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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Nabob - Chapter 9. Bonne Maman
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The Nabob - Chapter 9. Bonne Maman Post by :mlhays Category :Long Stories Author :Alphonse Daudet Date :May 2012 Read :2168

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The Nabob - Chapter 9. Bonne Maman

CHAPTER IX. BONNE MAMAN

Paul de Gery went three times a week in the evening to take his lesson in bookkeeping in the Joyeuses' dining-room, not far from that little parlour in which he had seen the family the first day, and while with his eyes fixed on his teacher he was being initiated into all the mysteries of "debtor and creditor," he used to listen, in spite of himself, for the light sounds coming from the industrious group behind the door, with thoughts dwelling regretfully on the vision of all those pretty brows bent in the lamplight. M. Joyeuse never said a word of his daughters; jealous of their charms as a dragon watching over beautiful princesses in a tower, and excited by the fantastic imaginings of his excessive affection for them, he would answer with marked brevity the inquiries of his pupil regarding the health of "the young ladies," so that at last the young man ceased to mention them.

He was surprised, however, at not once seeing that Bonne Maman whose name was constantly recurring in the conversation of M. Joyeuse, entering into the least details of his existence, hovering over the household like the emblem of its perfect ordering and of its peace.

So great a reserve on the part of a venerable lady who must assuredly have passed the age at which the interest of young men is to be feared, seemed to him exaggerated. The lessons, however, were good ones, given with great clearness, the teacher having an excellent system of demonstration, and only one fault, that of becoming absorbed in silences, broken by sudden starts and exclamations let off like rockets. Apart from this, he was the best of masters, intelligent, patient, and conscientious, and Paul learned to know his way through the complex labyrinth of commercial books and resigned himself to ask nothing beyond.

One evening, towards nine o'clock, as the young man had risen to go, M. Joyeuse asked him if he would do him the honour of taking a cup of tea with his family, a custom dating from the time when Mme. Joyeuse, _nee de Saint-Amand, was alive, she having been used to receive her friends on Thursdays. Since her death and the change in the financial position, the friends had become dispersed; but his little weekly function had been kept up.

Paul having accepted, the good old fellow opened the door and called:

"Bonne Maman!"

An alert footstep in the passage, and immediately the face of a girl of twenty, in a halo of abundant brown hair, made its appearance.

De Gery, stupefied, looked at M. Joyeuse.

"Bonne Maman?"

"Yes, it is a name that we gave her when she was a little girl. With her frilled cap, her authority as the eldest child, she had a quaint little air. We thought her like her grandmother. The name has clung to her."

From the honest fellow's tone as he spoke thus, one felt that to him this grandparent's title applied to such an embodiment of attractive youth seemed the most natural thing in the world. Every one else thought as he did on the point; both her sisters, who had hastened to their father's side, grouping themselves round him somewhat as in the portrait exhibited in the window on the ground floor, and the old servant who placed on the table in the little drawing-room a magnificent tea-service, a relic of the former splendours of the household. Every one called the girl "Bonne Maman" without her ever once having grown tired of it, the influence of that sacred title touching the affection of each one with a deference which flattered her and gave to her ideal authority a singular gentleness of protection.

Whether or not it were by reason of this appellation of grandmother which as a child he had learned to reverence, de Gery felt an inexpressible attraction towards this young girl. It was not like the sudden shock which he had received from that other, that emotional agitation in which were mingled the desire to flee, to escape from a possession and the persistent melancholy of the morrow of a festivity, extinguished candles, the lost refrains of songs, perfumes vanished into the night. In the presence of this young girl as she stood superintending the family table, seeing if anything were wanting, enveloping her children, her grandchildren, with the active tenderness of her eyes, there came to him a longing to know her, to be counted among her old friends, to confide to her things which he confessed only to himself; and when she offered him his cup of tea without any of the mincings of society or drawing-room affectations, he would have liked to say with the rest a "Thank you, Bonne Maman," in which he would have put all his heart.

Suddenly, a cheerful knock at the door made everybody start.

