And now, half an hour after the husband had left the house, a cab drove up and a tall, slim, heavily veiled lady got out and went up the thickly carpeted stairs, only to be metamorphosed into the most ardent lover in the young woman's boudoir. The young Pole grew accustomed to his female attire so quickly that he even ventured to appear in the streets in it, and when he began to make conquests, and aristocratic gentlemen and successful speculators on the Stock Exchange looked at him significantly, and even followed him, he took a real pleasure in the part he was playing, and began to understand the pleasure a coquette feels in tormenting men.
The young Pole became more and more daring, until at last one evening he went to a private box at the opera, wrapped in an ermine cloak, on to which his dark, false curls fell in heavy waves.
A handsome young man in a box opposite to him ogled him incessantly from the first moment, and the young Pole responded in a manner which made the other bolder every minute. At the end of the third act, the box opener brought the fictitious Venus a small bouquet with a card concealed in it, on which was written in pencil: "You are the most lovely woman in the world, and I implore you on my knees to grant me an interview." The young Pole read the name of the man who had been captivated so quickly, and, with a peculiar smile, wrote on a card on which nothing but the name "Valeska" was printed: "After the theater," and sent Cupid's messenger back with it.
When the spurious Venus was about to enter her carriage after the performance, thickly veiled and wrapped in her ermine cloak, the handsome young man was standing by it with his hat off, and he opened the door for her. She was kind enough to allow him to get in with her and during their drive she talked to him in the most charming manner, but she was cruel enough to dismiss him without pity before they reached her house, and this she did every time. For she went to the theater each night now, and every evening she received an ardent note, and every evening she allowed the amorous swain to accompany her as far as her house, and men were beginning to envy him on account of his brilliant conquest, when a catastrophe happened which was very surprising for all concerned.
The husband of the lady in whose eyes the Pole had found favor, surprised the loving couple one day under circumstances which made any justification impossible. But while he, trembling with rage and jealousy, was drawing a small Circassian dagger which hung against the wall from its sheath, and as his wife threw herself, half-fainting, on to a couch, the young Pole had hastily put the false curls on to his head, and had slipped into the silk dress and the sable cloak which he had been wearing when he came into his mistress's boudoir. "What does this mean," the husband stammered, "Valeska?"—"Yes, sir," the young Pole replied; "Valeska, who has come here to show your wife a few love letters, which." ... "No, no," the deceived, but nevertheless guilty, husband said in imploring accents; "no, that is quite unnecessary." And at the same time he put the dagger back into its sheath. "Very well then, there is a truce between us," the Pole observed coolly, "but do not forget what weapons I possess, and which I mean to retain against all contingencies."
Then the gentlemen bowed politely to each other, and the unexpected meeting came to an end.
From that time forward, the terms on which the young married couple lived together assumed the character of that everlasting peace, which President Grant once promised to the whole world in his message to all nations. The young woman did not find it necessary to make her lover put on petticoats, and the husband constantly accompanied the real Valeska a good deal further than he did the false one on that memorable occasion.
"The Christmas-eve supper! Oh! no, I shall never go in for that again!" Stout Henri Templier said that in a furious voice, as if some one had proposed some crime to him, while the others laughed and said:
"What are you flying into a rage about?"
[Footnote 8: A great institution in France, and especially in Paris, at which black puddings are an indispensable dish.—TRANSLATOR.]
"Because a Christmas-eve supper played me the dirtiest trick in the world, and ever since I have felt an insurmountable horror for that night of imbecile gayety."
"Tell us what it is?"
"You want to know what it was? Very well then, just listen.
"You remember how cold it was two years ago at Christmas; cold enough to kill poor people in the streets. The Seine was covered with ice; the pavements froze one's feet through the soles of one's boots, and the whole world seemed to be at the point of going to pot.
"I had a big piece of work on, and so I refused every invitation to supper, as I preferred to spend the night at my writing table. I dined alone and then began to work. But about ten o'clock I grew restless at the thought of the gay and busy life all over Paris, at the noise in the streets which reached me in spite of everything, at my neighbors' preparations for supper, which I heard through the walls. I hardly knew any longer what I was doing; I wrote nonsense, and at last I came to the conclusion that I had better give up all hope of producing any good work that night.
"I walked up and down my room; I sat down and got up again. I was certainly under the mysterious influence of the enjoyment outside, and I resigned myself to it. So I rang for my servant and said to her:
"'Angela, go and get a good supper for two; some oysters, a cold partridge, some crayfish, hams and some cakes. Put out two bottles of champagne, lay the cloth and go to bed.'
"She obeyed in some surprise, and when all was ready, I put on my great coat and went out. A great question was to be solved: 'Whom was I going to bring in to supper?' My female friends had all been invited elsewhere, and if I had wished to have one, I ought to have seen about it beforehand, so I thought that I would do a good action at the same time, and I said to myself:
"'Paris is full of poor and pretty girls who will have nothing on their table to-night, and who are on the look out for some generous fellow. I will act the part of Providence to one of them this evening; and I will find one if I have to go into every pleasure resort, and have to question them and hunt for one till I find one to my choice.' And I started off on my search.
"I certainly found many poor girls, who were on the look-out for some adventure, but they were ugly enough to give any man a fit of indigestion, or thin enough to freeze as they stood if they had stopped, and you all know that I have a weakness for stout women. The more flesh they have, the better I like them, and a female colossus would drive me out of my senses with pleasure.
"Suddenly, opposite the Theatre des Varietes, I saw a face to my liking. A good head, and then two protuberances, that on the chest very beautiful, and that on the stomach simply surprising; it was the stomach of a fat goose. I trembled with pleasure, and said:
"'By Jove! What a fine girl!'
"It only remained for me to see her face. A woman's face is the dessert, while the rest is ... the joint.
"I hastened on, and overtook her, and turned round suddenly under a gas lamp. She was charming, quite young, dark, with large, black eyes, and I immediately made my proposition, which she accepted without any hesitation, and a quarter of an hour later, we were sitting at supper in my lodgings. 'Oh! how comfortable it is here,' she said as she came in, and she looked about her with evident satisfaction at having found a supper and a bed, on that bitter night. She was superb; so beautiful that she astonished me, and so stout that she fairly captivated me.
"She took off her cloak and hat, sat down and began to eat; but she seemed in low spirits, and sometimes her pale face twitched as if she were suffering from some hidden sorrow.
"'Have you anything troubling you?' I asked her.
"'Bah! Don't let us think of troubles!'
"And she began to drink. She emptied her champagne glass at a draught, filled it again, and emptied it again, without stopping, and soon a little color came into her cheeks, and she began to laugh.
"I adored her already, kissed her continually, and discovered that she was neither stupid, nor common, nor coarse as ordinary street-walkers are. I asked her for some details about her life, but she replied:
"'My little fellow, that is no business of yours!' Alas! an hour later....
"At last it was time to go to bed, and while I was clearing the table, which had been laid in front of the fire, she undressed herself quickly, and got in. My neighbors were making a terrible din, singing and laughing like lunatics, and so I said to myself:
"'I was quite right to go out and bring in this girl; I should never have been able to do any work.'
"At that moment, however, a deep groan made me look round, and I said:
"'What is the matter with you, my dear?'
"She did not reply, but continued to utter painful sighs, as if she were suffering horribly, and I continued:
"'Do you feel ill?' And suddenly she uttered a cry, a heartrending cry, and I rushed up to the bed, with a candle in my hand.
"Her face was distorted with pain, and she was wringing her hands, panting and uttering long, deep groans, which sounded like a rattle in the throat, and which are so painful to hear, and I asked her in consternation:
"'What is the matter with you? Do tell me what is the matter.'
"'Oh! my stomach! my stomach!' she said. I pulled up the bed-clothes, and I saw ... My friends, she was in labor.
"Then I lost my head, and I ran and knocked at the wall with my fists, shouting: 'Help! help!'
"My door was opened almost immediately, and a crowd of people came in, men in evening dress, women in low necks, harlequins, Turks, Musketeers, and this inroad startled me so, that I could not explain myself, and they, who had thought that some accident had happened, or that a crime had been committed, could not understand what was the matter. At last, however, I managed to say:
"'This ... this ... woman ... is being confined.'
"Then they looked at her, and gave their opinion, and a Friar, especially, declared that he knew all about it, and wished to assist nature, but as they were all as drunk as pigs, I was afraid that they would kill her, and I rushed downstairs without my hat, to fetch an old doctor, who lived in the next street. When I came back with him, the whole house was up; the gas on the stairs had been relighted, the lodgers from every floor were in my room, while four boatmen were finishing my champagne and lobsters.
"As soon as they saw me they raised a loud shout, and a milkmaid presented me with a horrible little wrinkled specimen of humanity, that was mewing like a cat, and said to me:
"'It is a girl.'
"The doctor examined the woman, declared that she was in a dangerous state, as the event had occurred immediately after supper, and he took his leave, saying he would immediately send a sick nurse and a wet nurse, and an hour later, the two women came, bringing all that was requisite with them.
"I spent the night in my armchair, too distracted to be able to think of the consequences, and almost as soon as it was light, the doctor came again, who found his patient very ill, and said to me:
"'Your wife, Monsieur....'
"'She is not my wife,' I interrupted him.
"'Very well then, your mistress; it does not matter to me.'
"He told me what must be done for her, what her diet must be, and then wrote a prescription.
"What was I to do? Could I send the poor creature to the hospital? I should have been looked upon as a brute in the house and in all the neighborhood, and so I kept her in my rooms, and she had my bed for six weeks.
