Littell's Living Age/Volume 132/Issue 1704/Weariness: a Tale from France
From Blackwood's Magazine.
WEARINESS: A TALE FROM FRANCE.
BY RUDOLPH LINDAU.
Monsieur Casimir Vincent, the old and very wealthy Lunel banker, had been for more than thirty years the regular and honored frequenter of the Café de l'Esplanade. There he might be seen twice a day without fail: in the afternoon about one o'clock, after his breakfast, to take his cup of coffee, glance over the newspapers, and exchange a few words with his old acquaintances; and again towards eight in the evening, after his dinner, to play his game of piquet, which generally lasted till about eleven.
Every one at Lunel knew M. Vincent He was a small, thin man, with marked features, large dark eyes, short thick hair that was turning grey, and a calm, indifferent expression of countenance. M. Vincent was of a taciturn nature, and when he spoke, it was slowly and thoughtfully. Notwithstanding his unmixed southern blood, he was sober in gesture, and nothing in his movements betrayed the proverbial vivacity of his countrymen. He dressed simply and very carefully, and paid particular attention to his linen, which was always of dazzling whiteness.
M. Vincent's story was as well known to the inhabitants of the town as his appearance or his mode of living. His grandfather, during the first Revolution, had been the founder of the house of Casimir Vincent. There were old men living who still remembered him, and spoke of him as a man who had possessed no common share of intelligence and energy. In a short time he had amassed a large fortune by his banking business, and also as an army contractor. His son had carried on the business under the Empire and the Restoration. In his turn, the Casimir Vincent of our story, who had been brought up in the paternal school, after having spent a few years in Bordeaux, Marseilles, and Paris, settled at Lunel in the year 1840. His steadiness inspired his father with such confidence that he at once admitted him to partnership. The firm was thenceforward styled "Casimir Vincent & Son."
Vincent junior was then about thirty. He was considered a dandy, and the young beaux of his little town copied his dress, and asked him for the addresses of his tradesmen.
The wealthy citizens who had marriageable daughters used to get up parties and picnics in his honor.
On two occasions there had been rumors of Monsieur Vincent's marriage. Soon after his return to Lunel he had paid his addresses to Mademoiselle Coulé, and his proposals had been joyfully received by her family. All the gossips of the place were already busy reckoning up the large fortune that the young couple would have, when bright, pretty, joyous Caroline Coulé suddenly fell ill, and almost immediately died. Casimir Vincent wore no mourning for his affianced bride, but her death grieved him deeply. For several years he remained in strict retirement, entirely occupied with his father's business. The old man died in 1844, leaving by his will "all he possessed to his only and well-beloved son Casimir Vincent."
Three years after this event, Vincent came forward as a suitor for the hand of Mlle. Jeanne d'Arfeuille. He was then thirty-six, but looked much older; his hair was turning gray, and the lonely life he had led since Caroline's death had made him taciturn and gloomy. It was not, therefore, very surprising that a girl of eighteen should look upon him as an old man. Jeanne d'Arfeuille uttered a scream of affright when her mother, all radiant with joy, announced to her that the wealthy banker had done her the honor to make her an offer of marriage. She declared at once that she would rather die or shut herself up in a convent, than marry "that ugly, little, old man."
He might be my father," added she, bursting into tears. "I shall never love him, and I won't marry him."
At first the mother tried her eloquence to convince her daughter that it was madness to refuse the best match of the department; but as Jeanne persisted in crying, and rejected all idea of yielding, Madame d'Arfeuille at last lost patience, and ended the debate by exclaiming, "I, order you to marry him, and marry him you must."
Something, however, occurred on the occasion of M. Vincent's first official visit at Madame d'Arfeuille's that ruined all the plans which that lady had formed. Vincent noticed the red eyelids and downcast air of the girl he was to wed, and leading her up to the window, spoke to her for a few minutes in whispered tones. Madame d'Arfeuille, who was seated at a little distance, saw with secret anxiety her daughter burst into tears, and heard M. Vincent, to her intense surprise, say in a gentle, serious voice, —
"Calm yourself, my dear child — I only wish for your happiness; I was mistaken."
Then going up to the mother with his usual slow, steady step, he said, in a tone which imparted singular dignity to his small stature, —
"I must thank you, madame, for the honor which you have done me; and it is with sincere regret that I relinquish the hand of your daughter."
So saying, he bowed low to the mother and daughter and went away, leaving them both in amazement at what had happened.