"Ah, here comes M. Andre. Elise, a cup quickly. Jaia, the little cakes." At the same time, Mlle. Henriette, the third of M. Joyeuse's daughters, who had inherited from her mother, _nee de Saint-Amand, a certain instinct for society, observing the number of visitors who seemed likely to crowd their rooms that evening, rushed to light the two candles on the piano.

"My fifth act is finished," cried the newcomer as he entered, then he stopped short. "Ah, pardon," and his face assumed a rather discomfited expression in the presence of the stranger. M. Joyeuse introduced them to each other: "M. Paul de Gery--M. Andre Maranne," not without a certain solemnity. He remembered the receptions held formerly by his wife, and the vases on the chimneypiece, the two large lamps, the what-not; the easy chairs grouped in a circle had an air of joining in this illusion, and seemed more brilliant by reason of this unaccustomed throng.

"So your play is finished?"

"Finished, M. Joyeuse, and I hope to read it to you one of these evenings."

"Oh, yes, M. Andre. Oh, yes," said all the girls in chorus.

Their neighbour was in the habit of writing for the stage, and no one here doubted of his success. Photography, in any case, promised fewer profits. Clients were very rare, passers-by little disposed to business. To keep his hand in and to save his new apparatus from rusting, M. Andre was accustomed to practise anew on the family of his friends on each succeeding Sunday. They lent themselves to his experiments with unequalled long-suffering; the prosperity of this suburban photographer's business was for them all an affair of _amour propre_, and awakened, even in the girls, that touching confraternity of feeling which draws together the destinies of people as insignificant in importance as sparrows on a roof. Andre Maranne, with the inexhaustible resources of his great brow full of illusion, used to explain without bitterness the indifference of the public. Sometimes the season was unfavourable, or, again, people were complaining of the bad state of business generally, and he would always end with the same consoling reflection, "When _Revolt is produced!" That was the title of his play.

"It is surprising all the same," said the fourth of M. Joyeuse's daughters, twelve years old, with her hair in a pigtail, "it is surprising that with such a good balcony so little business should result."

"And, if he were established on the Boulevard des Italiens," remarks M. Joyeuse thoughtfully, and he is launched forth!--riding his chimera till it is brought to the ground suddenly with a gesture and these words uttered sadly: "Closed on account of bankruptcy." In the space of a moment the terrible visionary has just installed his friend in splendid quarters on the Boulevard, where he gains enormous sums of money, at the same time, however, increasing his expenditure to so disproportionate an extent that a fearful failure in a few months engulfs both photographer and his photography. They laugh heartily when he gives this explanation; but all agree that the Rue Saint-Ferdinand, although less brilliant, is much more to be depended upon than the Boulevard des Italiens. Besides, it happens to be quite near the Bois de Boulogne, and if once the fashionable world got into the way of passing through it--That exalted society which was so much sought by her mother, is Mlle. Henriette's fixed idea, and she is astonished that the thought of receiving "le high-life" in his little apartment on the fifth floor makes their neighbour laugh. The other week, however, a carriage with livery had called on him. Only just now, too, he had a very "swell" visit.

"Oh, quite a great lady!" interrupts Bonne Maman. "We were at the window on the lookout for father. We saw her alight from her carriage and look at the show-frame; we made sure that her visit was for you."

"It was for me," said Andre, a little embarrassed.

"For a moment we were afraid that she was going to pass on like so many others, on account of your five flights of stairs. So all four of us tried to attract her without her knowing it, by the magnetism of our four staring pairs of eyes. We drew her gently by the feathers of her hat and the laces of her cape. 'Come up then, madame, come up,' and finally she entered. There is so much magnetism in eyes that are kindly disposed."

Magnetism she certainly had, the dear creature, not only in her glances, indeterminate of colour, veiled or gay like the sky of her Paris, but in her voice, in the draping of her dress, in everything about her, even to the long curl, falling over the neck erect and delicate as a statue's.

