Tales of To-day and Other Days/A Visit to the Arsenal
A Visit to the Arsenal.
In a spacious atelier are two young men; one is standing before an easel and taking advantage of the last of the fading daylight, the other, stretched at length upon a great red divan, is nonchalantly smoking a long pipe and twirling in his fingers a letter of which the seal is yet unbroken. Both have their hair long and wear mustaches. To-morrow, perhaps, you will see them with close-cropped heads and lips, and the day after they will be starting a beard again beneath the chin.
"I don't know why it is," said the smoker, "that I hesitate to include this letter in the fate to which I have been condemning my other letters for the last two months. I can't help feeling sorry to burn it unread, the more that it is in my father's handwriting. I can guess very nearly what were the contents of the two missives that he addressed to me previously to this one. The first contained, necessarily, reproaches and threats, the second, probably, reproaches and good advice, I should not be surprised to find a money-order in this one. Parbleu!" he added, after having glanced over the opening lines, "I was not mistaken: my banker is authorized to pay me a hundred francs."
"A hundred francs!" exclaimed the other, laying down his brush.
"A hundred francs," replied the smoker.
"Well, well, fathers are not so black as they are painted; as for me, I shall never have my daily bread until I can say: Our Father who art in Heaven."
"In the mean time he gives me a very important bit of advice. My uncle at the Arsenal is ill, and he urges me to go and see him. It is an uncle with an inheritance to dispose of, and I have only been there once in the last three years."
"That was not doing right."
"It is an easy matter to be wise when other people are concerned. I will try to go to-morrow. I don't know the way very well, though."
"I will make a map for you."
"That will be nice."
The morrow comes.
"I am not going without my breakfast."
"I would not advise you to."
"Who is going out to get the breakfast?"
"Not I; I am in slippers."
"Nor I; I don't want to soil my boots before I start. Eugène, you are not a bit accommodating."
"And you are not a bit just; I did all the chores yesterday. To-day it is your turn."
"See here, let us take the foils; the first one touched shall go out for the breakfast."
They take down the foils, they fence; Arthur is touched. It is settled that it is he who is to go for the breakfast, but since they have been at the trouble of taking down the foils, the masks and the gloves, they decide that they will not stop at a single bout. They fence for an hour. When they quit they are blown and as weak as two cats.
"We must heat some water so that I can shave."
"Yes, and you have let the fire go out."
"It is easily lighted again. But we have no water."
"What! is the cistern empty already?"
"Yes; I forgot to close the faucet last night."
"The kitchen must be afloat?"
"It is but too true. I am glad that I noticed it before going downstairs."
They breakfast; they put some water on the fire. While it is warming Eugène resumes work on his picture, Arthur takes his pipe and sprawls supine upon the divan.
"Just see, Eugène," says he, "the time that I have wasted to-day; I ought to be far on my way by this. This dawdling is decidedly a bad business; no one would believe the injury that the habit has caused me. Well did the philosopher say: 'Do that which you would wish to have done rather than that which you wish to do.'"
"That is all the more true in your case," said Eugène, taking a pipe and seating himself beside his chum, "that what you would wish to do, of all things in the world, would be to do nothing."
"It is true that I look with scorn upon that uneasy restlessness which makes certain persons exert themselves merely for the sake of exertion; do something that is better than repose, or else keep yourself quiet."
"Just at present it would be better for you to finish dressing than to, 'keep yourself quiet.'"
"My water is not hot."
The two friends puffed away at their pipes in silence for a moment; then Arthur continued:
"Not that I wish to say anything in defense of dawdling; for, if you will remember, the exordium of my discourse was wholly opposed to it."
"I shall not speak ill of it, either, for
"Idleness is a gift that comes from the Immortals."
The two friends had stored away in their noddles a stock of quotations which they used as aphorisms, producing them as the exigencies of the case seemed to demand.
"But," continued Arthur, "laziness, in order to be pleasant, must be unattended by remorse and by dread of future consequences; it must be without fear and without reproach; one must have conquered the right to abandon himself to it, body and soul; for the only true laziness, what you may call loafing, pure and unadulterated, is that to which the body yields itself while the mind is chiding and reproving it."
