by Alphonse Daudet
Translated By W. Blaydes
Daudet once remarked that England was the last of foreign countries to welcome his novels, and that he was surprised at the fact, since for him, as for the typical Englishman, the intimacy of home life had great significance. However long he may have taken to win Anglo-Saxon hearts, there is no question that he finally won them more completely than any other contemporary French novelist was able to do, and that when but a few years since the news came that death had released him from his sufferings, thousands of men and women, both in England and in America, felt that they had lost a real friend. Just at the present moment one does not hear or read a great deal about him, but a similar lull in criticism follows the deaths of most celebrities of whatever kind, and it can scarcely be doubted that Daudet is every day making new friends, while it is as sure as anything of the sort can be that it is death, not estrangement, that has lessened the number of his former admirers.
"Admirers"? The word is much too cold. "Lovers" would serve better, but is perhaps too expansive to be used of a self-contained race. "Friends" is more appropriate because heartier, for hearty the relations between Daudet and his Anglo-Saxon readers certainly were. Whether it was that some of us saw in him that hitherto unguessed-at phenomenon, a French Dickens—not an imitator, indeed, but a kindred spirit—or that others found in him a refined, a volatilized "Mark Twain," with a flavour of Cervantes, or that still others welcomed him as a writer of naturalistic fiction that did not revolt, or finally that most of us enjoyed him because whatever he wrote was as steeped in the radiance of his own exquisitely charming personality as a picture of Corot's is in the light of the sun itself—whatever may have been the reason, Alphonse Daudet could count before he died thousands of genuine friends in England and America who were loyal to him in spite of the declining power shown in his latest books, in spite even of the strain which Sapho laid upon their Puritan consciences.
It is likely that a majority of these friends were won by the two great Tartarin books and by the chief novels, Fromont, Jack, The Nabob, Kings in Exile, and Numa, aided by the artistic sketches and short stories contained in Letters from my Mill and Monday Tales (Contes du Lundi). The strong but overwrought Evangelist, Sapho—which of course belongs with the chief novels from the Continental but not from the insular point of view—and the books of Daudet's decadence, The Immortal, and the rest, cost him few friendships, but scarcely gained him many. His delightful essays in autobiography, whether in fiction, Le Petit Chose (Little What's-his-Name), or in Thirty Years of Paris and Souvenirs of a Man of Letters, doubtless sealed more friendships than they made; but they can be almost as safely recommended as the more notable novels to readers who have yet to make Daudet's acquaintance.
For the man and his career are as unaffectedly charming as his style, and more of a piece than his elaborate works of fiction. A sunny Provencal childhood is clouded by family misfortunes; then comes a year of wretched slavery as usher in a provincial school; then the inevitable journey to Paris with a brain full of verses and dreams, and the beginning of a life of Bohemian nonchalance, to which we Anglo-Saxons have little that is comparable outside the career of Oliver Goldsmith. But poor Goldsmith had his pride wounded by the editorial tyranny of a Mrs. Griffiths. Daudet, by a merely pretty poem about a youth and maiden making love under a plum-tree, won the protection of the Empress Eugenie, and through her of the Duke de Morny, the prop of the Second Empire. His life now reads like a fairy-tale inserted by some jocular elf into that book of dolors entitled The Lives of Men of Genius. A protege of a potentate not usually lavish of his favours, and a valetudinarian, he is allowed to flit to Algiers and Corsica, to enjoy his beloved Provence in company with Mistral, to write for the theatres, and to continue to play the Bohemian. Then the death of Morny seems to turn the idyl into a tragedy, but only for a moment. Daudet's delicate, nervous beauty made his friend Zola think of an Arabian horse, but the poet had also the spirit of such a high-bred steed. Years of conscientious literary labour followed, cheered by marriage with a woman of genius capable of supplementing him in his weakest points, and then the war with Prussia and its attendant horrors gave him the larger and deeper view of life and the intensified patriotism—in short, the final stimulus he needed. From the date of his first great success—Fromont, Jr., and Risler, Sr.—glory and wealth flowed in upon him, while envy scarcely touched him, so unspoiled was he and so continuously and eminently lovable. One seemed to see in his career a reflection of his luminous nature, a revised myth of the golden touch, a new version of the fairy-tale of the fair mouth dropping pearls. Then, as though grown weary of the idyllic romance she was composing, Fortune donned the tragic robes of Nemesis. Years of pain followed, which could not abate the spirits or disturb the geniality of the sufferer, but did somewhat abate the power and disturb the serenity of his work. Then came the inevitable end of all life dramas, whether comic or romantic or tragic, and friends who had known him stood round his grave and listened sadly to the touching words in which Emile Zola expressed not merely his own grief but that of many thousands throughout the civilized world. Here was a life more winsome, more appealing, more complete than any creation of the genius of the man that lived it—a life which, whether we know it in detail or not, explains in part the fascination Daudet exerts upon us and the conviction we cherish that, whatever ravages time may make among his books, the memory of their writer will not fade from the hearts of men. Many Frenchmen have conquered the world's mind by the power or the subtlety of their genius; few have won its heart through the catholicity, the broad sympathy of their genius. Daudet is one of these few; indeed, he is almost if not quite the only European writer who has of late achieved such a triumph, for Tolstoi has stern critics as well as steadfast devotees, and has won most of his disciples as moralist and reformer. But we must turn from Daudet the man to Daudet the author of The Nabob and other memorable novels.
If this were a general essay and not an introduction, it would be proper to say something of Daudet's early attempts as poet and dramatist. Here it need only be remarked that it is almost a commonplace to insist that even in his later novels he never entirely ceased to see the outer world with the eyes of a poet, to delight in colour and movement, to seize every opportunity to indulge in vivid description couched in a style more swift and brilliant than normal prose aspires to. This bent for description, together with the tendency to episodic rather than sustained composition and the comparative weakness of his character drawing—features of his work shortly to be discussed—partly explains his failure, save in one or two instances, to score a real triumph with his plays, but does not explain his singular lack of sympathy with actors. Nor was he able to win great success with his first book of importance, Le Petit Chose, delightful as that mixture of autobiography and romance must prove to any sympathetic reader. He was essentially a romanticist and a poet cast upon an age of naturalism and prose, and he needed years of training and such experience as the Prussian invasion gave him to adjust himself to his life-work. Such adjustment was not needed for Tartarin de Tarascon, begun shortly after Le Petit Chose, because subtle humour of the kind lavished in that inimitable creation and in its sequels, while implying observation, does not necessarily imply any marked departure from the romantic and poetic points of view.
The training Daudet required for his novels he got from the sketches and short stories that occupied him during the late sixties and early seventies. Here again little in the way of comment need be given, and that little can express the general verdict that the art displayed in these miniature productions is not far short of perfect. The two principal collections, Lettres de mon Moulin and Contes du Lundi, together with Artists' Wives (Les Femmes d'Artistes) and parts at least of Robert Helmont, would almost of themselves suffice to put Daudet high in the ranks of the writers who charm without leaving upon one's mind the slightest suspicion that they are weak. It is true that Daudet's stories do not attain the tremendous impressiveness that Balzac's occasionally do, as, for example, in La Grande Breteche, nor has his clear-cut art the almost disconcerting firmness, the surgeon-like quality of Maupassant's; but the author of the ironical Elixir of Father Gaucher and of the pathetic Last Class, to name no others, could certainly claim with Musset that his glass was his own, and had no reason to concede its smallness.
As we have seen, the production of Fromont jeune et Risler aine marked the beginning of Daudet's more than twenty years of successful novel-writing. His first elaborate study of Parisian life, while it indicated no advance of the art of fiction, deserved its popularity because, in spite of the many criticisms to which it was open, it was a thoroughly readable and often a moving book. One character, Delobelle, the played-out actor who is still a hero to his pathetic wife and daughter, was constructed on effective lines—was a personage worthy of Dickens. The vile heroine, Sidonie, was bad enough to excite disgusted interest, but, as Mr. Henry James pointed out later, she was not effective to the extent her creator doubtless hoped. She paled beside Valerie Marneffe, though, to be sure, Daudet knew better than to attempt to depict any such queen of vice. Yet, after all, it is mainly the compelling power of vile heroines that makes them tolerable, and neither Sidonie nor the web of intrigue she wove can fairly be said to be characterized by extraordinary strength. But the public was and is interested greatly by the novel, and Daudet deserved the fame and money it brought him. His next book, Jack, was not so popular. Still, it showed artistic improvement, although, as in its predecessor, that bias towards the sentimental, which was to be Daudet's besetting weakness, was too plainly visible. Its author took to his heart a book which the general reader found too long and perhaps overpathetic. Some of us, while recognising its faults, will share in part Daudet's predilection for it—not so much because of the strong and early study made of the artisan class, or of the mordantly satirical exposure of D'Argenton and his literary "dead-beats" (rates), or of any other of the special features of a story that is crowded with them, as because the ill-fated hero, the product of genuine emotions on Daudet's part, excites cognate and equally genuine emotions in us. We cannot watch the throbbing engines of a great steamship without seeing Jack at work among them. But the fine, pathetic Jack brings us to the finer, more pathetic Nabob.