Tea having been served, while the gentlemen finished their cups and talked--old Joyeuse was always very long over everything he did, by reason of his sudden expeditions to the moon--the girls brought out their work, the table became covered with wicker baskets, embroideries, pretty wools that rejuvenated with their bright tints the faded flowers of the old carpet, and the group of the other evening gathered once more within the bright circle defined by the lamp-shade, to the great satisfaction of Paul de Gery. It was the first evening of the kind that he had spent in Paris; it recalled to him others of a like sort very far away, lulled by the same innocent laughter, the peaceful sound produced by scissors as they are put down on the table, by a needle as it pierces through linen, or the rustle of a page turned over, and dear faces, disappeared for ever, gathered also around the family lamp, alas! so abruptly extinguished.

Having been admitted to this charming intimacy, he remained in it, took his lessons in the presence of the girls and was encouraged to chat with them when the good old man closed his big book. Here everything rested him after the whirl of that life into which he was thrown by the luxurious social existence of the Nabob; he come to renew his strength in this atmosphere of honesty, of simplicity, tried, too, to find healing there for the wounds with which a hand more indifferent than cruel stabbed his heart mercilessly.

"Some women have hated me, other women have loved me. She who has hurt me most never either loved or hated me." Paul had met that woman of whom Henri Heine speaks. Felicia was full of welcome and cordiality for him. There was no one whom she treated with more favour. She used to reserve for him a special smile wherein one felt the kindliness of an artist's eye arrested by and dwelling on a pleasing type, and the satisfaction of a jaded mind amused by anything new, however simple in appearance it may be. She liked that reserve, suggestive in a southerner, the honesty of that judgment, independent of every artistic or social formula and enlivened by a touch of provincial accent. These things were a change for her from the zigzag stroke of the thumb illustrating a eulogy with its gesture of the studio, from the compliments of comrades on the way in which she would snub some old fellow, or again from those affected admirations, from the "char-ar-ming, very nice indeed's" with which young men about town, sucking the knobs of their canes, were accustomed to regale her. This young man at any rate did not say such things as that to her. She had nicknamed him Minerva, on account of his apparent tranquility and the regularity of his profile; and the moment she saw him, however far-off, she would call:

"Ah, here comes Minerva. Hail, beautiful Minerva! Put down your helmet and let us have a chat."

But this familiar, almost fraternal, tone convinced the young man that he would make no further advance into that feminine comradeship in which tenderness was wanting, and that he lost each day something of his charm--the charm of the unforeseen--in the eyes of that woman born weary, who seemed to have already lived her life and found in all that she heard or saw the insipidity of a repetition. Felicia was bored. Her art alone could distract her, carry her away, transport her into a dazzling fairyland, whence she would fall back worn out, surprised each time by this awakening like a physical fall. She used to draw a comparison between herself and those jelly-fish whose transparent brilliancy, so much alive in the cool movements of the waves, drift to their death on the shore in little gelatinous pools. During those times devoid of inspiration, when the artist's hand was heavy on his instrument, Felicia, deprived of the one moral support of her intellectual being, became unsociable, unapproachable, a tormenting mocker--the revenge taken of human weakness on the tired brains of genius. After having brought tears to the eyes of every one who cared for her, raking up painful recollections or enervating anxieties, she reached the lowest depths of her fatigue, and as there was always some fun in her, even in her _ennui in a kind of caged wild-beast's howl, which she called "the cry of the jackal in the desert," and which used to make the good Crenmitz turn pale.

Poor Felicia! That life of hers was indeed a frightful desert when art did not beguile it with its illusions; a desert mournful and flat, where everything was lost, reduced to one level, beneath the same monotonous immensity, the naive love of a child of twenty, a passionate duke's caprice, in which all was overwhelmed by an arid sand driven by blasting fates. Paul was conscious of that void, desired to escape it; but something held him back, like a weight which unrolls a chain, and in spite of the calumnies he heard, and notwithstanding the odd whims of the strange creature, he dallied deliciously after her, at the price of bearing away with him from this long lover's contemplation only the despair of a believer reduced to the adoring of images alone.