"I sent the child to some peasants at Poissy to be taken care of, and she still costs me fifty francs a month, for as I had paid at first, I shall be obliged to go on paying as long as I live, and later on, she will believe that I am her father. But to crown my misfortunes, when the girl had recovered ... I found that she was in love with me, madly in love with me, the baggage!"
[Footnote 9: L2]
"Well, she had grown as thin as a homeless cat, and I turned the skeleton out of doors, but she watches for me in the streets, hides herself, so that she may see me pass, stops me in the evening when I go out, in order to kiss my hand, and, in fact, worries me enough to drive me mad; and that is why I never keep Christmas eve now."
WORDS OF LOVE
You do not write to me, I never see you, you never come, so I must suppose that you have ceased to love me. But why? What have I done? Pray tell me, my own dear love. I love you so much, so dearly! I should like always to have you near me, to kiss you all day while I called you every tender name that I could think of. I adore you, I adore you, I adore you, my beautiful cock.—Your affectionate hen,
* * * * *
My dear friend,
You will absolutely understand nothing of what I am going to say to you, but that does not matter, and if my letter happens to be read by another woman, it may be profitable to her.
Had you been deaf and dumb, I should no doubt have loved you for a very long time, and the cause of what has happened is, that you can talk; that is all.
In love, you see, dreams are always made to sing, but in order that they might do so, they must not be interrupted, and when one talks between two kisses, one always interrupts that frenzied dream which our souls indulge in, unless they utter sublime words; and sublime words do not come out of the little mouths of pretty girls.
You do not understand me at all, do you? So much the better, and I will go on. You are certainly one of the most charming and adorable women whom I have ever seen.
Are there any eyes on earth that contain more dreams than yours, more unknown promises, greater depths of love? I do not think so. And when that mouth of yours, with its two round lips, smiles, and shows the glistening white teeth, one is tempted to say that there issues from this ravishing mouth ineffable music, something inexpressibly delicate, a sweetness which extorts sighs.
It is then that you quietly call out to me, my great and renowned "lady-killer," and it then seems to me as though I had suddenly found an entrance into your thoughts, which I can see is ministering to your soul—that little soul of a pretty, little creature, yes, pretty, but—and that is what troubles me, don't you see, troubles me more than tongue can tell. I would much prefer never to see you at all.
You go on pretending not to understand anything, do you not? I calculate on that.
Do you remember the first time you came to see me at my residence? How gaily you stepped inside, an odor of violets, which clung to your skirts, heralding your entrance; how we regarded each other, for ever so long, without uttering a word, after which we embraced like two fools.... Then ... then from that time to this, we have never exchanged a word.
But when we separated, did not our trembling hands and our eyes say many things, things ... which cannot be expressed in any language. At least, I thought so; and when you went away, you murmured:
"We shall meet again soon!"
That was all you said, and you will never guess what delightful dreams you left me, all that I, as it were, caught a glimpse of, all that I fancied I could guess in your thoughts.
You see, my poor child, for men who are not stupid, who are rather refined and somewhat superior, love is such a complicated instrument, that the merest trifle puts it out of order. You women never perceive the ridiculous side of certain things when you love, and you fail to see the grotesqueness of some expressions.
Why does a word which sounds quite right in the mouth of a small, dark woman, seem quite wrong and funny in the mouth of a fat, light-haired woman? Why are the wheedling ways of the one, altogether out of place in the other?
Why is it that certain caresses which are delightful from the one, should be wearisome from the other? Why? Because in everything, and especially in love, perfect harmony, absolute agreement in motion, voice, words, and in demonstrations of tenderness, are necessary, with the person who moves, speaks and manifests affection; it is necessary in age, in height, in the color of the hair, and in the style of beauty.
If a woman of thirty-five, who has arrived at the age of violent, tempestuous passion, were to preserve the slightest traces of the caressing archness of her love affairs at twenty, were not to understand that she ought to express herself differently, look at her lover differently, and kiss him differently were not to see that she ought to be Dido and not a Juliette, she would infallibly disgust nine lovers out of ten, even if they could not account to themselves for their estrangement. Do you understand me? No. I hoped so.
From the time that you turned on your tap of tenderness, it was all over for me, my dear friend. Sometimes we would embrace for five minutes, in one interminable kiss, one of those kisses which make lovers close their eyes, as if part of it would escape through their looks, as if to preserve it entire in that clouded soul which it is ravaging. And then, when our lips separated, you would say to me:
"That was nice, you fat old dog."
At such moments, I could have beaten you; for you gave me successively all the names of animals and vegetables which you doubtless found in some cookery book, or Gardener's Manual. But that is nothing.
The caresses of love are brutal, bestial, and if one comes to think of it, grotesque! ... Oh! My poor child, what joking elf, what perverse sprite could have prompted the concluding words of your letter to me? I have made a collection of them, but out of love for you, I will not show them to you.
And you really sometimes said things which were quite inopportune, and you managed now and then to let out an exalted: I love you! on such singular occasions, that I was obliged to restrain a strong desire to laugh. There are times when the words: I love you! are so out of place, that they become indecorous; let me tell you that.
But you do not understand me, and many other women will also not understand me, and think me stupid, though that matters very little to me. Hungry men eat like gluttons, but people of refinement are disgusted at it, and they often feel an invincible dislike for a dish, on account of a mere trifle. It is the same with love, as it is with cookery.
What I cannot comprehend, for example, is, that certain women who fully understand the irresistible attraction of fine, embroidered stockings, the exquisite charm of shades, the witchery of valuable lace concealed in the depths of their underclothing, the exciting jest of hidden luxury, and all the subtle delicacies of female elegance, never understand the invincible disgust with which words that are out of place, or foolishly tender, inspire us.
At times coarse and brutal expressions work wonders, as they excite the senses, and make the heart beat, and they are allowable at the hours of combat. Is not that sentence of Cambronne's sublime? 
[Footnote 10: At Waterloo, General Cambronne is reported to have said, when called on to surrender:—The Guard dies, but does not surrender. But according to Victor Hugo, in Les Miserables, he used the expression Merde! which cannot be put into English fit for ears polite.—TRANSLATOR.]
Nothing shocks us that comes at the right time; but then, we must also know when to hold our tongue, and to avoid phrases a la Paul de Kock, at certain moments.
And I embrace you passionately, on the condition that you say nothing,
A DIVORCE CASE
M. Chassel advocate, rises to speak: Mr. President and gentlemen of the jury. The cause that I am charged to defend before you, requires medicine rather than justice; and is much more a case of pathology than a case of ordinary law. At first blush the facts seem very simple.
A young man, very rich, with a noble and cultivated mind, and a generous heart, becomes enamored of a young lady, who is the perfection of beauty, more than beautiful, in fact; she is adorable, besides being as gracious, as she is charming, as good and true as she is tender and pretty, and he marries her. For some time, he comports himself towards her not only as a devoted husband, but as a man full of solicitude and tenderness. Then he neglects her, misuses her, seems to entertain for her an insurmountable aversion, an irresistible disgust. One day he even strikes her, not only without any cause, but also without the faintest pretext. I am not going, gentlemen, to draw a picture of silly allurements, which no one would comprehend. I shall not paint to you the wretched life of those two beings, and the horrible grief of this young woman. It will be sufficient to convince you, if I read some fragments from a journal written up every day by that poor young man, by that poor fool! For it is in the presence of a fool, gentlemen, that we now find ourselves, and the case is all the more curious, all the more interesting, seeing that, in many points, it recalls the insanity of the unfortunate prince who recently died, of the witless king who reigned platonically over Bavaria. I shall hence designate this case—poetic folly.
You will readily call to mind all that has been told of that most singular prince. He caused to be erected amid the most magnificent scenery his kingdom afforded, veritable fairy castles. The reality even of the beauty of the things themselves, as well as of the places, did not satisfy him. He invented, he created, in these improbable manors, factitious horizons, obtained by means of theatrical artifices, changes of view, painted forests, fabled empires, in which the leaves of the trees became precious stones. He had the Alps, and glaciers, steppes, deserts of sand made hot by a blazing sun; and at nights, under the rays of the real moon, lakes which sparkled from below by means of fantastic electric lights. Swans floated on the lakes which glistened with skiffs, while an orchestra, composed of the finest executants in the world, inebriated with poetry the soul of the royal fool. That man was chaste, that man was a virgin. He lived only to dream, his dream, his dream divine. One evening he took out with him in his boat, a lady, young and beautiful, a great artiste, and he begged her to sing. Intoxicated herself by the magnificent scenery, by the languid softness of the air, by the perfume of flowers, and by the ecstacy of that prince, both young and handsome, she sang, she sang as women sing who have been touched by love; then, overcome, trembling, she falls on the bosom of the king in order to seek out his lips. But he throws her into the lake, and seizing his oars, rows back to the shore, without concerning himself, whether anybody has saved her or not.
Gentlemen of the jury, we find ourselves in presence of a case similar in every way to that. I shall say no more now, except to read some passages from the journal which we unexpectedly came upon in the drawer of an old secretary.
* * * * *
How sad and weary is everything; always the same, always hateful. How I dream of a land more beautiful, more noble, more varied. What a poor conception they have of their God, if their God existed, or if he had not created other things, elsewhere. Always woods, little woods, waves which resemble waves, plains which resemble plains, everything is sameness and monotony. And Man? Man? What a horrible animal! wicked, haughty and repugnant!
* * * * *
It is essential to love, to love perdition, without seeing that which one loves. For, to see is to comprehend, and to comprehend is to embrace. It is necessary to love, to become intoxicated by it, just as one gets drunk with wine, even to the extent that one knows no longer what one is drinking. And to drink, to drink, to drink, without drawing breath, day and night!