Whether The Nabob is Daudet's greatest novel is a question that may be postponed, but it may be safely asserted that there are good reasons why it should have been chosen to represent Daudet in the present series. It has been immensely popular, and thus does not illustrate merely the taste of an inner circle of its author's admirers. It is not so subtle a study of character as Numa Roumestan, nor is it a drama the scene of which is set somewhat in a corner removed from the world's scrutiny and full comprehension, as is more or less the case with Kings in Exile. It is comparatively unamenable to the moral, or, if one will, the puritanical, objections so naturally brought against Sapho. It obviously represents Daudet's powers better than any novel written after his health was permanently wrecked, and as obviously represents fiction more adequately than either of the Tartarin masterpieces, which belong rather to the literature of humour. Besides, it is probably the most broadly effective of all Daudet's novels; it is fuller of striking scenes; and as a picture of life in the picturesque Second Empire it is of unique importance.
Perhaps to many readers this last reason will seem the best of all. However much we may moralize about its baseness and hollowness, whether with the Hugo of Les Chatiments we scorn and vituperate its charlatan head or pity him profoundly as we see him ill and helpless in Zola's Debacle, most of us, if we are candid, will confess that the Second Empire, especially the Paris of Morny and Hausmann, of cynicism and splendour, of frivolity and chicane, of servile obsequiousness and haughty pretension, the France and the Paris that drew to themselves the eyes of all Europe and particularly the eyes of the watchful Bismarck, have for us a fascination almost as great as they had for the gay and audacious men and women who in them courted fortune and chased pleasure from the morrow of the Coup d'Etat to the eve of Sedan. A nearly equal fascination is exerted upon us by a book which is the best sort of historical novel, since it is the product of its author's observation, not of his reading—a story that sets vividly before us the political corruption, the financial recklessness, the social turmoil, the public ostentation, the private squalor, that led to the downfall of an empire and almost to that of a people.
Daudet drew on his experiences, and on the notes he was always accumulating, more strenuously than he should have done. He assures us that he laboured over The Nabob for eight months, mainly in his bed-room, sometimes working eighteen consecutive hours, often waking from restless sleep with a sentence on his lips. Yet, such is the irony of literary history, the novel is loosely enough put together to have been written, one might suppose, in bursts of inspiration or else more or less methodically—almost with the intention, as Mr. James has noted, of including every striking phase of Parisian life. For it is a series of brilliant, effective episodes and scenes, not a closely knit drama. Jenkins's visit to Monpavon at his toilet, the dejeuner at the Nabob's, the inspection of the OEuvre de Bethleem—which would have delighted Dickens—the collapse of the fetes of the Bey, the Nabob's thrashing Moessard, the death of Mora, Felicia's attempt to escape the funeral of the duke, the interview between the Nabob and Hemerlingue, the baiting in the Chamber, the suicide of that supreme man of tone, Monpavon, the Nabob's apoplectic seizure in the theatre—these and many other scenes and episodes, together with descriptions and touches, stand out in our memories more distinctly and impressively than the characters do—perhaps more so than does the central motive, the outrageous exploitation of the naive hero. For from the beginning of his career to the end Daudet's eye, like that of a genuine but not supereminent poet, was chiefly attracted by colour, movement, effective pose—in other words, by the surfaces of things. One may almost say that he was more of a landscape engineer than of an architect and builder, although one must at once add that he could and did erect solid structures. But the reader at least helps greatly to lay the foundations, for, to drop the metaphor, Daudet relied largely on suggestion, contenting himself with the belief that a capable imagination could fill up the gaps he left in plot and character analysis. Thus, for example, he indicated and suggested rather than detailed the way in which Hemerlingue finally triumphed over the Nabob, Jansoulet. To use another figure, he drew the spider, the fly, and a few strands of the web. The Balzac whose bust looked satirically down upon the two adventurers in Pere la Chaise would probably have given us the whole web. This is not quite to say that Daudet is plausible, Balzac inevitable; but rather that we stroll with the former master and follow submissively in the footsteps of the latter. Yet a caveat is needed, for the intense interest we take in the characters of a novel like The Nabob scarcely suggests strolling.
For although Daudet, in spite of his abounding sympathy, which is one reason of his great attractiveness, cannot fairly be said to be a great character creator, he had sufficient flexibility and force of genius to set in action interesting personages. Part of the early success of The Nabob was due to this fact, although the brilliant description of the Second Empire and the introduction of exotic elements, the Tunisian and Corsican episodes and characters, counted, probably, for not a little. Readers insisted upon seeing in the book this person and that more or less thinly disguised. The Irish adventurer-physician, Jenkins, was supposed to be modelled upon a popular Dr. Olliffe; the arsenic pills were derived from another source, as was also the goat's-milk hospital for infants. Felicia Ruys was thought by some to be Sarah Bernhardt, and originals were easily provided for Monpavon and the other leading figures. But Daudet confessed to only two important originals, and if one does not take an author's word in such matters one soon finds one's self in a maze of conjectures and contradictions.
The two characters drawn from life in a special sense—for Daudet, like most other writers of fiction, had human life in general constantly before him—are Jansoulet and Mora, precisely the most effective personages in the book, and scarcely surpassed in the whole range of Daudet's fiction. The Nabob was Francois Bravay, who rose from poverty to wealth by devious transactions in the Orient, and came to grief in Paris, much as Jansoulet did. He survived the Empire, and his relatives are said to have been incensed at the treatment given him in the novel, an attitude on their part which is explicable but scarcely justifiable, since Daudet's sympathy for his hero could not well have been greater, and since the adventurer had already attained a notoriety that was not likely to be completely forgotten. Whether Daudet was as much at liberty to make free with the character of his benefactor Morny is another matter. He himself thought that he was, and he was a man of delicate sensitiveness. Probably he was right in claiming that the natural son of Queen Hortense, the intrepid soldier, the author of the Coup d'Etat that set his weaker half-brother on the throne, the dandy, the libertine, the leader of fashion, the cynical statesman—in short, the "Richelieu-Brummel" who drew the eyes of all Europe upon himself, would not have been in the least disconcerted could he have known that thirteen years after his death the public would be discussing him as the prototype of the Mora of his young protege's masterpiece. In fact, it is easy to agree with those critics who think that Daudet's kindly nature caused him to soften many features of Morny's unlovely character. Mora does not, indeed, win our love or our esteem, but we confess him to have been in every respect an exceptional man, and there is not a page in which he appears that is not intensely interesting. He must be an unimpressionable reader who soon forgets the death-room scenes, the destruction of the compromising letters, the spectacular funeral.
Of the other characters there is little space to speak here. Nearly all have their good points, as might be expected of the creator of his two fellow Provencals, Numa and Tartarin, the latter being probably the only really cosmopolitan figure in recent literature; but some, like the Hemerlingues, verge upon mere sketches; others, like Jansoulet's obese wife, upon caricatures. The old mother is excellently done, however, and Monpavon, especially in his suicide, is nothing short of a triumph of art. It is the more or less romantic or sentimental personages that give the critic most qualms. Daudet seems to have introduced them—De Gery, the Joyeuse family, and the rest—as a concession to popular taste, and on this score was probably justified. A fair case may also be made out for the use of idyllic scenes as a foil to the tragical, for the Shakespearian critics have no monopoly of the overworked plea, "justification by contrast." Nor could a French analogue of Dickens easily resist the temptation to give us a fatuous Passajon, an ebullient Pere Joyeuse—who seems to have been partly modelled on a real person—an exemplary "Bonne Maman," a struggling but eventually triumphant Andre Maranne. The home-lover Daudet also felt the necessity of showing that Paris could set the Joyeuse household, sunny in its poverty, over against the stately elegance of the Mora palace, the walls of which listened at one and the same moment to the music of a ball and the death-rattle of its haughty owner. But when all is said, it remains clear that The Nabob is open to the charge that applies to all the greater novels save Sapho—the charge that it exhibits a somewhat inharmonious mixture of sentimentalism and naturalism. Against this charge, which perhaps applies most forcibly to that otherwise almost perfect work of art, Numa Roumestan, Daudet defended himself, but rather weakly. Nor does Mr. Henry James, who in the case of the last-named novel comes to his help against Zola, much mend matters. But the fault, if fault it be, is venial, especially in a friend, though not strictly a coworker, of Zola's.