The refuge lay down there, in that remote quarter of the town where the wind blew so hard, yet without preventing the flame from mounting white and straight--it was the family circle presided over by Bonne Maman. Oh! she at least was not bored, she never uttered the cry of the "jackal in the desert." Her life was far too full; the father to encourage, to sustain, the children to teach, all the material cares of a home where the mother's hand is wanting, those preoccupations that awake with the dawn and are put to sleep by the evening, unless indeed it bring them back in dream, one of those devotions, tireless but without apparent effort, very pleasant for poor human egotism, because they dispense from all gratitude and hardly make themselves felt, so light is their hand. She was not the courageous daughter who works to support her parents, gives private lessons from morning to night, forgets in the excitement of a profession all the troubles of the household. No, she had understood her task in a different sense, a sedentary bee restricting her cares to the hive, without once humming out of doors in the open air among the flowers. A thousand functions: tailoress, milliner, mender of clothes, bookkeeper also for M. Joyeuse, who, incapable of all responsibility, left to her the free disposal of their means, to be pianoforte-teacher, governess.

As it happens in families that have been in a good position, Aline, as the eldest daughter, had been educated at one of the best boarding-schools in Paris. Elise had been with her there for two years; but the last two, born too late, and sent to small day-schools in the locality, had all their studies yet to complete, and this was no easy matter, the youngest laughing upon every occasion from sheer good health, warbling like a lark intoxicated with the delight of green corn, and flying away far out of sight of desk and exercises, while Mlle. Henriette, ever haunted by her ideas of grandeur, her love of luxurious things, took to work hardly less unwillingly. This young person of fifteen, to whom her father had transmitted something of his imaginative faculties, was already arranging her life in advance and declared formally that she should marry one of the nobility, and would never have more than three children: "A boy to inherit the name and two little girls--so as to be able to dress them alike."

"Yes, that's right," Bonne Maman would say, "you shall dress them alike. In the meantime, let us attend to our participles a little."

But the one who caused the most concern was Elise, with her examination taken thrice without success, always failing in history and preparing herself anew, seized by a deep fear and a mistrust of herself which made her carry about with her everywhere and open every moment that unfortunate history of France, in the omnibus, in the street, even at the luncheon-table; she was already a grown girl and very pretty, and she no longer possessed that little mechanical memory of childhood wherein dates and events lodge themselves for the whole of one's life. Beset by other preoccupations, the lesson was forgotten in an instant, despite the apparent application of the pupil, with her long lashes fringing her eyes, her curls sweeping over the pages, and her rosy mouth animated by a little quiver of attention, repeating ten times in succession: "Louis, surnamed le Hutin, 1314-1316; Philip V, surnamed the Long, 1316-1322. Ah, Bonne Maman, it's no good; I shall never know them." Whereupon Bonne Maman would come to her assistance, help her to concentrate her attention, to store up a few of those dates of the Middle Ages, barbarous and sharp as the helmets of the warriors of the period. And in the intervals of these occupations, of this general and constant superintendence, she yet found time to do some pretty needlework, to extract from her work-basket some delicate crochet lace or a piece of tapestry on which she was engaged and to which she clung as closely as the young Elise to her history of France. Even when she talked, her fingers never remained unoccupied for a moment.

"Do you never take any rest?" said de Gery to her, as she counted under her breath the stitches of her tapestry, "three, four, five," to secure the right variation in the shading of the colours.

"But this is a rest from work," she answered. "You men cannot understand how good needlework is for a woman's mind. It gives order to the thoughts, fixes by a stitch the moment that passes what would otherwise pass with it. And how many griefs are calmed, anxieties forgotten, thanks to this wholly physical act of attention, to this repetition of an even movement, in which one finds--of necessity and very quickly--the equilibrium of one's whole being. It does not hinder me from following the conversation around me, from listening to you still better than I should if I were doing something. Three, four, five."

Oh, yes, she listened. That was apparent in the animation of her face, in the way in which she would suddenly straighten herself as she sat, needle in air, the thread taut over her raised little finger. Then she would quickly resume her work, sometimes after putting in a thoughtful word, which agreed generally with the opinions of friend Paul.

