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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesJack - Chapter 12. Life Is Not A Romance
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Jack - Chapter 12. Life Is Not A Romance Post by :wfelixb69 Category :Long Stories Author :Alphonse Daudet Date :May 2012 Read :3603

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Jack - Chapter 12. Life Is Not A Romance

CHAPTER XII. LIFE IS NOT A ROMANCE

One Sunday morning, just after the arrival of the train that had brought Labassandre and a noisy band of friends, Jack, who was in the garden busy with his squirrel-net, heard his mother call him. Her voice came from the window of the poet's room. Something in its tone, or a certain instinct so marked in some persons, told the child that the crisis had come, and he tremblingly ascended the stairs. On the Henri Deux chair D'Argenton sat, throned as it were, while Labassandre and Dr. Hirsch stood on either side. Jack saw at once that there were the tribunal, the judge, and the witnesses, while his mother sat a little apart at an open window.

"Come here!" said the poet, sternly, and with such an assumption of dignity that one was tempted to believe that the Henry Deux chair itself had spoken. "I have often told you that life is not a romance; you have seen me crushed, worn and weary with my literary labors; your turn has now come to enter the arena. You are a man,"--the child was but twelve,--"you are a man now, and must prove yourself to be one. For a year,--the year that I have been supposed to neglect you,--I have permitted you to run free, and, thanks to my peculiar talents of observation, I have been able to decide on your path in life. I have watched the development of your instincts, tastes, and habits, and, with your mother's consent, have taken a step of importance." Jack was frightened, and turned to his mother for sympathy. Charlotte still sat gazing from the window, shading her eyes from the sun. D'Argenton called on Labassandre to produce the letter he had received. The singer pulled out a large, ill-folded peasant's letter, and read it aloud:--


"FOUNDRY D'INDRET.

"My Dear Brother: I have spoken to the master in regard to
the young man, your friend's son, and he is willing, in
spite of his youth, to accept him as an apprentice. He may
live under our roof, and in four years I promise you that he
shall know his trade. Everybody is well here. My wife and
Zenaide send messages.

"Rondic."


"You hear, Jack," interrupted D'Argenton; "in four years you will hold a position second to none in the world,--you will be a good workman."

The child had seen the working classes in Paris; above all, he had seen a noisy crowd of men in dirty blouses leaving a shop at six o'clock in the _Passage des Douze Maisons_. The idea of wearing a blouse was the first that struck him. He remembered his mother's tone of contempt,--"Those are workmen, those men in blouses!"--he remembered the care with which she avoided touching them in the street as she passed. But he was more moved at the thought of leaving the beautiful forest, the summits of whose waving trees he even now caught a glimpse of from the window, the Rivals, and above all his mother, whom he loved so much and had found again after so much difficulty.

Charlotte, at the open window, shivered from head to foot, and her hand dashed away a tear. Was she watching in that western sky the fading away of all her dreams, her illusions, and her hopes?

"Then must I go away?" asked the child, faintly.

The men smiled pityingly, and from the window came a great sob.

"In a week we will go, my boy," said Labassandre, cheeringly. But D'Argenton, with a frown directed to the window, said, "You can leave the room now, and be ready for your journey in a week."

Jack ran down the stairs, and out into the village street, and did not stop to take breath until he reached the house of Dr. Rivals, who listened to his story with indignation.

"It is preposterous!" he cried. "The very idea of making a mechanic of you is absurd. I will see your father at once."

The persons who saw the two pass through the street--the doctor gesticulating, and little Jack without a hat--concluded that some one must be ill at Aulnettes. This was not the case, however; for Dr. Rivals heard loud talking and laughing as he entered the house, and Charlotte, as she descended the stairs, was singing a bar from the last opera.

"I wish to say a few words in private to you, sir," said Mr. Rivals.

"We are among friends," answered D'Argenton, "and have no secrets. You have something to say, I suppose, in regard to Jack. These gentlemen know all that I have done for him, my motives, and the peculiar circumstances of the case."