Naturally an elaborate novel like The Nabob lends itself indefinitely to minute comment, but we must be sparing of it. Still it is worth while to call attention to the skill with which, from the opening page, the interest of the reader is controlled; indeed, to the remarkable art displayed in the whole first chapter devoted to the morning rounds of Dr. Jenkins. The note of romantic extravagance is on the whole avoided until the Nabob brings out his check-book, when the money flies with a speed for which, one fancies, Daudet could have found little justification this side of Timon of Athens. In the description of the Caisse Territoriale given by Passajon this note is relieved by a delicate irony, but seems still somewhat incongruous. One turns more willingly to the description of Jansoulet's sitting down to play ecarte with Mora, to the story of how he gorged himself with the duke's putative mushrooms, and to similar episodes and touches. In the matter of effective and ironically turned situations few novels can compare with this; indeed, it almost seems as if Daudet made an inordinate use of them. Think of the poor Nabob reading the announcement of the cross bestowed on Jenkins, and of the absurd populace mistaking him for the ungrateful Bey! As for great dramatic moments, there is at least one that no reader can forget—the moment when Jansoulet, in the midst of the speech on which his fate depends, catches sight of his old mother's face and forbears to clear himself of calumny at the expense of his wretched elder brother. The situation may not bear close analysis, but who wishes to analyze? Or who, indeed, wishes to indulge in further comment after the scene has risen to his mind?
The Nabob was followed by Kings in Exile; then came Numa Roumestan and The Evangelist; then, on the eve of Daudet's breakdown, Sapho; and the greatest of his humorous masterpieces, Tartarin in the Alps. It is not yet certain what rank is to be given to these books. Perhaps the adventures of the mountain-climbing hero of the Midi, combined with his previous exploits as a slayer of lions—his experiences as a colonist in Port-Tarascon need scarcely be considered—will prove, in the lapse of years, to be the most solid foundation of that fame which even envious Time will hardly begrudge Daudet. As for Kings in Exile, it is difficult to see how even the art with which the tragedy of Queen Frederique's life is unfolded or the growing power of characterization displayed in her, in the loyal Merault, in the facile, decadent Christian, can make up for the lack of broadly human appeal in the general subject-matter of a book which was so sympathetically written as to appeal alike to Legitimists and to Republicans. Good as Kings in Exile is, it is not so effective a book as The Nabob, nor such a unique and marvellous work of art as Numa Roumestan, due allowance being made for the intrusion of sentimentality into the latter. Daudet thought Numa the "least incomplete" of his works; it is certainly inclusive enough, since some critics are struck by the tragic relations subsisting between the virtuous discreet Northern wife and the peccable, expansive Southern husband, while others see in the latter the hero of a comedy of manners almost worthy of Moliere. If Numa represents the highest achievement of Daudet in dramatic fiction or else in the art of characterization, The Evangelist proved that his genius was not at home in those fields. Instead of marking an ordered advance, this overwrought study of Protestant bigotry marked not so much a halt, or a retreat, as a violent swerving to one side. Yet in a way this swerving into the devious orbit of the novel of intense purpose helped Daudet in his progress towards naturalism, and imparted something of stability to his methods of work. Sapho, which appeared next, was the first of his novels that left little to be desired in the way of artistic unity and cumulative power. If such a study of the femme collante, the mistress who cannot be shaken off—or rather of the man whom she ruins, for it is Gaussin, not Sapho, that is the main subject of Daudet's acute analysis—was to be written at all, it had to be written with a resolute art such as Daudet applied to it. It is not then surprising that Continental critics rank Sapho as its author's greatest production; it is more in order to wonder what Daudet might not have done in this line of work had his health remained unimpaired. The later novels, in which he came near to joining forces with the naturalists and hence to losing some of the vogue his eclecticism gave him, need not detain us.
And now, in conclusion, how can we best characterize briefly this fascinating, versatile genius, the most delightful humorist of his time, one of the most artistic story-tellers, one of the greatest novelists? It is impossible to classify him, for he was more than a humorist, he nearly outgrew romance, he never accepted unreservedly the canons of naturalism. He obviously does not belong to the small class of the supreme writers of fiction, for he has no consistent or at least profound philosophy of life. He is a true poet, yet for the main he has expressed himself not in verse, but in prose, and in a form of prose that is being so extensively cultivated that its permanence is daily brought more and more into question. What is Daudet, and what will he be to posterity? Some admirers have already answered the first question, perhaps as satisfactorily as it can be answered, by saying, "Daudet is simply Daudet." As for the second question, a whole school of critics is inclined to answer it and all similar queries with the curt statement, "That concerns posterity, not us." If, however, less evasive answers are insisted upon, let the following utterance, which might conceivably be more indefinite and oracular, suffice: Alphonse Daudet is one of those rare writers who combine greatness with a charm so intimate and appealing that some of us would not, if we could, have their greatness increased.
W. P. TRENT.
Alphonse Daudet was born at Nimes on the 13th of May, 1840. He was the younger son of a rich and enthusiastically Royalist silk-manufacturer of that town, the novelist, Ernest Daudet (born 1837), being his elder brother. In their childhood, the father, Vincent Daudet, suffered reverses, and had to settle with his family, in reduced circumstances, at Lyons. Alphonse, in 1856, obtained a post as usher in a school at Alais, in the Gard, where he was extremely unhappy. All these painful early experiences are told very pathetically in "Le Petit Chose." On the 1st of November, 1857, Alphonse fled from the horrors of his life at Alais, and joined his brother Ernest, who had just secured a post in the service of the Duc de Morny in Paris. Alphonse determined to live by his pen, and presently obtained introductions to the "Figaro." His early volumes of verse, "Les Amoureuses" of 1858 and "La Double Conversion" of 1861, attracted some favourable notice. In this latter year his difficulties ceased, for he had the good fortune to become one of the secretaries of the Duc de Morny, a post which he held for four years, until the popularity of his writings rendered him independent. To the generosity of his patron, moreover, he owed the opportunity of visiting Italy and the East. His first novel, "Le Chaperon Rouge," 1863, was not very remarkable, and Daudet turned to the stage. His principal dramatic efforts of this period were "Le Dernier Idole," 1862, and "L'OEillet Blanc," 1865. Alphonse Daudet's earliest important work, however, was "Le Petit Chose," 1868, a very pathetic autobiography of the first eighteen years of his life, over which he cast a thin veil of romance. After the death of the Duc de Morny, Daudet retired to Provence, leasing a ruined mill at Fortvielle, in the valley of the Rhone; from this romantic solitude, among the pines and green oaks, he sent forth those exquisite studies of Provencal life, the "Lettres de mon Moulin." After the war, Daudet reappeared in Paris, greatly strengthened and ripened by his hermit-existence in the heart of Provence. He produced one masterpiece after another. He had studied with laughter and joy the mirthful side of southern exaggeration, and he created a figure in which its peculiar qualities should be displayed, as it were, in excelsis. This study resulted, in 1872, in "The Prodigious Feats of Tartarin of Tarascon," one of the most purely delightful works of humour in the French language. Alphonse Daudet now, armed with his cahiers, his little green-backed books of notes, set out to be a great historian of French manners in the second half of the nineteenth century. His first important novel, "Fromont Jeune et Risler Aine," 1874, enjoyed a notable success; it was followed in 1876 by "Jack," in 1878 by "Le Nabob," in 1879 by "Les Rois en Exil," in 1881 by "Numa Roumestan," in 1883 by "L'Evangeliste," and in 1884 by "Sapho." These are the seven great romances of modern French life on which the reputation of Alphonse Daudet as a novelist is mainly built. They placed him, for the moment at all events, near the head of contemporary European literature. By this time, however, a physical malady, which Charcot was the first to locate in the spinal cord, had begun to exhaust the novelist's powers. This disease, which took the form of what was supposed to be neuralgia in 1881, racked him with pain during the sixteen remaining years of his life, and gradually destroyed his powers of locomotion. It spared the functions of the brain, but it cannot be denied that after 1884 something of force and spontaneous charm was lacking in Daudet's books. He continued, however, the adventures of Tartarin, first with unabated gusto in the Alps, then less happily as a colonist in the South Seas. He wrote, in the form of a novel, a bitter satire on the French Academy, of which he was never a member; this was "L'Immortel" of 1888. He wrote romances, of little power, the best being "Rose et Ninette" of 1892, but his imaginative work steadily declined in value. He published in 1887 his reminiscences, "Trente Ans de Paris," and later on his "Souvenirs d'un Homme de Lettres." He suffered more and more from his complaint, from the insomnia it caused, and from the abuse of chloral. He was able, however, to the last, to enjoy the summer at his country-house, at Champrosay, and even to travel in an invalid's chair; in 1896 he visited for the first time London and Oxford, and saw Mr. George Meredith. In Paris he had long occupied rooms in the Rue de Bellechasse, where Madame Alphonse Daudet was accustomed to entertain a brilliant company. But in 1897 it became impossible for him to mount five flights of stairs any longer, and he moved to the first floor of No. 41 Rue de l'Universite. Here on the 16th of December, 1897, as he was chatting gaily at the dinner-table, he uttered a cry, fell back in his chair, and was dead. The personal appearance of Alphonse Daudet, in his prime, was very striking; he had clearly cut features, large brilliant eyes, and an amazing exuberance of curled hair and forked beard.
