and irritated with the bad sentiments that he had in his heart;
ashamed of loving another's wife, the wife of his old comrade; and
keeping up all the same his friendship for Maurice, whom he was never
able to see without a feeling of envy and secret bitterness.
He managed to lengthen the distance between his visits to the young pair,
and to put another interest into his life. He was now a man of leisure,
and his fortune allowed him to work when he liked and felt inspired. He
returned to society and traversed the midst of miscellaneous parlors,
greenrooms, and Bohemian society. He loitered about these places a great
deal and lost his time, was interested by all the women, duped by his
tender imagination; always expending too much sensibility in his fancies;
taking his desires for love, and devoting himself to women.
The first of his loves was a beautiful Madame, whom he met in the
Countess Fontaine's parlors. She was provided with a very old husband
belonging to the political and financial world; a servant of several
regimes, who having on many occasions feathered his own nest, made false
statements of accounts, and betrayed his vows, his name could not be
spoken in public assemblies without being preceded by the epithet of
honorable. A man so seriously occupied in saving the Capitol, that is to
say, in courageously sustaining the stronger, approving the majorities in
all of their mean actions and thus increasing his own ground, sinecures,
tips, stocks, and various other advantages, necessarily neglected his
charming wife, and took very little notice of the ridicule that she
inflicted upon him often, and to which he seemed predestined.
The fair lady--with a wax doll's beauty, not very young, confining
herself to George Sand in literature, making three toilettes a day, and
having a large account at the dentist's--singled out the young poet with
a romantic head, and rapidly traversed with him the whole route through
the country of Love. Thanks to modern progress, the voyage is now made
by a through train. After passing the smaller stations, "blushing behind
the fan," a "significant pressure of the hand," "appointment in a
museum," etc., and halting at a station of very little importance called
"scruples" (ten minutes' pause), Amedee reached the terminus of the line
and was the most enviable of mortals. He became Madame's lapdog, the
essential ornament in her drawing-room, figured at all the dinners,
balls, and routs where she appeared, stifled his yawns at the back of her
box at the Opera, and received the confidential mission of going to hunt
for sweetmeats and chocolates in the foyer. His recompense consisted in
metaphysical conversations and sentimental seances, in which he was not
long in discovering that his heart was blinded by his emotions. At the
end of a few months of this commonplace happiness, the rupture took place
without any regrets on either side, and Amedee returned, without a pang,
the love-tokens he had received, namely: a photograph, a package of
letters in imitation of fashionable romances, written in long, angular
handwriting, after the English style, upon very chic paper; and, we must
not forget, a white glove which was a little yellowed from confinement in
the casket, like the beautiful Madame herself.
A tall girl, with a body like a goddess, who earned three hundred francs
a month by showing her costumes on the Vaudeville stage, and who gave one
louis a day to her hairdresser, gave Amedee a new experience in love,
more expensive, but much more amusing than the first. There were no more
psychological subtleties or hazy consciences; but she had fine, strong
limbs and the majestic carriage of a cardinal's mistress going through
the Rue de Constance in heavy brocade garments, to see Jean Huss burned;
and her voluptuous smile showed teeth made to devour patrimonies.
Unfortunately, Mademoiselle Rose de Juin's--that was the young lady's
theatrical name--charming head was full of the foolishness and vanity of
a poor actress. Her attacks of rage when she read an article in the
journals which cut her up, her nervous attacks and torrents of tears when
they gave her parts with only fifteen lines in a new piece, had begun to
annoy Amedee, when chance gave him a new rival in the person of Gradoux,
an actor in the Varietes, the ugly clown whose chronic cold in the head
and ugly face seemed for twenty years so delicious to the most refined
public in the world. Relieved of a large number of bank-notes, Violette
He next carried on a commonplace romance with a pretty little girl whose
acquaintance he made one evening at a public fete. Louison was twenty
years old, and earned her living at a famous florist's, and was as pink
and fresh as an almond-bush in April. She had had only two lovers, gay
fellows--an art student first--then a clerk in a novelty store, who had
given her the not very aristocratic taste for boating. It was on the
Marne, seated near Louison in a boat moored to the willows on the Ile
d'Amour, that Amedee obtained his first kiss between two stanzas of a
boating song, and this pretty creature, who never came to see him without
bringing him a bouquet, charmed the poet. He remembered Beranger's
charming verses, "I am of the people as well, my love!" felt that he
loved, and was softened. In reality, he had turned this naive head.