"But, my friend "--Charlotte said, timidly, fearing the explanation that was forthcoming.

"Go on, doctor," interrupted the poet, sternly.

"Jack has just told me that you have apprenticed him to the Forge at Indret. This, of course, is a mistake on his part."

"Not in the least, sir."

"But you can have no conception of the child's nature, nor of his constitution. It is his health, his very existence, with which you are trifling. I assure you, madame," he continued, turning toward Charlotte, "that your child could not endure such a life. I am speaking now simply of his physique. Mentally and spiritually, he is equally unfitted for it."

"You are mistaken, doctor," interrupted D'Argen-ton; "I know the boy better than you possibly can. He is only fit for manual labor, and now that I offer him the opportunity of earning his daily bread in this way, of exercising the one talent he may have, he goes to you and makes complaints of me."

Jack tried to excuse himself. His friend bade him be silent, and continued,--

"He did not complain to me. He simply informed me of your decision. I told him to come at once to his mother, and to you, and entreat you to reconsider your determination, and not degrade him in this way."

"I deny the degradation," shouted Labassandre. "Manual labor does not degrade a man. The Saviour of the world was a carpenter."

"That is true," murmured Charlotte, before whose eyes at once floated a vision of her boy as the infant Jesus in a procession on some feast-day.

"Do not listen to such utter nonsense, dear ma-dame," cried the doctor, exasperated out of all patience. "To make your boy a mechanic is to separate from him forever. You might send him to the other end of the world, and yet he would not be so far from you. You will see when it is too late; the day will come that you will blush for him, when he will appear before you, not as the loving, tender son, but humble and servile, as holding a social position far inferior to your own."

Jack, who had not yet said a word, dismayed at this vivid picture of the future, started up from his seat in the corner.

"I will not be a mechanic!" he said, in a firm voice.

"O, Jack!" cried his mother, in consternation.

But D'Argenton thundered out, "You will not be a mechanic, you say? But you will eat, and sleep, and be clothed at my expense! No, sir; I have had enough of you, and I never cared much for parasites." Then, suddenly cooling down, he concluded in a lower tone by a command to the boy to retire to his bedroom. There the child heard a loud and angry discussion going on below, but the words were not to be understood. Suddenly the hall-door opened, and Mr. Rivals was heard to say,--

"May I be hanged if I ever cross this threshold again!"

At this moment Charlotte came in, her eyes red with weeping. For the first time she seemed to have lost all consciousness of self, and had laid aside her role of the coquettish, pretty woman. The tears she had shed had been those that age a mother's face, and leave ineffaceable marks upon it.

"Listen to me, Jack," she said, tenderly. "You have made me very unhappy. You have been impertinent and ungrateful to your best friends. I know, my child, that you will be happy in your new life. I acknowledge that at first I was troubled at the idea; but you heard what they said, did you not? A mechanic is very different nowadays from what it was once. And, besides, at your age you should rely on the judgment of those older than yourself, who have only your interests at heart."

A sob from the child interrupted her.

"Then you, too, send me away!"

The mother snatched him to her heart, and kissed him passionately. "I send you away, my darling! You know that if the matter rested with me, you should never leave me; but, my child, we must both of us be reasonable, and think a little of the future, which is dreary enough for us." And then Charlotte hesitatingly continued, "You know, dear, you are very young, and there are many things you cannot understand. Some day, when you are older, I will tell you the secret of your birth. It is an absolute romance: some day you shall learn your father's name. But now all that is necessary for you to understand is, that we have not a penny in the world, and are absolutely dependent on--D'Argenton." This name the poor woman uttered with shame and hesitation, accompanied, at the same time, with a touching look of appeal to her son. "I cannot," she continued, "ask him to do anything more for us; he has already done so much. Besides, he is not rich. What am I to do between you both? Ah, if I could only go in your place to Indret and earn my bread! And yet you would refuse an opening that gives you a certainty of earning your livelihood, and of becoming your own master."

