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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Ink-stain (tache D'encre: A Spot Of Ink) - BOOK II - Chapter VIII. JOY AND MADNESS
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The Ink-stain (tache D'encre: A Spot Of Ink) - BOOK II - Chapter VIII. JOY AND MADNESS Post by :sadgrove Category :Long Stories Author :Rene Bazin Date :April 2012 Read :2531

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The Ink-stain (tache D'encre: A Spot Of Ink) - BOOK II - Chapter VIII. JOY AND MADNESS

May 1st.

These four days have seemed as if they never would end--especially the last. But now it wants only two minutes of noon. In two minutes, if Lampron is not late--

Rat-a-tat-tat!

"Come in."

"It is twelve o'clock, my friend; are you coming?"

It was Lampron.

For the last hour I had had my hat on my head, my stick between my legs, and had been turning over my essay with gloved hands. He laughed at me. I don't care. We walked, for the day was clear and warm. All the world was out and about. Who can stay indoors on May Day? As we neared the Chamber of Deputies, perambulators full of babies in white capes came pouring from all the neighboring streets, and made their resplendent way toward the Tuileries. Lampron was in a talkative mood. He was pleased with the hanging of his pictures, and his plan of compaign against Mademoiselle Jeanne.

"She is sure to have heard of it, Fabien, and perhaps is there already. Who can tell?"

"Oh, cease your humbug! Yes, very possibly she is there before us. I have had a feeling that she would be for these last four days."

"You don't say so!"

"I have pictured her a score of times ascending the staircase on her father's arm. We are at the foot, lost in the crowd. Her noble, clear-cut profile stands out against the Gobelin tapestries which frame it with their embroidered flowers; one would say some maiden of bygone days had come to life, and stepped down from her tapestried panel."

"Gentlemen!" said Lampron, with a sweep of his arm which took in the whole of the Place de la Concorde, "allow me to present to you the intending successor of Counsellor Mouillard, lawyer, of Bourges. Every inch of him a man of business!"

We were getting near. Crowds were on their way to the exhibition from all sides, women in spring frocks, many of the men in white waistcoats, one hand in pocket, gayly flourishing their canes with the other, as much as to say, "Look at me-well-to-do, jaunty, and out in fine weather." The turnstiles were crowded, but at last we got through. We made but one step across the gravel court, the realm of sculpture where antique gods in every posture formed a mythological circle round the modern busts in the central walk. There was no loitering here, for my heart was elsewhere. We cast a look at an old wounded Gaul, an ancestor unhonored by the crowd, and started up the staircase--no Jeanne to lead the way. We came to the first room of paintings. Sylvestre beamed like a man who feels at home.

"Quick, Sylvestre, where is the sketch? Let's hurry to it."

But he dragged me with him around several rooms.

Have you ever experienced the intoxication of color which seizes the uninitiated at the door of a picture-gallery? So many staring hues impinge upon the eyes, so many ideas take confused shape and struggle together in the brain, that the eyes grow weary and the brain harassed. It hovers undecided like an insect in a meadow full of flowers. The buzzing remarks of the crowd add to the feeling of intoxication. They distract one's attention before it can settle anywhere, and carry it off to where some group is gathered before a great name, a costly frame, an enormous canvas, or an outrage on taste; twenty men on a gallows against a yellow sky, with twenty crows hovering over them, or an aged antediluvian, some mighty hunter, completely nude and with no property beyond a loaded club. One turns away, and the struggle begins again between the eye, attracted by a hundred subjects, and the brain, which would prefer to study one.

With Lampron this danger has no existence; he takes in a room at a glance. He has the sportsman's eye which, in a covey of partridges, marks its bird at a glance. He never hesitates. "That is the thing to make for," he says, "come along"--and we make for it. He plants himself right in front of the picture, with both hands in his overcoat pockets, and his chin sunk in his collar; says nothing, but is quite happy developing an idea which has occurred to him on his way to it; comparing the picture before him with some former work by the same artist which he remembers. His whole soul is concentrated on the picture. And when he considers that I have understood and penetrated the meaning of the work, he gives his opinion in few words, but always the right ones, summing up a long sequence of ideas which I must have shared with him, since I see exactly as he does.

In this way we halted before the "Martyrdom of Saint Denis," by Bonnat, the two "Adorations," by Bouguereau, a landscape of Bernier's, some other landscapes, sea pieces, and portraits.

At last we left the oil paintings.