Louison became dreamy, asked for a lock of his hair, which she always
carried with her in her 'porte-monnaie', went to get her fortune told to
know whether the dark-complexioned young man, the knave of clubs, would
be faithful to her for a long time. Amedee trusted this simple heart for
some time, but at length he became tired of her vulgarities. She was
really too talkative, not minding her h's and punctuating her discourse
with "for certain" and "listen to me, then," calling Amedee "my little
man," and eating vulgar dishes. One day she offered to kiss him, with a
breath that smelled of garlic. She was the one who left him, from
feminine pride, feeling that he no longer loved her, and he almost
Thus his life passed; he worked a little and dreamed much. He went as
rarely as possible to Maurice Roger's house. Maurice had decidedly
turned out to be a good husband, and was fond of his home and playing
with his little boy. Every time that Amedee saw Maria it meant several
days of discouragement, sorrow, and impossibility of work.
"Well! well!" he would murmur, throwing down his pen, when the young
woman's face would rise between his thoughts and his page; "I am
incurable; I shall always love her."
In the summer of 1870 Amedee, being tired of Paris, thought of a new
trip, and he was upon the point of going again, unfortunate fellow! to
see the Swiss porters who speak all the languages in the world, and to
view the melancholy boots in the hotel corridors, when the war broke out.
The poet's passage through the midst of the revolutionary "beards" in the
Cafe de Seville, and the parliamentary cravats in the Countess's drawing-
room, had disgusted him forever with politics. He also was very
suspicious of the Liberal ministers and all the different phases of the
malady that was destroying the Second Empire. But Amedee was a good
Frenchman. The assaults upon the frontiers, and the first battles lost,
made a burning blush suffuse his face at the insult. When Paris was
threatened he asked for arms, like the others, and although he had not a
military spirit, he swore to do his duty, and his entire duty, too. One
beautiful September morning he saw Trochu's gilded cap passing among the
bayonets; four hundred thousand Parisians were there, like himself, full
of good-will, who had taken up their guns with the resolve to die
steadfast. Ah, the misery of defeat! All these brave men for five
months could only fidget about the place and eat carcases. May the good
God forgive the timid and the prattler! Alas! Poor old France! After
so much glory! Poor France of Jeanne d'Arc and of Napoleon!
IN TIME OF WAR
The great siege lasted nearly three months. Upon the thirtieth of
November they had fought a battle upon the banks of the Marne, then for
twenty-four hours the fight had seemed to slacken, and there was a heavy
snow-storm; but they maintained that the second of December would be
decisive. That morning the battalion of the National Guard, of which
Amedee Violette was one, went out for the first time, with the order
simply to hold themselves in reserve in the third rank, by the fort's
cannons, upon a hideous plain at the east of Paris.
Truly this National Guard did not make a bad appearance. They were a
trifle awkward, perhaps, in their dark-blue hooded cloaks, with their
tin-plate buttons, and armed with breech-loading rifles, and encumbered
with canteens, basins, and pouches, all having an unprepared and too-new
look. They all came from the best parts of the city, with accelerated
steps and a loud beating of drums, and headed, if you please, by their
major on horseback, a truss-maker, who had formerly been quartermaster of
the third hussars. Certainly they only asked for service; it was not
their fault, after all, if one had not confidence in them, and if they
were not sent to the front as soon as they reached the fortifications.
While crossing the drawbridge they had sung the Marseillaise like men
ready to be shot down. What spoiled their martial appearance, perhaps,
were their strong hunting-boots, their leather leggings, knit gloves, and
long gaiters; lastly, that comfortable air of people who have brought
with them a few dainties, such as a little bread with something eatable
between, some tablets of chocolate, tobacco, and a phial filled with old
rum. They had not gone two kilometres outside the ramparts, and were
near the fort, where for the time being the artillery was silent, when a
staff officer who was awaiting them upon an old hack of a horse, merely
skin and bones, stopped them by a gesture of the hand, and said sharply
to their major to take position on the left of the road, in an open
field. They then stacked their arms there and broke ranks, and rested
until further orders.
What a dismal place! Under a canopy of dull clouds, the earth bare with
half-melted snow, with the low fort rising up before them as if in an
attitude of defence, here and there groups of ruined houses, a mill whose
tall chimney and walls had been half destroyed by shells, but where one
still read, in large black letters, these words, "Soap-maker to the
Nobility;" and through this desolated country was a long and muddy road
which led over to where the battle field lay, and in the midst of which,
presenting a symbol of death, lay the dead body of a horse.
In front of the National Guard, on the other side of the road,
a battalion, which had been strongly put to the test the night before,
were cooking. They had retreated as far as this to rest a little,
and had spent all that night without shelter under the falling snow.
Exhausted, bespattered, in rags, they were dolefully crouched around
their meagre green-wood fires; the poor creatures were to be pitied.