He arose and commenced his toilet. For a visit so rare as the one that he was about to make and where such important consequences were at stake, he thought it was his duty to lay aside the black cravat that he had worn uninterruptedly for several years. He accordingly folded a white one and laid it in readiness across the back of a chair, but when he had washed his hands he calmly wiped them on his cravat, never dreaming that that bit of white linen could be aught, else than a towel. When he perceived what he had done it was too late; the neckcloth was all rumpled and soiled. He had to go and get another one; he seated himself to fold it across his knee. But he was so comfortable, there upon the divan! He resumed his pipe and began to smoke; his head rested luxuriously upon the cushions.
His state was one of languid torpor that fills the head with flitting thoughts, light and fanciful, that change their form or are dissipated into air at the slightest breath, like puffs of smoke; that gives free rein to the imagination, which goes gadding, leaving the numbed body without strength either to follow or control it, like the bird which, escaping from the net, flutters about it and seems to mock the fowler, who looks amazedly upon its flight.
Delightful state in which the I disappears, in which one stands by and looks upon his own life, its sensations, its joys and sorrows, as if at a play, with the pleased unconcern of a comfortably seated spectator; in which one cannot evoke a melancholy thought that, in spite of his efforts to retain it, will not escape him, as water slips through one's fingers, and transmute itself into some ridiculous image which will dance before him in the curling smoke-wreaths of his tobacco, laugh him in the face and compel him to be merry, whether he will or no.
Arthur sets out at last, however. A man stops him on the staircase.
"Is M. Arthur at home?"
"No, he is dead."
The man descends the stairs before him,.
"Come, I'm mighty glad that that chap doesn't know me."
He steers his course along the boulevards. There are many things to be seen on the boulevards on a day in March. The florists have the first hyacinths exposed upon their stalls, and they exhale an odor of spring. The women, at the first warm rays of sunshine, emerge from their furs, as the early flowers emerge from their green.
He stops before a juggler; the juggler is just commencing a trick that is more wonderful than all other tricks, but he does not finish it: he has some others that he wants to show first; then he is presenting, gratis, cakes of Spanish white to clean brass-work with to those who purchase a box of his charcoal paste for the teeth for twenty sous.
"This odontalgic and balsamic specific is a sovereign cure for decayed teeth. I propose to make a test of it in your presence, ladies and gentlemen. The first person that presents himself—come here, little boy. See, the teeth of this child are perfectly black; you put a little of the powder upon a brush; you moisten it with water; and don't think that this is prepared water; just plain water, the first that comes along, the water of the gutter; you rub the teeth and the gums with it."
Still there is no sign of the trick that has been announced in such glowing terms; Arthur, who has been waiting half an hour, loses patience and starts to go, but the juggler runs after him and calls to him:
Every eye is directed upon Arthur. He becomes red in the face and stops.
"Monsieur," says the juggler, "why do you carry away my globes! I cannot earn my living without the implements of my profession."
The people form a ring about Arthur, who, purple with rage, exclaims:
"I have not got your globes; go about your business."
"I beg Monsieur's pardon a thousand times, but he has my globes in his hat."
The juggler takes off Arthur's hat and extracts from it three immense balls. The trick is adroitly done; the people look on admiringly. Arthur feels like thrashing the conjurer, and takes to his heels. The skeptically inclined smile and say:
"He is an accomplice!"
Further on is a man peddling phosphorus boxes.
"Here you have the genuine inflammable paste. You have no need of ready-made matches; all you have to do is to take the least little bit of my paste on the end of a knife, on the end of your cane, on the end of anything you please, no matter what; the least contact with a lamp-wick serves to light it at once.
"To say nothing of its utility, my inflammable paste is a source of innocent and entertaining amusement, an incentive to merriment and enjoyment in society. You are out spending the evening—at a minister's house, we will say; an awkward fellow attempts to snuff the candle and puts it out; result, Egyptian darkness. Every one has something funny to say; the young men take advantage of the obscurity to kiss the pretty girls, but what do you do? You take out your little box, that you always carry about with you in your pocket; you bet the mistress of the house a quart of wine, red or white, that you will light the candle."
