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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Ink-stain (tache D'encre: A Spot Of Ink) - BOOK II - Chapter XI. IN THE BEATEN PATH
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The Ink-stain (tache D'encre: A Spot Of Ink) - BOOK II - Chapter XI. IN THE BEATEN PATH Post by :corrie Category :Long Stories Author :Rene Bazin Date :April 2012 Read :876

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The Ink-stain (tache D'encre: A Spot Of Ink) - BOOK II - Chapter XI. IN THE BEATEN PATH

June 5th.

The die is cast; I will not be a lawyer.

The tradition of the Mouillards is broken for good, Sylvestre is defeated for good, and I am free for good--and quite uncertain of my future.

I have written my uncle a calm, polite, and clearly worded letter to confirm my decision. He has not answered it, nor did I expect an answer.

I expected, however, that he would be avenged by some faint regret on my part, by one of those light mists that so often arise and hang about our firmest resolutions. But no such mist has arisen.

Still, Law has had her revenge. Abandoned at Bourges, she has recaptured me at Paris, for a time. I realized that it was impossible for me to live on an income of fourteen hundred francs. The friends whom I discreetly questioned, in behalf of an unnamed acquaintance, as to the means of earning money, gave me various answers. Here is a fairly complete list of their expedients:

"If your friend is at all clever, he should write a novel."

"If he is not, there is the catalogue of the National Library: ten hours of indexing a day."

"If he has ambition, let him become a wine-merchant."

"No; 'Old Clo,' and get his hats gratis."

"If he is very plain, and has no voice, he can sing in the chorus at the opera."

"Shorthand writer in the Senate is a peaceful occupation."

"Teacher of Volapuk is the profession of the future."

"Try 'Hallo, are you there?' in the telephones."

"Wants to earn money? Advise him first not to lose any!"

The most sensible one, who guessed the name of the acquaintance I was interested in, said:

"You have been a managing clerk; go back to it."

And as the situation chanced to be vacant, I went back to my old master. I took my old seat and den as managing clerk between the outer office and Counsellor Boule's glass cage. I correct the drafts of the inferior clerks; I see the clients and instruct them how to proceed. They often take me for the counsellor himself. I go to the courts nearly every day, and hang about chief clerks' and judges' chambers; and go to the theatre once a week with the "paper" supplied to the office.

Do I call this a profession? No, merely a stop-gap which allows me to live and wait for something to turn up. I sometimes have forebodings that I shall go on like this forever, waiting for something which will never turn up; that this temporary occupation may become only too permanent.

There is an old clerk in the office who has never had any other occupation, whose appearance is a kind of warning to me. He has a red face--the effect of the office stove, I think--straight, white hair, the expression when spoken to of a startled sheep-gentle, astonished, slightly flurried. His attenuated back is rounded off with a stoop between the neck and shoulders. He can hardly keep his hands from shaking. His signature is a work of art. He can stick at his desk for six hours without stirring. While we lunch at a restaurant, he consumes at the office some nondescript provisions which he brings in the morning in a paper bag. On Sundays he fishes, for a change; his rod takes the place of his pen, and his can of worms serves instead of inkstand.

He and I have already one point of resemblance. The old clerk was once crossed in love with a flowergirl, one Mademoiselle Elodie. He has told me this one tragedy of his life. In days gone by I used to think this thirty-year-old love-story dull and commonplace; to-day I understand M. Jupille; I relish him even. He and I have become sympathetic. I no longer make him move from his seat by the fire when I want to ask him a question: I go to him. On Sundays, on the quays by the Seine, I pick him out from the crowd intent upon the capture of tittlebats, because he is seated upon his handkerchief. I go up to him and we have a talk.

"Fish biting, Monsieur Jupille?"

"Hardly at all."

"Sport is not what it used to be?"

"Ah! Monsieur Mouillard, if you could have seen it thirty years ago!"

This date is always cropping up with him. Have we not all our own date, a few months, a few days, perhaps a single hour of full-hearted joy, for which half our life has been a preparation, and of which the other half must be a remembrance?

June 5th.