In the open gallery, which runs around the inside of the huge oblong and looks on the court, the watercolors, engravings, and drawings slumbered, neglected. Lampron went straight to his works. I should have awarded them the medaille d'honneur; an etching of a man's head, a large engraving of the Virgin and Infant Jesus from the Salon Carre at the Louvre, and the drawing which represents--

"Great Heavens! Sylvestre, she's perfectly lovely; she will make a great mistake if she does not come and see herself!"

"She will come, my dear sir; but I shall not be there to see her."

"Are you going?"

"I leave you to stalk your game; be patient, and do not forget to come and tell me the news this evening."

"I promise."

And Lampron vanished.

The drawing was hung about midway between two doorways draped with curtains, that opened into the big galleries. I leaned against the woodwork of one of them, and waited. On my left stretched a solitude seldom troubled by the few visitors who risk themselves in the realms of pen and pencil. These, too, only came to get fresh air, or to look down on the many-colored crowd moving among the white statues below.

At my right, on the contrary, the battling currents of the crowd kept passing and repassing, the provincial element easily distinguished by its jaded demeanor. Stout, exhausted matrons, breathless fathers of families, crowded the sofas, raising discouraged glances to the walls, while around them turned and tripped, untiring as at a dance, legions of Parisiennes, at ease, on their high heels, equally attentive to the pictures, their own carriage, and their neighbors' gowns.

O peaceful functionaries, you whose business it is to keep an eye upon this ferment! unless the ceaseless flux of these human phenomena lull you to a trance, what a quantity of silly speeches you must hear! I picked up twenty in as many minutes.

Suddenly there came a sound of little footsteps in the gallery. Two little girls had just come in, two sisters, doubtless, for both had the same black eyes, pink dresses, and white feathers in their hats. Hesitating, with outstretched necks, like fawns on the border of a glade, they seemed disappointed at the unexpected length of the gallery. They looked at each other and whispered. Then both smiled, and turning their backs on each other, they set off, one to the right, the other to the left, to examine the drawings which covered the walls. They made a rapid examination, with which art had obviously little to do; they were looking for something, and I thought it might be for Jeanne's portrait. And so it turned out; the one on my side soon came to a stop, pointed a finger to the wall, and gave a little cry. The other ran up; they clapped their hands.

"Bravo, bravo!"

Then off they went again through the farther door.

I guessed what they were about to do.

I trembled from head to foot, and hid myself farther behind the curtains.

Not a minute elapsed before they were back, not two this time, but three, and the third was Jeanne, whom they were pulling along between them.

They brought her up to Lampron's sketch, and curtsied neatly to her.

Jeanne bent down, smiled, and seemed pleased. Then, a doubt seizing her, she turned her head and saw me. The smile died away; she blushed, a tear seemed ready to start to her eyes. Oh, rapture! Jeanne, you are touched; Jeanne, you understand!

A deep joy surged across my soul, so deep that I never have felt its like.

Alas! at that instant some one called, "Jeanne!"

She stood up, took the two little girls by the hand, and was gone.

Far better had it been had I too fled, carrying with me that dream of delight!

But no, I leaned forward to look after them. In the doorway beyond I saw M. Charnot. A young man was with him, who spoke to Jeanne. She answered him. Three words reached me:

"It's nothing, George."

The devil! She loves another!

May 2d.

In what a state of mind did I set out this morning to face my examiners! Downhearted, worn out by a night of misery, indifferent to all that might befall me, whether for good or for evil.

I considered myself, and indeed I was, very wretched, but I never thought that I should return more wretched than I went.

It was lovely weather when at half past eleven I started for the Law School with an annotated copy of my essay under my arm, thinking more of the regrets for the past and plans for the future with which I had wrestled all night, than of the ordeal I was about to undergo. I met in the Luxembourg the little girl whom I had kissed the week before. She stopped her hoop and stood in my way, staring with wideopen eyes and a coaxing, cunning look, which meant, "I know you, I do!" I passed by without noticing. She pouted her lip, and I saw that she was thinking, "What's the matter with him?"

What was the matter? My poor little golden-locks, when you are grown a fair woman I trust you may know as little of it as you do to-day.

I went up the Rue Soufliot, and entered the stuffy courtyard on the stroke of noon.

The morning lectures were over. Beneath the arcades a few scattered students were walking up and down. I avoided them for fear of meeting a friend and having to talk. Several professors came running from their lunch, rather red in the face, at the summons of the secretary. These were my examiners.