Arthur goes his way; a man seizes him by the coat-collar and stops him. This man has before him a screech-owl and three harmless little adders; venomous serpents, he says they are, that he has domesticated. Several small birds, lying stiff and motionless upon their backs, have been taught to simulate death. If he allowed you to touch them you would see how easy it is for them to do the trick. This man is selling soap for taking out grease-spots. Vainly does Arthur try to get away from him, his enemy will not let go his hold; a crowd collects about them.
"I never set eyes on such a disgusting grease-spot as that which disfigures the collar of monsieur's overcoat."
Arthur gives the grease-spot man a thump in the stomach that sends him and his table rolling on top of the birds and reptiles, animate and inanimate, and then gives leg-bail, again; to evade the inquisitive looks that pursue him he enters, at hazard, a street that is unknown to him; it takes him into another street, and that into still another. Arthur is lost; he wanders aimlessly, he turns this way and that; finally he asks a commissionaire where he is; he finds that he has traversed half the distance on his way back to his lodging.
"It is my uncle's dinner hour; I won't go there to-day, I will go home."
The next day Arthur arose very early. He lost a frightful amount of time, the day before, in heating water to shave with; to-day he will shave with cold water. He has on his feet two slippers, one his, the other Eugène's, one yellow, the other red; his costume is completed by an old pair of black trousers covered with stains of paint and a nightshirt.
The soap does not dissolve readily in the cold water; it becomes sticky and slippery, and when he tightens his grasp in order to hold it, it flies from his fingers just as one discharges a cherry-pit from between the thumb and index.
Arthur stoops and places his hand upon it; the soap slips from his fingers and disappears beneath the sofa. He takes a cane and pokes about with it under the sofa; the cane hits the soap and sends it out flying; the door is open and the soap makes its way out; Arthur follows in hot pursuit, but it skips. across the landing and slipping, slipping all the time, hops" downward from floor to floor; twice Arthur overtakes it and tries to stop it with his foot, but it only descends the faster. Arthur makes his way down as quickly as his slippers will permit; he passes a woman and child and comes near upsetting them; he tears one of the sleeves of his shirt completely off against a clothes-hook. The soap has brought up in the court at last; Arthur is about to seize it when a servant-girl, who has been washing clothes at the pump, empties her pail, and theflood carries the soap out beneath the porte cochère.
"Door, if you please!"
Arthur steps outside and picks up his soap from between a horse's legs, but people in the street stop and stare at him. He makes haste to re-enter the house; on every landing he encounters neighbors who have come out of their rooms to learn the cause of the racket that he made in descending. Some of them laugh, others shrug their shoulders. When at last he reaches the top floor, he finds the door of the studio closed. He is about to knock, but hears a child crying and a woman scolding within.
"Be quiet; it will all be over in an hour and we will go away."
"Ah! Good Heavens! it is that frightful little boy whose portrait Eugène is painting. I can't show myself in this condition. What is to be done? An hour in a ragged shirt, and in such weather as this! If I only had a pipe!"
Arthur almost walks his legs off, tramping up and down. When he has exhausted this slightly monotonous pleasure he climbs out at a window, gets upon the roofs, and goes and warms himself at the smoke of a neighboring chimney. The hour passes wearily, but it is too late to go to see the uncle; there is another day wasted.
Arthur scarcely sleeps at all during the night so that he may be sure of awaking bright and early the next morning. He reflects upon the excuses that he will make to his uncle for not having been to see him for so long a time. At morning he awakes; the daylight enters his room, dark and rainy.
"Come, it is raining; I will not go out."
When one is warm and snug in bed the least thing seems to be a sufficient excuse for remaining there. And still Arthur is mistaken; it is not raining. His misapprehension is caused by a blue curtain that Eugène has hung before the window. There is nothing so depressing and so deceptive as light passing through a blue curtain; one should never have blue curtains.
