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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Ink-stain (tache D'encre: A Spot Of Ink) - BOOK II - Chapter X. A FAMILY BREACH
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The Ink-stain (tache D'encre: A Spot Of Ink) - BOOK II - Chapter X. A FAMILY BREACH Post by :uppali Category :Long Stories Author :Rene Bazin Date :April 2012 Read :966

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The Ink-stain (tache D'encre: A Spot Of Ink) - BOOK II - Chapter X. A FAMILY BREACH

May 10th.

It is an awful fate to be the nephew of M. Mouillard! I always knew he was obstinate, capable alike of guile and daring, but I little imagined what his intentions were when he left me!

My refusal to start, and my prayer for a respite before embarking in his practice, drove him wild. He lost his head, and swore to drag me off, 'per fas et nefas'. He has mentally begun a new action--Mouillard v. Mouillard, and is already tackling the brief; which is as much as to say that he is fierce, unbridled, heartless, and without remorse.

Some might have bent. I preferred to break.

We are strangers for life. I have just seen him to the landing of my staircase.

He came here about a quarter of an hour ago, proud, and, I may say, swaggering, as he does over his learned friends when he has found a flaw in one of their pleadings.

"Well, nephew?"

"Well, uncle?"

"I've got some news for you."

"Indeed?"

M. Mouillard banged his hat down furiously upon my table.

"Yes, you know my maxim: when anything does not seem quite clear to me--"

"You ferret it out."

"Quite so; I have always found it answer. Your business did not seem clear to me. Was Mademoiselle Charnot betrothed, or was she not? To what extent had she encouraged your attentions? You never would have told me the story correctly, and I never should have known. That being so, I put my maxim into practice, and went to see her father."

"You did that?"

"Certainly I did."

"You have been to see Monsieur Charnot?"

"In the Rue de l'Universite. Wasn't it the simplest thing to do? Besides, I was not sorry to make the acquaintance of a member of the Institute. And I must admit that he behaved very nicely to me--not a bit stuck up."

"And you told him?"

"My name to begin with: Brutus Mouillard. He reflected a bit, just a moment, and recalled your appearance: a shy youth, a bachelor of arts, wearing an eyeglass."

"Was that all his description?"

"Yes, he remembered seeing you at the National Library, and once at his house. I said to him, 'That is my nephew, Monsieur Charnot.' He replied, 'I congratulate you, sir; he seems a youth of parts.'--'That he is, but his heart is very inflammable.'--'At his age, sir, who is not liable to take fire?' That was how we began. Your friend Monsieur Charnot has a pretty wit. I did not want to be behindhand with him, so I answered, 'Well, sir, it caught fire in your house.' He started with fright and looked all round the room. I was vastly amused. Then we came to explanations. I put the case before him, that you were in love with his daughter, without my consent, but with perfectly honorable intentions; that I had guessed it from your letters, from your unpardonable neglect of your duties to your family, and that I hurried hither from Bourges to take in the situation. With that I concluded, and waited for him to develop. There are occasions when you must let people develop. I could not jump down his throat with, 'Sir, would you kindly tell me whether your daughter is betrothed or not?' You follow me? He thought, no doubt, I had come to ask for his daughter's hand, and passing one hand over his forehead, he replied, 'Sir, I feel greatly flattered by your proposal, and I should certainly give it my serious attention, were it not that my daughter's hand is already sought by the son of an old schoolfellow of mine, which circumstance, as you will readily understand, does not permit of my entertaining an offer which otherwise should have received the most mature consideration.' I had learned what I came for without risking anything. Well, I didn't conceal from him that, so far as I was concerned, I would rather you took your wife from the country than that you brought home the most charming Parisienne; and that the Mouillards from father to son had always taken their wives from Bourges. He entered perfectly into my sentiments, and we parted the best of friends. Now, my boy, the facts are ascertained: Mademoiselle Charnot is another's; you must get your mourning over and start with me to-night. To-morrow morning we shall be in Bourges, and you'll soon be laughing over your Parisian delusions, I warrant you!"

I had heard my uncle out without interrupting him, though wrath, astonishment, and my habitual respect for M. Mouillard were struggling for the mastery within me. I needed all my strength of mind to answer, with apparent calm.

"Yesterday, uncle, I had not made up my mind; today I have."

"You are coming?"