It was time to get into costume, for the candidate, like the criminal, has his costume. The old usher, who has dressed me up I don't know how many times in his hired gowns, saw that I was downcast, and thought I must be suffering from examination fever, a peculiar malady, which is like what a young soldier feels the first time he is under fire.

We were alone in the dark robing-room; he walked round me, brushing and encouraging me; doctors of law have a moral right to this touch of the brush.

"It will be all right, Monsieur Mouillard, never fear. No one has been refused a degree this morning."

"I am not afraid, Michu."

"When I say 'no one,' there was one refused--you never heard the like. Just imagine--a little to the right, please, Monsieur Mouillard--imagine, I say, a candidate who knew absolutely nothing. That is nothing extraordinary. But this fellow, after the examination was over, recommended himself to mercy. 'Have compassion on me, gentlemen,' he said, 'I only wish to be a magistrate!' Capital, isn't it?"

"Yes, yes."

"You don't seem to think so. You don't look like laughing this morning."

"No, Michu, every one has his bothers, you know."

"I said to myself as I looked at you just now, Monsieur Mouillard has some bother. Button up all the way, if you please, for a doctor's essay; if-you-please. It's a heartache, then?"

"Something of the kind."

He shrugged his shoulders and went before me, struggling with an asthmatic chuckle, until we came to the room set apart for the examination.

It was the smallest and darkest of all, and borrowed its light from a street which had little enough to spare, and spared as little as it could. On the left against the wall is a raised desk for the candidate. At the end, on a platform before a bookcase, sit the six examiners in red robes, capes with three bands of ermine, and gold-laced caps. Between the candidate's desk and the door is a little enclosure for spectators, of whom there were about thirty when I entered.

My performance, which had a chance of being brilliant, was only fair.

The three first examiners had read my essay, especially M. Flamaran, who knew it well and had enjoyed its novel and audacious propositions. He pursed up his mouth preparatory to putting the first question, like an epicure sucking a ripe fruit. And when at length he opened it, amid the general silence, it was to carry the discussion at once up to such heights of abstraction that a good number of the audience, not understanding a word of it, stealthily made for the door.

Each successive answer put fresh spirit into him.

"Very good," he murmured, "very good; let us carry it a step farther. Now supposing--"

And, the demon of logic at his heels, we both went off like inspired lunatics into a world of hypotheses where never man had set foot. He was examining no longer, he was inventing and intoxicating himself with deductions. No one was right or wrong. We were reasoning about chimeras, he radiant, I cool, before his gently tickled colleagues. I never realized till then what imagination a jurist's head could contain.

Perspiring freely, he set down a white mark, having exceeded by ten minutes the recognized time for examination.

The second examiner was less enthusiastic. He made very few suppositions, and devoted all his art to convicting me of a contradiction between page seventeen and page seventy-nine. He kept repeating, "It's a serious matter, sir, very serious." But, nevertheless, he bestowed a second white mark on me. I only got half white from the third. The rest of the examination was taken up in matters extraneous to the subject of my essay, a commonplace trial of strength, in which I replied with threadbare arguments to outworn objections.

And then it ended. Two hours had passed.

I left the room while the examiners made up their minds.

A few friends came up to me.

"Congratulations, old man, I bet on six whites."

"Hallo, Larive! I never noticed you."

"I quite believe you; you didn't notice anybody, you still look bewildered. Is it the emotion inseparable from--"

"I dare say."

"The candidate is requested to return to the examination room!" said the usher.

And old Michu added, in a whisper, "You have passed. I told you so. You won't forget old Michu, sir."

M. Flamaran conferred my degree with a paternal smile, and a few kind words for "this conscientious study, full of fresh ideas on a difficult subject."

I bowed to the examiners. Larive was waiting for me in the courtyard, and seized me by the arm.

"Uncle Mouillard will be pleased."

"I suppose so."

"Better pleased than you."

"That's very likely."

"He might easily be that. Upon my word I can't understand you. These two years you have been working like a gang of niggers for your degree, and now you have got it you don't seem to care a bit. You have won a smile from Flamaran and do not consider yourself a spoiled child of Fortune! What more did you want? Did you expect that Mademoiselle Charnot would come in person--"

"Look here, Larive--"

"To look on at your examination, and applaud your answers with her neatly gloved hands? Surely you know, my dear fellow, that that is no longer possible, and that she is going to be married."

"Going to be married?"