EDMUND GOSSE, LL.D.
Introduction, William Peterfield Trent
Life of Alphonse Daudet, Edmund Gosse
Dr. Jenkins's patients A luncheon in the Place Vendome Memoirs of an office porter—A mere glance at the Territorial Bank A debut in society The Joyeuse family Felicia Ruys Jansoulet at home The Bethlehem Society Bonne Maman Memoirs of an office porter—Servants The festivities in honour of the Bey A Corsican election A day of spleen The Exhibition Memoirs of an office porter—In the antechamber A public man The apparition The Jenkins pearls The funeral La Baronne Hemerlingue The sitting Dramas of Paris Memoirs of an office porter—The last leaves At Bordighera The first night of "Revolt"
by Alphonse Daudet
DOCTOR JENKIN'S PATIENTS
Standing on the steps of his little town-house in the Rue de Lisbonne, freshly shaven, with sparkling eyes, and lips parted in easy enjoyment, his long hair slightly gray flowing over a huge coat collar, square shouldered, strong as an oak, the famous Irish doctor, Robert Jenkins, Knight of the Medjidjieh and of the distinguished order of Charles III of Spain, President and Founder of the Bethlehem Society. Jenkins in a word, the Jenkins of the Jenkins Pills with an arsenical base—that is to say, the fashionable doctor of the year 1864, the busiest man in Paris, was preparing to step into his carriage when a casement opened on the first floor looking over the inner court-yard of the house, and a woman's voice asked timidly:
"Shall you be home for luncheon, Robert?"
Oh, how good and loyal was the smile that suddenly illumined the fine apostle-like head with its air of learning, and in the tender "good-morning" which his eyes threw up towards the warm, white dressing-gown visible behind the raised curtains; how easy it was to divine one of those conjugal passions, tranquil and sure, which habit re-enforces and with supple and stable bonds binds closer.
"No, Mrs. Jenkins." He was fond of thus bestowing upon her publicly her title as his lawful wife, as if he found in it an intimate gratification, a sort of acquittal of conscience towards the woman who made life so bright for him. "No, do not expect me this morning. I lunch in the Place Vendome."
"Ah! yes, the Nabob," said the handsome Mrs. Jenkins with a very marked note of respect for this personage out of the Thousand and One Nights of whom all Paris had been talking for the last month; then, after a little hesitation, very tenderly, in a quite low voice, from between the heavy tapestries, she whispered for the ears of the doctor only:
"Be sure you do not forget what you promised me."
Apparently it was something very difficult to fulfil, for at the reminder of this promise the eyebrows of the apostle contracted into a frown, his smile became petrified, his whole visage assumed an expression of incredible hardness; but it was only for an instant. At the bedside of their patients the physiognomies of these fashionable doctors become expert in lying. In his most tender, most cordial manner, he replied, disclosing a row of dazzling white teeth:
"What I promised shall be done, Mrs. Jenkins. And now, go in quickly and shut your window. The fog is cold this morning."
Yes, the fog was cold, but white as snow mist; and, filling the air outside the glasses of the large brougham, it brightened with soft gleams the unfolded newspaper in the doctor's hands. Over yonder, in the populous quarters, confined and gloomy, in the Paris of tradesman and mechanic, that charming morning haze which lingers in the great thoroughfares is not known. The bustle of awakening, the going and coming of the market-carts, of the omnibuses, of the heavy trucks rattling their old iron, have early and quickly cut it up, unravelled and scattered it. Every passer-by carries away a little of it in a threadbare overcoat, a muffler which shows the woof, and coarse gloves rubbed one against the other. It soaks through the thin blouses, and the mackintoshes thrown over the working skirts; it melts away at every breath that is drawn, warm from sleeplessness or alcohol; it is engulfed in the depths of empty stomachs, dispersed in the shops as they are opened, and the dark courts, or even to the fireless attics. That is the reason why there remains so little of it out of doors. But in that spacious and grandiose region of Paris, which was inhabited by Jenkins's clients, on those wide boulevards planted with trees, and those deserted quays, the fog hovered without a stain, like so many sheets, with waverings and cotton wool-like flakes. The effect was of a place inclosed, secret, almost sumptuous, as the sun after his slothful rising began to diffuse softly crimsoned tints, which gave to the mist enshrouding the rows of houses to their summits the appearance of white muslin thrown over some scarlet material. One might have fancied it a great curtain beneath which nothing could be heard save the cautious closing of some court-yard gate, the tin measuring-cans of the milkmen, the little bells of a herd of she-asses passing at a quick trot followed by the short and panting breath of their shepherd, and the dull rumble of Jenkins's brougham commencing its daily round.
First, to Mora House. This was a magnificent palace on the Quai d'Orsay, next door to the Spanish embassy, whose long terraces succeeded its own, having its principal entrance in the Rue de Lille, and a door upon the side next the river. Between two lofty walls overgrown with ivy, and united by imposing vaulted arches, the brougham shot in, announced by two strokes of a sonorous bell which roused Jenkins from the reverie into which the reading of his newspaper seemed to have plunged him. Then the noise of the wheels became deadened on the sand of a vast court-yard, and they drew up, after describing an elegant curve, before the steps of the mansion, which were surrounded by a large circular awning. In the obscurity of the fog, a dozen carriages could be seen ranged in line, and along an avenue of acacias, quite withered at that season and leafless in their bark, the profiles of English grooms leading out the saddle-horses of the duke for their exercise. Everything revealed a luxury thought-out, settled, grandiose, and assured.
"It is quite useless for me to come early; others always arrive before me," said Jenkins to himself as he saw the file in which his brougham took its place; but, certain of not having to wait, with head carried high, and an air of tranquil authority, he ascended that official flight of steps which is mounted every day by so many trembling ambitions, so many anxieties on hesitating feet.
From the very antechamber, lofty and resonant like a church, which, although calorifers burned night and day, possessed two great wood-fires that filled it with a radiant life, the luxury of this interior reached you by warm and heady puffs. It suggested at once a hot-house and a Turkish bath. A great deal of heat and yet brightness; white wainscoting, white marbles, immense windows, nothing stifling or shut in, and yet a uniform atmosphere meet for the surrounding of some rare existence, refined and nervous. Jenkins always expanded in this factitious sun of wealth; he greeted with a "good-morning, my lads," the powdered porter, with his wide golden scarf, the footmen in knee-breeches and livery of gold and blue, all standing to do him honour; lightly drew his finger across the bars of the large cages of monkeys full of sharp cries and capers, and, whistling under his breath, stepped quickly up the staircase of shining marble laid with a carpet as thick as the turf of a lawn, which led to the apartments of the duke. Although six months had passed since his first visit to Mora House, the good doctor was not yet become insensible to the quite physical impression of gaiety, of frivolity, which he received from this dwelling.