An affinity of nature, responsibilities and duties similar in character, drew these two young people together, interested each of them in the other's occupations. She knew the names of his two brothers Pierre and Louis, his plans for their future when they should have left school. Pierre wanted to be a sailor. "Oh, no, not a sailor," Bonne Maman would say, "it will be much better for him to come to Paris with you." And when he admitted that he was afraid of Paris for them, she laughed at his fears, called him provincial, full of affection for the city in which she had been born, in which she had grown to chaste young womanhood, and that gave her in return those vivacities, those natural refinements, that jesting good-humour which incline one to believe that Paris, with its rain, its fogs, its sky which is no sky, is the veritable fatherland of woman, whose nerves it heals gently and whose qualities of intelligence and patience it develops.

Each day Paul de Gery came to appreciate Mlle. Aline better--he was the only person in the house who so called her--and, strange circumstance, it was Felicia who completed the cementing of their intimacy. What relations could there exist between the artist's daughter, moving in the highest spheres, and this little middle-class girl buried in the depths of a suburb? Relations of childhood and of friendship, common recollections, the great court-yard of the Institution Belin, where they had played together for three years. Paris is full of these juxtapositions. A name uttered by chance in the course of a conversation brought out suddenly the bewildered question:

"You know her then?"

"Do I know Felicia? Why, our desks were next each other in the first form. We had the same garden. Such a nice girl, and so handsome and clever!"

And, observing the pleasure with which she was listened to, Aline used to recall the times which already formed a past for her, seductive and melancholy like all pasts. She was very much alone in life, the little Felicia. On Thursdays, when the visitors' names were called out in the parlour, there was no one for her; except from time to time a good but rather absurd lady, formerly a dancer, it was said, whom Felicia called the Fairy. In the same way she used to have pet names for all the people she cared for and whom she transformed in her imaginations. In the holidays they used to see each other. Mme. Joyeuse, while she refused to allow Aline to visit the studio of M. Ruys, used to invite Felicia over for whole days, very short days they seemed, minglings of study, music, dual dreams, young intimate conversations. "Oh, when she used to talk to me of her art, with that enthusiasm which she put into everything, how delighted I was to listen to her! How many things I have understood through her, of which I should never have had any idea. Even now when we go to the Louvre with papa, or to the exhibition of the 1st of May, that special feeling I have about a beautiful piece of sculpture, a good picture, carries me back immediately to Felicia. In my early girlhood she represented art to me, and it corresponded with her beauty. Her nature was a little vague, but so kind, I always felt she was something superior to myself, that bore me to great heights without frightening me. Suddenly she stopped coming to see me. I wrote to her; no reply. Later on, fame came to her; to me great sorrows, absorbing duties. And of all that friendship, which was very deep, however, since I cannot speak of it without--'three, four, five'--nothing now remains except old memories like dead ashes."

Bending over her work, the brave girl made haste to count her stitches, to imprison her regret in the capricious designs of her tapestry, while de Gery, moved as he heard the testimony of those pure lips against the calumnies of rejected young dandies or of jealous comrades, felt himself raised, restored to the proud dignity of his love. This sensation was so sweet to him that he returned in search of it very often, not only on the evenings of the lessons, but on other evenings, too, and almost forgot to go to see Felicia for the pleasure of hearing Aline talk about her.

One evening, as he was leaving the Joyeuses' home, Paul met the neighbour, M. Andre, on the landing, who was waiting for him and took his arm feverishly.

"Monsieur de Gery," he said in a trembling voice, with eyes that glittered behind their spectacles, the one feature of his face that was visible in the darkness. "I have an explanation to ask from you. Will you come up to my rooms for a moment?"

There had only been between this young man and himself the banal relations of two persons accustomed to frequent the same house, whom no tie unites, who seem ever separated by a certain antipathy of nature, of manner of life. What explanation could there be called for between them? He followed him with much perplexed curiosity.