"Don't pretend you didn't know it."

"I have suspected as much since yesterday; I met her at the Salon, and saw a young man with her."

"Fair?"

"Yes."

"Tall?"

"Rather."

"Good-looking?"

"H'm--well"

"Dufilleul, old chap, friend Dufilleul. Don't you know Dufilleul?"

"No."

"Oh, yes you do--a bit of a stockjobber, great at ecarte, studied law in our year, and is always to be seen at the Opera with little Tigra of the Bouffes."

"Poor girl!"

"You pity her?"

"It's too awful."

"What is?"

"To see an unhappy child married to a rake who--"

"She will not be the first."

"A gambler!"

"Yes, there is that, to be sure."

"A fool, as it seems, who, in exchange for her beauty, grace, and youth, can offer only an assortment of damaged goods! Yes, I do pity girls duped thus, deceived and sacrificed by the very purity that makes them believe in that of others."

"You've some queer notions! It's the way of the world. If the innocent victims were only to marry males of equal innocence, under the guardianship of virtuous parents, the days of this world would be numbered, my boy. I assure you that Dufilleul is a good match, handsome for one thing--"

"That's worth a deal!"

"Rich."

"The deuce he is!"

"And then a name which can be divided."

"Divided?"

"With all the ease in the world. A very rare quality. At his marriage he describes himself as Monsieur du Filleul. A year later he is Baron du Filleul. At the death of his father, an old cad, he becomes Comte du Filleul. If the young wife is pretty and knows how to cajole her husband, she may even become a marquise."

"Ugh!"

"You are out of spirits, my poor fellow; I will stand you an absinthe, the only beverage that will suit the bitterness of your heart."

"No, I shall go home."

"Good-by, then. You don't take your degree cheerfully."

"Good-by."

He spun round on his heels and went down the Boulevard St. Michel.

So all is over forever between her and me, and, saddest of all, she is even more to be pitied than I. Poor girl! I loved her deeply, but I did it awkwardly, as I do everything, and missed my chance of speaking. The mute declaration which I risked, or rather which a friend risked for me, found her already engaged to this beast who has brought more skill to the task, who has made no blots at the National Library, who has dared all when he had everything to fear--

I have allowed myself to be taken by her maiden witchery. All the fault, all the folly is mine. She has given me no encouragement, no sign of liking me. If she smiled at St. Germain it was because she was surprised and flattered. If she came near to tears at the Salon it was because she pitied me. I have not the shadow of a reproach to make her.

That is all I shall ever get from her--a tear, a smile. That's all; never mind, I shall contrive to live on it. She has been my first love, and I shall keep her a place in my heart from which no other shall drive her. I shall now set to work to shut this poor heart which did so wrong to open.... I thought to be happy to-night, and I am full of sorrow. Henceforward I think I shall understand Sylvestre better. Our sorrows will bring us nearer. I will go to see him at once, and will tell him so.

But first I must write to my uncle to tell him that his nephew is a Doctor of Law. All the rest, my plans, my whole future can be put off till to-morrow, or the day after, unless I get disgusted at the very thought of a future and decide to conjugate my life in the present indicative only. That is what I feel inclined to do.

May 4th.

Lampron has gone to the country to pass a fortnight in an out-of-the-way place with an old relative, where he goes into hiding when he wishes to finish an engraving.

But Madame Lampron was at home. After a little hesitation I told her all, and I am glad I did so. She found in her simple, womanly heart just the counsel that I needed. One feels that she is used to giving consolation. She possesses the secret of that feminine deftness which is the great set-off to feminine weakness. Weak? Yes, women perhaps are weak, yet less weak than we, the strong sex, for they can raise us to our feet. She called me, "My dear Monsieur Fabien," and there was balm in the very way she said the words. I used to think she wanted refinement; she does not, she only lacks reading, and lack of reading may go with the most delicate and lofty feelings. No one ever taught her certain turns of expression which she used. "If your mother was alive," said she, "this is what she would say." And then she spoke to me of God, who alone can determinate man's trials, either by the end He ordains, or the resignation He inspires. I felt myself carried with her into the regions where our sorrows shrink into insignificance as the horizon broadens around them. And I remember she uttered this fine thought, "See how my son has suffered! It makes one believe, Monsieur Fabien, that the elect of the earth are the hardest tried, just as the stones that crown the building are more deeply cut than their fellows."

I returned from Madame Lampron's, softened, calmer, wiser.

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