Although you were in the abode of the first official of the Empire there was nothing here suggestive of the work of government or its boxes of dusty old papers. The duke had only consented to accept his high dignitaries as Minister of State and President of the Council upon the condition that he should not quit his private mansion; he only went to his office for an hour or two daily, the time necessary to give the indispensable signatures, and held his receptions in his bed-chamber. At this moment, notwithstanding the earliness of the hour, the hall was crowded. You saw there grave, anxious faces, provincial prefects with shaven lips, and administrative whiskers, slightly less arrogant in this antechamber than yonder in their prefectures, magistrates of austere air, sober in gesture, deputies important of manner, big-wigs of the financial world, rich and boorish manufacturers, among whom stood out here and there the slender, ambitious figure of some substitute of a prefectorial councillor, in the garb of one seeking a favour, dress-coat and white tie; and all, standing, sitting in groups or solitary, sought silently to penetrate with their gaze that high door closed upon their destiny, by which they would issue forth directly triumphant or with cast-down head. Jenkins passed through the crowd rapidly, and every one followed with an envious eye this newcomer whom the doorkeeper, with his official chain, correct and icy in his demeanour, seated at a table beside the door, greeted with a little smile at once respectful and familiar.
"Who is with him?" asked the doctor, indicating the chamber of the duke.
Hardly moving his lips, and not without a slightly ironical glance of the eye, the doorkeeper whispered a name which, if they had heard it, would have roused the indignation of all these high personages who had been waiting for an hour past until the costumier of the opera should have ended his audience.
A sound of voices, a ray of light. Jenkins had just entered the duke's presence; he never waited, he.
Standing with his back to the fireplace, closely wrapped in a dressing-jacket of blue fur, the soft reflections from which gave an air of refinement to an energetic and haughty head, the President of the Council was causing to be designed under his eyes a Pierrette costume for the duchess to wear at her next ball, and was giving his directions with the same gravity with which he would have dictated the draft of a new law.
"Let the frill be very fine on the ruff, and put no frills on the sleeves.—Good-morning, Jenkins. I am with you directly."
Jenkins bowed, and took a few steps in the immense room, of which the windows, opening on a garden that extended as far as the Seine, framed one of the finest views of Paris, the bridges, the Tuileries, the Louvre, in a network of black trees traced as it were in Indian ink upon the floating background of fog. A large and very low bed, raised by a few steps above the floor, two or three little lacquer screens with vague and capricious gilding, indicating, like the double doors and the carpets of thick wool, a fear of cold pushed even to excess, various seats, lounges, warmers, scattered about rather indiscriminately, all low, rounded, indolent, or voluptuous in shape, composed the furniture of this celebrated chamber in which the gravest questions and the most frivolous were wont to be treated alike with the same seriousness. On the wall was a handsome portrait of the duchess; on the chimneypiece a bust of the duke, the work of Felicia Ruys, which at the recent Salon had received the honours of a first medal.
"Well, Jenkins, how are we this morning?" said his excellency, approaching, while the costumier was picking up his fashion-plates, scattered over all the easy chairs.
"And you, my dear duke? I thought you a little pale last evening at the Varietes."
"Come, come! I have never felt so well. Your pills have a most marvellous effect upon me. I am conscious of a vivacity, a freshness, when I remember how run down I was six months ago."
Jenkins, without saying anything, had laid his great head against the fur-coat of the minister of state, at the place where, in common men, the heart beats. He listened a moment while his excellency continued to speak in the indolent, bored tone which was one of the characteristics of his distinction.
"And who was your companion, doctor, last night? That huge, bronzed Tartar who was laughing so loudly in the front of your box."
"It was the Nabob, Monsieur le Duc. The famous Jansoulet, about whom people are talking so much just now."
"I ought to have guessed it. The whole house was watching him. The actresses played for him alone. You know him? What sort of man is he?"
"I know him. That is to say, I attend him professionally.—Thank you, my dear duke, I have finished. All is right in that region.—When he arrived in Paris a month ago, he had found the change of climate somewhat trying. He sent for me, and since then has received me upon the most friendly footing. What I know of him is that he possesses a colossal fortune, made in Tunis, in the service of the Bey, that he has a loyal heart, a generous soul, in which the ideas of humanity—"
"In Tunis?" interrupted the duke, who was by nature very little sentimental and humanitarian. "In that case, why this name of Nabob?"
"Bah! the Parisians do not look at things so closely. For them, every rich foreigner is a nabob, no matter whence he comes. Furthermore, this nabob has all the physical qualities for the part—a copper-coloured skin, eyes like burning coals, and, what is more, gigantic wealth, of which he makes, I do not fear to say it, the most noble and the most intelligent use. It is to him that I owe"—here the doctor assumed a modest air—"that I owe it that I have at last been able to found the Bethlehem Society for the suckling of infants, which a morning paper, that I was looking over just now—the Messenger, I think—calls 'the great philanthropic idea of the century.'"
The duke threw a listless glance over the sheet which Jenkins held out to him. He was not the man to be caught by the turn of an advertisement.
"He must be very rich, this M. Jansoulet," said he, coldly. "He finances Cardailhac's theatre; Monpavon gets him to pay his debts; Bois l'Hery starts a stable for him; old Schwalbach a picture gallery. It means money, all that."
"What will you have, my dear duke, this poor Nabob, you are his great occupation. Arriving here with the firm resolution to become a Parisian, a man of the world, he has taken you for his model in everything, and I do not conceal from you that he would very much like to study his model from a nearer standpoint."
"I know, I know. Monpavon has already asked my permission to bring him to see me. But I prefer to wait; I wish to see. With these great fortunes that come from so far away one has to be careful. Mon Dieu! I do not say that if I should meet him elsewhere than in my own house, at the theatre, in a drawing-room——"
"As it just happens, Mrs. Jenkins is proposing to give a small party next month. If you would do us the honour——"
"I shall be glad to come, my dear doctor, and if your Nabob should chance to be there I should make no objection to his being presented to me."
At this moment the usher on duty opened the door.
"Monsieur the Minister of the Interior is in the blue salon. He has only one word to say to his excellency. Monsieur the Prefect of Police is still waiting downstairs, in the gallery."
"Very well," said the duke, "I am coming. But I should like first to finish the matter of this costume. Let us see—friend, what's your name—what are we deciding upon for these ruffs? Au revoir, doctor. There is nothing to be done, is there, except to continue the pills?"
"Continue the pills," said Jenkins, bowing; and he left the room beaming with delight at the two pieces of good fortune which were befalling him at the same time—the honour of entertaining the duke and the pleasure of obliging his dear Nabob. In the antechamber, the crowd of petitioners through which he passed was still more numerous than at his entry; newcomers had joined those who had been patiently waiting from the first, others were mounting the staircase, with busy look and very pale, and in the courtyard the carriages continued to arrive, and to range themselves on ranks in a circle, gravely, solemnly, while the question of the sleeve ruffs was being discussed upstairs with not less solemnity.
"To the club," said Jenkins to his coachman.
The brougham bowled along the quays, recrossed the bridges, reached the Place de la Concorde, which already no longer wore the same aspect as an hour earlier. The fog was lifting in the direction of the Garde-Meuble and the Greek temple of the Madeleine, allowing to be dimly distinguished here and there the white plume of a jet of water, the arcade of a palace, the upper portion of a statue, the tree-clumps of the Tuileries, grouped in chilly fashion near the gates. The veil, not raised, but broken in places, disclosed fragments of horizon; and on the avenue which leads to the Arc de Triomphe could be seen brakes passing at full trot laden with coachmen and jobmasters, dragoons of the Empress, fuglemen bedizened with lace and covered with furs, going two by two in long files with a jangling of bits and spurs, and the snorting of fresh horses, the whole lighted by a sun still invisible, the light issuing from the misty atmosphere, and here and there withdrawing into it again as if offering a fleeting vision of the morning luxury of that quarter of the town.
Jenkins alighted at the corner of the Rue Royale. From top to bottom of the great gambling house the servants were passing to and fro, shaking the carpets, airing the rooms where the fume of cigars still hung about and heaps of fine glowing ashes were crumbling away at the back of the hearths, while on the green tables, still vibrant with the night's play, there stood burning a few silver candlesticks whose flames rose straight in the wan light of day. The noise, the coming and going, ceased at the third floor, where sundry members of the club had their apartments. Among them was the Marquis de Monpavon, whose abode Jenkins was now on his way to visit.
"What! It is you, doctor? The devil take it! What is the time then? I'm not visible."
"Not even for the doctor?"
"Oh, for nobody. Question of etiquette, mon cher. No matter, come in all the same. You'll warm your feet for a moment while Francis finishes doing my hair."
