Lampron had become animated and spoke with heat. There was the slightest flash of anger in his eyes.
I saw M. Charnot get up, approach him, and hold out his hand.
"I did not wish you to say anything else, Monsieur; that is enough for me. Flamaran asked my daughter's hand for your friend only this morning. Flamaran loses no time when charged with a commission. He, too, told me much that was good of your friend. I also questioned Counsellor Boule. But however flattering characters they might give him, I still needed another, that of a man who had lived in complete intimacy with Monsieur Mouillard, and I could find no one but you."
Lampron stared astonished at this little thin-lipped man who had just changed his tone and manner so unexpectedly.
"Well, Monsieur," he answered, "you might have got his character from me with less trouble; there was no need to make a scene."
"Excuse me. You say I should have got his character; that is exactly what I did not want; characters are always good. What I wanted was a cry from the heart of a friend outraged and brought to bay. That is what I got, and it satisfies me. I am much obliged to you, Monsieur, and beg you will excuse my conduct."
"But, since we are talking sense at present, allow me to put you a question in my turn. I am not in the habit of going around the point. Is my friend's proposal likely to be accepted or not?"
"Monsieur Lampron, in these delicate matters I have decided for the future to leave my daughter entirely free. Although my happiness is at stake almost as entirely as hers, I shall not say a word save to advise. In accordance with this resolve I communicated Flamaran's proposal to her."
"I expected she would refuse it."
"But she said 'Yes'?"
"She did not say 'No;' if she had, you can guess that I should not be here."
At this reply I quite lost my head, and was very near tearing aside the curtain, and bursting forth into the studio with a shout of gratitude.
But M. Charnot added:
"Don't be too sure, though. There are certain serious, and, perhaps, insurmountable obstacles. I must speak to my daughter again. I will let your friend know of our final decision as soon as I can. Good-by, Monsieur."
Lampron saw him to the street, and I heard their steps grow distant in the passage. A moment later Sylvestre returned and held out both hands to me, saying:
"Well, are you happy now?"
"Of course I am, to a certain extent."
"'To a certain extent'! Why, she loves you."
"But the obstacles, Sylvestre!"
"Perhaps insurmountable—those were his words."
"Why, obstacles are the salt of all our joys. What a deal you young men want before you can be called happy! You ask Life for certainties, as if she had any to give you!"
And he began to discuss my fears, but could not quite disperse them, for neither of us could guess what the obstacles could be.
After ten days of waiting, during which I have employed Lampron and M. Flamaran to intercede for me, turn and turn about; ten days passed in hovering between mortal anguish and extravagant hopes, during which I have formed, destroyed, taken up again and abandoned more plans than I ever made in all my life before, yesterday, at five o'clock, I got a note from M. Charnot, begging me to call upon him the same evening.
I went there in a state of nervous collapse. He received me in his study, as he had done seven months before, at our first interview, but with a more solemn politeness; and I noticed that the paper-knife, which he had taken up from the table as he resumed his seat, shook between his fingers. I sat in the same chair in which I had felt so ill at ease. To tell the truth, I felt very much the same, yesterday. M. Charnot doubtless noticed it, and wished to reassure me.
"Monsieur," said he, "I receive you as a friend. Whatever may be the result of our interview, you may be assured of my esteem. Therefore do not fear to answer me frankly."
He put several questions to me concerning my family, my tastes, and my acquaintance in Paris. Then he requested me to tell the simple story of my boyhood and my youth, the recollections of my home, of the college at La Chatre, of my holidays at Bourges, and of my student life.
He listened without interruption, playing with the ivory paperknife. When I reached the date—it was only last December—when I saw Jeanne for the first time—
"That's enough," said he, "I know or guess the rest. Young man, I promised you an answer; this is it—"
For the moment, I ceased to breathe; my very heart seemed to stop beating.
"My daughter," went on M. Charnot, "has at this moment several proposals of marriage to choose from. You see I hide nothing from you. I have left her time to reflect; she has weighed and compared them all, and communicated to me yesterday the result of her reflections. To richer and more brilliant matches she prefers an honest man who loves her for herself, and you, Monsieur, are that honest man."
"Oh, thank you, thank you, Monsieur!" I cried.
"Wait a moment, there are two conditions."
"Were there ten, I would accept them without question!"
"Don't hurry. You will see; one is my daughter's, the other comes from both of us."
"You wish me to have some profession, perhaps?"
"No, that's not it. Clearly my son-in-law will never sit idle. Besides, I have some views on that subject, which I will tell you later if I have the chance. No, the first condition exacted by my daughter, and dictated by a feeling which is very pleasant to me, is that you promise never to leave Paris."
"That I swear to, with all the pleasure in life!"
"Really? I feared you had some ties."
"Or dislike for Paris."
"No, Monsieur; only a preference for Paris, with freedom to indulge it. Your second condition?"
"The second, to which my daughter and I both attach importance, is that you should make your peace with your uncle. Flamaran tells me you have quarrelled."
"That is true."
"I hope it is not a serious difference. A mere cloud, isn't it?"
"Unfortunately not. My uncle is very positive—"
"But at the same time his heart is in the right place, so far as I could judge from what I saw of him—in June, I think it was."
"You don't mind taking the first step?"
"I will take as many as may be needed."
"I was sure you would. You can not remain on bad terms with your father's brother, the only relative you have left. In our eyes this reconciliation is a duty, a necessity. You should desire it as much as, and even more than, we."
"I shall use every effort, Monsieur, I promise you."
"And in that case you will succeed, I feel sure."
M. Charnot, who had grown very pale, held out his hand to me, and tried hard to smile.
"I think, Monsieur Fabien, that we are quite at one, and that the hour has come—"
He did not finish the sentence, but rose and went to open a door between two bookcases at the end of the room.
"Jeanne," he said, "Monsieur Fabien accepts the two conditions, my dear."
And I saw Jeanne come smiling toward me.
And I, who had risen trembling, I, who until then had lost my head at the mere thought of seeing her, I, who had many a time asked myself in terror what I should say on meeting her, if ever she were mine, I felt myself suddenly bold, and the words rushed to my lips to thank her, to express my joy.
My happiness, however, was evident, and I might have spared my words.
For the first half-hour all three of us talked together.
Then M. Charnot pushed back his armchair, and we two were left to ourselves.
He had taken up a newspaper, but I am pretty sure he held it upside down. In any case he must have been reading between the lines, for he did not turn the page the whole evening.
He often cast a glance over the top of the paper, folded in four, to the corner where we were sitting, and from us his eyes travelled to a pretty miniature of Jeanne as a child, which hung over the mantelpiece.
What comparisons, what memories, what regrets, what hopes were struggling in his mind? I know not, but I know he sighed, and had not we been there I believe he would have wept.
To me Jeanne showed herself simple as a child, wise and thoughtful as a woman. A new feeling was growing every instant within me, of perfect rest of heart; the certainty of happiness for all my life to come.
Yes, my happiness travelled beyond the present, as I looked into the future and saw along series of days passed by her side; and while she spoke to me, tranquil, confident, and happy too, I thought I saw the great wings of my dream closing over and enfolding us.
We spoke in murmurs. The open window let in the warm evening air and the confused roar of the city.