"I am not. Your action in this matter, uncle--I do not know if you are aware of it--has been perfectly unheard-of. I can not acknowledge your right to act thus. It puts between you and me two hundred miles of rail, and that forever. Do you understand me? You have taken the liberty of disclosing a secret which was not yours to tell; you have revealed a passion which, as it was hopeless, should not have been further mentioned, and certainly not exposed to such humiliation. You went to see Monsieur Charnot without reflecting whether you were not bringing trouble into his household; without reflecting, further, whether such conduct as yours, which may perhaps be usual among your business acquaintances, was likely to succeed with me. Perhaps you thought it would. You have merely completed an experiment, begun long ago, which proves that we do not understand life in the same way, and that it will be better for both of us if I continue to live in Paris, and you continue to live at Bourges."

"Ha! that's how you take it, young man, is it? You refuse to come? you try to bully me?"

"Yes."

"Consider carefully before you let me leave here alone. You know the amount of your fortune--fourteen hundred francs a year, which means poverty in Paris."

"Yes, I do."

"Well, then, attend to what I am about to say. For years past I have been saving my practice for you--that is, an honorable and lucrative position all ready for you to step into. But I am tired at length of your fads and your fancies. If you do not take up your quarters at Bourges within a fortnight from now, the Mouillard practice will change its name within three weeks!" My uncle sniffed with emotion as he looked at me, expecting to see me totter beneath his threats. I made no answer for a moment; but a thought which had been harassing me from the beginning of our interview compelled me to say:

"I have only one thing to ask you, Monsieur Mouillard."

"Further respite, I suppose? Time to reflect and fool me again? No, a hundred times no! I've had enough of you; a fortnight, not a day more!"

"No, sir; I do not ask for respite."

"So much the better, for I should refuse it. What do you want?"

"Monsieur Mouillard, I trust that Jeanne was not present at the interview, that she heard none of it, that she was not forced to blush--"

My uncle sprang to his feet, seized his gloves, which lay spread out on the table, bundled them up, flung them passionately into his hat, clapped the whole on his head, and made for the door with angry strides.

I followed him; he never looked back, never made answer to my "Good-by, uncle." But, at the sixth step, just before turning the corner, he raised his stick, gave the banisters a blow fit to break them, and went on his way downstairs exclaiming:

"Damnation!"

May 20th.

And so we have parted with an oath, my uncle and I! That is how I have broken with the only relative I possess. It is now ten days since then. I now have five left in which to mend the broken thread of the family tradition, and become a lawyer. But nothing points to such conversion. On the contrary, I feel relieved of a heavy weight, pleased to be free, to have no profession. I feel the thrill of pleasure that a fugitive from justice feels on clearing the frontier. Perhaps I was meant for a different course of life than the one I was forced to follow. As a child I was brought up to worship the Mouillard practice, with the fixed idea that this profession alone could suit me; heir apparent to a lawyer's stool--born to it, brought up to it, without any idea, at any rate for a long time, that I could possibly free myself from the traditions of the law's sacred jargon.

I have quite got over that now. The courts, where I have been a frequent spectator, seem to me full of talented men who fine down and belittle their talents in the practice of law. Nothing uses up the nobler virtues more quickly than a practice at the bar. Generosity, enthusiasm, sensibility, true and ready sympathy--all are taken, leaving the man, in many instances nothing but a skilful actor, who apes all the emotions while feeling none. And the comedy is none the less repugnant to me because it is played through with a solemn face, and the actors are richly recompensed.

Lampron is not like this. He has given play to all the noble qualities of his nature. I envy him. I admire his disinterestedness, his broad views of life, his faith in good in spite of evil, his belief in poetry in spite of prose, his unspoiled capacity for receiving new impressions and illusions--a capacity which, amid the crowds that grow old in mind before they are old in body, keeps him still young and boyish. I think I might have been devoted to his profession, or to literature, or to anything but law.

We shall see. For the present I have taken a plunge into the unknown. My time is all my own, my freedom is absolute, and I am enjoying it.

I have hidden nothing from Lampron. As my friend he is pleased, I can see, at a resolve which keeps me in Paris; but his prudence cries out upon it.

"It is easy enough to refuse a profession," he said; "harder to find another in its place. What do you intend to do?"

"I don't know."

"My dear fellow, you seem to be trusting to luck. At sixteen that might be permissible, at twenty-four it's a mistake."

"So much the worse, for I shall make the mistake. If I have to live on little--well, you've tried that before now; I shall only be following you."

"That's true; I have known want, and even now it attacks me sometimes; it's like influenza, which does not leave its victims all at once; but it is hard, I can tell you, to do without the necessaries of life; as for its luxuries--"

"Oh, of course, no one can do without its luxuries."

"You are incorrigible," he answered, with a laugh. Then he said no more. Lampron's silence is the only argument which struggles in my heart in favor of the Mouillard practice. Who can guess from what quarter the wind will blow?

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