Madame d'Arfeuille, as was her custom when she found herself in an awkward position, began by fainting; then, coming to herself, she got into a violent passion with Jeanne. When at last she recovered her composure, she hastened to the banker's, and vowed that there was in all this merely a deplorable misunderstanding, and that her daughter would be proud and happy to become Madame Vincent. But the little man had some peculiar notions of his own, especially on the subject of matrimony. He let Madame d'Arfeuille speak as long as she liked without interrupting her, though he caused her no little embarrassment by looking at her steadfastly all the time. When at last she came to a stop, after stammering out for the tenth time, "What a deplorable misunderstanding!" Vincent merely repeated the words he had uttered an hour before, —
"I have to thank you, madame, for the honor you intended me; and it is with sincere regret that I relinquish the hand of your daughter."
Madame d'Arfeuille could not believe her ears; for one moment she had a mind to faint again, but the icy deportment of the banker deterred her from that bit of acting. She displayed great cleverness in trying to alter M. Vincent's resolve; she even stooped to entreaty. But it was of no avail; M. Vincent remained unmoved, and looked more gloomy than ever. Then Madame d'Arfeuille flew simply and frankly into a rage; she accused the banker of having caused the misery of a poor innocent girl, and of striving to bring shame on her mother. Vincent remained as insensible to her fury as he had been to her prayers; till at last, at the end of half an hour, thoroughly worn out and defeated, she retreated from the field where she had thought herself sure to achieve victory.
A few months later, pretty Jeanne d' Arfeuille married a young country gentleman of a neighboring department, who was both well-born and wealthy. Her mother was delighted at a marriage which realized all her fondest wishes; but she retained a bitter resentment against the banker who had offended her, and never forgave him. Her southern imagination enabled her to fabricate, in respect of this affair, a whole story, which she repeated so often to her friends that she ended by believing it herself. According to this version, M. Vincent, whom she styled "a vulgar, forward parvenu and money-lender," had had the "audacity" to aspire to the hand of an Arfeuille. "Fortunately," she would add with magnificent dignity, "my daughter had been too well brought up not to know how to teach a fellow like that his proper place. Then he came to supplicate me to intercede with Jeanne on his behalf, and I really thought I would never be able to shake him off."
This strange story was repeated on all sides by Madame d'Arfeuille's family and friends, and came at last to M. Vincent's ears. He took no trouble to contradict it, and merely shrugged his shoulders. Some one, more curious than the rest, ventured to ask him point-blank whether there was any truth in it. He answered quietly, "You are at liberty to believe this story, if you like; as for me, I have something better to do than to trouble myself about gossip."
After Mlle. d'Arfeuille's marriage, Vincent appeared to have given up all thoughts of seeking a wife. Some proposals were made to him, for there was no lack in Lunel of good and prudent mothers who would willingly have given their daughters to the rich banker. But he avoided rather than sought opportunities of associating with unmarried women. When his friends expressed their regret, he would say, "I am no longer young; I have nothing to offer to a young woman but my fortune, and I would not care for a wife who took me for that. If ever I become foolish enough to imagine that I may be loved for my own sake, you may perhaps see me come forward in the character of a suitor. In the mean time, I hold myself satisfied with the two failures I have experienced, and I mean to try and get accustomed to the life of an old bachelor."
Many years went by; Vincent became an old man, and it entered nobody's head to think of him as a marriageable man. M. Vincent's mode of life was simple and unvaried. He rose very early, shaved and dressed at once, and started in his cabriolet for a small estate in the neighborhood of the town, which he had inherited from his father. He was no agriculturist, and did not affect to be one: his visits to the Mas de Vincent — so his property was called — had no practical object; but he had taken so thoroughly the habit of this daily excursion, that, summer or winter, in rain or in sunshine, he never failed to make it. His coachman, old Guerre, who sat beside him in the cabriolet, was a morose man, who never opened his lips except to answer laconically his master's questions. Such a companion was no restraint on the banker, who could indulge in his own thoughts during the whole journey. These must have been of a serious kind, for the countenance of the old bachelor always preserved the same cold expression of reserve.