"I am to be your friend and counsellor?" said she.
"You promise that you will ask my advice in all things, and that we shall act in concert?"
"If this very first evening I ask you for a proof of this, you won't be angry?"
"On the contrary."
"Well, from what you have told me of your uncle, you seem to have accepted the second condition, of making up your quarrel, rather lightly."
"I have only promised to do my best."
"Yes, but my father counts upon your success. How do you intend to act?"
"I haven't yet considered."
"That's just what I foresaw, and I thought it would perhaps be a good thing if we considered it together."
"Mademoiselle, I am listening; compose the plan of campaign, and I will criticise it."
Jeanne clasped her hands over her knees and assumed a thoughtful look.
"Suppose you wrote to him."
"There is every chance that he would not answer."
"Mademoiselle, you are laughing; you are no counsellor any longer."
"Yes, I am. Let us be serious. Suppose you go to see him."
"That's a better idea. He may perhaps receive me."
"In that case you will capture him. If you can only get a man to listen—"
"Not my uncle, Mademoiselle. He will listen, and do you know what his answer will be?"
"This, or something like it: 'My worthy nephew, you have come to tell me two things, have you not? First, that you are about to marry a Parisienne; secondly, that you renounce forever the family practice. You merely confirm and aggravate our difference. You have taken a step further backward. It was not worth while your coming out of your way to tell me this, and you may return as soon as you please.'"
"You surprise me. There must be some way of getting at him, if he is really good-hearted, as you say. If I could see your uncle I should soon find out a way."
"If you could see him! Yes, that would be the best way of all; it couldn't help succeeding. He imagines you as a flighty Parisienne; he is afraid of you; he is more angry with me for loving you than for refusing to carry on his practice. If he could only see you, he would soon forgive me."
"You think so?"
"I'm sure of it."
"Do you think that if I were to look him in the face, as I now look at you, and to say to him: 'Monsieur Mouillard, will you not consent to my becoming your niece?' do you think that then he would give in?"
"Alas! Mademoiselle, why can not it be tried?"
"It certainly is difficult, but I won't say it can not."
We explained, or rather Jeanne explained, the case to M. Charnot, who is assuredly her earliest and most complete conquest. At first he cried out against the idea. He said it was entirely my business, a family matter in which he had no right to interfere. She insisted. She carried his scruples by storm. She boldly proposed a trip to Bourges, and a visit to M. Mouillard. She overflowed with reasons, some of them rather weak, but all so prettily urged! A trip to Bourges would be delightful—something so novel and refreshing! Had M. Charnot complained on the previous evening, or had he not, of having to stop in Paris in the heat of August? Yes, he had complained, and quite right too, for his colleagues did not hesitate to leave their work and rush off to the country. Then she cited examples: one off to the Vosges, another at Arcachon, yet another at Deauville. And she reminded him, too, that a certain old lady, one of his old friends of the Faubourg St. Germain, lived only a few miles out of Bourges, and had invited him to come and see her, she didn't know how many times, and that he had promised and promised and never kept his word. Now he could take the opportunity of going on from Bourges to her chateau. Finally, as M. Charnot continued to urge the singularity of such behavior, she replied:
"My dear father! not at all; in visiting Monsieur Mouillard you will be only fulfilling a social duty."
"How so, I should like to know?"
"He paid you a visit, and you will be returning it!"
M. Charnot tossed his head, like a father who, though he may not be convinced, yet admits that he is beaten.
As for me, Jeanne, I'm beginning to believe in the fairies again.
A COOL RECEPTION
I have made another visit to the Rue de l'Universite. They have decided to make the trip. I leave for Bourges tomorrow, a day in advance of M. and Mademoiselle Charnot, who will arrive on the following morning.
I am sent on first to fulfil two duties: to engage comfortable rooms at the hotel—first floor with southern aspect—and then to see my uncle and prepare him for his visitors.
I am to prepare him without ruffling him. Jeanne has sketched my plan of campaign. I am to be the most affectionate of nephews, though he show himself the crustiest of uncles; to prevent him from recurring to the past, to speak soberly of the present, to confess that Mademoiselle Charnot is aware of my feelings for her, and shows herself not entirely insensible to them; but I am to avoid giving details, and must put off a full explanation until later, when we can study the situation together. M. Mouillard can not fail to be appeased by such deference, and to observe a truce while I hint at the possibility of a family council. Then, if these first advances are well received, I am to tell him that M. Charnot is actually travelling in the neighborhood, and, without giving it as certain, I may add that if he stops at Bourges he may like to return my uncle's visit.
There my role ends. Jeanne and M. Charnot will do the rest. It is with Jeanne, by the light of her eyes and her smile, that M. Mouillard is "to study the situation;" he will have to struggle against the redoubtable arguments of her youth and beauty. Poor man!
Jeanne is full of confidence. Her father, who has learned his lesson from her, feels sure that my uncle will give in. Even I, who can not entirely share this optimism, feel that I incline to the side of hope.
When I reached home, the porter handed me two cards from Larive. On the first I read:
CH. LARIVE, Managing Clerk. P. P. C.
The second, on glazed cardboard, announced, likewise in initials, another piece of news:
CH. LARIVE, Formerly Managing Clerk. P. F. P. M.
So the Parisian who swore he could not exist two days in the country is leaving Paris. That was fated. He is about to be married; I'm sure I don't object. The only consequence to me is that we never shall meet again, and I shall not weep over that.
BOURGES, August 4th.
If you have ever been in Bourges, you may have seen the little Rue Sous-les-Ceps, the Cours du Bat d'Argent and de la Fleur-de-lys, the Rues de la Merede-Dieu, des Verts-Galants, Mausecret, du Moulin-le-Roi, the Quai Messire-Jacques, and other streets whose ancient names, preserved by a praiseworthy sentiment or instinctive conservatism, betoken an ancient city still inhabited by old-fashioned people, by which I mean people attached to the soil, strongly marked with the stamp of the provincial in manners as in language; people who understand all that a name is to a street—its honor, its spouse if you will, from which it must not be divorced.
My Uncle Mouillard, most devoted and faithful citizen of Bourges, naturally lives in one of these old streets, the Rue du Four, within the shadow of the cathedral, beneath the swing of its chimes.
Within fifteen minutes after my arrival at Bourges I was pulling the deer's foot which hangs, depilated with long use, beside his door. It was five o'clock, and I knew for certain that he would not be at home. When the courts rise, one of the clerks carries back his papers to the office, while he moves slowly off, his coat-tails flapping in the breeze, either to visit a few friends and clients, respectable dames who were his partners in the dance in the year 1840, or more often to take a "constitutional" along the banks of the Berry Canal, where, in the poplar shade, files of little gray donkeys are towing string after string of big barges.
So I was sure not to meet him.
Madeleine opened the door to me, and started as if shot.
"Myself, Madeleine. My uncle is not at home?"
"No, Monsieur. Do you really mean to come in, Monsieur?"
"The master's so changed since his visit to Paris, Monsieur Fabien!"
Madeleine stood still, with one hand holding up her apron, the other hanging, and gazed at me with reproachful anxiety.
"I must come in, Madeleine. I have a secret to tell you."