Underneath their misshapen caps they all showed yellow, wrinkled, and
unshaven faces. The bitter, cold wind that swept over the plain made
their thin shoulders, stooping from fatigue, shiver, and their shoulder-
blades protruded under their faded capes. Some of them were wounded,
too slightly to be sent away in the ambulance, and wore about their
wrists and foreheads bands of bloody linen. When an officer passed with
his head bent and a humiliated air, nobody saluted him. These men had
suffered too much, and one could divine an angry and insolent despair in
their gloomy looks, ready to burst out and tell of their injuries.
They would have disgusted one if they had not excited one's pity. Alas,
they were vanquished!
The Parisians were eager for news as to recent military operations, for
they had only read in the morning papers--as they always did during this
frightful siege--enigmatical despatches and bulletins purposely bristling
with strategic expressions not comprehensible to the outsider. But all,
or nearly all, had kept their patriotic hopes intact, or, to speak more
plainly, their blind fanatical patriotism, and were certain against all
reason of a definite victory; they walked along the road in little
groups, and drew near the red pantaloons to talk a little.
"Well, it was a pretty hot affair on the thirtieth, wasn't it? Is it
true that you had command of the Marne? You know what they say in Paris,
my children? That Trochu knows something new, that he is going to make
his way through the Prussian lines and join hands with the helping
armies--in a word that we are going to strike the last blow."
At the sight of these spectres of soldiers, these unhappy men broken down
with hunger and fatigue, the genteel National Guards, warmly clad and
wrapped up for the winter, commenced to utter foolish speeches and big
hopes which had been their daily food for several months: "Break the iron
circle;" "not one inch, not a stone;" "war to the knife;" "one grand
effort," etc. But the very best talkers were speedily discouraged by the
shrugging of shoulders and ugly glances of the soldiers, that were like
those of a snarling cur.
Meanwhile, a superb sergeant-major of the National Guard, newly equipped,
a big, full-blooded fellow, with a red beard, the husband of a
fashionable dressmaker, who every evening at the beer-house, after his
sixth glass of beer would show, with matches, an infallible plan for
blocking Paris and crushing the Prussian army like pepper, and was
foolish enough to insist upon it.
"Now then, you, my good fellow," said he, addressing an insignificant
corporal just about to eat his stew, as if he were questioning an old
tactician or a man skilled like Turenne or Davoust; "do you see? you hit
it in this affair of day before yesterday. Give us your opinion. Are
the positions occupied by Ducrot as strong as they pretend? Is it
victory for to-day?"
The corporal turned around suddenly; with a face the color of boxwood,
and his blue eyes shining with rage and defiance, he cried in a hoarse
"Go and see for yourselves, you stay-at-homes!"
Saddened and heart-broken at the demoralization of the soldiers, the
National Guards withdrew.
"Behold the army which the Empire has left us!" said the dressmaker's
husband, who was a fool.
Upon the road leading from Paris, pressing toward the cannon's mouth
which was commencing to grumble again in the distance, a battalion of
militia arrived, a disorderly troop. They were poor fellows from the
departments in the west, all young, wearing in their caps the Brittany
coat-of-arms, and whom suffering and privation had not yet entirely
deprived of their good country complexions. They were less worn out than
the other unfortunate fellows whose turn came too often, and did not feel
the cold under their sheepskins, and still respected their officers, whom
they knew personally, and were assured in case of accident of absolution
given by one of their priests, who marched in the rear file of the first
company, with his cassock tucked up and his Roman hat over his eyes.
These country fellows walked briskly, a little helter-skelter, like their
ancestors in the time of Stofflet and M. de la Rochejaquelin, but with a
firm step and their muskets well placed upon their shoulders, by Ste.
Anne! They looked like soldiers in earnest.
When they passed by the National Guard, the big blond waved his cap in
the air, furiously shouting at the top of his lungs:
"Long live the Republic!"
But once more the fanatical patriot's enthusiasm fell flat. The Bretons
were marching into danger partly from desire, but more from duty and
discipline. At the very first shot these simple-minded creatures reach
the supreme wisdom of loving one's country and losing one's life for it,
if necessary, without interesting themselves in the varied mystifications
one calls government. Four or five of the men, more or less astonished
at the cry which greeted them, turned their placid, countrified faces
toward the National Guard, and the battalion passed by.
The dressmaker's husband--he did nothing at his trade, for his wife
adored him, and he spent at cafes all the money which she gave him--was
extremely scandalized. During this time Amedee Violette was dreamily
walking up and down before the stacks of guns. His warlike ardor of the
first few days had dampened. He had seen and heard too many foolish
things said and done since the beginning of this horrible siege; had
taken part too many times in one of the most wretched spectacles in which
a people can show vanity in adversity. He was heart broken to see his