* * * * *
I have found her, I believe. She has about her something ideal which does not belong to this world, and which furnishes wings to my dream. Ah! my dream! How it reveals to me beings different from what they really are! She is a blonde, a delicate blonde, with hair whose delicate shade is inexpressible. Her eyes are blue! Only blue eyes can penetrate my soul. All women, the woman who lives in my heart, reveal themselves to me in the eye, only in the eyes. Oh! what a mystery, what a mystery is the eye! The whole universe lives in it, inasmuch as it sees, inasmuch as it reflects. It contains the universe, both things and beings, forests and oceans, men and beasts, the settings of the sun, the stars, the arts—all, all, it sees; it collects and absorbs all; and there is still more in it; the eye of itself has a soul; it has in it the man who thinks, the man who loves, the man who laughs, the man who suffers! Oh! regard the blue eyes of women, those eyes that are as deep as the sea, as changeful as the sky, so sweet, so soft, soft as the breezes, sweet as music, luscious as kisses; and transparent, so clear that one sees behind them, discerns the soul, the blue soul which colors them, which animates them, which electrifies them. Yes, the soul has the color of the looks. The blue soul alone contains in itself that which dreams; it bears its azure to the floods and into space. The eye! Think of it, the eye! It imbibes the visible life, in order to nourish thought. It drinks in the world, color, movement, books, pictures, all that is beautiful, all that is ugly, and weaves ideas out of them. And when it regards us, it gives us the sensation of a happiness that is not of this earth. It informs us of that of which we have always been ignorant; it makes us comprehend that the realities of our dreams are but noisome ordures.
* * * * *
I love her too for her walk. "Even when the bird walks one feels that it has wings," as the poet has said. When she passes one feels that she is of another race from ordinary women, of a race more delicate, and more divine. I shall marry her to-morrow. But I am afraid, I am afraid of so many things!
* * * * *
Two beasts, two dogs, two wolves, two foxes, cut their way through the plantation and encounter one another. One of each two is male, the other female. They couple. They couple in consequence of an animal instinct, which forces them to continue the race, their race, the one from which they have sprung, the hairy coat, the form, movements and habitudes. The whole of the animal creation do the same without knowing why.
We human beings, also.
It is for this I have married; I have obeyed that insane passion which throws us in the direction of the female.
* * * * *
She is my wife. In accordance with my ideal desires, she comes very nearly to realize my unrealizable dream. But in separating from her, even for a second, after I have held her in my arms, she becomes no more than the being whom nature has made use of, to disappoint all my hopes.
Has she disappointed them? No. And why have I grown weary of her, become loath even to touch her; she cannot graze even the palm of my hand, or the tip of my lips, but my heart throbs with unutterable disgust, not perhaps disgust of her, but a disgust more potent, more widespread, more loathsome; the disgust, in a word, of carnal love so vile in itself that it has become for all refined beings, a shameful thing, which is necessary to conceal, which one never speaks of save in a whisper, nor without blushing.
* * * * *
I can no longer bear the idea of my wife coming near me, calling me by name, with a smile; I cannot look at her, nor touch even her arm, I cannot do it any more. At one time I thought to be kissed by her, would be to transport me to St. Paul's seventh heaven. One day, she was suffering from one of those transient fevers, and I smelled in her breath, a subtle, slight almost imperceptible puff of human putridity; I was completely overthrown.
Oh! the flesh, with its seductive and eager smell, a putrefaction which walks, which thinks, which speaks, which looks, which laughs, in which nourishment ferments and rots, which, nevertheless, is rose-colored, pretty, tempting, deceitful as the soul itself.
* * * * *
Why flowers alone, which smell so sweet, those large flowers, glittering or pale, whose tones and shades make my heart tremble and trouble my eyes. They are so beautiful, their structure is so finished, so varied and sensual, semi-opened like human organs, more tempting than mouths, and streaked with turned up lips, teeth, flesh, seed of life powders, which, in each, gives forth a distinct perfume.
They reproduce themselves, they alone, in the world, without polluting their inviolable race, shedding around them the divine influence of their love, the odoriferous incense of their caresses, the essence of their incomparable body, of their body adorned with every grace, with every elegances of every shape and form; who have likewise the coquetry of every hue of color, and the inebriating seduction of every variety of perfume.
* * * * *
FRAGMENTS WHICH WERE SELECTED SIX MONTHS LATER.
I love flowers, not as flowers, but as material and delicious beings; I pass my days and my nights in beds of flowers, where they have been concealed from the public view like the women of a harem.
Who knows, except myself, the sweetness, the infatuation, the quivering, carnal, ideal, superhuman ecstacy of these tendernesses; and those kisses upon the bare flesh of a rose, upon the blushing flesh, upon the white skin, so miraculously different, delicate, rare, subtle, unctuous, of these adorable flowers!
I have flower-beds that no one has seen except myself, and which I tend myself.
I enter there as one would glide into a place of secret pleasure. In the lofty glass gallery, I pass first through a collection of enclosed carollas, half open or in full bloom, which incline towards the ground, or towards the roof. This is the first kiss they have given me.
The flowers just mentioned, these flowers which adorn the vestibule of my mysterious passions, are my servants and not my favorites.
They salute me by the change of their color and by their first inhalations. They are darlings, coquettes, arranged in eight rows to the right, eight rows, the left, and so laid out that they look like two gardens springing up from under my feet.
My heart palpitates, my eyes flash at the sight of them; my blood rushes through my veins, my soul is elated, and my hands tremble from desire as soon as I touch them. I pass on. There are three closed doors at the bottom of that gallery. I can make my choice of them. I have three harems.
But I enter most often the habitation of the orchids, my little wheedlers, by preference. Their chamber is low, suffocating. The humid and hot air make the skin moist, takes away the breath and causes the fingers to quiver. They come, these strange girls, from a country marshy, burning and unhealthy. They draw you towards them as do the sirens, are as deadly as poison, admirably fantastic, enervating, dreadful. The butterflies here would also seem to have enormous wings, tiny feet, and eyes! Yes! they have also eyes! They look at me, they see me, prodigious, incomparable beings, fairies, daughters of the sacred earth, of the impalpable air, and of hot sun rays, that mother bountiful of the universe. Yes, they have wings, they have eyes, and nuances that no painter could imitate, every charm, every grace, every form that one could dream of. These wombs are transverse, odoriferous and transparent, ever open for love and more tempting than all the flesh of women. The unimaginable designs of their little bodies inebriates the soul, and transports it to a paradise of images and of voluptuous ideals. They tremble upon their stems as though they would fly. When they do fly do they come to me? No, it is my heart that hovers o'er them, like a mystic male, tortured by love.
No wing of any animal can keep pace with them. We are alone, they and I, in the lighted prison which I have constructed for them. I regard them, I contemplate them, I admire them, I adore them, the one after the other.
How healthy, strong and rosy, a rosiness that moistens the lips of desire! How I love them! The border is frizzled, paler than their throat, where the carolla hides itself away; a mysterious mouth, seductive sugar under the tongue, exhibiting and unveiling the delicate, admirable and sacred organs of these divine little creatures which smell so exquisitely and do not speak.
I sometimes have a passion for some of them that lasts as long as their existence, which only embraces a few days and nights. I then have them taken away from the common gallery and enclosed in a pretty glass cabin, in which there murmurs a jet of water over against a tropical gazon, which has been brought from one of the Pacific Islands. And I remain close to it, ardent, feverish and tormented, knowing that its death is near, and watch it fading away, while that in thought, I possess it, aspire to its love, drink it in, and then pluck its short life with an inexpressible caress.
* * * * *
When he had finished the reading of these fragments, the advocate continued:
"Decency, gentlemen of the jury, hinders me from communicating to you the extraordinary avowals of this shameless, idealistic fool. The fragments that I have just submitted to you will be sufficient, in my opinion, to enable you to appreciate this instance of mental malady, less rare in our epoch of hysterical insanity and of corrupt decadence than most of us believe.
"I think, then, that my client is more entitled than any women whatever to claim a divorce, in the exceptional circumstances in which the disordered senses of her husband has placed her."
My God! My God! I am going to write down at last what has happened to me. But how can I? How dare I? The thing is so bizarre, so inexplicable, so incomprehensible, so silly!
If I were not perfectly sure of what I have seen, sure that there was not in my reasoning any defect, no error in my declarations, no lacune in the inflexible sequence of my observations, I should believe myself to be the dupe of a simple hallucination, the sport of a singular vision. After all, who knows?
Yesterday I was in a private asylum, but I went there voluntarily, out of prudence and fear. Only one single human being knows my history, and that is the doctor of the said asylum. I am going to write to him. I really do not know why? To disembarrass myself? For I feel as though I were being weighed down by an intolerable nightmare.
Let me explain.
I have always been a recluse, a dreamer, a kind of isolated philosopher, easy-going, content with but little, harboring ill-feeling against no man, and without even having a grudge against heaven. I have constantly lived alone, consequently, a kind of torture takes hold of me when I find myself in the presence of others. How is this to be explained? I for one cannot. I am not averse from going out into the world, from conversation, from dining with friends, but when they are near me for any length of time, even the most intimate friends, they bore me, fatigue me, enervate me, and I experience an overwhelming torturing desire, to see them get up to depart, or to take themselves away, and to leave me by myself.
That desire is more than a craving; it is an irresistible necessity. And if the presence of people, with whom I find myself, were to be continued; if I were compelled, not only to listen, but also to follow, for any length of time, their conversation, a serious accident would assuredly take place. What kind of accident? Ah! who knows? Perhaps a slight paralytic stroke? Yes, probably!