The aspect of the little studio, chilly under its top-light, the empty fireplace, the wind blowing as though they were out of doors and making the candle flicker, the solitary light on the scene of the night's labour of a poor and lonely man, reflected on sheets of paper scribbled over and scattered about, in short, this atmosphere of habitations wherein the soul of the inhabitants lives on its own aspirations, caused de Gery to understand the visionary air of Andre Maranne, his long hair thrown back and streaming loose, that somewhat excessive appearance, very excusable when it is paid for by a life of sufferings and privations, and his sympathy immediately went out to this courageous fellow whose intrepidity of spirit he guessed at a glance. But the other was too deeply moved by emotion to notice the progress of these reflections. As soon as the door was closed upon them, he said, with the accent of a stage hero addressing the perfidious seducer, "M. de Gery, I am not yet a Cassandra."

And seeing the stupefaction of de Gery:

"Yes, yes," he went on, "we understand each other. I have known perfectly well what it is that draws you to M. Joyeuse's house, and the eager welcome with which you are received there has not escaped my notice either. You are rich, you are of noble birth, there can be no hesitation between you and the poor poet who follows a ridiculous trade in order to give himself full time to reach a success which perhaps will never come. But I shall not allow my happiness to be stolen from me. We must fight, monsieur, we must fight," he repeated, excited by the peaceful calm of his rival. "For long I have loved Mlle. Joyeuse. That love is the end, the joy, and the strength of an existence which is very hard, in many respects painful. I have only it in the world, and I would rather die than give it up."

Strangeness of the human soul! Paul did not love the charming Aline. His whole heart belonged to the other. He thought of her simply as a friend, the most adorable of friends. But the idea that Maranne was interested in her, that she no doubt returned this regard, gave him the jealous shiver of an annoyance, and it was with some considerable sharpness that he inquired whether Mlle. Joyeuse was aware of this sentiment of Andre's and had in any way authorized him thus to proclaim his rights.

"Yes, monsieur, Mlle. Elise knows that I love her, and before your frequent visits--"

"Elise? It is of Elise you are speaking?"

"And of whom, then, should I be speaking? The two others are too young."

He fully entered into the traditions of the family, this Andre. For him, Bonne Maman's age of twenty years, her triumphant grace, were obscured by a surname full of respect and the attributes of a Providence which seemed to cling to her.

A very brief explanation having calmed Andre Maranne's mind, he offered his apologies to de Gery, begged him to sit down in the arm-chair of carved wood which was used by his sitters, and their conversation quickly assumed an intimate and sympathetic character, brought about by the so abrupt avowal at its opening. Paul confessed that he, too, was in love, and that he came so often to M. Joyeuse's only in order to speak of her whom he loved with Bonne Maman, who had known her formerly.

"That is my case, too," said Andre. "Bonne Maman knows all my secrets; but we have not yet ventured to say anything to the father. My position is too unsatisfactory. Ah, when I shall have got _Revolt produced!"

Then they talked of that famous drama, _Revolt_, upon which he had been at work for six months, day and night, which had kept him warm all the winter, a very severe winter, but whose rigours the magic of composition had tempered in the little studio, which it transformed. It was there, within that narrow space, that all the heroes of his piece had appeared to his poet's vision like familiar gnomes dropped from the roof or riding moon-beams, and with them the gorgeous tapestries, the glittering chandeliers, the park scenes with their gleaming flights of steps, all the luxurious circumstance expected in stage effects, as well as the glorious tumult of his first night, the applause of which was represented for him by the rain beating on the glass roof and the boards rattling in the door, while the wind, driving below over the murky timber-yard with a noise as of far-off voices, borne near and anew carried off into the distance, resembled the murmurs from the boxes opened on the corridor to let the news of his success circulate among the gossip and wonderment of the crowd. It was not only fame and money that it was destined to procure him, this thrice-blessed play, but something also more precious still. With what care accordingly did he not turn over the leaves of the manuscript in five thick books, all bound in blue, books like those that the Levantine was accustomed to strew about on the divan where she took her siestas, and that she marked with her managerial pencil.