On arriving at the mas, he would unbend a little. The manager of the estate came out to meet him, asked news of his health in a few words — always the same, — and then conducted him to the place where the work was going on. Paire Dufour was a clever fellow, who knew how to interest his master by telling him something new every day. On this hillside, the vines were prospering; on that other, they were attacked by disease. The silkworms were thriving, while those of the neighbors were merely vegetating. Sheep had been sold at Béziers; and it had been found necessary to purchase mules at the fair of Sommières. To all this Vincent listened attentively, and made no objections. As a rule, the paire did exactly what he liked; and all his equals and fellow-managers round about considered him the most independent and fortunate man of the whole district.
M. Vincent returned to Lunel about eleven o'clock. He went into his office, where an old clerk handed him the letters which had come by that day's post, and took his orders concerning the answers. It was not a long business, for the firm of Vincent & Son had been established on solid foundations, and all went on with perfect regularity. The business of the bank was chiefly with the wealthy landowners and farmers of the neighborhood of Lunel, who, from father to son, had had dealings with the firm for the last half-century. They used the agency of the bank to discount the bills they drew on the manufacturers and merchants of Cette, Marseilles, Lyons, and St. Etienne, in exchange for their oil, wines, or cocoons. These bills were always "duly honored;" or if, by a very rare mischance, they were "protested," the drawers always took them back without difficulty. Legal proceedings and lawyers' strife were things unknown, or only known by name, to the firm of Vincent & Son. As the head of this respected house, M. Casimer Vincent had large profits and little trouble. In the space of one hour, between eleven and twelve, he generally found time to do all his business. He then breakfasted — almost always alone; and, after that simple repast, went to the Café de l'Esplanade.
That establishment was the rendezvous of the best Lunel society. It was situated on the promenade and occupied the ground-floor and first storey of a rather large house. Jacques Itier, the master of the café, lived on the second floor with his wife Mariette and his numerous family. Jacques Itier was a very sharp fellow. He had not been the proprietor of the café very long before he perceived that he could extend the custom of his establishment considerably by dividing it into two distinct portions. So he induced his more "eminent" customers to form a cercle or club, by placing the whole first floor at their disposal. Admittance to the club was not absolutely forbidden to strangers; but a chance intruder would not be likely to remain there long, so unmistakably would the demeanor of the habitual guests show him that he was not in his proper place.
On the other hand, the wealthy citizens and merchants of the town, and the principal landowners of the environs, felt themselves quite at home at the "Cercle de l'Esplanade." Every one had his accustomed corner, chair, table, and newspaper. For smokers, there was a little grated closet, with lock and key, from whence every man could extract his own particular pipe on arriving; the billiard-players had their particular cues marked, and it was a settled and acknowledged thing that at certain hours the table belonged to a particular set. One would often hear exclamations like this: "Make haste! It is nine o'clock, and M. Vidal and M. Coulé are waiting to play their game." The waiter who attended on the first floor was called by his Christian name of "François;" and he did not confine himself to merely answering, "Yes, Monsieur," but would say, "Yes, M. Vidal;" "Yes, M. Vincent," etc., according as the notary, the banker, or any other personage called to him.
The members of the club were mostly middle-aged or old men, and three or four young men only had managed to obtain admittance. These were the sons of deceased members, and they did not seem out of place in this exclusive society. Among these young men, the foremost was René Sabatier, whose father had been a goldsmith. René was a good, honest fellow of four-and-twenty, very talkative and very familiar, who used to treat the old gentlemen of the "club" as if they had been his comrades. Nobody took offence, for he was a general favorite. He owed this kind of popularity to his conduct during the war, when he had joined the army as a volunteer, and done his duty bravely. He was considered as the chief of the young Legitimist party in Lunel; and all the members of the "Cercle de l'Esplanade" were fierce royalists.
On the ground-floor, where the real public café was, Republicanism prevailed. The young men of the town met there, and strangers often dropped in. The two waiters who rushed from table to table were merely garçons for the customers, and no man cared to inquire what their Christian names were. Madame Itier, who presided at the bar, exercised the strictest control, in order to preserve the reputation of respectability enjoyed by her establishment: now such vigilance, if displayed on the first floor, would have been utterly purposeless.
