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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Ink-stain (tache D'encre: A Spot Of Ink) - BOOK II - Chapter IX. A VISIT FROM MY UNCLE
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The Ink-stain (tache D'encre: A Spot Of Ink) - BOOK II - Chapter IX. A VISIT FROM MY UNCLE Post by :biz2000 Category :Long Stories Author :Rene Bazin Date :April 2012 Read :3308

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The Ink-stain (tache D'encre: A Spot Of Ink) - BOOK II - Chapter IX. A VISIT FROM MY UNCLE

May 5th.

A letter from M. Mouillard breathing fire and fury. Were I not so low spirited I could laugh at it.

He would have liked me, after taking my degree at two in the afternoon, to take the train for Bourges the same evening, where my uncle, his practice, and provincial bliss awaited me. M. Mouillard's friends had had due notice, and would have come to meet me at the station. In short, I am an ungrateful wretch. At least I might have fixed the hour of my imminent arrival, for I can not want to stop in Paris with nothing there to detain me. But no, not a sign, not a word of returning; simply the announcement that I have passed. This goes beyond the bounds of mere folly and carelessness. M. Mouillard, his most elementary notions of life shaken to their foundations, concludes in these words:

"Fabien, I have long suspected it; some creature has you in bondage. I am coming to break the bonds!

"BRUTUS MOUILLARD."

I know him well; he will be here tomorrow.

May 6th.
No uncle as yet.

May 7th.
No more uncle than yesterday.

May 8th.
Total eclipse continues. No news of M. Mouillard. This is very strange.

May 9th.
This evening at seven o'clock, just as I was going out to dine, I saw, a few yards away, a tall, broad-brimmed hat surmounting a head of lank white hair, a long neck throttled in a white neckcloth, a frock-coat flapping about a pair of attenuated legs. I lifted up my voice:

"Uncle!"

He opened his arms to me and I fell into them. His first remark was:

"I trust at least that you have not yet dined."

"No, uncle."

"To Foyot's, then!"

When you expect to meet a man in his wrath and get an invitation to dinner, you feel almost as if you had been taken in. You are heated, your arguments are at your fingers' ends, your stock of petulance is ready for immediate use; and all have to be stored in bond.

When I had recovered from my surprise, I said:

"I expected you sooner, from your letter."

"Your suppositions were correct. I have been two days here, at the Grand Hotel. I went there on account of the dining-room, for my friend Hublette (you remember Hublette at Bourges) told me: 'Mouillard, you must see that room before you retire from business.'"

"I should have gone to see you there, uncle, if I had known it."

"You would not have found me. Business before pleasure, Fabien. I had to see three barristers and five solicitors. You know that business of that kind can not wait. I saw them. Business over, I can indulge my feelings. Here I am. Does Foyot suit you?"

"Certainly, uncle."

"Come on, then nephew, quick, march! Paris, makes one feel quite young again!"

And really Uncle Mouillard did look quite young, almost as young as he looked provincial. His tall figure, and the countrified cut of his coat, made all who passed him turn to stare, accustomed as Parisians are to curiosities. He tapped the wood pavement with his stick, admired the effects of Wallace's philanthropy, stopped before the enamelled street-signs, and grew enthusiastic over the traffic in the Rue de Vaugirard.

The dinner was capital--just the kind a generous uncle will give to a blameless nephew. M. Mouillard, who has a long standing affection for chambertin, ordered two bottles to begin with. He drank the whole of one and half of the other, eating in proportion, and talked unceasingly and positively at the top of his voice, as his wont was. He told me the story of two of his best actions this year, a judicial separation--my uncle is very strong in judicial separations--and the abduction of a minor. At first I looked out for personal allusions. But no, he told the story from pure love of his art, without omitting an interlocutory judgment, or a judgment reserved, just as he would have told the story of Helen and Paris, if he had been employed in that well-known case. Not a word about myself. I waited, yet nothing came but the successive steps in the action.

After the ice, M. Mouillard called for a cigar.

"Waiter, what cigars have you got?"

"Londres, conchas, regalias, cacadores, partagas, esceptionales. Which would you like, sir?"

"Damn the name! a big one that will take some time to smoke."

Emile displayed at the bottom of a box an object closely resembling a distaff with a straw through the middle, doubtless some relic of the last International Exhibition, abandoned by all, like the Great Eastern, on account of its dimensions. My uncle seized it, stuck it in the amber mouthpiece that is so familiar to me, lighted it, and under the pretext that you must always first get the tobacco to burn evenly, went out trailing behind him a cloud of smoke, like a gunboat at full speed.

We "did" the arcades round the Odeon, where my uncle spent an eternity thumbing the books for sale. He took them all up one after another, from the poetry of the decedents to the Veterinary Manual, gave a glance at the author's name, shrugged his shoulders, and always ended by turning to me with:

"You know that writer?"

"Why, yes, uncle."

"He must be quite a new author; I can't recall that name."

M. Mouillard forgot that it was forty-five years since he had last visited the bookstalls under the Odeon.

He thought he was a student again, loafing along the arcades after dinner, eager for novelty, careless of draughts. Little by little he lost himself in dim reveries. His cigar never left his lips. The ash grew longer and longer yet, a lovely white ash, slightly swollen at the tip, dotted with little black specks, and connected with the cigar by a thin red band which alternately glowed and faded as he drew his breath.

M. Mouillard was so lost in thought, and the ash was getting so long, that a young student--of the age that knows no mercy-was struck by these twin phenomena. I saw him nudge a friend, hastily roll a cigarette, and, doffing his hat, accost my uncle.