I like so much to be alone that I cannot even endure the vicinage of other beings sleeping under the same roof. I cannot live in Paris, because when there I suffer the most acute agony. I lead a moral life, and am therefore tortured in my body and in my nerves by that immense crowd which swarms, which lives around even when it sleeps. Ah! the sleeping of others is more painful still than their conversation. And I can never find repose when I know, when I feel, that on the other side of a wall, several existences are interrupted by these regular eclipses of reason.
Why am I thus? Who knows? The cause of it is perhaps very simple. I get tired very soon with everything that does not emanate from me. And there are many people in similar case.
We are, on earth, two distinct races. Those who have need of others, whom others distract, engage, soothe, whom solitude harasses, pains, stupefies, like the forward movement of a terrible glacier, or the traversing of the desert; and those, on the contrary, whom others weary, tire, bore, silently torture, while isolation calms them, bathes them in the repose of independency, and plunges them into the humors of their own thoughts. In fine, there is here a normal, physical phenomenon. Some are constituted to live a life without themselves, others, to live a life within themselves. As for me, my exterior associations are abruptly and painfully short-lived, and, as they reach their limits, I experience in my whole body and in my whole intelligence, an intolerable uneasiness.
As a result of this, I became attached, or rather, I had become much attached to inanimate objects, which have for me the importance of beings, and my house has become, had become, a world in which I lived an active and solitary life, surrounded by all manner of things, furniture, familiar knick-knacks, as sympathetic in my eyes as the visages of human beings. I had filled my mansion with them, little by little, I had adorned it with them, and I felt an inward content and satisfaction, was more happy than if I had been in the arms of a desirable female, whose wonted caresses had become a soothing and delightful necessity.
I had had this house constructed in the center of a beautiful garden, which hid it from the public highways, and which was near the entrance to a city where I could find, on occasion, the resources of society, for which, at moments, I had a longing. All my domestics slept in a separate building which was situated at some considerable distance from my house, at the far end of the kitchen garden, which was surrounded by a high wall. The obscure envelopment of the nights, in the silence of my invisible and concealed habitation, buried under the leaves of the great trees, were so reposeful and so delicious, that I hesitated every evening, for several hours, before I could retire to my couch, in order to enjoy the solitude a little longer.
One day Signad had been played at one of the city theaters. It was the first time that I had listened to that beautiful, musical, and fairy-like drama, and I had derived from it the liveliest pleasures.
I returned home on foot, with a light step, my head full of sonorous phrases, and my mind haunted by delightful visions. It was night, the dead of night, and so dark that I could hardly distinguish the broad highway, and whence I stumbled into the ditch more than once. From the custom's-house, at the barriers to my house, was about a mile, perhaps a little more, or a leisurely walk of about twenty minutes. It was one o'clock in the morning, one o'clock or maybe half-past one; the sky had by this time cleared somewhat and the crescent appeared, the gloomy crescent of the last quarter of the moon. The crescent of the first quarter is, that which rises about five or six o'clock in the evening; is clear, gay and fretted with silver; but the one which rises after midnight is reddish, sad and desolating; it is the true Sabbath crescent. Every prowler by night has made the same observation. The first, though as slender as a thread, throws a faint joyous light which rejoices the heart and lines the ground with distinct shadows; the last, sheds hardly a dying glimmer, and is so wan that it occasions hardly any shadows.
In the distance, I perceived the somber mass of my garden, and I know not why I was seized with a feeling of uneasiness at the idea of going inside. I slowed my pace, and walked very softly, the thick cluster of trees having the appearance of a tomb in which my house was buried.
I opened my outer gate, and I entered the long avenue of sycamores, which ran in the direction of the house, arranged vault-wise like a high tunnel, traversing opaque masses, and winding round the turf lawns, on which baskets of flowers, in the pale darkness, could be indistinctly discerned.
In approaching the house, I was seized by a strange feeling, I could hear nothing, I stood still. In the trees there was not even a breath of air. "What is the matter with me then?" I said to myself. For ten years I had entered and re-entered in the same way, without ever experiencing the least inquietude. I never had any fear at nights. The sight of a man, a marauder, or a thief, would have thrown me into a fit of anger, and I would have rushed at him without any hesitation. Moreover, I was armed, I had my revolver. But I did not touch it, for I was anxious to resist that feeling of dread with which I was permeated.
What was it? Was it a presentiment? That mysterious presentiment which takes hold of the senses of men who have witnessed something which, to them, is inexplicable? Perhaps? Who knows?
In proportion as I advanced, I felt my skin quiver more and more, and when I was close to the wall, near the outhouses of my vast residence, I felt that it would be necessary for me to wait a few minutes before opening the door and going inside. I sat down, then, on a bench, under the windows of my drawing room. I rested there, a little fearful, with my head leaning against the wall, my eyes wide open under the shade of the foliage. For the first few minutes, I did not observe anything unusual around me; I had a humming noise in my ears, but that happened often to me. Sometimes it seemed to me that I heard trains passing, that I heard clocks striking, that I heard a multitude on the march.
Very soon, those humming noises became more distinct, more concentrated, more determinable, I was deceiving myself. It was not the ordinary tingling of my arteries which transmitted to my ears these rumbling sounds, but it was a very distinct, though very confused, noise which came, without any doubt whatever, from the interior of my house. I distinguished through the walls this continued noise, I should rather say agitation than noise, an indistinct moving about of a pile of things, as if people were tossing about, displacing, and carrying away surreptitiously all my furniture.
I doubted, however, for some considerable time yet, the evidence of my ears. But having placed my ear against one of the outhouses, the better to discover what this strange disturbance was that was inside my house, I became convinced, certain, that something was taking place in my residence, which was altogether abnormal and incomprehensible. I had no fear, but I was—how shall I express it—paralyzed by astonishment. I did not draw my revolver, knowing very well that there was no need of my doing so. I listened.
I listened a long time, but could come to no resolution, my mind being quite clear, though in myself I was naturally anxious. I got up and waited, listening always to the noise, which gradually increased, and at intervals grew very loud, and which seemed to become an impatient, angry disturbance, a mysterious commotion.
Then, suddenly, ashamed of my timidity, I seized my bunch of keys, I selected the one I wanted, I guided it into the lock, turned it twice, and, pushing the door with all my might, sent it banging against the partition.
The collision sounded like the report of a gun, and there responded to that explosive noise, from roof to basement of my residence, a formidable tumult. It was so sudden, so terrible, so deafening, that I recoiled a few steps, and though I knew it to be wholly useless, I pulled my revolver out of its case.
I continued to listen for some time longer. I could distinguish now an extraordinary pattering upon the steps of my grand staircase, on the waxed floors, on the carpets, not of boots, nor of naked feet, but of iron, and wooden crutches, which resounded like cymbals. Then I suddenly discerned, on the threshold of my door, an arm chair, my large reading easy chair, which set off waddling. It went away through my garden. Others followed it, those of my drawing-room, then my sofas, dragging themselves along like crocodiles on their short paws; then all my chairs, bounding like goats, and the little footstools, hopping like rabbits.
Oh! what a sensation! I slunk back into a clump of bushes where I remained crouched up, watching, meanwhile, my furniture defile past, for everything walked away, the one behind the other, briskly or slowly, according to its weight or size. My piano, my grand piano, bounded past with the gallop of a horse and a murmur of music in its sides; the smaller articles slid along the gravel like snails, my brushes, crystal, cups and saucers, which glistened in the moonlight. I saw my writing desk appear, a rare curiosity of the last century, which contained all the letters I had ever received, all the history of my heart, an old history from which I have suffered so much! Besides, there was inside of it a great many cherished photographs.
Suddenly—I no longer had any fear—I threw myself on it, seized it as one would seize a thief, as one would seize a wife about to run away; but it pursued its irresistible course, and despite my efforts and despite my anger, I could not even retard its pace. As I was resisting in desperation that insuperable force, I was thrown to the ground in my struggle with it. It then rolled me over, trailed me along the gravel, and the rest of my furniture which followed it, began to march over me, tramping on my legs and injuring them. When I loosed my hold, other articles passed over my body, just as a charge of cavalry does over the body of a dismounted soldier.
Seized at last with terror, I succeeded in dragging myself out of the main avenue, and in concealing myself again among the shrubbery, so as to watch the disappearance of the most cherished objects, the smallest, the least striking, the least unknown which had once belonged to me.
I then heard, in the distance, noises which came from my apartments, which sounded now as if the house were empty, a loud noise of shutting of doors. They were being slammed from top to bottom of my dwelling, even the door which I had just opened myself unconsciously, and which had closed of itself, when the last thing had taken its departure. I took flight also, running towards the city, and I only regained my self-composure on reaching the boulevards, where I met belated people. I rang the bell of a hotel where I was known. I had knocked the dust off my clothes with my hands, and I told the porter how that I had lost my bunch of keys, which included also that of the kitchen garden, where my servants slept in a house standing by itself, on the other side of the wall of the enclosure, which protected my fruits and vegetables from the raids of marauders.
I covered myself up to the eyes in the bed which was assigned to me; but I could not sleep, and I waited for the dawn in listening to the throbbing of my heart. I had given orders that my servants were to be summoned to the hotel at daybreak, and my valet de chambre knocked at my door at seven o'clock in the morning.
His countenance bore a woeful look.
"A great misfortune has happened during the night, monsieur," said he.
"What is it?"
"Somebody has stolen the whole of monsieur's furniture, all, everything, even to the smallest articles."