It does not rain; quite to the contrary, it is clear. When Arthur gets up it is late. The sun is beginning to be more powerful; his rays give color to the roofs, which seem to rob them of their brilliancy.
From the terrace in front of the studio a few square feet of sky are visible, but the little that the friends do see is of a beautiful, transparent blue; the air that they breathe is balmy and penetrating; that is as much as people who dwell in cities know of spring. The most magnificent festivals of nature, to the townsman, are no more than what the distant harmonies of the ball would be to the poor wretch dying of cold and hunger at the door of a splendid mansion.
It is enough, however, to set them thinking that the trees must be commencing to put forth their leaves, that the beeches and the maples, together with the hawthorn, are the first to assume their cloaks of green, that the cherry trees, by this time, must be nodding their rich plumes of white blossoms and that the birds of winter have hushed their thin, sharp notes, and the linnet, in the young foliage of the lilacs, is giving utterance to his full, resounding melodies. Upon the banks of the brooks the yellowish catkins of the willows must be bourgeoning, while around them are buzzing the first bees of the season.
Says Arthur to Eugène:
"We must be thinking what we shall do about our garden."
Their garden consists of three long wooden boxes stationed upon the terrace.
"What shall we plant in our garden this year?"
"I don't want any more vegetables, for my part; your salad last year was detestable; besides, we ought to have a little shade."
"How would you like a few full-grown trees and some shrubbery?"
"That wouldn't be so bad."
"Then why shouldn't we set out some firs? That would be splendid."
"Joking apart, it seems to me that we live high enough up that no one can dispute our right to have a few cedars here; the cedar takes kindly to the mountains."
"I want flowers; I shall plant some pinks and red roses that René d'Anjou was the first to exhibit in his gardens."
"He was also the first one who cultivated the Muscat grape."
"If you believe what I say, we are just as likely to have vines as we are to have forests."
"Have it your own way."
"Do you know that to have one's name handed down to posterity in connection with a flower is as great a glory as the best?"
Eugène is alone in the atelier, alone, that is, with a model who neither speaks nor stirs. Arthur has started out early; there is every reason to hope that this time he will succeed in reaching the Arsenal.
Eugène is talking to himself. While painting away industriously he gives himself bits of good advice, heaps reproaches on himself, occasionally indulges himself with a few words of approval; he imitates the words and tones of the master under whom he pursued his studies and intersperses this monologue with moral reflections.
"Be careful how you use your bitumen. Why are you painting without a hand-rest? Where the devil are my hand-rests, any way? I shall never find my hand-rests. I ought to have an apprentice to bring me my rest. One is never so ill served as when he serves himself. Ah! you call that a hand-rest, do you? Why don't you take the axle of a cart and have done with it? There is a lighted candle, very well; but what does your precious candle serve to illuminate? Why don't you put in some lights, then? You dare not, you are afraid. There, there, a little bit more. Ah! now your candle lights things up. Don't be too free with the bitumen. A little vermilion here. Come, come; where is my vermilion? Who has taken my vermilion? Tell me, George," he says to the model, "have you been eating my vermilion? I must have some vermilion. There is green, but that is not the same thing. If I had an apprentice he would hunt for my vermillion for me. Really and truly, I must have an apprentice. Economy is the mother of all the vices. Ah! here is ray vermilion! I wonder who the devil conceived the idea of putting it into a helmet? Nothing is ever in its place here, everything is always topsy-turvy. Who the devil took it in his head to put my vermilion in a helmet? The idea of looking for it in a helmet; I know very well that I placed it in a riding-boot. Come," says he, still talking to himself, "perhaps you call that an eye; if you were to look at the model you would not disgrace yourself with such idiotic blunders. What does that great imbecile eye mean? Bring down the eyeball a little; there, so; a little more."
Then he sings:
"What a difficult thing it is to paint!
I shall never be more than a tyro.