She made no answer, but turned and walked before me into the house.
It was not thus that I used to be welcomed in days gone by! Then Madeleine used to meet me at the station. She used to kiss me, and tell me how well I looked, promising the while a myriad sweet dishes which she had invented for me. Hardly did I set foot in the hall before my uncle, who had given up his evening walk for my sake, would run out of his study, heart and cravat alike out of their usual order at seeing me—me, a poor, awkward, gaping schoolboy: Today that is ancient history. To-day I am afraid to meet my uncle, and Madeleine is afraid to let me in.
She told me not a word of it, but I easily guessed that floods of tears had streamed from her black eyes down her thin cheeks, now pale as wax. Her face is quite transparent, and looks as if a tiny lamp were lighting it from within. There are strong feelings, too, beneath that impassive mask. Madeleine comes from Bayonne, and has Spanish blood in her. I have heard that she was lovely as a girl of twenty. With age her features have grown austere. She looks like a widow who is a widow indeed, and her heart is that of a grandmother.
She glided before me in her slippers to that realm of peace and silence, her kitchen. I followed her in. Two things that never found entrance there are dust and noise. A lonely goldfinch hangs in a wicker cage from the rafters, and utters from time to time a little shrill call. His note and the metallic tick-tick of Madeleine's clock alone enliven the silent flight of time. She sat down in the low chair where she knits after dinner.
"Madeleine, I am about to be married; did you know it?"
She slowly shook her head.
"Yes, in Paris, Monsieur Fabien; that's what makes the master so unhappy."
"You will soon see her whom I have chosen, Madeleine."
"I do not think so, Monsieur Fabien."
"Yes, yes, you will; and you will see that it is my uncle who is in the wrong."
"I have not often known him in the wrong."
"That has nothing to do with it. My marriage is fully decided upon, and all I want is to get my uncle's consent to it. Do you understand? I want to make friends with him."
Madeleine shook her head again.
"You won't succeed."
"My dear Madeleine!"
"No, Monsieur Fabien, you won't succeed."
"He must be very much changed, then!"
"So much that you could hardly believe it; so much that I can hardly keep myself from changing too. He, who had such a good appetite, now has nothing but fads. It's no good my cooking him dainties, or buying him early vegetables; he never notices them, but looks out of the window as I come in at the door with a surprise for him. In the evening he often forgets to go out in the garden, and sits at table, his elbows on his rumpled napkin, his head between his hands, and what he thinks of he keeps to himself. If I try to talk of you—and I have tried, Monsieur Fabien—he gets up in a rage, and forbids me to open my mouth on the subject. The house is not cheerful, Monsieur Fabien. Every one notices how he has changed; Monsieur Lorinet and his lady never enter the doors; Monsieur Hublette and Monsieur Horlet come and play dummy, looking all the time as if they had come for a funeral, thinking it will please the master. Even the clients say that the master treats them like dogs, and that he ought to sell his practice."
"Then it isn't sold?"
"Not yet, but I think it will be before long."
"Listen to me, Madeleine; you have always been good and devoted to me; I am sure you still are fond of me; do me one last service. You must manage to put me up here without my uncle knowing it."
"Without his knowing it, Monsieur Fabien!"
"Yes, say in the library; he never goes in there. From there I can study him, and watch him, without his seeing me, since he is so irritable and so easily upset, and as soon as you see an opportunity I shall make use of it. A sign from you, and down I come."
"Really, Monsieur Fabien—"
"It must be done, Madeleine; I must manage to speak to him before ten o'clock to-morrow morning, for my bride is coming."
"The Parisienne? She coming here!"
"Yes, with her father, by the train which gets in at six minutes past nine to-morrow."
"Good God! is it possible?"
"To see you, Madeleine; to see my uncle, to make my peace with him. Isn't it kind of her?"
"Kind? Monsieur Fabien! I tremble to think of what will happen. All the same, I shall be glad to have a sight of your young lady, of course."
And so we settled that Madeleine was not to say a word to my uncle about my being in Bourges, within a few feet of him. If she perceived any break in the gloom which enveloped M. Mouillard, she was to let me know; if I were obliged to put off my interview to the morrow, and to pass the night on the sofa-bed in the library, she was to bring me something to eat, a rug, and "the pillow you used in your holidays when you were a boy."
I was installed then in the big library on the first-floor, adjoining the drawing-room, its other door opening on the passage opposite M. Mouillard's door, and its two large windows on the garden. What a look of good antique middle-class comfort there was about it, from the floor of bees'-waxed oak, with its inequalities of level, to the four bookcases with glass doors, surmounted by four bronzed busts of Herodotus, Homer, Socrates, and Marmontel! Nothing had been moved; the books were still in the places where I had known them for twenty years; Voltaire beside Rousseau, the Dictionary of Useful Knowledge, and Rollin's Ancient History, the slim, well bound octavos of the Meditations of St. Ignatius, side by side with an enormous quarto on veterinary surgery.
The savage arrows, said to be poisoned, which always used to frighten me so much, were still arranged like a peacock's tail over the mantel-shelf, each end of which was adorned by the same familiar lumps of white coral. The musical-box, which I was not allowed to touch till I was eighteen, still stood in the left-hand corner, and on the writing-table, near the little blotting-book that held the note-paper, rose, still majestic, still turning obedient to the touch within its graduated belts, the terrestrial globe "on which are marked the three voyages of Captain Cook, both outward and homeward." Ah, captain, how often have we sailed those voyages together! What grand headway we made as we scoured the tropics in the heel of the trade-wind, our ship threading archipelagoes whose virgin forests stared at us in wonder, all their strange flowers opening toward us, seeking to allure us and put us to sleep with their dangerous perfumes. But we always guessed the snare, we saw the points of the assegais gleaming amid the tall grasses; you gave the word in your full, deep voice, and our way lay infinite before us; we followed it, always on the track of new lands, new discoveries, until we reached the fatal isle of Owhyhee, the spot where this terrestrial globe is spotted with a tear—for I wept over you, my captain, at the age when tears unlock themselves and flow easily from a heart filled with enchantment!
Seven o'clock sounded from the cathedral; the garden door slammed to; my uncle was returning.
I saw him coming down the winding path, hat in hand, with bowed head. He did not stop before his graftings; he passed the clump of petunias without giving them that all-embracing glance I know so well, the glance of the rewarded gardener. He gave no word of encouragement to the Chinese duck which waddled down the path in front of him.
Madeleine was right. The time was not ripe for reconciliation; and more, it would need a great deal of sun to ripen it. O Jeanne, if only you were here!
"Any one called while I've been out?"
This, by the way, is the old formula to which my uncle has always been faithful. I heard Madeleine answer, with a quaver in her voice:
"No, nobody for you, sir."
"Someone for you, then? A lover, perhaps, my faithful Madeleine? The world is so foolish nowadays that even you might take it into your head to marry and leave me. Come, serve my dinner quickly, and if the gentleman with the decoration calls—you know whom I mean?"
"The tall, thin gentleman?"
"Yes. Show him into the drawing-room."
"A gentleman by himself into the drawing-room?
"No, sir, no. The floor was waxed only yesterday, and the furniture's not yet in order."
"Very well! I'll see him in here."