This news pleased me. Why? Who knows? I was complete master of myself, bent on dissimulating, on telling no one of anything I had seen; determined on concealing and in burying in my heart of hearts, a terrible secret. I responded:
"They must then be the same people who have stolen my keys. The police must be informed immediately. I am going to get up, and I will rejoin you in a few moments."
The investigation into the circumstances under which the robbery might have been committed lasted for five months. Nothing was found, not even the smallest of my knick-knacks, nor the least trace of the thieves. Good gracious! If I had only told them what I knew.... If I had said ... I had been locked up—I, not the thieves—and that I was the only person who had seen everything from the first.
Yes I but I knew how to keep silence. I shall never refurnish my house. That were indeed useless. The same thing would happen again. I had no desire even to re-enter the house, and I did not re-enter it; I never visited it again. I went to Paris, to the hotel, and I consulted doctors in regard to the condition of my nerves, which had disquieted me a good deal ever since that fatal night.
They advised me to travel, and I followed their council.
I began by making an excursion into Italy. The sunshine did me much good. During six months I wandered about from Genoa to Venice, from Venice to Florence, from Florence to Rome, from Rome to Naples. Then I traveled over Sicily, a country celebrated for its scenery and its monuments, relics left by the Greeks and the Normans. I passed over into Africa, I traversed at my ease that immense desert, yellow and tranquil, in which the camels, the gazelles, and the Arab vagabonds, roam about, where, in the rare and transparent atmosphere, there hovers no vague hauntings, where there is never any night, but always day.
I returned to France by Marseilles, and in spite of all the Provencal gaiety, the diminished clearness of the sky made me sad. I experienced, in returning to the continent, the peculiar sensation, of an illness which I believed had been cured, and a dull pain which predicted that the seeds of the disease had not been eradicated.
I then returned to Paris. At the end of a month, I was very dejected. It was in the autumn, and I wished to make, before the approach of winter, an excursion through Normandy, a country with which I was unacquainted.
I began my journey, in the best of spirits, at Rouen, and for eight days I wandered about passive, ravished and enthusiastic, in that ancient city, in that astonishing museum of extraordinary Gothic monuments.
But, one afternoon, about four o'clock, as I was sauntering slowly through a seemingly unattractive street, by which there ran a stream as black as the ink called "Eau de Robec," my attention, fixed for the moment on the quaint, antique appearance of some of the houses, was suddenly turned away by the view of a series of second-hand furniture shops, which succeeded one another, door after door.
Ah! they had carefully chosen their locality, these sordid traffickers in antiquaries, in that quaint little street, overlooking that sinister stream of water, under those tile and slate-pointed roofs in which still grinned the vanes of byegone days.
At the end of these grim storehouses you saw piled up sculptured chests, Rouen, Sevre, and Moustier's pottery, painted statues, others of oak, Christs, Virgins, Saints, church ornaments, chasubles, capes, even sacred vases, and an old gilded wooden tabernacle, where a god had hidden himself away. Oh! What singular caverns are in those lofty houses, crowded with objects of every description, where the existence of things seems to be ended, things which have survived their original possessors, their century, their times, their fashions, in order to be bought as curiosities by new generations.
My affection for bibelots was awakened in that city of antiquaries. I went from shop to shop crossing, in two strides, the four plank rotten bridges thrown over the nauseous current of the Eau de Robec.
Heaven protect me! What a shock! One of my most beautiful wardrobes was suddenly descried by me, at the end of a vault, which was crowded with articles of every description and which seemed to be the entrance to some catacombs of a cemetery of ancient furniture. I approached my wardrobe, trembling in every limb, trembling to such an extent that I dare not touch it. I put forth my hand, I hesitated. It was indeed my wardrobe, nevertheless; a unique wardrobe of the time of Louis XIII., recognizable by anyone who had only seen it once. Casting my eyes suddenly a little farther, towards the more somber depths of the gallery, I perceived three of my tapestry covered chairs; and farther on still, my two Henry II. tables, such rare treasures that people came all the way from Paris to see them.
Think! only think in what a state of mind I now was! I advanced, haltingly, quivering with emotion, but I advanced, for I am brave, I advanced like a knight of the dark ages.
I found, at every step, something that belonged to me; my brushes, my books, my tables, my silks, my arms, everything, except the bureau full of my letters, and that I could not discover.
I walked on, descending to the dark galleries, in order to ascend next to the floors above. I was alone, I called out, nobody answered, I was alone; there was no one in that house—a house as vast and tortuous as a labyrinth.
Night came on, and I was compelled to sit down in the darkness on one of my own chairs, for I had no desire to go away. From time to time I shouted, "Hullo, hullo, somebody."
I had sat there, certainly, for more than an hour, when I heard steps, steps soft and slow, I knew not where, I was unable to locate them, but bracing myself up, I called out anew, whereupon I perceived a glimmer of light in the next chamber.
"Who is there?" said a voice.
"A buyer," I responded.
"It is too late to enter thus into a shop."
"I have been waiting for you for more than an hour," I answered.
"You can come back to-morrow."
"To-morrow I must quit Rouen."
I dared not advance, and he did not come to me. I saw always the glimmer of his light, which was shining on a tapestry on which were two angels flying over the dead on a field of battle. It belonged to me also. I said:
"Well, come here."
"I am at your service," he answered.
I got up and went towards him.
Standing in the center of a large room was a little man, very short and very fat, phenomenally fat, a hideous phenomenon.
He had a singular beard, straggling hair, white and yellow, and not a hair on his head. Not a hair!
As he held his candle aloft at arm's length in order to see me, his cranium appeared to me to resemble a little moon, in that vast chamber, encumbered with old furniture. His features were wrinkled and blown, and his eyes could not be seen.
I bought three chairs which belonged to myself, and paid at once a large sum for them, giving him merely the number of my room at the hotel. They were to be delivered the next day before nine o'clock.
I then started off. He conducted me, with much politeness, as far as the door.
I immediately repaired to the commissaire's office at the central police depot, and I told the commissaire of the robbery which had been perpetrated and of the discovery I had just made. He required time to communicate by telegraph with the authorities who had originally charge of the case, for information, and he begged me to wait in his office until an answer came back. An hour later, an answer came back, which was in accord with my statements.
"I am going to arrest and interrogate this man at once," he said to me, "for he may have conceived some sort of suspicion, and smuggled away out of sight what belongs to you. Will you go and dine and return in two hours: I shall then have the man here, and I shall subject him to a fresh interrogation in your presence."
"Most gladly, monsieur. I thank you with my whole heart."
I went to dine at my hotel and I ate better than I could have believed. I was quite happy now; "that man was in the hands of the police," I thought.
Two hours later I returned to the office of the police functionary, who was waiting for me.
"Well, monsieur," said he, on perceiving me, "we have not been able to find your man. My agents cannot put their hands on him."
Ah! I felt myself sinking.
"But ... you have at least found his house?" I asked.
"Yes, certainly; and what is more, it is now being watched and guarded until his return. As for him, he has disappeared."
"Yes, disappeared. He ordinarily passes his evenings at the house of a female neighbor, who is also a furniture broker, a queer sort of sorceress, the widow Bidoin. She has not seen him this evening and cannot give any information in regard to him. We must wait until to-morrow."
I went away. Ah! how sinister the streets of Rouen seemed to me, now troubled and haunted!
I slept so badly that I had a fit of nightmare every time I went off to sleep.
As I did not wish to appear too restless or eager, I waited till 10 o'clock the next day before reporting myself to the police.
The merchant had not reappeared. His shop remained closed.
The commissary said to me:
"I have taken all the necessary steps. The court has been made acquainted with the affair. We shall go together to that shop and have it opened, and you shall point out to me all that belongs to you."
We drove there in a cab. Police agents were stationed round the building; there was a locksmith, too, and the door of the shop was soon opened.
On entering, I could not discover my wardrobes, my chairs, my tables; I saw nothing, nothing of that which had furnished my house, no, nothing, although on the previous evening, I could not take a step without encountering something that belonged to me.
The chief commissary, much astonished, regarded me at first with suspicion.
"My God, monsieur," said I to him, "the disappearance of these articles of furniture coincides strangely with that of the merchant."
"That is true. You did wrong in buying and paying for the articles which were your own property, yesterday. It was that that gave him the cue."
"What seems to me incomprehensible," I replied, "is, that all the places that were occupied by my furniture are now filled by other furniture."
"Oh!" responded the commissary, "he has had all night, and has no doubt been assisted by accomplices. This house must communicate with its neighbors. But have no fear, monsieur; I will have the affair promptly and thoroughly investigated. The brigand shall not escape us for long, seeing that we are in charge of the den."
* * * * *
Ah! My heart, my heart, my poor heart, how it beat!
I remained a fortnight at Rouen. The man did not return. Heavens! good heavens! That man, what was it that could have frightened and surprised him!
But, on the sixteenth day, early in the morning, I received from my gardener, now the keeper of my empty and pillaged house, the following strange letter:
* * * * *
I have the honor to inform monsieur, that there happened something, the evening before last, which nobody can understand, and the police no more than the rest of us. The whole of the furniture has been returned, not one piece is missing—everything is in its place, up to the very smallest article. The house is now the same in every respect as it was before the robbery took place. It is enough to make one lose one's head. The thing took place during the night Friday—Saturday. The roads are dug up as though the whole barrier had been dragged from its place up to the door. The same thing was observed the day after the disappearance of the furniture.
We are anxiously expecting monsieur, whose very humble and obedient servant, I am,
* * * * *
Ah! no, no, ah! never, never, ah! no. I shall never return there!
I took the letter to the commissary of police.
"It is a very dexterous restitution," said he. "Let us bury the hatchet. We shall, however, nip the man one of these days."