Jacques Itier was to be seen alternately in the upper and in the lower rooms. On the first floor, he went respectfully from table to table inquiring, in an obsequious tone, whether "the gentlemen" had all they required; the gentlemen, on their part, treated him somewhat haughtily and allowed of no familiarity. On the ground-floor it was the reverse, and there the master of the café was almost a personage. He was on the best terms with many of his customers; would play his game of piquet with one or another; order refreshments for his own consumption, and strip off his coat for a game of billiards. The political opinions of Jacques Itier took the color of the place where he was. On the first floor he adored the Comte de Chambord; below, he swore by Gambetta. He was a man without political prejudices. The Bonapartists of Lunel congregated at another café; had they come to his establishment he would no doubt have found something pleasant to say about the Prince Imperial. Casimir Vincent had frequented and patronized the Café de l'Esplanade for many years. He was already considered as an old habitué, when the establishment passed into Jacques Itier's hands. That was fifteen years ago; and since then, scarcely a day had gone by in which the little man had not been there both in the afternoon and in the evening. Vincent clung to his habits; his visits to the café were as much a part of his existence as his morning excursions to the Mas de Vincent. Every day he met the same faces at the club, — old Coulé, who had remained his friend ever since Caroline's death; M. Vidal, the notary, in whose office were the deeds of half the property in the town; René Sabatier, who was bold enough to apostrophize the banker as "Papa Vincent;" Bardou, the corn-merchant; Coste, the doctor; Count de Rochebrune and the Baron de Villaray, large landowners, etc. By all those Vincent was highly considered: he was known to be a rich man, a Legitimist, and the descendant of an old family of the town. All these things entitled him to honor.
Yet no one could boast of intimacy with the old bachelor. Vincent's habitual reserve kept curiosity at a distance, and he neither encouraged nor bestowed confidence. He never spoke of himself or his concerns, and wore, on all occasions, a serious countenance, with a tinge of sadness even. Some people asserted that he had never recovered the death of his fair Caroline, and that solitude weighed on his heart. They quoted expressions which he had let drop from time to time, in which he alluded to a monotonous life "without either sorrow or joy."
As soon as M. Vincent entered the club after breakfast, François, the waiter, hastened to bring him his demi-tasse, and a tumbler of water; while Itier presented the Gazette de France and the Messager du Midi. Vincent would acknowledge these civilities silently by a nod, sip his coffee and slowly smoke a cigar. He would read the Parisian newspaper all through, cast a look on the quotations of the Bourse as given in the Messager, and then take his seat on the divan which ran all round the billiard-room to hear the small news of the day from some obliging neighbor. He himself scarcely ever spoke. When his cigar was finished, he walked back slowly to his office, where he worked till five o'clock. Then, in obedience to a habit he had contracted during his travels, he dressed for dinner and took his solitary repast. Now and then he invited a few friends. On those occasions the old family plate shone on the table; and the best wines, the most delicate dishes, delighted the palates of the provincial epicures. But when Vincent dined alone, the fare was of the most simple description. An old woman waited on him; he read during his dinner, and scarcely noticed what was set before him.
After dinner, Vincent went to the café as we have said, for the second time. In a few minutes he never failed to find a partner for a game of piquet. At the neighboring tables the other members of the club played cards likewise. The play was not high, but was nevertheless carried on with the greatest ardor. Conversation went on in low tones, — such was the custom. Any stranger whom chance or curiosity led into the club-room, soon felt awkward and intrusive amid this company of old men, all busy shuffling cards, marking points, or exchanging the whispered remarks which the course of the game called forth. The members of the "Cercle de l'Esplanade" were accounted first-rate players in all Lunel. At half past ten the games had generally come to an end, and by eleven o'clock the great room was empty. Casimir Vincent would then go home.
When the weather was fine, he took two or three turns on the esplanade, and by half past eleven was in his sitting-room. A large lamp with a shade burned on the table; the evening papers and the letters of the last delivery were laid out beside it. Vincent read for about half an hour, and then passed into his bedroom. In summer, before undressing, it was his custom to stand for a while at the window, from whence he could see a park which lay behind the house. The rustling murmur of the trees seemed to have a peculiar charm for him. He would stay listening to it attentively for a long time, though his countenance betrayed no emotion, and remained calm and serious as ever. But he would often heave a deep sigh as he turned away from the window. In the winter time, he would spend that last half-hour in front of the fire, his eyes fixed on the dying embers, while his features preserved that same look of thoughtful contemplation with which he listened in summer to the last hushed sounds of nature. Advancing years had made Casimir Vincent a singularly thoughtful, serious, and taciturn man.
When the war with Germany broke out, M. Vincent shared the fever of patriotism which took possession of all France. From morning to night he read the papers; drew up plans for the campaign, and discussed the conditions which should be imposed on the vanquished enemy. He had recovered the enthusiasm of his youth, and took the liveliest interest in all the burning questions of the day.