My uncle went into the dining-room underneath me, and for twenty minutes I heard nothing more of him, save the ring of his wineglass as he struck on it to summon Madeleine.
He had hardly finished dinner when there came a ring at the street door. Some one asked for M. Mouillard, the gentleman with the decoration, I suppose, for Madeleine showed him in, and I could tell by the noise of his chair that my uncle had risen to receive his visitor.
They sat down and entered into conversation. An indistinct murmur reached me through the ceiling. Occasionally a clearer sound struck my ear, and I thought I knew that high, resonant voice. It was no doubt delusion, still it beset me there in the silence of the library, haunting my thoughts as they wandered restlessly in search of occupation. I tried to recollect all the men with fluty voices that I had ever met in Bourges: a corn-factor from the Place St. Jean; Rollet, the sacristan; a fat manufacturer, who used to get my uncle to draw up petitions for him claiming relief from taxation. I hunted feverishly in my memory as the light died away from the windows, and the towers of St. Stephen's gradually lost the glowing aureole conferred on them by the setting sun.
After about an hour the conversation grew heated.
My uncle coughed, the flute became shrill. I caught these fragments of their dialogue.
"But the law?"
"Is as I tell you."
"But this is tyranny!"
"Then our business is at an end."
Apparently it was not, though; for the conversation gradually sank down the scale to a monotonous murmur. A second hour passed, and yet a third. What could this interminable visit portend?
It was near eleven o'clock. A ray from the rising moon shone between the trees in the garden. A big black cat crept across the lawn, shaking its wet paws. In the darkness it looked like a tiger. In my mind's eye I saw Madeleine sitting with her eyes fixed on her dead hearth, telling her beads, her thoughts running with mine: "It is years since Monsieur Mouillard was up at such an hour." Still she waited, for never had any hand but hers shot the bolt of the street door; the house would not be shut if shut by any other than herself.
At last the dining-room door opened. "Let me show you a light; take care of the stairs."
Then followed the "Good-nights" of two weary voices, the squeaking of the big key turning in the lock, a light footstep dying away in the distance, and my uncle's heavy tread as he went up to his bedroom. The business was over.
How slowly my uncle went upstairs! The burden of sorrow was no metaphor in his case. He, who used to be as active as a boy, could now hardly-support his own weight.
He crossed the landing and went into his room. I thought of following, him; only a few feet lay between us. No doubt it was late, but his excited state might have predisposed him in my favor. Suddenly I heard a sigh—then a sob. He was weeping; I determined to risk all and rush to his assistance.
But just as I was about to leave the library a skirt rustled against the wall, though I had heard no sound of footsteps preceding it. At the same instant a little bit of paper was slipped in under the door—a letter from the silent Madeleine. I unfolded the paper and saw the following words written across from one corner to the other, with a contempt for French spelling, which was thoroughly Spanish:
"Ni allais pat ceux soire."
Very well, Madeleine, since that's your advice, I'll refrain.
I lay down to sleep on the sofa. Yet I was very sorry for the delay. I hated to let the night go by without being reconciled to the poor old man, or without having attempted it at least. He was evidently very wretched to be affected to tears, for I had never known him to weep, even on occasions when my own tears had flowed freely. Yet I followed my old and faithful friend's advice, for I knew that she had the peace of the household as much at heart as I; but I felt that I should seek long and vainly before I could discover what this latest trouble was, and what part I had in it.
JEANNE THE ENCHANTRESS
BOURGES, August 5th.
I woke up at seven; my first thought was for M. Mouillard. Where could he be? I listened, but could hear no sound. I went to the window; the office-boy was lying flat on the lawn, feeding the goldfish in the fountain. This proved beyond a doubt that my uncle was not in.
I went downstairs to the kitchen.
"Well, Madeleine, has he gone out?"
"He went at six o'clock, Monsieur Fabien."
"Why didn't you wake me?"
"How could I guess? Never, never does he go out before breakfast. I never have seen him like this before, not even when his wife died."
"What can be the matter with him?"
"I think it's the sale of the practice. He said to me last night, at the fool of the staircase: 'I am a brokenhearted man, Madeleine, a broken-hearted man. I might have got over it, but that monster of ingratitude, that cannibal'—saving your presence, Monsieur Fabien—'would not have it so. If I had him here I don't know what I should do to him.'"
"Didn't he tell you what he would do to the cannibal?"
"No. So I slipped a little note under your door when I went upstairs."
"Yes. I am much obliged to you for it. Is he any calmer this morning?"
"He doesn't look angry any longer, only I noticed that he had been weeping."
"Where is he?"
"I don't know at all. Besides, you might as well try to catch up with a deer as with him."
"That's true. I'd better wait for him. When will he be in?"
"Not before ten. I can tell you that it's not once a year that he goes out like this in the morning."
"But, Madeleine, Jeanne will be here by ten!"
"Oh, is Jeanne her name?"
"Yes. Monsieur Charnot will be here, too. And my uncle, whom I was to have prepared for their visit, will know nothing about it, nor even that I slept last night beneath his roof."
"To tell the truth, Monsieur Fabien, I don't think you've managed well. Still, there is Dame Fortune, who often doesn't put in her word till the last moment."
"Entreat her for me, Madeleine, my dear."
But Dame Fortune was deaf to prayers. My uncle did not return, and I could find no fresh expedient. As I made my way, vexed and unhappy, to the station, I kept asking myself the question that I had been turning over in vain for the last hour:
"I have said nothing to Monsieur Mouillard. Had I better say anything now to Monsieur Charnot?"
My fears redoubled when I saw Jeanne and M. Charnot at the windows of the train, as it swept past me into the station.
A minute later she stepped on to the platform, dressed all in gray, with roses in her cheeks, and a pair of gull's wings in her hat.
M. Charnot shook me by the hand, thoroughly delighted at having escaped from the train and being able to shake himself and tread once more the solid earth. He asked after my uncle, and when I replied that he was in excellent health, he went to get his luggage.
"Well!" said Jeanne. "Is all arranged?"
"On the contrary, nothing is."
"Have you seen him?"
"Not even that. I have been watching for a favorable opportunity without finding one. Yesterday evening he was busy with a visitor; this morning he went out at six. He doesn't even know that I am in Bourges."
"And yet you were in his house?"
"I slept on a sofa in his library."
She gave me a look which was as much as to say, "My poor boy, how very unpractical you are!"
"Go on doing nothing," she said; "that's the best you can do. If my father didn't think he was expected he would beat a retreat at once."
At this instant, M. Charnot came back to us, having seen his two trunks and a hatbox placed on top of the omnibus of the Hotel de France.
"That is where you have found rooms for us?"
"It is now twelve minutes past nine; tell Monsieur Mouillard that we shall call upon him at ten o'clock precisely."
I went a few steps with them, and saw them into the omnibus, which was whirled off at a fast trot by its two steeds.
When I had lost them from my sight I cast a look around me, and noticed three people standing in line beneath the awning, and gazing upon me with interest. I recognized Monsieur, Madame, and Mademoiselle Lorinet. They were all smiling with the same look of contemptuous mockery. I bowed. The man alone returned my salute, raising his hat. By some strange freak of fate, Berthe was again wearing a blue dress.