But he has never been nipped. No. They have not nipped him, and I am afraid of him now, as though he were a ferocious animal that had been let loose behind me.
Inexplicable! It is inexplicable, this monster of a moon-struck skull! We shall never get to comprehend it. I shall not return to my former residence. What does it matter to me? I am afraid of encountering that man again, and I shall not run the risk.
I shall not risk it! I shall not risk it! I shall not risk it!
And if he returns, if he takes possession of his shop, who is to prove that my furniture was on his premises? There is only my testimony against him; and I feel that that is not above suspicion.
Ah! no! This kind of existence was no longer possible. I was not able to guard the secret of what I had seen. I could not continue to live like the rest of the world, with the fear upon me that those scenes might be re-enacted.
I have come to consult the doctor who directs this lunatic asylum, and I have told him everything.
After he had interrogated me for a long time, he said to me:
"Will you consent, monsieur, to remain here for some time?"
"Most willingly, monsieur."
"You have some means?"
"Will you have isolated apartments?"
"Would you care to receive any friends?"
"No, monsieur, no, nobody. The man from Rouen might take it into his head to pursue me here to be revenged on me."
And I have been alone, alone, all, all alone, for three months. I am growing tranquil by degrees. I have no longer any fears. If the antiquary should become mad ... and if he should be brought into this asylum! Even prisons themselves are not places of security.
Noon had just struck. The school-door opened and the youngsters tumbled out rolling over each other in their haste to get out quickly. But instead of promptly dispersing and going home to dinner as was their daily wont, they stopped a few paces off, broke up into knots and set to whispering.
The fact was that that morning Simon, the son of La Blanchotte, had, for the first time, attended school.
They had all of them in their families heard talk of La Blanchotte; and, although in public she was welcome enough, the mothers among themselves treated her with compassion of a somewhat disdainful kind, which the children had caught without in the least knowing why.
As for Simon himself, they did not know him, for he never went abroad, and did not go galloping about with them through the streets of the village or along the banks of the river. Therefore, they loved him but little; and it was with a certain delight, mingled with considerable astonishment, that they met and that they recited to each other this phrase, set afoot by a lad of fourteen or fifteen who appeared to know all, all about it, so sagaciously did he wink. "You know ... Simon ... well, he has no papa."
La Blanchotte's son appeared in his turn upon the threshold of the school.
He was seven or eight years old. He was rather pale, very neat, with a timid and almost awkward manner.
He was on the point of making his way back to his mother's house when the groups of his school-fellows perpetually whispering and watching him with the mischievous and heartless eyes of children bent upon playing a nasty trick, gradually surrounded him and ended by enclosing him altogether. There he stood fixed amidst them, surprised and embarrassed, not understanding what they were going to do with him. But the lad who had brought the news, puffed up with the success he had met with already, demanded:
"How do you name yourself, you?"
He answered: "Simon."
"Simon what?" retorted the other.
The child, altogether bewildered, repeated: "Simon."
The lad shouted at him: "One is named Simon something ... that is not a name ... Simon indeed."
And he, on the brink of tears, replied for the third time:
"I am named Simon."
The urchins fell a-laughing. The lad triumphantly lifted up his voice: "You can see plainly that he has no papa."
A deep silence ensued. The children were dumbfounded by this extraordinary, impossible monstrous thing—a boy who had not a papa; they looked upon him as a phenomenon, an unnatural being, and they felt that contempt, until then inexplicable, of their mothers for La Blanchotte grow upon them. As for Simon, he had propped himself against a tree to avoid falling and he remained as though struck to the earth by an irreparable disaster. He sought to explain, but he could think of no answer for them, to deny this horrible charge that he had no papa. At last he shouted at them quite recklessly: "Yes, I have one."
"Where is he?" demanded the boy.
Simon was silent, he did not know. The children roared, tremendously excited; and these sons of toil, most nearly related to animals, experienced that cruel craving which animates the fowls of a farm-yard to destroy one among themselves as soon as it is wounded. Simon suddenly espied a little neighbor, the son of a widow, whom he had always seen, as he himself was to be seen, quite alone with his mother.
"And no more have you," he said, "no more have you a papa."
"Yes," replied the other, "I have one."
"Where is he?" rejoined Simon.
"He is dead," declared the brat with superb dignity, "he is in the cemetery, is my papa."
A murmur of approval rose amidst the scapegraces, as if this fact of possessing a papa dead in a cemetery had caused their comrade to grow big enough to crush the other one who had no papa at all. And these rogues, whose fathers were for the most part evil-doers, drunkards, thieves and ill-treaters of their wives, hustled each other as they pressed closer and closer, as though they, the legitimate ones, would stifle in their pressure one who was beyond the law.
He who chanced to be next Simon suddenly put his tongue out at him with a waggish air and shouted at him:
"No papa! No papa!"
Simon seized him by the hair with both hands and set to work to demolish his legs with kicks, while he bit his cheek ferociously. A tremendous struggle ensued between the two combatants, and Simon found himself beaten, torn, bruised, rolled on the ground in the middle of the ring of applauding vagabonds. As he arose mechanically brushing his little blouse all covered with dust with his hand, some one shouted at him:
"Go and tell your Papa."
He then felt a great sinking in his heart. They were stronger than he was, they had beaten him and he had no answer to give them, for he knew well that it was true that he had no Papa. Full of pride he attempted for some moments to struggle against the tears which were suffocating him. He had a choking fit, and then without cries he commenced to weep with great sobs which shook him incessantly. Then a ferocious joy broke out among his enemies, and, naturally, just as with savages in their fearful festivals, they took each other by the hand and set about dancing in a circle about him as they repeated as a refrain:
"No Papa! No Papa!"
But Simon quite suddenly ceased sobbing. Frenzy overtook him. There were stones under his feet, he picked them up and with all his strength hurled them at his tormentors. Two or three were struck and rushed off yelling, and so formidable did he appear that the rest became panic stricken. Cowards, as a crowd always is in the presence of an exasperated man, they broke up and fled. Left alone, the little thing without a father set off running towards the fields, for a recollection had been awakened which brought his soul to a great determination. He made up his mind to drown himself in the river.
He remembered, in fact, that eight days before a poor devil who begged for his livelihood, had thrown himself into the water because he had no more money. Simon had been there when they had fished him out again; and the sight of the fellow, who usually seemed to him so miserable, and ugly, had then struck him—his pale cheeks, his long drenched beard and his open eyes being full of calm. The bystanders had said:
"He is dead."
And someone had said:
"He is quite happy now."
And Simon wished to drown himself also because he had no father, just like the wretched being who had no money.
He reached the neighborhood of the water and watched it flowing. Some fishes were sporting briskly in the clear stream and occasionally made a little bound and caught the flies flying on the surface. He stopped crying in order to watch them, for their housewifery interested him vastly. But, at intervals, as in the changes of a tempest, altering suddenly from tremendous gusts of wind, which snap off the trees and then lose themselves in the horizon, this thought would return to him with intense pain:
"I am about to drown myself because I have no Papa."
It was very warm and fine weather. The pleasant sunshine warmed the grass. The water shone like a mirror. And Simon enjoyed some minutes the happiness of that languor which follows weeping, in which he felt very desirous of falling asleep there upon the grass in the warmth.
A little green frog leapt from under his feet. He endeavored to catch it. It escaped him. He followed it and lost it three times following. At last he caught it by one of its hind legs and began to laugh as he saw the efforts the creature made to escape. It gathered itself up on its large legs and then with a violent spring suddenly stretched them out as stiff as two bars; while, its eye wide open in its round, golden circle, it beat the air with its front limbs which worked as though they were hands. It reminded him of a toy made with straight slips of wood nailed zigzag one on the other, which by a similar movement regulated the exercise of the little soldiers stuck thereon. Then he thought of his home and next of his mother, and overcome by a great sorrow he again began to weep. His limbs trembled; and he placed himself on his knees and said his prayers as before going to bed. But he was unable to finish them, for such hurried and violent sobs overtook him that he was completely overwhelmed. He thought no more, he no longer saw anything around him and was wholly taken up in crying.
Suddenly a heavy hand was placed upon his shoulder, and a rough voice asked him:
"What is it that causes you so much grief, my fine fellow?"
Simon turned round. A tall workman with a black beard and hair all curled, was staring at him good naturedly. He answered with his eyes and throat full of tears:
"They have beaten me ... because ... I ... have no ... Papa ... no Papa."
"What!" said the man smiling, "why everybody has one."
The child answered painfully amidst his spasms of grief:
"But I ... I ... I have none."
Then the workman became serious. He had recognized La Blanchotte's son, and although but recently come to the neighborhood he had a vague idea of her history.
"Well," said he, "console yourself my boy, and come with me home to your mother. They will give you ... a Papa."
And so they started on the way, the big one holding the little one by the hand, and the man smiled afresh, for he was not sorry to see this Blanchotte, who was, it was said, one of the prettiest girls of the country-side, and, perhaps, he said to himself, at the bottom of his heart, that a lass who had erred might very well err again.
They arrived in front of a little and very neat white house.
"There it is," exclaimed the child, and he cried "Mamma."
A woman appeared and the workman instantly left off smiling, for he at once perceived that there was no more fooling to be done with the tall pale girl who stood austerely at her door as though to defend from one man the threshold of that house where she had already been betrayed by another. Intimidated, his cap in his hand, he stammered out:
"See, madam, I have brought back your little boy who had lost himself near the river."
But Simon flung his arms about his mother's neck and told her, as he again began to cry:
"No, mamma, I wished to drown myself, because the others had beaten me ... had beaten me ... because I have no Papa."