The first defeats produced a sort of stupefaction, though they did not shake his confidence.
"We will take our revenge," he said; "and woe to the northern invaders who have dared to pollute the sacred soil of France!"
But after the disasters of Forbach and Reichshoffen, after the bloody battles of Mars-la-Tour and Gravelotte, came the fearful news of the catastrophe of Sedan; and then, one following another, resounded the terrible blows under which France was crushed by the fortune of war: Strasbourg, Metz, Paris, fell into the power of the enemy. Whole armies were annihilated or led into captivity; new armies were raised, and were overtaken by the same fate; the northern and eastern provinces of France were like a vast cemetery, drenched with the noblest blood of the country. In the south, in the neighborhood of Lunel, there was fury or despair, and in some cases a still more harrowing feeling of resignation. Casimir Vincent went about his business with the air of a ghost and his dumb, pent-up sorrow was pitiable to witness. Still, just as before the war, he never failed to go every morning to the mas, and to show himself twice a day at the club.
After peace had been concluded, everything resumed its accustomed aspect in the little town, which was far removed from the seat of military events. Vincent, who had sustained no loss of fortune or of position, appeared almost to have forgotten the misfortunes which had befallen his country. He scarcely ever spoke of the war, and never joined in the general clamor for revenge which arose on all sides. But he grew daily more gloomy, more sad, more taciturn, till his best friends at last admitted that "old Vincent had become quite impracticable."
Vincent, however, continued to follow the political questions of the day: he subscribed to some of the leading Paris newspapers, and spent the better part of the day in reading them.
In October, 1873, when the news spread that the Comte de Chambord was going to ascend the throne of his ancestors, the old Legitimist had a last burst of enthusiasm.
"I would die happy," he said, "if it were given to me to see Henry V. at the head of the country."
The letter by which the Comte de Chambord annihilated the hopes of the so-called "fusionists" caused the banker a great shock.
"The king is right," he said; "he always is right: but what can be said of a country where the foremost citizens dare to propose to their legitimate sovereign to attain, by devious and crooked paths, the throne which God himself gave him? Poor France!"
René Sabatier, who had always been a favorite with the, banker, and who, in his turn, felt a real affection for him, became anxious at last, seeing him so completely dispirited. One night he accompanied him home, and took advantage of the opportunity to question his old friend on his sadness.
"You are not well. You seem tired. What is the matter? Why do you not consult the doctor?"
"The doctor can do nothing for me," replied Vincent. "I am bored, that's all."
"Travel; try a change.""I am as well at Lunel as I should be anywhere else. Here, at least, I am surrounded by well-known faces, and I have my regular occupations, which make the days seem less insupportably long."
"Go to Paris. It is my dream to go there. Ah! if I were rich and free like you, I would start this very night."
"Paris! Thanks for the advice. No! anywhere rather than there! Paris is the ruin of France! Paris is the birthplace of the evils of which we are all dying! The Revolution, the Empire, the war, the Commune, all came from Paris! Paris has killed France! Curse it!"
"Softly, softly, Papa Vincent," replied Sabatier; "do not fly into such a passion. Whatever you may say, Paris is the finest town in the world. Paris has its vices, I admit; but its brilliant qualities make it the capital of civilization."
"Pray, spare me your Victor Hugo phrases! Yes, Paris is verily the most civilized town in the world, if by civilization you mean the reverse of all that is natural and true. Shall I tell you what you, a provincial stranger, will find in Paris? The first tailors and the first shoemakers in the world; the best hairdressers and fencing-masters; the greatest coquettes and the most profligate women; the most cheating hotel-keepers, the most selfish politicians, and the most wonderful actors. That is all that you, as a stranger, will see; as to the Paris of work and self-denial, it will be hidden from you. The honest folks of Paris — and, thank Heaven! there are some left — do not frequent the places where you go to seek excitement and see sights. Busy with their work, and ashamed of the enervating pleasures that strangers rush to so greedily, they know how to respect their mourning country. Their houses would be closed to you, nor would they be thrown open to me. No, no, I will not go to Paris. Lunel is a dull town, I confess; I am weary of the life I lead here; it weighs me down, and I long to have done with it: still, I prefer it to life in Paris."