I went back in the direction of the Rue du Four, happy, though at my wits' end, forming projects that were mutually destructive; now expatiating in the seventh heaven, now loading myself with the most appalling curses. I slipped along the streets, concealed beneath my umbrella, for the rain was falling; a great storm-cloud had burst over Bourges, and I blessed the rain which gave me a chance to hide my face.
From the banks of the Voizelle to the old quarter around the cathedral is a rather long walk. When I turned from the Rue Moyenne, the Boulevard des Italiens of Bourges, into the Rue du Four, a blazing sun was drying the rain on the roofs, and the cuckoo clock at M. Festuquet's—a neighbor of my uncle—was striking the hour of meeting.
I had not been three minutes at the garden door, a key to which had been given me by Madeleine, when M. Charnot appeared with Jeanne on his arm.
"To think that I've forgotten my overshoes, which I never fail to take with me to the country!"
"The country, father?" said Jeanne, "why, Bourges is a city!—"
"To be sure—to be sure," answered M. Charnot, who feared he had hurt my feelings.
He put on his spectacles and began to study the old houses around him.
"Yes, a city; really quite a city."
I do not remember what commonplace I stammered.
Little did I care for M. Charnot's overshoes or the honor of Bourges at that moment! On the other side of the wall, a few feet off, I felt the presence of M. Mouillard. I reflected that I should have to open the door and launch the Academician, without preface, into the presence of the lawyer, stake my life's happiness, perhaps, on my uncle's first impressions, play at any rate the decisive move in the game which had been so disastrously opened.
Jeanne, though she did her best to hide it, was extremely nervous. I felt her hand tremble in mine as I took it.
"Trust in God!" she whispered, and aloud: "Open the door."
I turned the key in the lock. I had arranged that Madeleine should go at once to M. Mouillard and tell him that there were some strangers waiting in the garden. But either she was not on the lookout, or she did not at once perceive us, and we had to wait a few minutes at the bottom of the lawn before any one came.
I hid myself behind the trees whose leafage concealed the wall.
M. Charnot was evidently pleased with the view before him, and turned from side to side, gently smacking his lips like an epicure. And, in truth, my uncle's garden was perfection; the leaves, washed by the rain, were glistening in the fulness of their verdure, great drops were falling from the trees with a silvery tinkle, the petunias in the beds were opening all their petals and wrapping us in their scent; the birds, who had been mute while the shower lasted, were now fluttering, twittering, and singing beneath the branches. I was like one bewitched, and thought these very birds were discussing us. The greenfinch said:
"Old Mouillard, look! Here's Princess Goldenlocks at your garden gate."
The tomtit said:
"Look out, old man, or she'll outwit you."
The blackbird said:
"I have heard of her from my grandfather, who lived in the Champs Elysees. She was much admired there."
The swallow said:
"Jeanne will have your heart in the time it takes me to fly round the lawn."
The rook, who was a bit of a lawyer, came swooping down from the cathedral tower, crying:
"Caw, caw, caw! Let her show cause—cause!"
And all took up the chorus:
"If you had our eyes, Monsieur Mouillard, you would see her looking at your study; if you had our ears, you would hear her sigh; if you had our wings, you would fly to Jeanne."
No doubt it was this unwonted concert which attracted Madeleine's attention. We saw her making her way, stiffly and slowly, toward the study, which stood in the corner of the garden.
M. Mouillard's tall figure appeared on the threshold, filling up the entire doorway.
"In the garden, did you say? Whatever is your idea in showing clients into the garden? Why did you let them in?"
"I didn't let them in; they came in of themselves."
"Then the door can't have been shut. Nothing is shut here. I'll have them coming in next by the drawing-room chimney. What sort of people are they?"
"There's a gentleman and a young lady whom I don't know."
"A young lady whom you don't know—a judicial separation, I'll warrant—it's indecent, upon my word it is. To think that there are people who come to me about judicial separations and bring their young ladies with them!"
As Madeleine fled before the storm and found shelter in her kitchen, my uncle smoothed back his white hair with both his hands—a surviving touch of personal vanity—and started down the walk around the grass-plot.
I effaced myself behind the trees. M. Charnot, thinking I was just behind him, stepped forward with airy freedom.
My uncle came down the path with a distracted air, like a man overwhelmed with business, only too pleased to snatch a moment's leisure between the parting and the coming client. He always loved to pass for being overwhelmed with work.
On his way he flipped a rosebud covered with blight, kicked off a snail which was crawling on the path; then, halfway down the path, he suddenly raised his head and gave a look at his disturber.
His bent brows grew smooth, his eyes round with the stress of surprise.
"Is it possible? Monsieur Charnot of the Institute!"
"The same, Monsieur Mouillard."
"And this is Mademoiselle Jeanne?"
"Just so; she has come with me to repay your kind visit."
"Really, that's too good of you, much too good, to come such a way to see me!"
"On the contrary, the most natural thing in the world, considering what the young people are about."
"Oh! is your daughter about to be married?"
"Certainly, that's the idea," said M. Charnot, with a laugh.
"I congratulate you, Mademoiselle!"
"I have brought her here to introduce her to you, Monsieur Mouillard, as is only right."
"Right! Excuse me, no."
"Indeed it is."
"Excuse me, sir. Politeness is all very well in its way, but frankness is better. I went to Paris chiefly to get certain information which you were good enough to give me. But, really, it was not worth your while to come from Paris to Bourges to thank me, and to bring your daughter too."
"Excuse me in my turn! There are limits to modesty, Monsieur Mouillard, and as my daughter is to marry your nephew, and as my daughter was in Bourges, it was only natural that I should introduce her to you."
"Monsieur, I have no longer a nephew."
"He is here."
"And I never asked for your daughter."
"No, but you have received your nephew beneath your roof, and consequently—"
"Monsieur Fabien has been in your house since yesterday; he told you we were coming."
"No, I have not seen him; I never should have received him! I tell you I no longer have a nephew! I am a broken man, a—a—a—"
His speech failed him, his face became purple, he staggered and fell heavily, first in a sitting posture, then on his back, and lay motionless on the sanded path.
I rushed to the rescue.
When I got up to him Jeanne had already returned from the little fountain with her handkerchief dripping, and was bathing his temples with fresh water. She was the only one who kept her wits about her. Madeleine had raised her master's head and was wailing aloud.
"Alas!" she said, "it's that dreadful colic he had ten years ago which has got him again. Dear heart! how ill he was! I remember how it came on, just like this, in the garden."
I interrupted her lamentations by saying:
"Monsieur Charnot, I think we had better take Monsieur Mouillard up to bed."
"Then why don't you do it?" shouted the numismatist, who had completely lost his temper. "I didn't come here to act at an ambulance; but, since I must, do you take his head."
I took his head, Madeleine walked in front, Jeanne behind. My uncle's vast proportions swayed between M. Charnot and myself. M. Charnot, who had skilfully gathered up the legs, looked like a hired pallbearer.
As we met with some difficulty in getting upstairs, M. Charnot said, with clenched teeth:
"You've managed this trip nicely, Monsieur Fabien; I congratulate you sincerely!"
I saw that he intended to treat me to several variations on this theme.