Jenkins entered the bed-chamber, a banal place like all furnished apartments, and moved towards the fire on which there were set to heat curling-tongs of all sizes, while in the contiguous laboratory, separated from the room by a curtain of Algerian tapestry, the Marquis de Monpavon gave himself up to the manipulations of his valet. Odours of patchouli, of cold-cream, of hartshorn, and of singed hair escaped from the part of the room which was shut off, and from time to time, when Francis came to fetch a curling-iron, Jenkins caught sight of a huge dressing-table laden with a thousand little instruments of ivory, and mother-of-pearl, with steel files, scissors, puffs, and brushes, with bottles, with little trays, with cosmetics, labelled and arranged methodically in groups and lines; and amid all this display, awkward and already shaky, an old man's hand, shrunken and long, delicately trimmed and polished about the nails like that of a Japanese painter, which faltered about among this fine hardware and doll's china.
While continuing the process of making up his face, the longest, the most complicated of his morning occupations, Monpavon chatted with the doctor, told of his little ailments, and the good effect of the pills. They made him young again, he said. And at a distance, thus, without seeing him, one would have taken him for the Duc de Mora, to such a degree had he usurped his manner of speech. There were the same unfinished phrases, ended by "ps, ps, ps," muttered between the teeth, expressions like "What's its name?" "Who was it?" constantly thrown into what he was saying, a kind of aristocratic stutter, fatigued, listless, wherein you might perceive a profound contempt for the vulgar art of speech. In the society of which the duke was the centre, every one sought to imitate that accent, those disdainful intonations with an affectation of simplicity.
Jenkins, finding the sitting rather long, had risen to take his departure.
"Adieu, I must be off. We shall see you at the Nabob's?"
"Yes, I intend to be there for luncheon. Promised to bring him—what's his name. Who was it? What? You know, for our big affair—ps, ps, ps. Were it not for that, should gladly stay away. Real menagerie, that house."
The Irishman, despite his benevolence, agreed that the society was rather mixed at his friend's. But then! One could hardly blame him for it. The poor fellow, he knew no better.
"Neither knows nor is willing to learn," remarked Monpavon with bitterness. "Instead of consulting people of experience—ps, ps, ps—first sponger that comes along. Have you seen the horses that Bois l'Hery has persuaded him to buy? Absolute rubbish those animals. And he paid twenty thousand francs for them. We may wager that Bois l'Hery got them for six thousand."
"Oh, for shame—a nobleman!" said Jenkins, with the indignation of a lofty soul refusing to believe in baseness.
Monpavon continued, without seeming to hear:
"All that because the horses came from Mora's stable."
"It is true that the dear Nabob's heart is very full of the duke. I am about to make him very happy, therefore, when I inform him——"
The doctor paused, embarrassed.
"When you inform him of what, Jenkins?"
Somewhat abashed, Jenkins had to confess that he had obtained permission from his excellency to present to him his friend Jansoulet. Scarcely had he finished his sentence before a tall spectre, with flabby face and hair and whiskers diversely coloured, bounded from the dressing-room into the chamber, with his two hands folding round a fleshless but very erect neck a dressing-gown of flimsy silk with violet spots, in which he was wrapped like a sweetmeat in its paper. The most striking thing about this mock-heroic physiognomy was a large curved nose all shiny with cold cream, and an eye alive, keen, too young, too bright, for the heavy and wrinkled eyelid which covered it. Jenkins's patients all had that eye.
Monpavon must indeed have been deeply moved to show himself thus devoid of all prestige. In point of fact, with white lips and a changed voice he addressed the doctor quickly, without the lisp this time, and in a single outburst:
"Come now, mon cher, no tomfoolery between us, eh? We are both met before the same dish, but I leave you your share. I intend that you shall leave me mine."
And Jenkins's air of astonishment did not make him pause. "Let this be said once for all. I have promised the Nabob to present him to the duke, just as, formerly, I presented you. Do not mix yourself up, therefore, with what concerns me alone."
Jenkins laid his hand on his heart, protested his innocence. He had never had any intention. Certainly Monpavon was too intimate a friend of the duke, for any other—How could he have supposed?
"I suppose nothing," said the old nobleman, calmer but still cold. "I merely desired to have a very clear explanation with you on this subject."
The Irishman extended a widely opened hand.
"My dear marquis, explanations are always clear between men of honour."
"Honour is a big word, Jenkins. Let us say people of deportment—that suffices."
And that deportment, which he invoked as the supreme guide of conduct, recalling him suddenly to the sense of his ludicrous situation, the marquis offered one finger to his friend's demonstrative shake of the hand, and passed back with dignity behind his curtain, while the other left, in haste to resume his round.
What a magnificent clientele he had, this Jenkins! Nothing but princely mansions, heated staircases, laden with flowers at every landing, upholstered and silky alcoves, where disease was transformed into something discreet, elegant, where nothing suggested that brutal hand which throws on a bed of pain those who only cease to work in order to die. They were not in any true speech, sick people, these clients of the Irish doctor. They would have been refused admission to a hospital. Their organs not possessing even strength to give them a shock, the seat of their malady was to be discovered nowhere, and the doctor, as he bent over them, might have sought in vain the throb of any suffering in those bodies which the inertia, the silence of death already inhabited. They were worn-out, debilitated people, anaemics, exhausted by an absurd life, but who found it so good still that they fought to have it prolonged. And the Jenkins pills became famous precisely by reason of that lash of the whip which they gave to jaded existences.
"Doctor, I beseech you, let me be fit to go to the ball this evening!" the young woman would say, prostrate on her lounge, and whose voice was reduced to a breath.
"You shall go, my dear child."
And she went; and never had she looked more beautiful.
"Doctor, at all costs, though it should kill me, to-morrow morning I must be at the Cabinet Council."
He was there, and carried away from it in a triumph of eloquence and of ambitious diplomacy.
Afterward—oh, afterward, if you please! But no matter! To their last day Jenkins's clients went about, showed themselves, cheated the devouring egotism of the crowd. They died on their feet, as became men and women of the world.
After a thousand peregrinations in the Chaussee d'Antin and the Champs-Elysees, after having visited every millionaire or titled personage in the Faubourg Saint Honore, the fashionable doctor arrived at the corner of the Cours-la-Reine and the Rue Francois I., before a house with a rounded front, which occupied the angle on the quay, and entered an apartment on the ground floor which resembled in nowise those through which he had been passing since morning. From the threshold, tapestries covering the wall, windows of old stained glass with strips of lead cutting across a discrete and composite light, a gigantic saint in carved wood which fronted a Japanese monster with protruding eyes and a back covered with delicate scales like tiles, indicated the imaginative and curious taste of an artist. The little page who answered the door held in leash an Arab greyhound larger than himself.
"Mme. Constance is at mass," he said, "and Mademoiselle is in the studio quite alone. We have been at work since six o'clock this morning," added the child with a rueful yawn which the dog caught on the wing, making him open wide his pink mouth with its sharp teeth.
Jenkins, whom we have seen enter with so much self-possession the chamber of the Minister of State, trembled a little as he raised the curtain masking the door of the studio which had been left open. It was a splendid sculptor's studio, the front of which, on the street corner, semi-circular in shape, gave the room one whole wall of glass, with pilasters at the sides, a large, well-lighted bay, opal-coloured just then by reason of the fog. More ornate than are usually such work-rooms, which the stains of the plaster, the boasting-tools, the clay, the puddles of water generally cause to resemble a stone-mason's shed, this one added a touch of coquetry to its artistic purpose. Green plants in every corner, a few good pictures suspended against the bare wall and, here and there, resting upon oak brackets, two or three works of Sebastien Ruys, of which the last, exhibited after his death, was covered with a piece of black gauze.
The mistress of the house, Felicia Ruys, the daughter of the famous sculptor and herself already known by two masterpieces, the bust of her father and that of the Duc de Mora, was standing in the middle of the studio, occupied in the modelling of a figure. Wearing a tightly fitting riding-habit of blue cloth with long folds, a fichu of China silk twisted about her neck like a man's tie, her black, fine hair caught up carelessly above the antique modelling of her small head, Felicia was at work with an extreme earnestness which added to her beauty the concentration, the intensity which are given to the features by an attentive and satisfied expression. But that changed immediately upon the arrival of the doctor.
"Ah, it is you," said she brusquely, as though awaked from a dream. "The bell was rung, then? I did not hear it."
And in the ennui, the lassitude that suddenly took possession of that adorable face, the only thing that remained expressive and brilliant was the eyes, eyes in which the factitious gleam of the Jenkins pills was heightened by the constitutional wildness.