A burning redness covered the young woman's cheeks, and, hurt to the quick, she embraced her child passionately, while the tears coursed down her face. The man, much moved, stood there, not knowing how to get away. But Simon suddenly ran to him and said:
"Will you be my Papa?"
A deep silence ensued. La Blanchotte, dumb and tortured with shame, leaned herself against the wall, both her hands upon her heart. The child seeing that no answer was made him, replied:
"If you do not wish it, I shall return to drown myself."
The workman took the matter as a jest and answered laughing:
"Why, yes, I wish it certainly."
"What is your name, then?" went on the child, "so that I may tell the others when they wish to know your name?"
"Phillip," answered the man.
Simon was silent a moment so that he might get the name well into his head; then he stretched out his arms quite consoled as he said:
"Well, then, Phillip, you are my Papa."
The workman, lifting him from the ground kissed him hastily on both cheeks, and then made off very quickly with great strides.
When the child returned to school next day he was received with a spiteful laugh, and at the end of school when the lads were on the point of recommencing, Simon threw these words at their heads as he would have done a stone: "He is named Phillip, my Papa."
Yells of delight burst out from all sides.
"Phillip who? ... Phillip what? What on earth is Phillip? Where did you pick up your Phillip?"
Simon answered nothing; and immovable in faith he defied them with his eye, ready to be martyred rather than fly before them. The school-master came to his rescue and he returned home to his mother.
During three months, the tall workman, Phillip, frequently passed by the Blanchotte's house, and sometimes he made bold to speak to her when he saw her sewing near the window. She answered him civilly, always sedately, never joking with him, nor permitting him to enter her house. Notwithstanding which, being, like all men, a bit of a coxcomb, he imagined that she was often rosier than usual when she chatted with him.
But a fallen reputation is so difficult to recover and always remains so fragile that, in spite of the shy reserve, La Blanchotte maintained they already gossiped in the neighborhood.
As for Simon, he loved his new Papa much, and walked with him nearly every evening when the day's work was done. He went regularly to school and mixed with great dignity with his school-fellows without ever answering them back.
One day, however, the lad who had first attacked him said to him:
"You have lied. You have not a Papa named Phillip."
"Why do you say that?" demanded Simon, much disturbed.
The youth rubbed his hands. He replied:
"Because if you had one he would be your mamma's husband."
Simon was confused by the truth of this reasoning, nevertheless he retorted:
"He is my Papa all the same."
"That can very well be," exclaimed the urchin with a sneer, "but that is not being your Papa altogether."
La Blanchotte's little one bowed his head and went off dreaming in the direction of the forge belonging to old Loizon, where Phillip worked.
This forge was as though entombed in trees. It was very dark there, the red glare of a formidable furnace alone lit up with great flashes five blacksmiths, who hammered upon their anvils with a terrible din. They were standing enveloped in flame, like demons, their eyes fixed on the red-hot iron they were pounding; and their dull ideas rose and fell with their hammers.
Simon entered without being noticed and went quietly to pluck his friend by the sleeve. He turned himself round. All at once the work came to a standstill and all the men looked on very attentive. Then, in the midst of this unaccustomed silence, rose the little slender pipe of Simon:
"Phillip, explain to me what the lad at La Michande has just told me, that you are not altogether my Papa."
"And why that?" asked the smith.
The child replied with all its innocence:
"Because you are not my mamma's husband."
No one laughed. Philip remained standing, leaning his forehead upon the back of his great hands, which supported the handle of his hammer standing upright upon the anvil. He mused. His four companions watched him, and, quite a tiny mite among these giants, Simon anxiously waited. Suddenly, one of the smiths, answering to the sentiment of all, said to Phillip:
"La Blanchotte is all the same a good and honest girl, and stalwart and steady in spite of her misfortune, and one who would make a worthy wife for a honest man."
"That is true," remarked the three others.
The smith continued:
"Is it this girl's fault if she has fallen? She had been promised marriage and I know more than one who is much respected to-day, and who sinned every bit as much."
"That is true," responded the three men in chorus.
"How hard she has toiled, poor thing, to educate her lad all alone, and how much she has wept since she no longer goes out, save to go to church, God only knows."
"This also is true," said the others.
Then no more was heard than the bellows which fanned the fire of the furnace. Phillip hastily bent himself down to Simon:
"Go and tell your mamma that I shall come to speak to her."
Then he pushed the child out by the shoulders. He returned to his work and with a single blow the five hammers again fell upon their anvils. Thus they wrought the iron until nightfall, strong, powerful, happy, like hammers satisfied. But just as the great bell of a cathedral resounds upon feast days above the jingling of the other bells, so Phillip's hammer, dominating the noise of the others, clanged second after second with a deafening uproar. And he, his eye on fire, plied his trade vigorously, erect amid the sparks.
The sky was full of stars as he knocked at La Blanchotte's door. He had his Sunday blouse on, a fresh shirt, and his beard was trimmed. The young woman showed herself upon the threshold and said in a grieved tone:
"It is ill to come thus when night has fallen, Mr. Phillip."
He wished to answer, but stammered and stood confused before her.
"And still you understand quite well that it will not do that I should be talked about any more."
Then he said all at once:
"What does that matter to me, if you will be my wife!"
No voice replied to him, but he believed that he heard in the shadow of the room the sound of a body which sank down. He entered very quickly; and Simon, who had gone to his bed, distinguished the sound of a kiss and some words that his mother said very softly. Then he suddenly found himself lifted up by the hands of his friend, who, holding him at the length of his herculean arms, exclaimed to him:
"You will tell them, your school-fellows, that your papa is Phillip Remy, the blacksmith, and that he will pull the ears of all who do you any harm."
On the morrow, when the school was full and lessons were about to begin, little Simon stood up quite pale with trembling lips:
"My papa," said he in a clear voice, "is Phillip Remy, the blacksmith, and he has promised to box the ears of all who do me any harm."
This time no one laughed any longer, for he was very well known, was Phillip Remy, the blacksmith, and was a papa of whom anyone in the world would have been proud.
The Restaurant Grillon, a small commonwealth of boatmen, was slowly emptying. In front of the door all was a tumult of cries and calls, while the jolly dogs in white flannels gesticulated with oars on their shoulders.
The ladies in bright spring toilets stepped aboard the skiffs with care, and seating themselves astern, arranged their dresses, while the landlord of the establishment, a mighty individual with a red beard, of renowned strength, offered his hand to the pretty dears, with great self-possession, keeping the frail craft steady.
The rowers, bare-armed, with bulging chests, took their places in their turn, posing for their gallery, as they did so, a gallery consisting of middle class people dressed in their Sunday clothes, of workmen and soldiers leaning upon their elbows on the parapet of the bridge, all taking a great interest in the sight.
The boats one by one cast off from the landing stage. The oarsmen bent themselves forward and then threw themselves backwards with an even swing, and under the impetus of the long curved oars, the swift skiffs glided along the river, got far away, grew smaller and finally disappeared under the other bridge, that of the railway, as they descended the stream towards La Grenouillere. One couple only remained behind. The young man, still almost beardless, slender, and of pale countenance, held his mistress, a thin little brunette, with the gait of a grasshopper, by the waist; and occasionally they gazed into each others eyes. The landlord shouted:
"Come, Mr. Paul, make haste," and they drew near.
Of all the guests of the house, Mr. Paul was the most liked and most respected. He paid well and punctually, while the others hung back for a long time, if indeed they did not vanish insolvent. Besides which he acted as a sort of walking advertisement for the establishment, inasmuch as his father was a senator. And when a stranger would inquire: "Who on earth is that little chap who thinks so much of himself because of his girl?" some habitue would reply, half-aloud, with a mysterious and important air: "Don't you know? That is Paul Baron, a senator's son."
And invariably the other could not restrain himself from exclaiming:
"Poor devil! He is not half mashed."
Mother Grillon, a worthy and good business woman, described the young man and his companion as "her two turtle-doves," and appeared quite moved by this passion, profitable for her house.
The couple advanced at a slow pace; the skiff, Madeleine, was ready, when at the moment of embarking therein they kissed each other, which caused the public collected on the bridge to laugh, and Mr. Paul taking the oars, they left also for La Grenonillere.
When they arrived it was just upon three o'clock and the large floating cafe overflowed with people.
The immense raft, sheltered by a tarpaulin roof, is attached to the charming island of Croissy by two narrow foot bridges, one of which leads into the center of this aquatic establishment, while the other unites its end with a tiny islet planted with a tree and surnamed "The Flower Pot," and thence leads to land near the bath office.
Mr. Paul made fast his boat alongside the establishment, climbed over the railing of the cafe and then grasping his mistress's hand assisted her out of the boat and they both seated themselves at the end of a table opposite each other.
On the opposite side of the river along the market road, a long string of vehicles was drawn up. Fiacres alternated with the fine carriages of the swells; the first, clumsy, with enormous bodies crushing the springs, drawn by a broken down hack with hanging head and broken knees; the second, slightly built on light wheels, with horses slender and straight, their heads well up, their bits snowy with foam, while the coachman, solemn in his livery, his head erect in his high collar, waited bolt upright, his whip resting on his knee.
The bank was covered with people who came off in families, or in gangs, or two by two, or alone. They plucked blades of grass, went down to the water, remounted the path, and all having attained the same spot, stood still awaiting the ferryman. The clumsy punt plied incessantly from bank to bank, discharging its passengers on to the island. The arm of the river (named the Dead Arm) upon which this refreshment wharf lay, appeared asleep, so feeble was the current. Fleets of yawls, of skiffs, of canoes, of podoscaphs (a light boat propelled by wheels set in motion by a treadle), of gigs, of craft of all forms and of all kinds, crept about upon the motionless stream, crossing each other, intermingling, running foul of one another, stopping abruptly under a jerk of the arms to shoot off afresh under a sudden strain of the muscles gliding swiftly along like great yellow or red fishes.