By the sparkle in her boy's eyes the mother saw that these words had struck home, and in a caressing tone she continued, "Do this for me, Jack; do this for your mother. The time may come when I shall have to look to you as my sole support." Did she really believe her own words? Was it a presentiment, one of those momentary flashes of light that illuminate the future's dark horizon? or had she simply talked for effect?

At all events, she could have found no better way to conquer this generous nature. The effect was instantaneous. The idea that his mother some day would lean on him suddenly decided him to yield at once. He looked her straight in the eyes. "Promise me that you will never be ashamed of me when my hands are black, and that you will always love me."

She covered her boy with kisses, concealing in this way her trouble and remorse, for from this time henceforward the unhappy woman was a prey to remorse, and never thought of her child without an agonized contraction of the heart.

But he, supposing that her embarrassment came from anxiety, and possibly from shame, tore himself away, and ran toward the stairs.

"Come, mama, I will tell him that I accept."

"I beg your pardon, sir," said the little fellow to D'Argenton, as he opened the door; "I was very wrong in refusing your kindness. I accept it with thanks."

"I am happy to find that reflection has taught you wisdom. But now express your gratitude to M. Labassandre: it is he to whom you are indebted."

The child extended his hand, which was quickly ingulfed in the enormous paw of the artist.

This last week Jack spent in his former haunts he was more anxious than sad, and the responsibility he felt made itself seen in two little wrinkles on his childish brow. He was determined not to go away without seeing Cecile.

"But, my dear, after the scene here the other day, it would not be suitable," remonstrated his mother. But the night before Jack's departure, D'Argenton, full of triumph at the success of his plans, consented that the boy should take leave of his friends. He went there in the evening. The house was dark, save a streak of light coming from the library--if library it could be called--a mere closet, crammed with books. The doctor was there, and exclaimed, as the door opened, "I was afraid they would not let you come to say good-bye, my boy! It was partially my fault. I was too quick-tempered by far. My wife scolded me well. She has gone away, you know, with Cecile, to pass a month in the Pyrenees with my sister. The child was not well; I think I told her of your impending departure too abruptly. Ah, these children! we think they do not feel, but we are mistaken, and they feel quite as deeply as we ourselves." He spoke to Jack as one man to another. In fact, every one treated him in the same way at present. And yet the little fellow now burst into a violent passion of tears at the thought of his little friend having gone away without his seeing her.

"Do you know what I am doing now, my lad?" asked the old man. "Well, I am selecting some books that you must read carefully. Employ in this way every leisure moment. Remember that books are our best friends. I do not think you will understand this just yet, but one day you will do so, I am sure. In the mean time, promise me to read them,"--the old man kissed the boy twice,--"for Cecile and myself," he said, kindly; and, as the door closed, the child heard him say, "Poor child, poor child!"

The words were the same as at the Jesuits' College; but by this time Jack had learned why they pitied him. The next morning they started, Labassandre in a most extraordinary costume, dressed, in fact, for an expedition across the Pampas,--high gaiters, a green velvet vest, a knapsack, and a knife in his girdle. The poet was at once solemn and happy: solemn, because he felt that he had accomplished a great duty; happy, because this departure filled him with joy.

Charlotte embraced Jack tenderly and with tears. "You will take good care of him, M. Labassandre?"

"As of my best note, madame."

Charlotte sobbed. The boy sought to hide his emotion, for the thought of working for his mother had given him courage and strength. At the end of the garden path he turned once more, that he might carry away in his memory a last picture of the house, and the face of the woman who smiled through her tears.

"Write often!" cried the mother.

And the poet shouted, in stentorian tones, "Remember, Jack, life is not a romance!"

Life is not a romance; but was it not one for him? The selfish egotist! He stood on the threshold of his little home, with one hand on Charlotte's shoulder, the roses in bloom all about him, and he himself in a pose pretentious enough for a photograph, and so radiant at having won the day, that he forgot his hatred, and waved a paternal adieu to the child he had driven from the shelter of his roof.

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