"If your picture as a whole is anything like that leg, to give you your due, it will be the very worst picture in the salon, and you might as well subscribe it: Grocer pinxit. Don't abuse the bitumen, I say again. Come, George, you may take a rest; I am going out. I will be back in an hour and a half; if any one comes and inquires for me, tell him I have gone to discover the sources of the Niger."
Eugène leaves the house. A few minutes after he has gone a commissionaire comes up the stairs and asks for Eugène. George, who is smoking Levant tobacco in a Turkish pipe, sends him away with his letter.
That letter is from Arthur. This is what has happened him:
He left the house, as we have said, bright and early he felt hungry and went into a café; when he came to leave he found that he had no money. He gave an order for something to be served him and wrote to Eugène to look for his purse and send it to him.
The commissionaire returns, bringing back his letter. How is he to pay for what he has eaten and drunk at the café? He cannot leave the café without settling his check, he cannot discharge the commissionaire without paying him. His only course is to keep the commissionaire under pay and remain at the café; he sends the man to a friend and calls for his fifth glass of sugar and water.
"What am I to do if the commissionaire does not find Robert at home? I must pay the man, I must pay my bill here. It is extremely embarrassing."
A woman passes along the street before the windows of the café; Arthur rushes to the door, hat in hand; this woman that he has just caught sight of has a strange hold upon his imagination. The reason why is this:
Coming out of a bric-à-brac dealer's shop into the street one day, carrying in his arms two plaster figures, an antique helmet and a Chinese parasol, Arthur had encountered face to face a woman whose beauty had produced a deep impression on him. These sudden impressions are more than an empty dream. A single glance served to fender Arthur enamored, miserable, jealous. He came near letting the plaster figures fall from his arms; he wished to follow the fair unknown, but loaded as he was like a porter and his clothes filthy with dust and plaster, he was quickly compelled to abandon this project.
For three days he was melancholy and thoughtful. There was one thing that particularly annoyed him; the impression that he had produced on that woman's mind must have been diametrically opposite to that which he had received from her. His equipment had been ridiculous, the expression of his admiration stupid. For two weeks he never went out without being dressed to kill; if a new play was brought out he would go to witness it, if a ray of sunshine pierced the gray clouds of November he would go and walk in the Tuileries gardens, peering under all the bonnets in quest of the blue eyes of his fair one. He wished to correct the unfavorable impression that he thought he must have produced and place himself in her eyes on a level, at least, with indifferent acquaintances and persons whom she had never seen.
Two months after that he had caught sight of her a second time at a concert, but she was seated at a distance from him and with all his efforts he had not been able to attract her attention to his person, which on that occasion was magnificently attired and perfectly seductive. Upon returning home he had drawn her portrait from memory, and the constant contemplation of this picture had contributed in no small degree to the nourishment of a passion that had begun to assume extravagant proportions. Since then he had never met her again, although he had spent much time prowling in quest of her. At times he had followed strange women for hours on end, believing that he discerned some resemblance in form or carriage to his inamorata, or else because they chanced to wear a blue shawl. On the only two occasions when he had seen her she had sported a great cashmere of that color.
He was very assiduous in paying his court to the likeness, however, and every time that he came In would place a handsome bouquet before it. Through constantly seeking and never finding her he had reached such a degree of adoration that, had he chanced to meet her and succeeded in gaining her love, his love for her would not have lasted long. He had placed his idol upon such a lofty pedestal that she could not have come down from her elevation without doing herself a harm. Given a certain amount of imagination and a sufficiency of obstacles, it is always possible to adore a woman; to love her is not so easy a matter. The majority of women are adored only because they cannot make themselves loved.
Not that we would decry illusions, far from it; we have often thought that there is nothing beautiful and exalted in life but that which has no existence there; that is to say, life in its naked reality, stripped of the bright hues that are thrown on it through the prism of the imagination, is not worth the living and is like the butterfly whose wings, rudely crumpled by some rough hand, have lost their brilliant golden dust.
To destroy illusion is to limit the world to our own narrow horizon, it "is to restrict the circle of our sensations within the grasp of our outstretched hand; it is as if we should follow the example of the Spartan ephor and cut two strings from the lyre, or that of the tyrant of Syracuse and throw our most costly ring into the sea, or disfigure ourselves like Origen.
So, then, when Arthur recognized the great blue eyes of his fair unknown beneath a black hat and through a veil of the same color he had dashed to the door of the café, but just as he was on the point of passing out he suddenly remembered that he had not paid, and could not pay, for what he had consumed, and he reflected that were he to leave the place, particularly in that hurried manner, he would inevitably be taken for a Jeremy Diddler who had endeavored to make his breakfast at the expense of the restaurateur.
He returned to his place, called for a sixth glass of sweetened water and made believe to read a newspaper.
At last a man came into the café with a laughing face; it was the friend to whom Arthur had written to come and get him out of his scrape. He offered his purse, and Arthur paid off the commissionaire and settled for his countless glasses of sugar and water.
"My dear friend," says the newcomer, "since I have paid for your breakfast you must let me set up the grub for the rest of the day as well, and come and sup with us."
Circumstances resulting from the encounter with this friend, an amour which ended in a journey, a journey which ended in a quarrel, a quarrel which ended in a return home, all these things consumed a great deal of time.
After these events, while en route, Arthur devotes his thoughts to his unknown, and upon returning to his studio removes the bouquet, long since faded, that adorned her portrait and replaces it by a fresh, one of pink heather and golden broom.
"Parbleu!" says Arthur, "I must go and see my uncle."
Eugène was going out to his solitary dinner just as Arthur came in.
"Have you seen your uncle?"
"How is that?"
"The boulevard has been playing its old tricks on me. I stopped to see a giantess; she was a Pole at the time of the Polish war, a Belgian during the siege of Antwerp. Here's what I read upon the hand-bills: 'The king, having heard tell of her marvelous beauty, desired to see her, and declared that she was rightfully entitled to her surname of Queen of the Giants.' Encouraged by the royal suffrage, I entered the show and had the honor of receiving the distinguished notice of the Queen of the Giants."
"In presence of all the assembled spectators she said to me: 'If monsieur, who is of goodly stature, will kindly come and stand beside me, it will be seen that he does not reach my shoulder.' I scrambled to her platform and gravely perched myself at her side as long as she saw fit to keep me there. Ah!" says Arthur, with a sigh, "I saw something that interested me more than that. I had stopped where a juggler was carrying on his industry; he was in need of a watch for a transformation. I loaned him mine, and I assure you that the trick was a very comical one, but as I was watching his operations a woman passed, wrapped in a camel's-hair shawl. That woman was my unknown; I determined to follow her; she was proceeding along the boulevard in just the same direction that I should have to take to go to my uncle's, but I could not leave my watch in the juggler's hands. I stepped up to him:
"'In one moment, sir.'
"'I want to go.'
"'It is only a matter of five minutes.'
"'I have not one to spare.'
"The ring of spectators murmur and inveigh against me.
"'Are you afraid that I am going to steal your watch?"
"'You are a rascal.'
"'Well, I placed it in that cup; take it.'
"I put my hand into the cup and extract a great onion. Every one laughs; I turn all the colors of the rainbow and again demand my watch; I secure it and take to my heels, but the unknown has disappeared. If she had kept to the boulevard I should have seen her, for the street pursues a straight course; a cab has just started, I follow it, I run after it. I must be born to ill-luck; the horse was a perfect trotter. At last I came up with it, quite spent and breathless, but it contained only a man in blue spectacles!"
Arthur received a letter from his father; in it was the following passage:
"Send me word how your uncle is, who was said to be in such a bad way; I do not ask if you have seen him, for your feelings, our interests, common humanity, not to mention my reiterated instructions to you, all combined to make that visit an imperative duty."
"I will go to-morrow even if it should rain old women!" exclaimed Arthur.
Six weeks afterward, Arthur managed to reach the Arsenal; his uncle's house was draped with black, the corpse had just been deposited in the hearse, the people were entering the mourning-coaches. Arthur was thunderstruck; still, a few moments' reflection showed him that what had happened was only a very ordinary occurrence, and entirely in accordance with the natural course of events.