He paused for a minute and bent his head as if he were absorbed in painful reflections, then he resumed slowly in a low voice, as though he were speaking to himself, "Ay, indeed, life in Lunel is dull and colorless, … life in Paris is repugnant to me. … Life is unbearable everywhere in France. … Formerly it was not so, and life then had an object; men lived, men died at least for something. But what can I do now? Fold my arms, and impotently witness the ruin of my country. … All is going, perishing, falling to pieces, … and I am but a weak old man."
A long silence followed, which Sabatier dared not break till the two friends reached the banker's door.
"Monsieur Vincent," Sabatier then said, in a respectful tone, "I wish you gocd-night; try and sleep well."
"Good-night, my dear René," said the old man. He was holding the door still ajar, when he suddenly turned round and said abruptly to the young man, —
"How old are you?"
"I am four-and-twenty."
"Well, follow the advice of an old bachelor: marry. A life full of cares is better than a life which is utterly void. Woe to the man who is alone in the world! … Take a wife. … Man was not made to live alone. … Solitude begets unwholesome thoughts. … Goodnight, Sabatier!"
The next day Vincent appeared at the usual hour at the café of the esplanade, and in a few minutes he was seated opposite to Sabatier, apparently absorbed in the intricacies of a game of piquet.
"You have just thrown away ninety," remarked Sabatier.
"Have I?" said Vincent. He took up the cards he had discarded, looked at them and said quietly, "You are right; here's my knave of clubs."
There was another deal.
"Why, what is the matter with you today?" cried Sabatier, "You have not reckoned your quint."
"You are right again, young man," said the banker: "I had forgotten it. I do not know what I am thinking of." So saying he pushed away the cards.
"Go and play with Coulé," he added; "it amuses me no longer."
He got up and placed himself near another table where two other men were playing. Old Vidal came up and proposed a game of bezique. Vincent assented willingly, and they seated themselves at a vacant table. Vincent won the game.
"Bezique is child's play," he said; "I prefer piquet." He got up and apologized for not going on. "I will give you your revenge to-morrow," he said. He remained half an hour longer in the club-room, going from one group to another, and exchanging a few brief sentences with his friends; but he went home somewhat earlier than usual. No sooner had he left the room than every one began to talk about him.
"Old Vincent looks very ill. What is the matter with him?""He did not know his cards, and threw out his best I never saw him like that."
"How are his affairs? are they all right?"
"That they are. He bought largely into the funds only last week."
"Then, what ails him?"
"Nothing — he is bored."
"Has he ever been anything else for the last thirty years?"
"No. But apparently he has found out at last that it is not amusing to be bored."
While remarks were being exchanged at the club, Vincent was walking slowly homewards. More than once he stopped on his way, and stood plunged in deep thought, stroking his chin the while as was his wont. Once he took off his hat, brushed his hair back with a slow and regular movement, and then pressed his hand on his temple as though he had felt a sharp and sudden pain. His cravat seemed to choke him; once or twice he passed his finger between his throat and his shirt-collar, and breathed hard like a man who has been making some violent effort.
On entering his apartment he found everything in its accustomed place; there was the lamp, and beside it the papers and a few letters. He glanced at these; and recognizing the writing on the addresses, laid them aside without opening them. Even the papers had not the power to interest him; he opened one, and after looking through the leading article he crumpled it up in his hand and threw it on the ground.
"Always the same twaddle!" he exclaimed. The clock of a neighboring church struck eleven. Vincent took up a candlestick and went into his bedroom. As he stood before the chimney his eyes fell on the large mirror. He remained motionless and gazed long at his own image; it was that of an old man, bent under the weight of years, with a yellow, shrivelled-up face, dim eyes, and a despondent countenance.
"I never would have believed," he said, speaking very slowly, "that a life as long as mine could have been so joyless. To eat, to drink, to sleep, to read letters and newspapers, to shuffle and deal out cards, to be of no use for anything or to anybody, … to care for nothing, to care for nobody, … and to be bored."
He walked up to the open window and looked out into the night — a soft balmy night of spring. Above were the cloudless, starry heavens — below, the old plane-trees seemed to slumber; a solemn silence reigned all around.
"What fearful silence!" he said; "a death-like silence, … without and within myself." He shuddered and closed the window.
The next morning he went as usual to the Mas de Vincent. The paire came out to meet him at the gate.
"A fine morning, Monsieur Vincent. I hope I see you well. See how everything is getting on; one could not wish for better. If Providence only sends us a little rain, and we have no frost or hail, this year's crop will be splendid."