Others arrived incessantly; some from Chaton up the stream; others from Bougival down it; laughter crossed the water from one boat to another, calls, admonitions or imprecations. The boatmen exposed the bronzed and knotted flesh of their biceps to the heat of the day; and similar to strange flowers, which floated, the silk parasols, red, green, blue, or yellow, of the ladies seated near the helm, bloomed in the sterns of the boats.
A July sun flamed high in the heavens; the atmosphere seemed full of burning merriment: not a breath of air stirred the leaves of the willows or poplars.
Down there the inevitable Mont-Valerien erected its fortified ramparts, tier above tier, in the intense light; while on the right the divine slopes of Louveniennes following the bend of the river disposed themselves in a semi-circle, displaying in their order across the rich and shady lawns, of large gardens, the white walls of country seats.
Upon the outskirts of La Grenonillere a crowd of promenaders moved about beneath the giant trees which make this corner of the island the most delightful park in the world.
Women and girls with breasts developed beyond all measurement, with exaggerated bustles, their complexions plastered with rouge, their eyes daubed with charcoal, their lips blood-red, laced up, rigged out in outrageous dresses—trailed the crying bad taste of their toilets over the fresh green sward; while beside them young men postured in their fashion-plate accouterments with light gloves, varnished boots, canes, the size of a thread, and single eye-glasses punctuating the insipidity of their smiles.
The island is narrow opposite La Grenonillere, and on its other side, where also a ferry-boat plies, bringing people unceasingly across from Croissy, the rapid branch of the river, full of whirlpools and eddies and foam, rushes along with the strength of a torrent.
A detachment of pontoon-soldiers, in the uniform of artillerymen, is encamped upon this bank, and the soldiers seated in a row on a long beam watched the water flowing.
In the floating establishment there was a boisterous and uproarious crowd. The wooden tables upon which the spilt refreshments made little sticky streams, were covered with half empty glasses and surrounded by half tipsy individuals. All this crowd shouted, sang and brawled. The men, their hats at the backs of their heads, their faces red, with the brilliant eyes of drunkards, moved about vociferously in need of a row natural to brutes. The women, seeking their prey for the night, caused themselves to be treated, in the meantime; and in the free space between the tables, the ordinary local public predominated a whole regiment of boatmen, Rowkickersup, with their companions in short flannel petticoats.
One of them carried on at the piano and appeared to play with his feet as well as his hands; four couples bounded through a quadrille, and some young men watched them, polished and correct, who would have looked proper, if in spite of all, vice itself had appeared.
For there, one tastes in full all the pomp and vanity of the world, all its well bred debauchery, all the seamy side of Parisian society; a mixture of counter-jumpers, of strolling players, of the lowest journalists, of gentlemen in tutelage, of rotten stock-jobbers, of ill-famed debauchees, of used-up old, fast men; a doubtful crowd of suspicious characters, half-known, half gone under, half-recognized, half-cut, pickpockets, rogues, procurers of women, sharpers with dignified manners, and a bragging air, which seems to say: "I shall rend the first who treats me as a scoundrel."
This place reeks of folly, stinks of the scum and the gallantry of the shops. Male and female there give themselves airs. There dwells an odor of love, and there one fights for a yes, or for a no, in order to sustain a worm-eaten reputation, which a stroke of the sword or a pistol bullet would destroy further.
Some of the neighboring inhabitants looked in out of curiosity every Sunday; some young men, very young, appeared there every year to learn how to live, some promenaders lounging about showed themselves there; some greenhorns wandered thither. It is with good reason named La Grenonillere. At the side of the covered wharf where they drank, and quite close to the Flower Pot, people bathed. Those among the women who possessed the requisite roundness of form came there to display their wares naked and to make clients. The rest, scornful, although well filled out with wadding, shored up with springs, corrected here and altered there, watched their sisters dabbling with disdain.
The swimmers crowded on to a little platform to dive thence head foremost. They are either straight like vine poles, or round like pumpkins, gnarled like olive branches, they are bowed over in front, or thrown backwards by the size of their stomachs and are invariably ugly, they leap into the water which splashes almost over the drinkers in the cafe.
Notwithstanding the great trees which overhang the floating-house, and notwithstanding the vicinity of the water a suffocating heat fills the place. The fumes of the spilt liquors mix with the effluvium of the bodies and with that of the strong perfumes with which the skin of the traders in love is saturated and which evaporate in this furnace. But beneath all these diverse scents a slight aroma of vice-powder lingered, which now disappeared and then reappeared, which one was perpetually encountering as though some concealed hand had shaken an invisible powder-puff in the air. The show was upon the river whither the perpetual coming and going of the boats attracts the eyes. The boatwomen sprawled upon their seats opposite their strong-wristed males, and contemplated with contempt the dinner hunters prowling about the island.
Sometimes when a train of boats, just started, passed at full speed, the friends who stayed ashore gave shouts, and all the people suddenly seized with madness set to work yelling.
At the bend of the river towards Chaton fresh boats showed themselves unceasingly. They came nearer and grew larger, and if only faces were recognized, the vociferations broke out anew.
A canoe covered with an awning and manned by four women came slowly down the current. She who rowed was little, thin, faded, in a cabin boy's costume, her hair drawn up under an oil-skin cap. Opposite her, a lusty blonde, dressed as a man, with a white flannel jacket, lay upon her back at the bottom of the boat, her legs in the air, on the seat at each side of the rower, and she smoked a cigarette, while at each stroke of the oars, her chest and stomach quivered, shaken by the shock. Quite at the back, under the awning, two handsome girls, tall and slender, one dark and the other fair, held each other by the waist as they unceasingly watched their companions.
A cry arose from La Grenonillere, "There is Lesbos," and there became all at once a furious clamor; a terrifying scramble took place; the glasses were knocked down; people clambered on to the tables; all in a frenzy of noise bawled: "Lesbos! Lesbos! Lesbos!" The shout rolled along, became indistinct, was no longer more than a kind of tremendous howl, and then suddenly it seemed to start anew, to rise into space, to cover the plain, to fill the foliage of the great trees, to extend itself to the distant slopes, to go even to the sun.
The rower, in the face of this ovation, had quietly stopped. The handsome blonde extended upon the bottom of the boat, turned her head with a careless air, as she raised herself upon her elbows; and the two girls at the back commenced laughing as they saluted the crowd.
Then the hullaballoo was doubled, making the floating establishment tremble. The men took off their hats, the women waved their handkerchiefs, and all voices, shrill or deep, together cried:
One would have said that these people, this collection of the corrupt, saluted a chief like the squadrons which fire guns when an admiral passes along the line.
The numerous fleet of boats also acclaimed the women's boat, which awoke from its sleepy motion to land rather farther off.
Mr. Paul, contrary to the others, had drawn a key from his pocket and whistled with all his might. His nervous mistress grew paler, caught him by the arm to cause him to be quiet, and upon this occasion she looked at him with fury in her eyes. But he appeared exasperated, as though borne away by jealousy of some man by deep anger, instinctive and ungovernable. He stammered, his lips quivering with indignation:
"It is shameful! They ought to be drowned like dogs with a stone about the neck."
But Madeleine instantly flew into a rage; her small and shrill voice became hissing, and she spoke volubly, as though pleading her own cause:
"And what has it to do with you—you indeed? Are they not at liberty to do what they wish since they owe nobody anything. A truce with your airs and mind your own business...."
But he cut her speech short:
"It is the police whom it concerns, and I will have them marched off to St. Lazare; so I will."
She gave a start:
"Yes, I! And in the meantime I forbid you to speak to them, you understand, I forbid you to do so."
Then she shrugged her shoulders and grew calm in a moment:
"My friend, I shall do as I please; if you are not satisfied, be off, and instantly. I am not your wife, am I? Very well then, hold your tongue."
He made no reply and they stood face to face, their mouths tightly closed and their breathing rapid.
At the other end of the great cafe of wood the four women made their entry. The two in men's costumes marched in front: the one thin like an oldish tomboy, with yellow lines on her temples; the other filled out her white flannel garments with her fat, swelling out her big trousers with her buttocks; she swayed about like a fat goose with enormous legs and yielding knees. Their two friends followed them, and the crowd of boatmen thronged about to shake their hands.
They had all four hired a small cottage close to the water's edge, and they lived there as two households would have lived.
Their vice was public, recognized, patent. People talked of it as a natural thing, which almost excited their sympathy, and whispered in very low tones strange stories of dramas begotten of furious feminine jealousies, of the stealthy visit of well-known women and of actresses to the little house close to the water's edge.
A neighbor, horrified by these scandalous rumors, apprised the police, and the inspector, accompanied by a man, had come to make inquiry. The mission was a delicate one; it was impossible, in short, to reproach these women, who did not abandon themselves to prostitution with anything. The inspector, very much puzzled, indeed, ignorant of the nature of the offenses suspected, had asked questions at random, and made a lofty report conclusive of their innocence.
They laughed about it all the way to St. Germain. They walked about La Grenonillere establishment with stately steps like queens; and seemed to glory in their fame, rejoicing in the gaze that was fixed on them, so superior to this crowd, to this mob, to these plebeians.
Madeleine and her lover watched them approach and in the girl's eyes a fire lightened.
When the two first had reached the end of the table, Madeleine cried:
The large woman turned herself and stopped, continuing all the time to hold the arm of her feminine cabin boy: