Fairy Tales and Legends
Read the English translation of Louise Michel's 'Contes et Legendes', a collection of children's morality tales.
The winter wind blows in the shadow,
Snow covers the paths;
Children, come, the night is dark,
Warm your hands at the hearth.
And while you’re good
Take this book and these pictures,
These are distant memories.
The people we will talk about were once your age,
But time goes quickly:
Like the wave that beats the beach,
The days thus go on rising and falling.
We will talk about ancient customs,
Distant or rustic countries,
Or what we see while dreaming.
Listening to each tale and each story,
You will see joy and tears,
And how little glory weighs,
And what the magnitudes are worth.
Happy, if, laying down your thoughts
On all these past things,
You might become a little better!
There are beings so disgraced by nature, so strange to see or hear, that their mere appearance is a subject of sad study for some, mad mockery for others.
Several of these beings have not always been like this: some have had some moral or physical accident; others, by dint of giving way to fatigue or laziness, have descended a few degrees, and on this slope, there is no longer any reason to stop.
Still others (which is awful for humanity) have become this way under the pressure of persecution. Not many of them are those who have been stricken from birth.
Chéchette was a poor woman who had always been seen as old and always been seen as mad. This is a story of advice for children who do not respect each other.
Chéchette’s house was wood; her store was wood; the nest of her childhood, the asylum of her old age, was always made from wood.
Where did she come from? No-one knew, nor did she. The first time we saw her, she seemed already old; she had moved away from the wood where her mother had brought her up because her mother had recently died.
Chéchette had loved her mother in her own way. She went to a new village and settled there in the middle of the forest. She was a strange creature, probably the last offspring of some nomadic race. As long as the summer lasted, she lived on wild fruits; and, during the winter, she had her storehouse, where she heaped the red berries of mountain ash, the oily beechnuts, the acorns, all the riches of the forest.
Sometimes squirrels, wild boars and rats visited her storehouse, for the cave which served as her shelter was largely covered. If, after walking far one day, she found no food, she would eat from her provisions. If there was no food during the winter time, she went to the village and asked for bread.
Some took pity on the poor madwoman and amply filled the rags which served her as an apron or gave her other garments. To those who were kind to her, she wished, in her language, an infinity of beautiful things.
Others laughed at her. Then Chéchette let out a very expressive growl; it was perhaps her way of wishing evil.
The food she was given, a little less coarse than her own, seemed to her a series of feasts while it lasted. Sometimes, having taken a lot to begin with, she fell asleep for a long time, like snakes and lizards do.
The shape of clothes was indifferent to her – male or female, it mattered little to her – but she was very fond of accessories, especially when there were things that sparkled. Nasty children sometimes gave her clothes adorned with bells and other ridiculous things; but, if they had the misfortune to laugh, Chéchette would throw their present in their faces; often she even divined their evil intention without their needing to laugh, for she had a strong instinct.
Those who have seen the grimacing statuettes of the Middle Ages can form an idea of Chéchette. She was horribly lame and so blind that her left eye was almost gone. Her mouth, wide open, allowed all the teeth to crowd in on one another, in the manner of the orangutan or the gorilla. Her huge, knotty, hairy hands; her broad feet; the thick mane of red hair that reached almost to her eyebrows; everything about her reminded one of the ugliest gnomes, the most hideous apes.
But this soul was someone who loved deeply: she loved like a dog, and it is true that she would have bitten in the same way. She never forgot whom she liked and whom she disliked.
As for the wild animals, they had never attacked Chéchette, no doubt taking her for a member of their family.
The person to whom she had shown the most affection so far was a poor widow, mother of three small children. When Madeleine Germain went to pick up dead wood, Chéchette was always there to help her make her bundles of sticks, or rather, to make huge ones for her friend, much bigger than she would have made herself, which Chéchette carried to her house with incredible ease.
The forest was Chéchette’s domain; she had a completely different air there than in the village. There Chéchette seemed more like a supernatural being than a grotesque being.
The villains of the village joked with Madeleine a great deal about this friendship; above all, they laughed when she let the horrible old woman rock Madeleine’s little children in her long arms, who played with her as they would have played with a faithful dog.
But nonetheless, the children and Chéchette continued to play together, and Madeleine cared very little about bad jokes.
One summer night, when everyone was sound asleep, after the fatigue of a hot day spent working in the fields, the only cry that made everyone get up in the country was heard: Fire! Fire!
Why don’t rural dwellers feel as urgent about all the other perils that can befall their neighbours as they do about fire? It would be horrible to believe that their emotions come from a feeling of selfishness, because in hearing the shout Fire! everyone fears for their own home. Still, often the unfortunate cried for help for a long time and died without help.
That night, as they shouted Fire! everyone was immediately up. Madeleine’s house was burning like a torch; —one of her children had, while playing, lit a little fire near a door, and during the night the poor wooden and thatch hut had caught fire.
No matter how much they worked together to put water on the fire, the fire did not slow down.
Madeleine held two of her children in her arms and fought desperately against those who wanted to prevent her from going to get the third in the midst of the flames. Her third child was caught inside and she thought she would die.
Suddenly someone was seen to enter resolutely into the midst of the flames; it was Chéchette. She had seen that one of the children was missing. The charred structures crumbled with a crash, the flame swirled superbly and triumphantly, darting its thousand tongues towards the sky. Chéchette was still inside.
A few moments passed. Then Chéchette reappeared! She held the child in her arms and laid him down, before fainting before his mother.
Chéchette looked so beautiful, the poor madwoman, in this act of devotion which was to cost her her life. Her hair, her face, her whole body was covered with large burns; her eye shone with infinite joy.
Chéchette, exhausted, fell down never to get up again. As for the child, he recovered easily, for she had covered him with her rags and her body to secure him.
Even today, Madeleine and her children often go to the cemetery, on the grass that covers the poor fool, to give her flowers from the woods that she loved so much.
Never make fun of madmen or old people.
The name of Barbatos, Duke of the Abyss, evokes imaginations across the ages, struck by the sound of the horn and the barking of the packs, in the silence of the woods.
The legend says that he hears the song of the birds, the howls of the wolves; he understands the deer which ruts and the leaf which cracks as it breaks away and goes to join its sisters in the waltzes of the wind.
He knows the buried treasures, the caves and the play areas.
In front of him, four kings sound the horn, and he leads the hunt for shadows, from one end of the world to the other.