But there was no time for talk. A moment later my uncle was laid, still unconscious, upon his bed, and Jeanne and Madeleine were preparing a mustard-plaster together, in perfect harmony. M. Charnot and I waited in silence for the doctor whom we had sent the office-boy to fetch. M. Charnot studied alternately my deceased aunt's wreath of orange-blossoms, preserved under a glass in the centre of the chimney-piece, and a painting of fruit and flowers for which it would have been hard to find a buyer at an auction. Our wait for the doctor lasted ten long minutes. We were very anxious, for M. Mouillard showed no sign of returning consciousness. Gradually, however, the remedies began to act upon him. The eyelids fluttered feebly; and just as the doctor opened the door, my uncle opened his eyes.
We rushed to his bedside.
"My old friend," said the doctor, "you have had plenty of people to look after you. Let me feel your pulse—rather weak; your tongue? Say a word or two."
"A shock—rather sudden—" said my uncle.
The doctor, following the direction of the invalid's eyes, which were fixed on Jeanne, upright at the foot of the bed, bowed to the young girl, whom he had not at first noticed; turned to me, who blushed like an idiot; then looked again at my uncle, only to see two big tears running down his cheeks.
"Yes, I understand; a pretty stiff shock, eh? At our age we should only be stirred by our recollections, emotions of bygone days, something we're used to; but our children take care to provide us with fresh ones, eh?"
M. Mouillard's breast heaved.
"Come, my dear fellow," proceeded the doctor; "I give you leave to give your future niece one kiss, and that in my presence, that I may be quite sure you don't abuse the license. After that you must be left quite alone; no more excitement, perfect rest."
Jeanne came forward and raised the invalid's head.
"Will you give me a kiss, uncle?"
She offered him her rosy cheek.
"With all my heart," said my uncle as he kissed her; "good girl—dear girl."
Then he melted into tears, and hid his face in his pillow.
"And now we must be left alone," said the doctor.
He came down himself in a moment, and gave us an encouraging account of the patient.
Hardly had the street door closed behind him when we heard the lawyer's powerful voice thundering down the stairs.
The old numismatist flew up the flight of stairs.
"Did you call me, Monsieur?"
"Yes, to invite you to dinner. I couldn't say the words just now, but it was in my mind."
"It is very kind of you, but we leave at nine o'clock."
"I dine at seven; that's plenty of time."
"It will tire you too much."
"Tire me? Why, don't you think I dine everyday?"
"I promise to come and inquire after you before leaving."
"I can tell you at once that I am all right again. No, no, it shall never be said that you came all the way from Paris to Bourges only to see me faint. I count upon you and Mademoiselle Jeanne."
"On all three of us?"
"That makes three, with me; yes, sir."
"Excuse me, four."
"I hope the fourth will have the sense to go and dine elsewhere."
"Come, come, Monsieur Mouillard; your nephew, your ward—"
"I ceased to be his guardian four years ago, and his uncle three weeks ago."
"He longs to put an end to this ill feeling—"
"Allow me to rest a little," said M. Mouillard, "in order that I may be in a better condition to receive my guests."
He lay down again, and showed clearly his intention of saying not another word on the subject.
During the conversation between M. Charnot and my uncle, to which we had listened from the foot of the staircase, Jeanne, who had a moment before been rejoicing over the completeness of the victory which she thought she had achieved, grew quite downhearted.
"I thought he had forgiven you when he kissed me," she said. "What can we do now? Can't you help us, Madeleine?"
Madeleine, whose heart was beginning to warm to Jeanne, sought vainly for an expedient, and shook her head.
"Ought he to go and see his uncle?" asked Jeanne.
"No," said Madeleine.
"Well, suppose you write to him, Fabien?"
Madeleine nodded approval, and drew from the depths of her cupboard a little glass inkstand, a rusty penholder, and a sheet of paper, at the top of which was a dove with a twig in its beak.
"My cousin at Romorantin died just before last New Year's Day," she explained; "so I had one sheet more than I needed."
I sat down at the kitchen table with Jeanne leaning over me, reading as I wrote. Madeleine stood upright and attentive beside the clock, forgetting all about her kitchen fire as she watched us with her black eyes.
This is what I wrote beneath the dove:
"MY DEAR UNCLE:
"I left Paris with the intention of putting an end to the misunderstanding between us, which has lasted only too long, and which has given me more pain than you can guess. I had no possible opportunity of speaking to you between five o'clock yesterday afternoon, when I arrived here, and ten o'clock this morning. If I had been able to speak with you, you would not have refused to restore me to your affection, which, I confess, I ought to have respected more than I have. You would have given your consent to my, union, on which depends your own happiness, my dear uncle, and that of your nephew,
"Rather too formal," said Jeanne. "Now, let me try."
And the enchantress added, with ready pen:
"It is I, Monsieur Mouillard, who am chiefly in need of forgiveness. Mine is the greater fault by far. You forbade Monsieur Fabien to love me, and I took no steps to prevent his doing so. Even yesterday, when he came to your house, it was my doing. I had assured him that your kind heart would not be proof against his loving confession.
"Was I really wrong in that?
"The words that you spoke just now have led me to hope that I was not.
"But if I was wrong, visit your anger on me alone. Forgive your nephew, invite him to dinner instead of us, and let me depart, regretting only that I was not judged worthy of calling you uncle, which would have been so pleasant and easy a name to speak.
I read the two letters over aloud. Madeleine broke into sobs as she listened.
A smile flickered about the corners of Jeanne's mouth.
We left the house, committing to Madeleine the task of choosing a favorable moment to hand M. Mouillard our joint entreaty.
And here I may as well confess that from the instant we got out of the house, all through breakfast at the hotel, and for a quarter of an hour after it, M. Charnot treated me, in his best style, to the very hottest "talking-to" that I had experienced since my earliest youth. He ended with these words: "If you have not made your peace with your uncle by nine o'clock this evening, Monsieur, I withdraw my consent, and we shall return to Paris."
I strove in vain to shake his decision. Jeanne made a little face at me, which warned me I was on the wrong track.
"Very well," I said to her, "I leave the matter in your hands."
"And I leave it in the hands of God," she answered. "Be a man. If trouble awaits us, hope will at any rate steal us a happy hour or two."
We were just then in front of the gardens of the Archbishop's palace, so M. Charnot walked in. The current of his reflections was soon changed by the freshness of the air, the groups of children playing around their mothers—whom he studied ethnologically and with reference to the racial divisions of ancient Gaul—by the beauty of the landscape—its foreground of flowers, the Place St. Michel beyond, and further yet, above the barrack-roofs, the line of poplars lining the Auron. He ceased to be a father-in-law, and became a tourist again.
Jeanne stepped with airy grace among the groups of strollers, and the murmurs which followed her path, though often envious, sounded none the less sweetly in my ears for that. I hoped to meet Mademoiselle Lorinet.
After we had seen the gardens, we had to visit the Place Seraucourt, the Cours Chanzy, the cathedral, Saint-Pierrele-Guillard, and the house of Jacques-Coeur. It was six o'clock by the time we got back to the Hotel de France.
A letter was waiting for us in the small and badly furnished entrance—hall. It was addressed to Mademoiselle Jeanne Charnot.