Oh, how the doctor's voice became humble and condescending as he answered her:
"So you are quite absorbed in your work, my dear Felicia. Is it something new that you are at work on there? It seems to me very pretty."
He moved towards the rough and still formless model out of which there was beginning to issue vaguely a group of two animals, one a greyhound which was scampering at full speed with a rush that was truly extraordinary.
"The idea of it came to me last night. I began to work it out by lamplight. My poor Kadour, he sees no fun in it," said the girl, glancing with a look of caressing kindness at the greyhound whose paws the little page was endeavouring to place apart in order to get the pose again.
Jenkins remarked in a fatherly way that she did wrong to tire herself thus, and taking her wrist with ecclesiastical precautions:
"Come, I am sure you are feverish."
At the contact of his hand with her own, Felicia made a movement almost of repulsion.
"No, no, leave me alone. Your pills can do nothing for me. When I do not work I am bored. I am bored to death, to extinction; my thoughts are the colour of that water which flows over yonder, brackish and heavy. To be commencing life, and to be disgusted with it! It is hard. I am reduced to the point of envying my poor Constance, who passes her days in her chair, without opening her mouth, but smiling to herself over her memories of the past. I have not even that, I, happy remembrances to muse upon. I have only work—work!"
As she talked she went on modelling furiously, now with the boasting-tool, now with her fingers, which she wiped from time to time on a little sponge placed on the wooden platform which supported the group; so that her complaints, her melancholies, inexplicable in the mouth of a girl of twenty which, in repose, had the purity of a Greek smile, seemed uttered at random and addressed to no one in particular.
Jenkins, however, appeared disturbed by them, troubled, despite the evident attention which he gave to the work of the artist, or rather to the artist herself, to the triumphant grace of this girl whom her beauty seemed to have predestined to the study of the plastic arts.
Embarrassed by the admiring gaze which she felt fixed upon her, Felicia resumed:
"Apropos, I have seen him, you know, your Nabob. Some one pointed him out to me last Friday at the opera."
"You were at the opera on Friday?"
"Yes. The duke had sent me his box."
Jenkins changed colour.
"I persuaded Constance to go with me. It was the first time for twenty-five years since her farewell performance, that she had been inside the Opera-House. It made a great impression on her. During the ballet, especially, she trembled, she beamed, all her old triumphs sparkled in her eyes. Happy who has emotions like that. A real type, that Nabob. You will have to bring him to see me. He has a head that it would amuse me to do."
"He! Why, he is hideous! You cannot have looked at him carefully."
"On the contrary, I had a perfect view. He was opposite us. That mask, as of a white Ethiopian, would be superb in marble. And not vulgar, in any case. Besides, since he is so ugly as that, you will not be so unhappy as you were last year when I was doing Mora's bust. What a disagreeable face you had, Jenkins, in those days!"
"For ten years of life," muttered Jenkins in a gloomy voice, "I would not have that time over again. But you it amuses to behold suffering."
"You know quite well that nothing amuses me," said she, shrugging her shoulders with a supreme impertinence.
Then, without looking at him, without adding another word, she plunged into one of those dumb activities by which true artists escape from themselves and from everything that surrounds them.
Jenkins paced a few steps in the studio, much moved, with avowals on the tip of his tongue which yet dared not put themselves into words. At length, feeling himself dismissed, he took his hat and walked towards the door.
"So it is understood. I must bring him to see you."
"Why, the Nabob. It was you who this very moment——"
"Ah, yes," remarked the strange person whose caprices were short-lived. "Bring him if you like. I don't care, otherwise."
And her beautiful dejected voice, in which something seemed broken, the listlessness of her whole personality, said distinctly enough that it was true, that she cared really for nothing in the world.
Jenkins left the room, extremely troubled, and with a gloomy brow. But, the moment he was outside, he assumed once more his laughing and cordial expression, being of those who, in the streets, go masked. The morning was advancing. The mist, still perceptible in the vicinity of the Seine, floated now only in shreds and gave a vaporous unsubstantiality to the houses on the quay, to the river steamers whose paddles remained invisible, to the distant horizon in which the dome of the Invalides hung poised like a gilded balloon with a rope that darted sunbeams. A diffused warmth, the movement in the streets, told that noon was not far distant, that it would be there directly with the striking of all the bells.
Before going on to the Nabob's, Jenkins had, however, one other visit to make. But he appeared to find it a great nuisance. However, since he had made the promise! And, resolutely:
"68 Rue Saint-Ferdinand, at the Ternes," he said, as he sprang into his carriage.
The address required to be repeated twice to the coachman, Joey, who was scandalized; the very horse showed a momentary hesitation, as if the valuable beast and the impeccably clad servant had felt revolt at the idea of driving out to such a distant suburb, beyond the limited but so brilliant circle wherein their master's clients were scattered. The carriage arrived, all the same, without accident, at the end of a provincial-looking, unfinished street, and at the last of its buildings, a house of unfurnished apartments with five stories, which the street seemed to have despatched forward as a reconnoitring party to discover whether it might continue on that side isolated as it stood between vaguely marked-out sites waiting to be built upon or heaped with the debris of houses broken down, with blocks of freestone, old shutters lying amid the desolation, mouldy butchers' blocks with broken hinges hanging, an immense ossuary of a whole demolished region of the town.
Innumerable placards were stuck above the door, the latter being decorated by a great frame of photographs white with dust before which Jenkins paused for a moment as he passed. Had the famous doctor come so far, then, simply for the purpose of having a photograph taken? It might have been thought so, judging by the attention with which he stayed to examine this display, the fifteen or twenty photographs which represented the same family in different poses and actions and with varying expressions; an old gentleman, with chin supported by a high white neckcloth, and a leathern portfolio under his arm, surrounded by a bevy of young girls with their hair in plait or in curls, and with modest ornaments on their black frocks. Sometimes the old gentleman had posed with but two of his daughters; or perhaps one of those young and pretty profile figures stood out alone, the elbow resting upon a broken column, the head bowed over a book in a natural and easy pose. But, in short, it was always the same air with variations, and within the glass frame there was no gentleman save the old gentleman with the white neckcloth, nor other feminine figures that those of his numerous daughters.
"Studios upstairs, on the fifth floor," said a line above the frame. Jenkins sighed, measured with his eye the distance that separated the ground from the little balcony up there in the clouds, then he decided to enter. In the corridor he passed a white neckcloth and a majestic leathern portfolio, evidently the old gentleman of the photographic exhibition. Questioned, this individual replied that M. Maranne did indeed live on the fifth floor. "But," he added, with an engaging smile, "the stories are not lofty." Upon this encouragement the Irishman began to ascend a narrow and quite new staircase with landings no larger than a step, only one door on each floor, and badly lighted windows through which could be seen a gloomy, ill-paved court-yard and other cage-like staircases, all empty; one of those frightful modern houses, built by the dozen by penniless speculators, and having as their worst disadvantage thin partition walls which oblige all the inhabitants to live in a phalansterian community.
At this particular time the inconvenience was not great, the fourth and fifth floors alone happening to be occupied, as though the tenants had dropped into them from the sky.
On the fourth floor, behind a door with a copper plate bearing the announcement "M. Joyeuse, Expert in Bookkeeping," the doctor heard a sound of fresh laughter, of young people's chatter, and of romping steps, which accompanied him to the floor above, to the photographic establishment.
These little businesses perched away in corners with the air of having no communication with any outside world are one of the surprises of Paris. One asks one's self how the people live who go into these trades, what fastidious Providence can, for example, send clients to a photographer lodged on a fifth floor in a nondescript region, well beyond the Rue Saint-Ferdinand, or books to keep to the accountant below. Jenkins, as he made this reflection, smiled in pity, then went straight in as he was invited by the following inscription, "Enter without knocking." Alas! the permission was scarcely abused. A tall young man wearing spectacles, and writing at a small table, with his legs wrapped in a travelling-rug, rose precipitately to greet the visitor whom his short sight had prevented him from recognising.
"Good-morning, Andre," said the doctor, stretching out his loyal hand.
"You see, I am good-natured as I have always been. Your conduct towards us, your obstinacy in persisting in living far away from your parents, imposed a great reserve on me, for my own dignity's sake; but your mother has wept. And here I am."
While he spoke, he examined the poor little studio, with its bare walls, its scanty furniture, the brand-new photographic apparatus, the little Prussian fireplace, new also and never yet used for a fire, all forced into painfully clear evidence beneath the direct light falling from the glass roof. The drawn face, the scanty beard of the young man, to whom the bright colour of his eyes, the narrow height of his forehead, his long and fair hair thrown backward gave the air of a visionary, everything was accentuated in the crude light; and also the resolute will in that clear glance which settled upon Jenkins coldly, and in advance to all his reasonings, to all his protestations, opposed an invincible resistance.