"We have no reason to complain," replied Vincent; "the mas has always made a capital return."
"Ah, you are a fortunate man, sir. All you touch seems to turn to gold. The mas is worth double what it was in your father's time. One may indeed call you a fortunate man."
When, half an hour later, Vincent was driving back in his cabriolet, he more than once repeated to himself, "Yes, yes, I am a fortunate man." But his countenance was not that of a fortunate man.
He scarcely tasted his breakfast; at dinner, he ate little or nothing. His old servant, Martha, became anxious, and inquired if her master was ill.
"No, I am not ill, but I have no appetite. To-morrow I will be better."
At the club he refused to play. As on the preceding evening, he wandered from one table to the other, looking on and stroking his chin without saying a word.
"Why don't you play?" inquired Sabatier.
"I have played piquet thirty years long. Is it very surprising that I should be weary of the game?"
"Bezique is child's play."
"I don't know whist"
"You will learn."
"I am too old."
"Oh, "Papa Vincent, you are hard to please to-night."
"Very hard to please, verily. It is of course unconscionable to expect from life something more than the pleasure of playing cards for halfpenny points."
Sabatier did not reply, and at the end of an hour Vincent left the club without having exchanged another word.
When he reached his own door, he stood irresolute, and looked right and left as though he expected somebody. He whistled softly, and, as on the previous day, took off his hat to press his hand upon his forehead! At that moment a poor beggar woman, with a child in her arms, went by.
"For God's sake, my good gentleman," she said, in a supplicating tone, "give me something for this poor child!"
Vincent drew out his purse, and looked into it for an instant, as though he were searching for small coin. Finding none, he took a five-franc piece and gave it to the woman.
"Mercy!" she exclaimed, almost in a tone of fear. "How can I thank you, sir? May God preserve you and yours, and return to you in blessings what you have done for me!"
She moved on, and Vincent's eyes followed her. "Halloa! here, woman!" he called out, abruptly.
The beggar woman looked round and hesitated. She feared to turn back lest the banker should have made a mistake and wish to take back his alms.
"Come back, I say," repeated Vincent. "No one wants to harm you; an the contrary. But make haste; I have no time to lose."
The poor woman came up.
"Here," said Vincent, "take all," and he poured the contents of his purse into her hand. The woman was struck dumb with surprise for a few seconds. When she recovered her speech, and began to stammer forth her thanks, Vincent had disappeared.
• • • • • • •
Guerre, the coachman, had been waiting more than an hour. At last he grew impatient.
"Martha!" he cried, "is not monsieur up? It is nearly eight."
The servant went to the kitchen door and glanced up at the bedroom windows. The curtains were still drawn.
"This is very strange," she said, "for monsieur always gets up at six. I'll go up and see what has happened."
In a few minutes she came down again, scared, pale, and trembling.
"Guerre," she said, in a hoarse whisper, "come quick. Our master ———" She could say no more, but the old coachman understood that some misfortune had happened. He came into the house and ran up-stairs as fast as his old legs would carry him. Martha followed. The two servants stopped at the entrance of the sitting-room, and Martha pointed silently to the bedroom door. Guerre went in with faltering steps.
The bright sunshine lighted up the room in spite of the curtains and the blinds. On the table stood two candlesticks, in which the lights had burned down to the sockets. Between them, placed so as to catch the eye at once, Guerre saw a paper, on which a few lines were written; and in front of the hearth, lying in a pool of blood, the corpse of Casimir Vincent. Guerre picked up an open razor, smeared with blood, and placed it, with a shudder, on the table. He then took up the paper which he had noticed on entering the room, and read as follows: —
|"Weary of life, I have sought death. My affairs are in good order. My will is in the hands of M. Vidal, the notary.|
The funeral took place quietly the next day. All the members of the "Cercle de l'Esplanade" attended. A portion of the banker's wealth went to distant relatives. René Sabatier, however, had a large legacy, and a still more considerable sum was bequeathed to the town of Lunel for the foundation of a charitable institution. The clergy offered no opposition to the burial of the suicide in consecrated ground; and René Sabatier, remembering the last remarks of his unhappy friend, caused a stone to be placed on his grave, with the following inscription: —
"A MAN, WEARY OF LIFE,
HAS SOUGHT REPOSE HERE:
PRAY FOR HIM!"
- In the south of France, paire is the name given to the foremost workman on a farm, and often to the manager himself.