"Might I trouble you for a light, sir!"

M. Mouillard emitted a sigh, turned slowly round, and bent two terrible eyes upon the intruder, knocked off the ash with an angry gesture, and held out the ignited end at arm's length.

"With pleasure, sir!"

Then he replaced the last book he had taken up--a copy of Musset--and called me.

"Come, Fabien."

Arm in arm we strolled up the Rue de Medicis along the railings of the Luxembourg.

I felt the crisis approaching. My uncle has a pet saying: "When a thing is not clear to me, I go straight to the heart of it like a ferret."

The ferret began to work.

"Now, Fabien, about these bonds I mentioned? Did I guess right?"

"Yes, uncle, I have been in bondage."

"Quite right to make a clean breast of it, my boy; but we must break your bonds."

"They are broken."

"How long ago?"

"Some days ago."

"On your honor?"

"Yes."

"That's quite right. You'd have done better to keep out of bondage. But there, you took your uncle's advice; you saw the abyss, and drew back from it. Quite right of you."

"Uncle, I will not deceive you. Your letter arrived after the event. The cause of the rupture was quite apart from that."

"And the cause was?"

"The sudden shattering of my illusions."

"Men still have illusions about these creatures?"

"She was a perfect creature, and worthy of all respect."

"Come, come!"

"I must ask you to believe me. I thought her affections free."

"And she was--"

"Betrothed."

"Really now, that's very funny!"

"I did not find it funny, uncle. I suffered bitterly, I assure you."

"I dare say, I dare say. The illusions you spoke of anyhow, it's all over now?"

"Quite over."

"Well, that being the case, Fabien, I am ready to help you. Confess frankly to me. How much is required?"

"How much?"

"Yes, you want something, I dare say, to close the incident. You know what I mean, eh? to purchase what I might call the veil of oblivion. How much?"

"Why, nothing at all, uncle."

"Don't be afraid, Fabien; I've got the money with me."

"You have quite mistaken the case, uncle; there is no question of money. I must tell you again that the young lady is of the highest respectability."

My uncle stared.

"I assure you, uncle. I am speaking of Mademoiselle Jeanne Charnot."

"I dare say."

"The daughter of a member of the Institute."

"What!"

My uncle gave a jump and stood still.

"Yes, of Mademoiselle Charnot, whom I was in love with and wished to marry. Do you understand?"

He leaned against the railing and folded his arms.

"Marry! Well, I never! A woman you wanted to marry?"

"Why, yes; what's the matter?"

"To marry! How could I have imagined such a thing? Here were matters of the utmost importance going on, and I knew nothing about them. Marry! You might be announcing your betrothal to me at this moment if you'd-Still you are quite sure she is betrothed?"

"Larive told me so."

"Who's Larive?"

"A friend of mine."

"Oh, so you have only heard it through a friend?"

"Yes, uncle. Do you really think there may still be hope, that I still have a chance?"

"No, no; not the slightest. She is sure to be betrothed, very much betrothed. I tell you I am glad she is. The Mouillards do not come to Paris for their wives, Fabien--we do not want a Parisienne to carry on the traditions of the family, and the practice. A Parisienne! I shudder at the thought of it. Fabien, you will leave Paris with me to-morrow. That's understood."

"Certainly not, uncle."

"Your reasons?"

"Because I can not leave my friends without saying goodby, and because I have need to reflect before definitely binding myself to the legal profession."

"To reflect! You want to reflect before taking over a family practice, which has been destined for you since you were an infant, in view of which you have been working for five years, and which I have nursed for you, I, your uncle, as if you had been my son?"

"Yes, uncle."

"Don't be a fool! You can reflect at Bourges quite as well as here. Your object in staying here is to see her again."

"It is not."

"To wander like a troubled spirit up and down her street. By the way, which is her street?"

"Rue de l'Universite."

My uncle took out his pocketbook and made a note, "Charnot, Rue de l'Universite." Then all his features expanded. He gave a snort, which I understood, for I had often heard it in court at Bourges, where it meant, "There is no escape now. Old Mouillard has cornered his man."

My uncle replaced his pencil in its case, and his notebook in his pocket, and merely added:

"Fabien, you're not yourself to-night. We'll talk of the matter another time. Five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten." He was counting on his fingers. "These return tickets are very convenient; I need not leave before to-morrow evening. And, what's more, you'll go with me, my boy."

M. Mouillard talked only on indifferent subjects during our brief walk from the Rue Soufflot to catch the omnibus at the Odeon. There he shook me by the hand and sprang nimbly into the first bus. A lady in black, with veil tightly drawn over a little turned up nose, seeing my uncle burst in like a bomb, and make for the seat beside her, hurriedly drew in the folds of her dress, which were spread over the seat. My uncle noticed her action, and, fearing he had been rude, bent over toward her with an affable expression. "Do not disturb yourself, Madame. I am not going all the way to Batignolles; no farther, indeed, than the Boulevards. I shall inconvenience you for a few moments only, a very few moments, Madame." I had time to remark that the lady, after giving her neighbor a glance of Juno-like disdain, turned her back upon him, and proceeded to study the straps hanging from the roof.

The brake was taken off, the conductor whistled, the three horses, their hoofs hammering the pavement, strained for an instant amid showers of sparks, and the long vehicle vanished down the Rue de Vaugirard, bearing with it Brutus and his fortunes.

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