Paul, having in his turn approached the table in order to examine the masterpiece had his glance attracted by a richly framed portrait of a woman, which, placed so near to the artist's work, seemed to be there to preside over it. Elise, doubtless? Oh, no, Andre had not yet the right to bring out from its protecting case the portrait of his little friend. This was a woman of about forty, gentle of aspect, fair, and extremely elegant. As he perceived her, de Gery could not suppress an exclamation.

"You know her?" asked Andre Maranne.

"Why, yes. Mme. Jenkins, the wife of the Irish doctor. I have had supper at their house this winter."

"She is my mother." And the young man added in a lower tone:

"Mme. Maranne made a second marriage with Dr. Jenkins. You are surprised, are you not, to see me in these poor surroundings, while my relatives are living in the midst of luxury? But, you know, the chances of family life sometimes group together natures that differ very widely. My stepfather and I have never been able to understand each other. He wished to make me a doctor, whereas my only taste was for writing. So at last, in order to avoid the continual discussions which were painful to my mother, I preferred to leave the house and plough my furrow alone, without the help of anybody. A rough business. Funds were wanting. The whole fortune has gone to that--to M. Jenkins. The question was to earn a livelihood, and you are aware what a difficult thing that is for people like ourselves, supposed to be well brought-up. To think that among all the accomplishments gained from what we are accustomed to call a complete education, this child's play was the only thing I could find by which I could hope to earn my bread. A few savings, my own purse, slender like that of most young men, served to buy my first outfit and I installed myself here far away, in the remotest region of Paris, in order not to embarrass my relatives. Between ourselves, I don't expect to make a fortune out of photography. The first days especially were very difficult. Nobody came, or if by chance some unfortunate wight did mount, I made a failure of him, got on my plate only an image blurred and vague as a phantom. One day, at the very beginning, a wedding-party came up to me, the bride all in white, the bridegroom with a waistcoat--like that! And all the guests in white gloves, which they insisted on keeping on for the portrait on account of the rarity of such an event with them. No, I thought I should go mad. Those black faces, the great white patches made by the dresses, the gloves, the orange-blossoms, the unlucky bride, looking like a queen of Niam-niam under her wreath merging indistinguishably into her hair. And all of them so full of good-will, of encouragements to the artist. I began them over again at least twenty times, and kept them till five o'clock in the evening. And then they only left me because it was time for dinner. Can you imagine that wedding-day passed at a photographer's?"

While Andre was recounting to him with this good humour the troubles of his life, Paul recalled the tirade of Felicia that day when Bohemians had been mentioned, and all that she had said to Jenkins of their lofty courage, avid of privations and trials. He thought also of Aline's passion for her beloved Paris, of which he himself was only acquainted, for his part, with the unwholesome eccentricities, while the great city hid in its recesses so many unknown heroisms and noble illusions. This last impression, already experienced within the sheltered circle of the Joyeuse's great lamp, he received perhaps still more vividly in this atmosphere, less warm, less peaceful, wherein art also entered to add its despairing or glorious uncertainty; and it was with a moved heart that he listened to Andre Maranne as he spoke to him of Elise, of the examinations which it was taking her so long to pass, of the difficulties of photography, of all that unforeseen element in his life which would end certainly "when he could have secured the production of _Revolt_," a charming smile accompanying on the poet's lips this so often expressed hope, which he was wont himself to hasten to make fun of, as though to deprive others of the right to do so.

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The Nabob - Chapter 8. The Bethlehem Society The Nabob - Chapter 8. The Bethlehem Society

The Nabob - Chapter 8. The Bethlehem Society
CHAPTER VIII. THE BETHLEHEM SOCIETYBETHLEHEM! Why did it give one such a chill to see written in letters of gold over the iron gate that historic name, sweet and warm like the straw of the miraculous stable! Perhaps it was partly to be accounted for by the melancholy of the landscape, that immense gloomy plain which stretches from Nanterre to Saint Cloud, broken only by a few clumps of trees or the smoke of factory chimneys. Possibly also by the disproportion that existed between the humble little straggling village which you expected to find and the grandiose establishment, this country mansion
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