"Monsieur Mouillard, here is an application for leave to sign judgment in a fresh matter."

"Very well, give it me."

"To the President of the Civil Court:

"Monsieur Plumet, of 27 Rue Hauteville, in the city of Paris, by Counsellor Boule, his advocate, craves leave--"

It was a proceeding against a refractory debtor, the commonest thing in the world.

"Monsieur Massinot!"

"Yes, sir."

"Who brought these papers?"

"A very pretty little woman brought them this morning while you were out, sir."

"Monsieur Massinot, whether she was pretty or not, it is no business of yours to criticise the looks of the clients."

"I did not mean to offend you, Monsieur Mouillard."

"You have not offended me, but you have no business to talk of a 'pretty client.' That epithet is not allowed in a pleading, that's all. The lady is coming back, I suppose?"

"Yes, sir."

Little Madame Plumet soon called again, tricked out from head to foot in the latest fashion. She was a little flurried on entering a room full of jocular clerks. Escorted by Massinot, both of them with their eyes fixed on the ground, she reached my office. I closed the door after her. She recognized me.

"Monsieur Mouillard! What a pleasant surprise!"

She held out her hand to me so frankly and gracefully that I gave her mine, and felt sure, from the firm, expressive way in which she clasped it, that Madame Plumet was really pleased to see me. Her ruddy cheeks and bright eyes recalled my first impression of her, the little dressmaker running from the workshop to the office, full of her love for M. Plumet and her grievances against the wicked cabinetmaker.

"What, you are back again with Counsellor Boule? I am surprised!"

"So am I, Madame Plumet, very much surprised. But such is life! How is Master Pierre progressing?"

"Not quite so well, poor darling, since I weaned him. I had to wean him, Monsieur Mouillard, because I have gone back to my old trade."

"Dressmaking?"

"Yes, on my own account this time. I have taken the flat opposite to ours, on the same floor. Plumet makes frames, while I make gowns. I have already three workgirls, and enough customers to give me a start. I do not charge them very dear to begin with.

"One of my customers was a very nice young lady--you know who! I have not talked to her of you, but I have often wanted to. By the way, Monsieur Mouillard, did I do my errand well?"

"What errand?"

"The important one, about the portrait at the Salon."

"Oh, yes; very well indeed. I must thank you."

"She came?"

"Yes, with her father."

"She must have been pleased! The drawing was so pretty. Plumet, who is not much of a talker, is never tired of praising it. I tell you, he and I did not spare ourselves. He made a bit of a fuss before he would take the order; he was in a hurry--such a hurry; but when he saw that I was bent on it he gave in. And it is not the first time he has given in. Plumet is a good soul, Monsieur Mouillard. When you know him better you will see what a good soul he is. Well, while he was cutting out the frame, I went to the porter's wife. What a business it was! I am glad my errand was successful!"

"It was too good of you, Madame Plumet; but it was useless, alas! she is to marry another."

"Marry another? Impossible!"

I thought Madame Plumet was about to faint. Had she heard that her son Pierre had the croup, she could not have been more upset. Her bosom heaved, she clasped her hands, and gazed at me with sorrowful compassion.

"Poor Monsieur Mouillard!"

And two tears, two real tears, coursed down Madame Plumet's cheeks. I should have liked to catch them. They were the only tears that had been shed for me by a living soul since my mother died.

I had to tell her all, every word, down to my rival's name. When she heard that it was Baron Dufilleul, her indignation knew no bounds. She exclaimed that the Baron was an awful man; that she knew all sorts of things about him! Know him? she should think so! That such a union was impossible, that it could never take place, that Plumet, she knew, would agree with her:

"Madame Plumet," I said, "we have strayed some distance from the business which brought you here. Let us return to your affairs; mine are hopeless, and you can not remedy them."

She got up trembling, her eyes red and her feelings a little hurt.

"My action? Oh, no! I can't attend to it to-day. I've no heart to talk about my business. What you've told me has made me too unhappy. Another day, Monsieur Mouillard, another day."

She left me with a look of mystery, and a pressure of the hand which seemed to say: "Rely on me!"

Poor woman!

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