Three persons, whose countenances were not unknown to him, signaled him an invitation to enter the last coach with them; Arthur took his seat and followed the procession, first to the church, then to the cemetery, without uttering a word; he could not, however, master some remorseful feelings that he had not been with his uncle in his last moments. They reached the burial-place; after that ceremony, that is ever a sad one, even for those not directly concerned, after they had lowered the coffin into the grave and had strewn upon it a few shovelfuls of earth that fell with a hollow sound upon the box of pine, a gentleman dressed in black came forward, blew his nose, and, in a voice that trembled, as much from the embarrassment of speaking in public as from grief, pronounced the eulogy of the deceased.
This face also was not unfamiliar to Arthur; it occurred to him that this young man, more fortunate than he, or less hare-brained, was his uncle's heir.
"Gentlemen," said the orator, "when we speak of death, it may be said that it is those who remain that feel the affliction most keenly; the friend whose loss we mourn is gone above to occupy that place in heaven that his virtues have earned for him, while we remain here below to shed our tears for him."
"There is no doubt about it," thought Arthur; "my uncle has left him his Bayeux property."
"No one," continued the heir, "obeyed more implicitly this precept of the Gospel: 'Let not thy left hand know that which thy right hand doeth.' It is for that reason that the poor, not knowing whence came the numerous benefactions that be scattered with a lavish hand during his lifetime, have not trooped hither to bedew this earth with their tears."
"He has got the Paris mansion, too," said Arthur to himself.
"To some his mental faculties appeared to be deteriorating; the reason was that his life upon this earth was ended and he was entering upon the childhood of another life."
"I would not give five sous," Arthur mutters, "for all that my uncle has left me of his government bonds."
"It was the childhood of immortality."
"Even the canal shares have been taken from me."
They climbed into the carriage again. Arthur's three companions conversed about their business affairs; Arthur said not a word. He was saddened by the funereal scene, and also, if the truth was to be told, by the consideration that the labor of a lifetime would not replace the inheritance that he had lost through his own folly. He left the coach and continued his way on foot. As he was crossing the boulevard some persons had stopped (and who has not sometimes stopped for a more trifling circumstance?) to watch a postilion mending a broken trace. Arthur mechanically halted like the others. As he was surveying the operation a man tapped him on the shoulder; he turned his head; it was his uncle. Arthur turned pale and for a moment was frozen with terror and incapable of motion; then he threw his arms about his dear uncle's neck and embraced him."I would rather have you embrace me more frequently and less violently," said the uncle.
Arthur embraced him again, but there was something convulsive in his action.
"What! it is you, you that I have here in my arms! But it can't be!"
"It is as plain as can be; I am on my way to Bayeux to spend the summer."
"But, uncle, I am just come——"
"From a visit to me, you were going to say? They have been burying poor Dubois, my neighbor, whom you have seen at my house so many times."
"What! then it was not you?"
"I? What do you mean?"
"I have been lamenting you and shedding tears for you for the last four hours."
The uncle burst out into a great fit of laughter.
"I am going to Bayeux to attend the wedding of your cousin!"
"The daughter of your mother's sister, my second sister; she has been living with me during the past year."
"Aunt Marthe's daughter?"
"Exactly; she does not know her future husband, but I have arranged it all by letter; she will be very happy."
The postilion had finished his repairs; the uncle took his place in the chaise and said:
"Kiss your cousin's hand, whom you will never see again, in all probability, for her husband means to live upon his property, where he is making improvements."
Arthur kissed a little hand that emerged from the window of the chaise upon the bidding of the uncle, then raised his eyes and beheld the pretty face of the stranger of the blue cashmere. She was still wrapped in the folds of the blue shawl; the chaise started and Arthur remained standing there, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, until it was lost among the mists that rise from the ground with the decline of day.
- Paraphrasing Fontaine, "L'apologue est un don qui vient des immortels." (Wikisource contributor note)