I recognized at once the ornate hand of M. Mouillard, and grew as white as the envelope.
M. Charnot cried, excitedly:
"Read it, Jeanne. Read it, can't you!"
Jeanne alone of us three kept a brave face.
"MY DEAR CHILD:
"I treated you perhaps with undue familiarity this morning, at a moment when I was not quite myself. Nevertheless, now that I have regained my senses, I do not withdraw the expressions of which I made use—I love you with all my heart; you are a dear girl.
"You will not get an old stager like me to give up his prejudices against the capital. Let it suffice that I have surrendered to a Parisienne. My niece, I forgive him for your sake.
"Come this evening, all three of you.
"I have several things to tell you, and several questions to ask you. My news is not all good. But I trust that all regrets will be overwhelmed in the gladness you will bring to my old heart.
When we rang at M. Mouillard's door, it was opened to us by Baptiste, the office-boy, who waits at table on grand occasions.
My uncle received us in the large drawing-room, in full dress, with his whitest cravat and his most camphorous frock-coat: "not a moth in ten years," is Madeleine's boast concerning this garment.
He saluted us all solemnly, without his usual effusiveness; bearing himself with simple and touching dignity. Strong emotion, which excites most natures, only served to restrain his. He said not a word of the past, nor of our marriage. This, the decisive engagement, opened with polite formalities.
I have often noticed this phenomenon; people meeting to "have it out" usually begin by saying nothing at all.
M. Mouillard offered his arm to Jeanne, to escort her to the dining-room. Jeanne was in high spirits. She asked him question after question about Bourges, its dances, fashions, manufactures, even about the procedure of its courts.
"I am sure you know that well, uncle," she said.
"Uncle" smiled at each question, his face illumined with a glow like that upon a chimney-piece when someone is blowing the fire. He answered her questions, but presently fell into a state of dejection, which even his desire to do honor to his guests could not entirely conceal. His thoughts betrayed themselves in the looks he kept casting upon me, no longer of anger, but of suffering, almost pleading, affection.
M. Charnot, who was rather tired, and also absorbed in Madeleine's feats of cookery, cast disjointed remarks and ejaculations into the gaps in the conversation.
I knew my uncle well enough to feel sure that the end of the dinner would be quite unlike the beginning.
I was right. During dessert, just as the Academician was singing the praises of a native delicacy, 'la forestine', my uncle, who had been revolving a few drops of some notable growth of Medoc in his glass for the last minute or two, stopped suddenly, and put down his glass on the table.
"My dear Monsieur Charnot," said he, "I have a painful confession to make to you."
"Eh? What? My dear friend, if it's painful to you, don't make it."
"Fabien," my uncle went on, "has behaved badly to me on certain occasions. But I say no more of it. His faults are forgotten. But I have not behaved to him altogether as I should."
"Alas! It is so, my dear child. My practice, the family practice, which I faithfully promised your father to keep for you—"
"You have sold it?"
My uncle buried his face in his hands.
"Last night, my poor child, only last night!"
"I thought so."
"I was weak I listened to the prompting of anger; I have compromised your future. Fabien, forgive me in your turn."
He rose from the table, and came and put a trembling hand on my shoulder.
"No, uncle, you've not compromised anything, and I've nothing to forgive you."
"You wouldn't take the practice if I could still offer it to you?"
"Upon your word?"
"Upon my word!"
M. Mouillard drew himself up, beaming:
"Ah! Thank you for that speech, Fabien; you have relieved me of a great weight."
With one corner of his napkin he wiped away two tears, which, having arisen in time of war, continued to flow in time of peace.
"If Mademoiselle Jeanne, in addition to all her other perfections, brings you fortune, Fabien, if your future is assured—"
"My dear Monsieur Mouillard," broke in the Academician with ill-concealed satisfaction. "My colleagues call me rich. They slander me. Works on numismatics do not make a man rich. Monsieur Fabien, who made some investigations into the subject, can prove it to you. No; I possess no more than an honorable competence, which does not give me everything, but lets me lack nothing."
"Aurea mediocritas," exclaimed my uncle, delighted with his quotation. "Oh, that Horace! What a fellow he was!"
"He was indeed. Well, as I was saying, our daily bread is assured; but that's no reason why my son-in-law should vegetate in idleness which I do not consider my due, even at my age."
"So he must work."
"But what is he to work at?"
"There are other professions besides the law, Monsieur Mouillard. I have studied Fabien. His temperament is somewhat wayward. With special training he might have become an artist. Lacking that early moulding into shape, he never will be anything more than a dreamer."
"I should not have expressed it so well, but I have often thought the same."
"With a temperament like your nephew's," continued M. Charnot, "the best he can do is to enter upon a career in which the ideal has some part; not a predominant, but a sufficient part, something between prose and poetry."
"Let him be a notary, then."
"No, that's wholly prose; he shall be a librarian."
"Yes, Monsieur Mouillard; there are a few little libraries in Paris, which are as quiet as groves, and in which places are to be got that are as snug as nests. I have some influence in official circles, and that can do no harm, you know."
"We will put our Fabien into one of those nests, where he will be protected against idleness by the little he will do, and against revolutions by the little he will be. It's a charming profession; the very smell of books is improving; merely by breathing it you live an intellectual life."
"An intellectual life!" exclaimed my uncle with enthusiasm. "Yes, an intellectual life!"
"And cataloguing books, Monsieur Mouillard, looking through them, preserving them as far as possible from worms and readers. Don't you think that's an enviable lot?"
"Yes, more so than mine has been, or my successor's will be."
"By the way, uncle, you haven't told us who your successor is to be."
"Haven't I, really? Why, you know him; it's your friend Larive."
"Oh! That explains a great deal."
"He is a young man who takes life seriously."
"Very seriously, uncle. Isn't he about to be married?"
"Why, yes; to a rich wife."
"My dear boy, he is picking up all your leavings; he is going to marry Mademoiselle Lorinet."
"He was always enterprising! But, uncle, it wasn't with him you were engaged yesterday evening?"
"Why not, pray?"
"You told Madeleine to admit a gentleman with a decoration."
"He has one."
"Good heavens! What is it?"
"The Nicham Iftikar, if it please you." [A Tunisian order, which can be obtained for a very moderate sum.]
"It doesn't displease me, uncle, and surprises me still less. Larive will die with his breast more thickly plastered with decorations than an Odd Fellow's; he will be a member of all the learned societies in the department, respected and respectable, the more thoroughly provincial for having been outrageously Parisian. Mothers will confide their anxieties to him, and fathers their interests; but when his old acquaintances pass this way they will take the liberty of smiling in his face."
"What, jealous? Are you jealous of his bit of ribbon?"
"No, uncle, I regret nothing; not even Larive's good fortune."
M. Mouillard fixed his eyes on the cloth, and began again, after a moment's silence:
"I, Fabien, do regret some things. It will be mournful at times, growing old alone here. Yet, after all, it will be some consolation to me to think that you others are satisfied with life, to welcome you here for your holidays."
"You can do better than that," said M. Charnot. "Come and grow old among us. Your years will be the lighter to bear, Monsieur Mouillard. Doubtless we must always bear them, and they weigh upon us and bend our backs. But youth, which carries its own burden so lightly, can always give us a little help in bearing ours."