But the good Jenkins feigned not to perceive anything of this.
"You know, my dear Andre, since the day when I married your mother I have regarded you as my son. I looked forward to leaving you my practice and my patients, to putting your foot in a golden stirrup, happy to see you following a career consecrated to the welfare of humanity. All at once, without giving any reason, without taking into any consideration the effect which such a rupture might well have in the eyes of the world, you have separated yourself from us, you have abandoned your studies, renounced your future, in order to launch out into I know not what eccentric life, engaging in a ridiculous trade, the refuge and the excuse of all unclassed people."
"I follow this occupation in order to earn a living. It is bread and butter in the meantime."
"In what meantime? While you are waiting for literary glory?"
He glanced disdainfully at the scribbling scattered over the table.
"All that is not serious, you know, and here is what I am come to tell you. An opportunity presents itself to you, a double-swing door opening into the future. The Bethlehem Society is founded. The most splendid of my philanthropic dreams has taken body. We have just purchased a superb villa at Nanterre for the housing of our first establishment. It is the care, the management of this house that I have thought of intrusting to you as to an alter ego. A princely dwelling, the salary of the commander of a division, and the satisfaction of a service rendered to the great human family. Say one word, and I take you to see the Nabob, the great-hearted man who defrays the expense of our undertaking. Do you accept?"
"No," said the other so curtly that Jenkins was somewhat put out of countenance.
"Just so. I was prepared for this refusal when I came here. But I am come nevertheless. I have taken for motto, 'To do good without hope,' and I remain faithful to my motto. So then, it is understood you prefer to the honourable, worthy, and profitable existence which I have just proposed to you, a life of hazard without aim and without dignity?"
Andre answered nothing, but his silence spoke for him.
"Take care. You know what that decision will involve, a definitive estrangement, but you have always wanted that. I need not tell you," continued Jenkins, "that to break with me is to break off relations also with your mother. She and I are one."
The young man turned pale, hesitated a moment, then said with effort:
"If it please my mother to come to see me here, I shall be delighted, certainly. But my determination to quit your house, to have no longer anything in common with you, is irrevocable."
"And will you at least say why?"
He made a negative sign; he would not say.
For once the Irishman felt a genuine impulse of anger. His whole face assumed a cunning, savage expression which would have very much astonished those that only knew the good and loyal Jenkins; but he took good care not to push further an explanation which he feared perhaps as much as he desired it.
"Adieu," said he, half turning his head on the threshold. "And never apply to us."
"Never," replied his stepson in a firm voice.
This time, when the doctor had said to Joey, "Place Vendome," the horse, as though he had understood that they were going to the Nabob's, gave a proud shake to his glittering curb-chains, and the brougham set off at full speed, transforming each axle of its wheels into sunshine. "To come so far to get a reception like that! A celebrity of the time to be treated thus by that Bohemian! One may try indeed to do good!" Jenkins gave vent to his anger in a long monologue of this character, then suddenly rousing himself, exclaimed, "Ah, bah!" and what anxiety there was remaining on his brow quickly vanished on the pavement of the Place Vendome. Noon was striking everywhere in the sunshine. Issued forth from behind its curtain of mist, luxurious Paris, awake and on its feet, was commencing its whirling day. The shop-windows of the Rue de la Paix shone brightly. The mansions of the square seemed to be ranging themselves haughtily for the receptions of the afternoon; and, right at the end of the Rue Castiglione with its white arcades, the Tuileries, beneath a fine burst of winter sunshine, raised shivering statues, pink with cold, amid the stripped trees.
A LUNCHEON IN THE PLACE VENDOME
There were scarcely more than a score of persons that morning in the Nabob's dining-room, a dining-room in carved oak, supplied the previous evening as it were by some great upholsterer, who at the same stroke had furnished these suites of four drawing-rooms of which you caught sight through an open doorway, the hangings on the ceiling, the objects of art, the chandeliers, even the very plate on the sideboards and the servants who were in attendance. It was obviously the kind of interior improvised the moment he was out of the railway-train by a gigantic parvenu in haste to enjoy. Although around the table there was no trace of any feminine presence, no bright frock to enliven it, its aspect was yet not monotonous, thanks to the dissimilarity, the oddness of the guests, people belonging to every section of society, specimens of humanity detached from all races, in France, in Europe, in the entire globe, from the top to the bottom of the social ladder. To begin with, the master of the house—a kind of giant, tanned, burned by the sun, saffron-coloured, with head in his shoulders. His nose, which was short and lost in the puffiness of his face, his woolly hair massed like a cap of astrakhan above a low and obstinate forehead, and his bristly eyebrows with eyes like those of an ambushed chapard gave him the ferocious aspect of a Kalmuck, of some frontier savage living by war and rapine. Fortunately the lower part of the face, the fleshy and strong lip which was lightened now and then by a smile adorable in its kindness, quite redeemed, by an expression like that of a St. Vincent de Paul, this fierce ugliness, this physiognomy so original that it was no longer vulgar. An inferior extraction, however, betrayed itself yet again by the voice, the voice of a Rhone waterman, raucous and thick, in which the southern accent became rather uncouth than hard, and by two broad and short hands, hairy at the back, square and nailless fingers which, laid on the whiteness of the table-cloth, spoke of their past with an embarrassing eloquence. Opposite him, on the other side of the table at which he was one of the habitual guests, was seated the Marquis de Monpavon, but a Monpavon presenting no resemblance to the painted spectre of whom we had a glimpse in the last chapter. He was now a haughty man of no particular age, fine majestic nose, a lordly bearing, displaying a large shirt-front of immaculate linen crackling beneath the continual effort of the chest to throw itself forward, and bulging itself out each time with a noise like that made by a white turkey when it struts in anger, or by a peacock when he spreads his tail. His name of Monpavon suited him well.
Of great family and of a wealthy stock, but ruined by gambling and speculation, the friendship of the Duc de Mora had secured him an appointment as receiver-general in the first class. Unfortunately his health had not permitted him to retain this handsome position—well-informed people said his health had nothing to do with it—and for the last year he had been living in Paris, awaiting his restoration to health, according to his own account of the matter, before resuming his post. The same people were confident that he would never regain it, and that even were it not for certain exalted influences—However, he was the important personage of the luncheon; that was clear from the manner in which the servants waited upon him, and the Nabob consulted him, calling him "Monsieur le Marquis," as at the Comedie-Francaise, less almost out of deference than from pride, by reason of the honour which it reflected upon himself. Full of disdain for the people around him, M. le Marquis spoke little, in a very high voice, and as though he were stooping towards those whom he was honouring with his conversation. From time to time he would throw to the Nabob across the table a few words enigmatical for all.
"I saw the duke yesterday. He was talking a great deal about you in connection with that matter. You know, that thing—that business. What was the name of it?"
"You really mean it? He spoke of me to you?" And the good Nabob, quite proud, would look around him with movements of the head that were supremely laughable, or perhaps assume the contemplative air of a devotee who should hear the name of Our Lord pronounced.
"His excellency would have pleasure in seeing you take up the—ps, ps, ps—the thing."
"He told you so?"
"Ask the governor if he did not—heard it like myself."
The person who was called the governor—Paganetti, to give him his real name—was a little, expressive man, constantly gesticulating and fatiguing to behold, so many were the different expressions which his face would assume in the course of a single minute. He was managing director of the Territorial Bank of Corsica, a vast financial enterprise, and had now come to the house for the first time, introduced by Monpavon; he occupied accordingly a place of honour. On the other side of the Nabob was an old gentleman, buttoned up to the chin in a frock-coat having a straight collar without lapels, like an Oriental tunic, his face slashed by a thousand little bloodshot veins and wearing a white moustache of military cut. It was Brahim Bey, the most valiant colonel of the Regency of Tunis, aide-de-camp of the former Bey who had made the fortune of Jansoulet. The glorious exploits of this warrior showed themselves written in wrinkles, in blemishes wrought by debauchery upon the nerveless under-lip that hung as it were relaxed, and upon his eyes without lashes, inflamed and red. It was a head such as one may see in the dock at certain criminal trials that are held with closed doors. The other guests were seated pell-mell, just as they had happened to arrive or to find themselves, for the house was open to everybody, and the table was laid every morning for thirty persons.