I looked to hear my uncle break out with loud objections.
"It is a fine night," he said, simply; "let us go into the garden, and do you decide whether I can leave roses like mine."
M. Mouillard took us into the garden, pleased with himself, with me, with Jeanne, with everybody, and with the weather.
It was too dark to see the roses, but we could smell them as we passed. I had taken Jeanne's arm in mine, and we went on in front, in the cool dusk, choosing all the little winding paths.
The birds were all asleep. But the grasshoppers, crickets, and all manner of creeping things hidden in the grass, or in the moss on the trees, were singing and chattering in their stead.
Behind us, at some distance—in fact, as far off as we could manage—the gravel crackled beneath the equal tread of the two elders, and in a murmur we could catch occasional scraps of sentences:
"A granddaughter like Jeanne, Monsieur Charnot . . . ."
"A grandson like Fabien, Monsieur Mouillard . . . ."
A HAPPY FAMILY
PARIS, September 18th.
We are married. We are just back from the church. We have said good-by to all our friends, not without a quick touch or two of sadness, as quickly swallowed up in the joy which for the first time in the history of my heart is surging there at full tide, and widening to a limitless horizon. In the two hours I have to spare before starting for Italy, I am writing the last words in this brown diary, which I do not intend to take with me.
Jeanne, my own Jeanne, is leaning upon me and reading over my shoulder, which distracts the flow of my recollections.
There were crowds at the church. The papers had put us down among the fashionable marriages of the week. The Institute, the army, men of letters, public officials, had come out of respect for M. Charnot; lawyers of Bourges and Paris had come out of respect for my uncle. But the happiest, the most radiant, next to ourselves, were the people who came only for Jeanne's sake and mine; Sylvestre Lampron, painter-in-ordinary to Mademoiselle Charnot, bringing his pretty sketch as a wedding-present; M. Flamaran and Sidonie; Jupille, who wept as he used to "thirty years ago;" and M. and Madame Plumet, who took it in turns to carry their white-robed infant.
Jeanne and I certainly shook hands with a good many persons, but not with nearly as many as M. Mouillard. Clean-shaven, his cravat tied with exquisite care, he spun round in the crowd like a top, always dragging with him some one who was to introduce him to some one else. "One should make acquaintances immediately on arrival," he kept saying.
Yes, Uncle Mouillard has just arrived in Paris; he has settled down near us on the Quai Malaquais, in a pretty set of rooms which Jeanne chose for him. He thinks them perfect because she thought they would do. The tastes and interests of old student days have suddenly reawakened within him, and will not be put to sleep again. He already knows the omnibus and tramway lines better than I; he talks of Bourges as if it were twenty years since he left it: "When I used to live in the country, Fabien—"
My father-in-law has found in him a whole-hearted admirer, perhaps even a future pupil in numismatics. Their friendship makes me think of that—
["You don't mind, Jeanne?"
"Of course not, my dear; the brown diary is for our two selves alone." J.]
—of that of the town mouse and the country mouse. Just now, on their way back to the house, they had a conversation, by turns pathetic and jovial, in which their different temperaments met in the same feeling, but at opposite ends of the scale of its shades.
I caught this fragment of their talk:
"My dear Charnot, can you guess what I'm thinking about?"
"No, I haven't the least idea."
"I think it is very queer."
"What is queer?"
"To see a librarian begin his career with a blot of ink. For you can not deny that Fabien's marriage and situation, and my return to the capital, are all due to that. It must have been sympathetic ink—eh?"
"'Felix culpa', as you say, Monsieur Mouillard. There are some blunders that are lucky; but you can't tell which they are, and that's never any excuse for committing them."
I could hardly get hold of Lampron for a moment in the crowd he so dislikes. He was more uncouth and more devoted than ever.
"Well, are you happy?" he said.
"When you're less happy, come and see me."
"We shall always be just as happy as we are now," said Jeanne.
And I think she is right.
"Yes, I am quite happy, Sylvestre, and I owe my happiness to you, to her, and to others. I have done nothing myself to deserve happiness beyond letting myself drift on the current of life. Whenever I tried to row a stroke the boat nearly upset. Everything that others tried to do for me succeeded. I can't get over it. Just think of it yourself. I owed my introduction to Jeanne to Monsieur Flamaran, who drove me to call on her father; his friend; you courted her for me by painting her portrait; Madame Plumet told her you had done so, and also removed the obstacle in my path. I met her in Italy, thanks entirely to you; and you clinched the proposal which had been begun by Flamaran. To crown all, the very situation I desired has been obtained for me by my father-in-law. What have I had to do? I have loved, sorrowed, and suffered, nothing more; and now I tremble at the thought that I owe my happiness to every one I know except myself."
"Cease to tremble, my friend; don't be surprised at it, and don't alter your system in the least. Your happiness is your due; what matter how God chooses to grant it? Suppose it is an income for life paid to you by your relatives, your friends, the world in general, and the natural order of things? Well, draw your dividends, and don't bother about where they come from."
Since Lampron said so, and he is a philosopher, I think I had better follow his advice. If you don't mind, Jeanne, I will cherish no ambition beyond your love, and refrain from running after any increase in wealth or reputation which might prove a decrease in happiness. If you agree, Jeanne, we shall see little of society, and much of our friends; we shall not open our windows wide enough for Love, who is winged, to fly out of them. If such is your pleasure, Jeanne, you shall direct the household of your own sweet will—I should say, of your sweet wisdom; you shall be queen in all matters of domestic economy, you shall rule our goings-out and our comings-in, our visits, our travels. I shall leave you to guide me, as a child, along the joyous path in which I follow your footsteps. I am looking up at Jeanne. She has not said "No."
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
All that a name is to a street—its honor, its spouse Distrust first impulse Felix culpa Hard that one can not live one's life over twice He always loved to pass for being overwhelmed with work I don't call that fishing If trouble awaits us, hope will steal us a happy hour or two Obstacles are the salt of all our joys People meeting to "have it out" usually say nothing at first The very smell of books is improving There are some blunders that are lucky; but you can't tell You ask Life for certainties, as if she had any to give you
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS FOR THE ENTIRE INK STAIN:
All that a name is to a street—its honor, its spouse Came not in single spies, but in battalions Distrust first impulse Felix culpa Happy men don't need company Hard that one can not live one's life over twice He always loved to pass for being overwhelmed with work I don't call that fishing If trouble awaits us, hope will steal us a happy hour or two Lends—I should say gives Men forget sooner Natural only when alone, and talk well only to themselves Obstacles are the salt of all our joys One doesn't offer apologies to a man in his wrath People meeting to "have it out" usually say nothing at first Silence, alas! is not the reproof of kings alone Skilful actor, who apes all the emotions while feeling none Sorrows shrink into insignificance as the horizon broadens Surprise goes for so much in what we admire The very smell of books is improving The looks of the young are always full of the future There are some blunders that are lucky; but you can't tell To be your own guide doubles your pleasure You a law student, while our farmers are in want of hands You must always first get the tobacco to burn evenly You ask Life for certainties, as if she had any to give you