It is from Barbatos that we find the Robin Hoods, the dark hunters, the great huntsmen, and all the fantastic hunts that we think we hear at night in the woods.
Is the wind blowing hard? Is the storm in the woods? The small children of the villages still believe, like their grandmothers, that it is the great huntsman’s hunt that passes with great noise.
Sometimes the storm howls like wolves, resounds like horns; or so they say, under the big chimneys where the whole family warms itself at the same time: it is Robin Hood who hunts.
A few years ago, this belief helped a miserly old peasant do a good deed.
This is the story of a miserly old peasant, Father Mathieu, who buried his entire treasure at the foot of an oak tree, in an old stocking enclosed in a pot, which he then buried under the ground; money which could have helped others.
Father Mathieu was rich, how could it have been otherwise? It was said that when he spent a penny, he always put half of it aside. How did he do this? I do not know. How had he earned his land and all the money he hid in the woods at the foot of an old oak tree? I don’t know any more. In any case, his money, hidden there, was not even good for feeding worms or growing truffles.
Each time Father Mathieu had a piece of gold to add to his treasure, he waited for a dark night and went to the foot of the oak tree where, by the light of a dull lantern, he counted his money, trembling with fear, and affection too, for he loved this treasure as one loves his family, his country, his mother, and all that is dearest in the world.
One evening, therefore, on his knees at the foot of the oak tree, he had just counted his gold, trembling, stroking it with his hand as one would have done with a child, and thinking that if he had married, his wife would have spent it all to feed and clothe herself; that he would have had to bring up his children, and that all that cost horribly; and that by remaining alone, he had been able to pile up his money.
He only regretted that he could not live without eating. But he did not regret having remained an orphan very young; he loved his treasure better than a family.
Only one thing bothered him, and it was that he wouldn’t be able to be buried with his gold when he died, and that was what he was thinking, besides the fear he had that someone would come and surprise him.
He therefore took great care to turn the light of his lantern away from him, and the slightest sound of wind in the leaves made him jump.
Suddenly a red light appeared at the end of a covered alley, and at the same time a great hunt, a fantastic hunt, such as those of the legends, rushed towards him; the dogs did not bark, they sniffed the trail; the hunters on horseback gave no fanfare; it was the Grand-Veneur’s hunt, but with the silence of death, a real ghost hunt.
Father Mathieu believed in all ghost hunts, much more firmly than in his conscience, which he had never felt; he clasped his treasure to his heart, under his shirt, and hid behind the tree, in a very thick thicket where he had made a hollow in case of surprise.
He saw the hunters stop, and by the light of their resin torches the miser, terrified, saw the horribly erect hair on the backs of the dogs; their eyes seemed full of terror, and they sniffed incessantly on all sides. Even the horses had bristly hair.
At this moment, a distant trumpet sounded the call: horses, dogs and hunters rushed that way.
Mathieu heard the branches crack and felt the vibration of the horses’ feet hit the ground in a frightening gallop. It really was, he thought, the Grand-Veneur or Robin Hood. He was so frightened that he thought himself at the moment of death.
To die, for him, was to leave his treasure. But, contrary to his habit, he found this time that he had as much fear for his life as for his gold, because the danger was imminent.
When the wood became silent again, he ventured to come out of his hiding place, carrying off his gold, which he no longer wished to part with, whatever danger he thought he had in keeping it with him.
Back at his house, which was a kind of ruined hovel, a true dwelling of owls and misers, he lay down frozen with terror, still holding in his arms the old pot which contained the stocking full of gold coins. Fear had broken him; no longer supported by the need to flee, he lay unconscious in his bed.
For two days after, no one saw Father Mathieu; as he was already old, they thought he might be sick or dead, and neighbors knocked at his door, which he had firmly barricaded on his return.
Receiving no response, the neighbors went to find the mayor. The mayor put on his scarf, much too short for him, because his predecessor was extremely thin and he extremely fat; but with the help of a piece of string he managed to consolidate it. The locksmith was brought in to open the door, the members of the council came to act as witnesses, and the door was opened.
It wasn’t enough to play a key in the lock; there was a barricade of furniture behind the door. It was thought that Mathieu had gone mad, and hearing nothing, they thought that he had hanged himself.
An hour was spent shifting the old chests piled up behind the door, after which Mathieu was discovered lying down, pale and cold. It was then thought that the doctor should have been brought; but while they were going to fetch him, the mayor, having lifted the coverlet to find out if Mathieu’s heart was still beating, his hand stirred the pot and a growl escaped the miser’s throat.
They had, indeed, touched his heart. Then all was discovered; Mathieu came back to life.
He was careful not to relate his adventure in the woods; but everyone had seen his treasure. No longer able to keep it at home, he decided to place it where it would bring him the most security.
So our man went to find the mayor. The latter, who was a good man, took it into his head to make Mathieu do a good deed. This must have surprised the whole country.
“Father Mathieu,” he told him, “before you place all that money here in safe-keeping, you should do something with it that will bring you happiness. Here is Mother Nicole, who is a widow with seven children; a rabid wolf bit her cow and the poor people have nothing left. You should buy her a heifer, it’s not expensive and you’ll bring her happiness.”
Then, as he was talkative, the worthy man told Mathieu how proud they were to have hunted this wolf who had disturbed both Mother Nicole and the whole country; all the wolf-keepers of the department were there, they had separated into two bands and had ended up killing the wolf during the night. Horses and dogs were so terrified of it that their hair stuck up straight. The dogs did not bark, which proved that the animal was really enraged.
Father Mathieu understood that this was the Robin Hood hunt he had seen and heard, and feeling how close he had felt to losing his life and his money, he counted out a hundred francs for Mother Nicole’s heifer without knowing what he was doing, as if he was paying for something.
When he changed his mind, it was too late. Mother Nicole had her cow, and the mayor helped the old miser to find a secure investment for his treasure, for he had a hundred thousand francs in gold and banknotes in his stocking.
Father Blaise was the richest farmer in the area. Besides the fields he cultivated for others, half or otherwise, he had a considerable amount of his own.
His daughter had been brought up in the best boarding school in town, and his son had just graduated from college with a load of prizes his classmates would envy.
Margot, his housekeeper, was a very pleasant person; never getting angry when a downpour fell on the cut grain. The servants also liked the farm; yet Father Blaise was sad, so sad that it was feared that he would die of it, especially since his father and his grandfather had also died of sadness, without anyone knowing how.
Often the two children, Rose and André, talked about it with their mother.
“You who pass for such a scholar,” said Margot to her son, “Try to cure your father of his sadness.”
André was doing everything he could, but he was not making much progress.
He could have told all his best college stories for ten years… but Blaise was content to listen to him gravely, because he was a good storyteller, but without smiling at all.
In desperation, Rose silently went to find old Jeannette. She was a peasant woman who was nearly a hundred years old. Consequently, having seen fathers, children and grandchildren born and dying many times, and knowing the history of each family, she sometimes gave excellent advice, which made her pass for very skilful.
Rose therefore went to consult Jeannette about her father’s sadness.
“My daughter,” said the old woman, “I know why; but it would be unwise to tell you.”
Rose insisted so much, and promised secrecy so well, and also, deep down, old Jeannette wanted so much to tell the little girl everything she knew and to seek together the means of curing her father, that she consented.
“My grandfather told me,” she said, “that there was a time when in this village when those who had children did not have enough to eat, and so they would sell their fields for a sack wheat, or even barley, or buckwheat.”
Rose was shivering! Jeannette’s grandfather, who was a hundred years old, must have been very old! But she did not know why this beginning of the story frightened her.
“So,” continued the old woman, “your father’s great-grandfather, who was called François Blaise, began to buy a lot of small fields from those who did not want to let their children or their elderly parents starve.”
Rose burst into tears.
“My daughter,” said the old woman, “You wanted to know.”
“Yes, my dear Jeannette,” said the young girl, “I must know so that my father can be cured.”
And, drying her tears, she listened firmly.
“François Blaise, already rich, married rich again, but there were ruined families in the village. He took it to heart and died.
“His son, to whom he had doubtless recommended something when dying, but who had not dared to do so, became sad at the same age; he died, too.
“Your father is the fifth.”
Rose had found the reason for her father’s sadness, but she was conflicted, for she knew she would have to tell her father that she knew the secret.
“What would you do in my place, Jeannette?” she asked.
“Lady, Mamz’elle, it’s delicate!” said the old woman.
“But anyway,” said the poor young girl, clasping her hands, “How can we return these cursed fields without embarrassing our father?”
The old woman thoughtlessly let out these words:
“We’ve been thinking about it for a long time, Jean-Claude and I, because it’s a great shame to let a poor brave man die who will be mourned so much.”
“Has my father never tried,” said Rose, “to return something?”
“Lady, Mamzelle, since his great-grandfathers, they have always supported the families below them, but this still did not satisfy their conscience, and neither does it for your father.”
Both began to cry, so deeply had Rose’s confidence and pain moved the good woman. She then had a second moment of inspiration; she who nevertheless had always had such a strong head, as they say in the country.
“I will go see Jean-Claude!”
Hardly had these words been uttered than Rose exclaimed:
“I understand, Jeannette, you and Jean-Claude descend from the families who made these sad deals.”
The old woman did not answer.
Rose continued, “Don’t deny me what I’m going to ask of you. You and Jean-Claude are very old, although he is the youngest of your nephews; you are going to come and stay with us; my father will suffer less, and you will be well pampered, and very happy!”
Speaking thus, she blushed, the poor girl, for she now knew that really, the lands, so strangely purchased by her grandfather, belonged to Jeannette.
Jeanette took pity on the child.
“Well, yes,” she said, “since there is no other way!”
Rose didn’t sleep all night. She felt that it had really been a happy inspiration that had led her to Jeannette.
The next day, Rose drove to the old Jeanette and her nephew Jean-Claude, the old shepherd, to see her father.
“Father,” said Rose. “Here is company that will cheer you up. These good old people are going to stay with us.”
Blaise blushed and paled, and then his heart broke, as they say in the village; and he recounted his story. Bursting into tears, he told how from father to son, each knew the fatal story and all had been conflicted with shame. But they had only helped the descendants of the unfortunates with whom their ancestors had made these fatal bargains, and no more, and this had caused them all to endure terrible suffering.
Jean-Claude wept with tenderness.
“Never mind, Father Blaise,” said Jeannette. “It could have been just the two of us, Jean-Claude and I, from those families, and I’ve come to stay with you forever. I will do it as proof that I bequeath to André and Rose all that you believe is ours, although you have given it little by little its value; but I know why you weren’t satisfied.”
It was done, as Jeannette said. This is why Blaise did not die of sadness, like his father and his grandfathers.
And that is why Jeannette, dressed in her most brilliant finery, that is to say, a headdress such as one wore in the days of her youth, and a beautiful red peaked bodice on a striped skirt, attended the marriage of Rose and André with the children of Nicolas Garoui, the Breton, who, like them, had a good heart and had been well educated.
How many things we wish for! How many things we dream of on New Year’s Day!
As for those things that one can wish for on the turning of the New Year, here is the best one: live and die in peace with your conscience.
One New Year’s Day, Little Martha had received a large number of toys and a prodigious quantity of sweets. As she was only six years old, it was not yet noon when she was already tired of toys and full of sweets.
Marthe then asked her great-aunt, who spoiled her very much, to come and take a walk with her.
The good old woman hardly took any money, for she knew that she would not refuse Marthe anything as long as she had some, and she did not want to teach her to be rewarded lavishly for her whims.
The weather was fine, but it was very cold; Marthe thrust her arms as far as she could into a muff that was almost as big as she was.
The boulevards were covered with shops, and Marthe made so many purchases to begin with that soon the great-aunt had only a ten-sou piece left.
The little girl had her arms full, and her muff still more full of very dazzling objects, costing very little and worth no more.
Knowing that there was not much left to spend, she thought of thinking of the little children who had spent their New Year’s Day without toys and candy.
It was very ugly to have thought of it so late, but Marthe was still only six years old and, deep down, she did not have a bad heart. Besides, her aunt spoiled her too much, and in an unreasonable way.
Just as she was belatedly beginning to think of others, two children, smaller than herself, caught her eye; they were so pale and looked so sad that the good aunt was as struck by them as much as Marthe was.
The eldest, dressed very neatly in black, but too lightly for the season, had stopped to adjust the little woollen tie around his brother’s neck, who, although he was more warmly dressed, was shivering, and his poor little neck was all purple with cold.
“Where are you going, my little friends?” asked the aunt.
“We have just come back, Madame,” replied the eldest, “from a lady friend of Maman whom we did not find at her house, and we are going home.”
“Yes,” added the little one with that naive childhood confidence, “we were going to Madame Paul’s, so that she could give us a little work for mamma and have enough to buy bread.”
And as the eldest was looking askance at him to stop his chatter, the last little ten-sou piece was in the little one’s hand, and Marthe and her aunt were running away so that the eldest wouldn’t give it back to them.
When they were far away, Marthe began to cry. “Oh my aunt!” she said. “How sorry I am to have bought so many toys! We could have given much more to these poor children!”
Ten years later, Marthe, now a sixteen-year-old girl, was working as a teacher for a few months. In the ten years that had passed, she had found life a much harder apprenticeship than she had known possible before.
His parents had not succeeded in their business and, for lack of a small sum of five or six hundred francs, they were given a bad deal by creditors. Marthe had just entered a day school as schoolmistress. She was to earn eight hundred francs at the end of the year; but being only paid monthly, it was impossible for her to immediately offer the sum owed by her father for goods not yet sold. And yet, if he did not pay his sums when due, his amount owing would increase. And if he returned the goods, unable to pay, he would have to close his shop.
An idea came to Marthe: she communicated it to the great-aunt, then eighty years old, and who cherished her as much as she did in the past. She would even have spoiled her even more if Marthe had not been so reasonable.
‘Aunt,’ said the young girl. ‘It seems to me that we can obtain an arrangement from my father’s creditor; earning eight hundred francs a year, I can give him fifty every month, the day I get my salary. Maybe he will accept.”
The good old woman approved of the idea, and wanted to accompany her little girl to talk to the creditor.
When they arrived at Marcel Frères, both were very surprised to see on the shopkeeper’s sign a silver coin carved in relief with this inscription: Aux fifty centimes du jour de l’an.
They remembered Marthe’s fifty centimes and not daring to communicate their thoughts to each other, they went into the shop.
The eldest of the Marcel brothers was seated at the desk, acting as cashier; the youngest filled the post of store boy; a woman appearing more ill than old, sometimes replaced one or the other of her sons.
Marthe, whom the great-aunt liked to listen to, explained the object of their visit very simply, but with an energy which proved that one could trust her word.
Marcel, the eldest, to whom she had spoken, called over his mother and brother. He had recognized, not Marthe, who had grown enormously, but the good old woman, who for ten years had hardly changed.
“We have,” he said, “the honor of seeing those who are the cause of our ease.”
And as his mother and his brother hastened to surround the two arrivals, he related that, after the departure of Marthe and the old lady, he had looked for them for a long time, because neither he nor his brother asked for charity.
On returning to their mother, he could not console himself, but just at that moment a friend came in and offered some work and a little money. The little family could therefore buy bread without touching the little fifty centime coin which had made the heart of the eldest so heavy.
He was even completely consoled in his pride when his mother said to him: “Perhaps in your turn you will be able, if you work, to render services to others without offending them.”
Félix Marcel, having thought about it, asked for the ten-sou piece to use it as he wished. He announced that he would only come home in the evening and took his little brother by the hand with an air of resolution, as if he had been out to conquer the world.
Two friends, having let him go out with a smile, for he was a brave child in whom one could trust, amused themselves by following him from a distance.
Felix, still holding his little brother by the hand, went up to a seller of one-penny objects and asked her if she could sell him some for ten sous, at merchants’ prices—because he was going to go into business!
The merchant burst into an interminable burst of laughter; but as it was precisely in this very place that the child had so long sought the lady with the ten sous, she suspected some courageous project.
Not only did she add in some heavy objects, saying: “You will pay me for these when you have a receipt”, but she took the two brothers under her protection, and arranged a very small table for them in front of hers. By the evening time, all three were such friends that they could no longer be separated. That day, they tripled their takings. The good merchant had no children. When the New Year’s Day period was over, she took them to help her in her little shop, on the pretext that they would be very useful to her, for Felix would not have consented otherwise.
Trade prospered; in ten years, Mother Hortense’s shop had become a big store where the two widows and two brothers lived. All this, thanks to Marthe’s ten sous!
Felix had reached that point in his story when Mother Hortense came in, returning all about a few errands. I leave you to imagine, dear children, what a welcome Marthe and the great-aunt were given.
Felix demanded that the six hundred francs be returned to him only after four years.
At that time, Marthe’s father having done better business, and the Marcel brothers’ store having continued to prosper, everyone was of the opinion that for the birthday of the good great-aunt they should each lend a hundred francs to six orphans, some of whom had to support their mothers, and others their little brothers.
The good old woman, wept with joy that day, and this action brought happiness to all, because she lived a long time yet and the six businesses all prospered.
Here is another story, of an old village schoolmaster.
We often speak about those obscure soldiers of civilization, whose whole life passes unnoticed, and whose days fall one upon the other with the monotonous calm of eternity.
Those soldiers who have taught so many to read do a lot during their time on earth; they would do even more if they tried to form little historical libraries, which might help their village to read something other than the religious comics like The Lame Messenger ( because these are what we have in the middle of the 19th century.)
Father Remy was one of those people who thought of everything, but he did have a fault, shared by many old scholars: he loved pompous words. But he had done so many useful things that he was easily forgiven. And sometimes he had yet another defect, common to all those who have worked enormously to achieve good, and it is that he often laughed with all his heart at the failings of the human race: his own, as well as those of others.
One winter when the harvests had been bad, he took it into his head to hold a workshop for the mothers of families, so that they could put a few pennies into their meager savings at the end of each year.
He was careful not to talk about his project before he had carried it out, for he knew very well that in the countryside people immediately imagine that a large sum of money is needed, and also they doubt that intelligence is possible.
This happened at the time when he was due to finish his term as a teacher; he employed some of his time in buying warm and cheap stuff and knitting wool; and a second part to pay the poorest women of the village for stockings and fabric for clothing.
He made some items from these things he bought, and then resold them to the city, where the price was more than tripled. With this money he was able to buy other fabrics, and other wool, to pay for a greater number of workers. Everything was sold to the city, ready-made, like the first time.
After a month he had enough money to set up a large workshop. Orders came to him; of course, he gave them to his workers without any benefit to him. Soon they had enough to bring in project managers from the town to complement the seamstresses of the village and, at the present time, Father Remy’s workshop still maintains abundance in the village, although he has been dead for more than thirty years, for his son and daughter shared the work: the son had the classes, while the daughter had the workshop, the refuge and the nursery. Both took care of the old people’s home, because the good man left these four foundations.
But at the time of which we are speaking, Father Remy was still strong, although he had struck some eighty years of age, and, to rest in the evening, he gladly read a little to people, or told some anecdote.
One evening, there was a large number of people at Father Remy’s; a whole wedding party from the village had come to wish him good-night and bring him a bouquet.
He took the opportunity to talk about one of his new ideas: the foundation of a crèche and an asylum in his village (without capital of course), but with a lot of courage and as much intelligence as possible.
As we had already had the example of his studio, which had cost no one anything; other than some sacrifices for him at the beginning, the villagers knew that they should not be too frightened by a new idea from Father Remy.
And then, in order to encourage them, he began to return the compliment which had been paid him by improvising a few couplets for the bride, with the accompaniment of a violin, which the good man played with great feeling.
We should go back to the compliment which had been paid to Father Remy: I don’t quite know what it was, but the groom had spent eight days learning it, in order to recite it all along without stopping, just like the village mill; and Father Christophe, the most literate man in the place, had spent a whole month composing it, for he knew and put into practice the famous saying:
Hand over your work twenty times on the loom.
Only, knowing no more, he had always added and rarely deleted, so that the compliment ended up being sixteen pages long. The first fifteen pages served as an introduction and the sixteenth was the speech.
If you were told, dear children, that such a thing had been created in your praise, it is likely that you would burst out laughing and I understand that.
But Father Remy thought only of the good will that had been brought to it; he forgot the clumsiness of the phrases, and tears came to his eyes when he thought of all the trouble these brave people had taken.
Seeing this, the bride, who for the past week had had her fiancé repeat the compliment at least twenty times at each of her visits, came forward quickly and said to Father Remy: “Me too, master, I know the compliment too, as well as Jean Paul!” and thereupon she started it all over again.
Fortunately Thérèse was going even faster than Jean Paul, and she was soon at the end, but it was nevertheless necessary to hear again all the comparisons from the first words: “I sing the virtues of you, Monsieur Remy” to the last “Pardon your weak muse for his unpompous pictures!”
To it was added a despatch of four verses, which were to run quickly to prosperity. Since people usually make verses of twelve syllables for great subjects, Father Christophe had thought it would be much more beautiful to double it.
Here they are, as they are still recited in the village:
Receive, dear Sir, with great kindness, a couplet made for you by your servants.
We will fully portray all our wishes, and the overflow of our tender hearts,
And there, letting go of all our feelings to climb Parnassus, they will be our offering,
And we send you from here, the flowers in our meadows, and flowers from our voices.
We respect the particular spelling of Father Christophe.
It was after these last words that the schoolmaster replied with the following couplets, to which the accompaniment of his violin gave a great festive air:
All the flowers of the meadows,
All the lilies of the valleys;
All the variegated fields;
And the winged breezes
Make charming preparations;
It’s a flower party, the rose is getting married,
Summer is laughing in the air, the wild rose is in bloom,
So that those lovely days
Be, for you, Hope,
So that in all of your songs
The memory remains,
Do good, children,
It’s a flower party, the rose is getting married,
Summer is laughing in the air, the wild rose is in bloom,
Everyone was crying with emotion. They gathered closer around the schoolmaster, and Rose, emboldened by the success of her compliment and by the old man’s verses, asked his advice on what he advised them to do with their life.
“How can one find something good to do like that right away?” she said naively.
This was what Father Remy was waiting for.
“It’s quite simple, my daughter,” he said, “You and Jean Paul are active, and full of good will. You are going to help me start the crèche and the refuge I have been talking to you about for so long.”
The two young people uttered a cry of joy and each took the old man’s hand to hear him better; he continued thus:
“You have at the end of the village a building half demolished, the sight of which bothers those who do not like dilapidated things. You will rent it to me so that I can restore it myself in order to install our foundation there.”
“Our children will not rent it to you, master!” exclaimed the parents of the bride and groom, who did not want to be outdone in their generosity. “We want them to give it to you, and we’ll put today’s date on it!”
The schoolmaster said then, “We will frame above the door with a wreath of roses, and we will put in large gilded letters: Rose Crib Refuge; it will be a smiling title for our children. On my side, I will give you the cow which I don’t really see a use for, since I have always done without it until now.”
“And we!” cried a dozen laborers. “We will provide the cow’s food!”
“We, father,” said Father Remy’s son and daughter in turn. “We will take charge of the management of the crèche and the refuge; we will employ two poor widows that we know; they will have food, lodging as we can, and as for the salary, that will come in a few months.”
Almost all the seamstresses in the workshop were there, and they agreed amongst themselves to collect all the rags that no one was using, to fix them up and to later offer the clothes to the small children whose parents were embarrassed to ask for them.
The mayor was there; he wanted to add a small monthly sum to the communal fund, to help with the maintenance of the children.
“I accept the sum, Monsieur le Maire,” said Father Remy, “but I don’t want to deceive you; it will be used to start an old people’s home.”
If the mayor had not known how little Father Remy needed for everything he undertook, he would have been appalled, but he knew the good old man’s courage and economy.
“In that case,” he said, “I give you, for your old people, the barn which I inherited, along with the house of my poor mother, and the refuge for the aged will be in her memory. We will call it,” said the schoolmaster, “Good Marguerite’s Retirement Home.”
This evening, indeed, brought good luck to all those who contributed to these foundations, because the Rose Crib Refuge and Good Marguerite’s Retirement Home still exist, and much good is done there.
The next day, Father Remy and the eldest of his students who could, they said, build masonry, set about restoring the two hovels to make them habitable dwellings.
It was marvelous to see their activity! Jean Paul was in the front row, and seeing this, real masons of the village got involved, and as Father Remy knew a little about architecture, it even happened that the two constructions were of very good effect.
“What are you going to do, Father Remy, for the beds of the children and the old?” asked the mayor, as he placed two huge brand new woollen mattresses in the room.
“Don’t worry,” said Father Remy, “I have a plan.”
He had set aside a small sum to buy strong packing cloth and make hammocks of it, while waiting for something better for the old people, but in such a way as to leave them for little children when they were done.
For the price of the mayor’s two mattresses, he got old second-hand sheets and blankets; as for the household, a few plates of coarse white clay and only one spoon per person made do throughout the first year.
To feed his old people and add, for the little children, pasta made from his cow’s milk, Father Remy asked the mayor for the uncultivated land belonging to the commune, which was no longer used for anything, and it was granted to him.
As with the restoration of his hovels, everyone joined in, always having Jean Paul and Rose in the front row with the older students.
The uncultivated lands were cleared, and the produce was used to feed children and old people; some of those old people wanted to work on easy cultural works or in workshops, and so there was, by this means, not only enough money to maintain and increase the three establishments, but also money to help some households of the village and even of the canton during the difficult years.
Father Remy therefore found himself having founded, without capital other than his courage and his activity, a workshop, a refuge, a crèche and a home for the elderly.
Father Christophe had often written verses on this subject in honor of Father Remy, and he had often gone to the city printer to help him find a publisher, but the latter had always refused to approve of the manuscript, which Father Christophe despaired of.
He decided to ask Father Remy himself to correct the work, which the latter promised to do when he had nothing better to do, and he put the manuscript in his pocket.
Every day Christophe inquired if the publishing had begun and the schoolmaster always answered him: “I still have something more useful to do first.”
The poet ended up growing impatient and asked Father Remy if he would forever have something better to do.
“Very likely,” he replied. “But I am very grateful to you for the intention.”
Father Christophe asked for his work to be returned to him and, unable to publish it, he read it again every day.
“Can it be,” said the poor author, “that such a brave man as our schoolmaster is like the others jealous of my talent?”
Father Remy tried to explain to him that only twelve syllables were needed in the longest French verses and that was already quite a drag on the mind.
“It doesn’t matter,” replied Christophe. “You will never persuade me that too much beauty is a fault.”
One day, however, he had a bit of a clue, with the help of an engraving depicting a monstrous Indian deity with four superb arms.
“Two is enough for our eyes accustomed to this form,” Father Remy told him, “and I repeat to you that our thoughts, which trail in twelve syllables, must crawl in your twenty-four.”
Father Christophe reflected for a few moments and remained silent, half defeated.
But when the next day the old poet repeated his favorite phrase: “it doesn’t matter, no one will ever persuade me that!…” the schoolmaster stopped him. “Let’s not talk about it anymore,” he said. “You want to have a little vanity, keep it and let’s be good friends.”
Father Christophe reflected again and spoke only rarely of his writings. He was a brave heart, but he still belonged to a time when vanity passed for noble pride; however, there is a long way from one to the other.
Do not forget this, children: be proud for humanity, it is still very little, but it will become great, if those who feel intelligent, instead of trying to show off their poor little person and their poor little name, feel the heart and mind of an entire generation beating in their chests and quivering in their intelligence.
Madame Pouffard was very rich, she wore the most expensive clothes imaginable, and had found nothing better to enhance her luster than to add a “de” to her name.
It was not good to forget, when we wrote to her, to put Madame de Pouffard, Châtelaine at the Château des Hulottes.
This “de” and the word “chatelaine” made her blush with pleasure each time such letters were addressed to her, and were met with anger each time they dared to forget them.
As for Monsieur de Pouffard, he was even wiser than his wife, for it was he who had had the idea of buying nobility titles in the first place.
The inhabitants of Les Hulottes therefore became Monsieur le Marquis and Madame la Marquise de Pouffard.
They had coats of arms painted by an artist, who made fun of them, and bought from antique dealers a host of things that made up the museum of their ancestors.
The coat of arms carried a thistle of azure on a field of gules, in other words a blue thistle on a red background. The mounts had such long ears, lions though they were, that you could see the donkey under the manes of the beasts.
“These are Arcadian lions,” the painter had said laughingly, and as the Marquis de Pouffard wanted to pay him generously, he excused himself, saying that he had been too happy to render service to such an eminent personage. In truth, it was that he wanted to make fun of him, but that he did not want to steal him, which indeed would have been very different.
The complacent painter also offered to paint everywhere the coat of arms of the Marquis, which he did conscientiously everywhere from above the door of the castle to that of the rabbit hutch.
Monsieur le Marquis and Madame la Marquise beamed.
As for the armor and other objects of his ancestors bought in antique shops, it was quite another matter; there was everything.
A long brooch had been sold to him for an antique sword, it had, he said, belonged to the most valiant of his ancestors. He had old portraits, painted in oil towards the end of the sixteenth century, which he said were the portraits of his great-grandmothers made in the time of the Crusades. However, at that time, Jean de Bruges, who invented oil painting in the sixteenth century, was far from existing. But it mattered little to our characters, as long as they had ancestors!
Miss Euphrosine Pouffard deserves special attention. She was a tall fool, vain as a peacock, and stupid as a goose.
She thought she was making herself very interesting by constantly inhaling perfumes or flowers, and at the same time took care of all the jewels she owned, so much so that she sometimes had three or four rings on each finger. Her ears had seen as many as two pairs of earrings, and as for necklaces, it was not uncommon to see as many as her neck could carry.
The donkey carrying relics, of which Lafontaine speaks, walked no more majestically than Mademoiselle Euphrosine de Pouffard.
For the six months that the respectable family had lived in the Château des Hulottes, no one in the whole country had yet been found worthy of forming a society for them.
The inhabitants of the village did have some relations with Jean, Monsieur’s valet, and with Madame Brindavoine, Madame’s maid; but the servants were as imbecile as their masters, and the curiosity of the peasants had had no other satisfaction than to know this—that, to Jean’s great surprise, Monsieur had not changed a bit, the day he became a marquis!
For Mademoiselle Sylvie, Mademoiselle’s maid, she was too delicate ever to talk with the common people.
The rest of the house was absolutely concerned only with drinking, eating, and sleeping; what they called ‘leading the castle life’.
All that was missing to complete the house of Pouffard was a governess for Mademoiselle Euphrosine.
A young orphan girl was brought from Paris, who had passed her examinations in a rather brilliant manner during the year. Rose André was intelligent, devoted, proud and firm; she therefore had no difficulty in judging with whom she had fallen and even less in making up her mind.
As she never recoiled from difficulties when there was good to be done, she resolved to rescue Euphrosine from imbecility, and perhaps to diminish that of her parents; she well resolved, moreover, in case of failure, to return to Paris where she would be more useful in public education than she could be there, in private education.
The business was risky. She had to start immediately, so as not to waste time.
It was necessary to create or seize the opportunity to disillusion them and disgust them by some bitter experience of their prejudices. This is the method used for small children.
“The water is wet,” they are told. “The fire is burning”, and we dip their little hand in cold water, or we bring it near the heat.
One could have said to the Pouffard family: “Vanity exposes one to many ridicules.”
The opportunity was not long in coming. Rose André had received a charming letter from one of her pupils in Paris. She left it hanging there on purpose. The child was not ten years old.
She recounted, with the naivety of early youth, but also with an already strong reason, her life of studies and her frank gaiety. Madame de Pouffard, wonderfully curious, picked up the letter, read it and asked Rose when she thought her own daughter would be able to write so much.
“I don’t know, madam,” she said, “since you have advised me not to let her work except when she wants to.”
“And how old is your pupil?”
“Ten years, Madame!”
“It is doubtless,” said Madame de Pouffard, “some girl of the high nobility?”
“His father is just a locksmith,” Rose replied.
Madame de Pouffard fled, closing the door with violence.
When her first anger was calmed, she called Euphrosine and said to her: “My dear treasure, you should work a little; there are workers’ daughters who are more advanced than you.”
It was the first time she had spoken to her about work; Euphrosine looked at her mother in astonishment.
“Work,” she said. “Don’t I have a mistress to teach me all that!”
Madame de Pouffard, foolish as she was, felt that with such reasoning her daughter would not make great progress: but she thought she had moralized her enough that day, and she thought vaguely that by dint of tormenting Rose André this one would invent some means so that science came immediately.
Euphrosine deserved to have this done for her.
For several days, the Marquise de Pouffard talked about the prodigious discoveries that had been made and were still being made: she confused steam with electricity, attributed printing to Christopher Columbus, the discovery of America to Gutenberg, but that eloquence was lost, Rose having coldly said that all these things had been found just by their almost incontestable probability, while others were at first found impossible by common sense.
Madame de Pouffard, unsatisfied, immersed herself in reading a fashion magazine that she liked very much (La Feuille des Grâces).
Monsieur de Pouffard resumed the examination of his properties, of which he had had carefully colored plans made.
Rose resumed a work of education, on which she was working, after having warned Mademoiselle Euphrosine that this work would perhaps amuse her and that she would explain the first pages of it to her with pleasure, when she wanted to work.
“I told my pupils in Paris,” she continued, so as to be heard by Madame Pouffard, “that study is obligatory, like honesty; that is why, thanks to their good will, they learned quite quickly.”
Then she added in a firmer tone: “If it had been otherwise, I should not have occupied myself more.”
Euphrosine continued to thread glass beads, and Madame Pouffard got confused in the sentences of the La Feuille des Grâces, which was in question only having read: One adorns the hairstyles with a few crazy sheaves! Instead of wild grass, the Chatelaine des Hulottes had six large artificial wreaths made for the following Sunday with which she adorned her hat.
However, she began to wonder when it would be suitable for Euphrosine to work, and began to also grow very impatient with Rose André.
The latter had already warned her pupil that if in a week she had still not decided to work, it would be her duty to go find those to whom her help would be most useful. Now she went to Madame de Pouffard and said that this decision was not a threat to force the child to study, but an irrevocable bias. She ended by advising Madame la Marquise to take for Euphrosine a very old schoolteacher, in need of rest; for all those who like an active life could become accustomed to a pupil whose main occupation is to string beads.
Madame de Pouffard, choked with astonishment and anger, replied that she was going to think it over, and, as usual, left, closing the door with a crash. It was her strongest argument.
The Marquis de Pouffard, when questioned, replied that in all large families, the education of girls concerned the mother; so he didn’t have to worry about it. And to escape the importunities of his wife, he took his gun and went hunting on his land.
The Marquis de Pouffard aimed well enough; he loved to pull the bird that flies greedy for space for its wings; he cared little for the groans of the nest. Many people do not understand, and they are right, that lead is used for more than killing evil animals.
The Marquis de Pouffard had something else to think about, too. He was starting to be bored with loneliness and meditated parties and hunts that made him talk to himself for a very long time throughout the country. Indeed, we should not forget it, because we still laugh about it.
The Marquis therefore did some research, and having acquired the certainty that he alone was titled in the region, he resolved to choose the best from the situation and to instead issue invitations to the great world of Paris.
It was precisely autumn, hunting season; the invitees were to explore its woods for a week, and every evening they would amuse themselves at the chateau, where the table was to be lavishly served.
Rose André was asked for how long the party would be, and the occasion seemed favorable to her for Euphrosine to change her behavior or abandon her.
These things settled, they took care of the invitations. In the country they were sparse, still the guests could not all come, having other things to do, and then some errors took place.
So, at the invitation of the doctor, as there was no indication that it was the father or the son, and that the latter had also just been received as a doctor; it was he who yielded to curiosity to see the inhabitants of the chateau. He was a young man who worked with all his might, but laughed as well: bad luck for the Marquis and his family.
This young man was called Paul Martin. Guessing that the invitation might well have been addressed to his father, he had the idea of adding other similar errors. It was easy: the son of the justice of the peace, the brother of the schoolmaster, and two or three young people thus found themselves substituted for their parents.
While Paul Martin was leading this plot, invitations from Paris were coming their way.
Rose was consulted, but when it came to high society people, she could only give the names. It was quite another matter when it came to forming a society for Mademoiselle Euphrosine. Very few children were titled among those whom Rose knew.
Madame de Pouffard, who was very curious, wanted to make an exception in favor of Céline, who was literally a little girl, but Euphrosine’s companions were only four or five in number.
The big day arrived.
The Pouffard family, having hardly considered that the children do not travel alone, had forgotten to arrange things accordingly. All the little guests therefore remained at home.
Celine alone, having been expressly requested by Rose, was brought by her mother and placed in the hands of the teacher. Céline’s mother had guessed a small favor to be rendered and had not wanted to refuse it.
The Marquise de Pouffard was a little mortified by the absence of the little girls and the departure of Céline’s mother: but she thought that she had not committed any other blunders. She had been lucky enough that her company, Mesdemoiselles de la Truffardière and Mesdames Piquador de Bêtenville, having never had anything to do, came to see what this invitation was that fell to them from the Château des Hulottes.
We had learned that morning that the doctor had an eleven-year-old daughter, Noémi Martin; Rose therefore wrote, in the name of her pupil, a pretty little letter to explain to him that at the very moment they had just learned of the arrival for the holidays of the little neighbor, and that they had urged her to come with Madame Martin.
Since Paul and Noémi were invited, it became all the more clear that the chatelain of Les Hulottes was organizing holiday parties for some son or nephew at the same time as for his daughter.
“We’re going to have a good time and we’ll have a good laugh,” said Paul, taking his fat little sister by the hand.
Great was the disappointment of the Marquis, when Paul and his friends, armed with their invitations, presented themselves with Noemi, wearing her big straw hat with a crown of poppies and dressed in her freshest muslin dress.
Madame Martin had been neglected as too provincial, like the other ladies of the country, and they were somewhat the accomplices of their sons.
Paul and his friends were hardly companions to offer to Messieurs Gannachon de Volembois and Pompilius d’Écorchoison; but the blunder had been committed, it had to be absorbed. These gentlemen were invited to start the day, to pass in the hall of the ancestors: this is how the museum was called.
During this time, Mesdames de la Truffardière and de Bêtenville had followed the Marquise to the salon, where she showed them the inlays of the piano, the gilding of the frames, and a host of other beautiful things.
Others would have been bored to death; but Mesdames de la Truffardière and de Bêtenville knew that they were enthroned in a castle, they had not yet had time to notice anything else.
Rose André had taken Céline, Noémi and Euphrosine to the garden. The latter, despite her stupidity, was almost amused by the cheerfulness of her two companions, because the two children had immediately became strong comrades. They led into the frank joy of conversation. Euphrosine was quite giddy at hearing speeches other than those of her mother and Sylvie.
This first hour was the beginning of a triumph. Dinner arrived, the dishes were piled up in such profusion that it took them four hours to see them pass by and be partly absorbed.
The young people took a little pity on the masters of the house and talked in such a way that they thought themselves to be amiable; Messieurs Ganachon de Volembois and Pompilius d’Écorchoison ate a lot.
Mesdames de la Truffardière and de Bêtenville simpered in the company of the marquise, and played with bouquets from the fields while reciting sweet pieces of verse on flowers and beauty.
Even if they had been beautiful, their stupidity would have disfigured them, and, in comparison with flowers, it is better to resemble something less fragile and more intelligent.
The little girls, seated near Rose, made as little noise as possible so as not to disturb anyone. As for Euphrosine, not having the habit of occupying herself with others, she amply filled her place, although Rose warned her from time to time.
One of her most striking witticisms, but which made her parents blush to the whites of their eyes, according to the remark of M. Ganachon de Volembois, was this:
“Hey, Papa! I thought that you could buy me a princess title, like you did to become a marquis! But it costs more!”
Rose felt that letting this statement rest there would change her parents’ views on education. An embarrassed silence followed this outing. They had all just been talking about the crusades, and the marquis had told how his grandfather, Stanislas de Pouffard, had received the cross of Saint-Louis from the hands of Charlemagne himself, a story that had caused a great sensation in everyone. . Of course, there were plenty of stories like this!
Monsieur de Pouffard, satisfied with the effect he was producing, added that his great-grandmother, Hémiltrude de Paillenval, lady-in-waiting to Isabeau of Bavaria, had deserved the trust and very special esteem of this virtuous princess, when she was regent of her son Louis IX. And this monstrous reversal of history made Céline and Noémi open immense eyes, while a terrible desire to laugh twisted all the mouths. The suffering of the poor marquis, after the departure of his daughter, suppressed the general hilarity.
They found a way to change the conversation. But Mademoiselle Euphrosine was not accustomed to her questions remaining unanswered, she was not discouraged and resumed, shouting louder:
“Why don’t you answer me? if it can be bought, I want you to make me a princess for my party. Say, papa, you bought me my grandmother’s diamonds; you know you said “it has to look old!”
The Marquis and his wife were going mad! There were still eight days and it was the first!
The party took pity on them and someone found a way to insinuate, to put an end to Euphrosine’s importunities, that they saw from the garden all the peasants of the village returning from the fair, which was very curious because of the variety of goods they brought back with them.
Rose and the two little girls dragged Euphrosine away. There, they tried to make her understand that her parents must have a reason for not answering her, and that they should be left alone and that, moreover, it was impossible to buy her a title of princess. But no reasoning had any influence over her. It was necessary to change, by surprise, the course of her ideas by making her admire the mad race of the great Mathieu, who, wanting to lead his pig by a rope tied to his leg, found himself rather trained himself.
Fortunately, for her parents, Euphrosine was distracted.
When the young girls returned to the drawing-room, Mesdames de Bêtenville, de Pouffard, and de la Truffardière were playing innocent games. All the gentlemen were out hunting. Young people were beginning to find that anything that suffers, even in a ridiculous way, can no longer be laughed at. Paul and his friends were not having fun at all and promised to find excuses, very polite ones, not to come back the next day.
One was to be called to a sick person. The other would experience a sudden illness. A third would be obliged, very reluctantly, to undertake a journey. It had to be like this.
In the drawing-room, when the innocent games were exhausted; when these ladies had simpered enough in the hot seat, pretended to be mistaken enough to play the child, playing pigeon and corbillon, they talked about literature.
Definitely Madame de Pouffard was in luck, for her guests were also subscribers to the Feuille des Grâces. People praised the charming way in which the newspaper bore her name. Nothing indeed was more graceful and cool.
Until the title thumbnail, which represented a garland of pink camellias, the serial was always surrounded by a delicate vignette where it was forbidden to sign other than the name of one of the three graces, Aglaé, Chloé, Euphrosine.
Euphrosine, that cherished name, was so prettily carried by Mademoiselle Pouffard.
Madame de la Truffardière, who passed for a profound mind, did indeed insinuate that she sometimes also read the “Papillon d’Or, l’Oiseau-Mouche, le Nuage,” and a host of other fine productions. But it was declared, unanimously, that after having judged well, it was the Leaf of Graces that won.
One of these ladies then recited in her most fluty voice the last piece of verse from the newspaper, it was: “The Harmonious Caterpillar.”
How did the author manage to make a caterpillar harmonious!
This is what I would take good care not to concern myself with; all we could tell was that the first verse was:
“Beautiful caterpillar, listen to my accents.”
The author was called Hyacinthe d’Hélicou.
After all, she was allowed to dedicate her works to caterpillars, just as she could dedicate it to others, and she had no shortage of admirers.
After literature, they talked about music: all three agreed to adore the piano, as for the violin, it gave them nervous attacks; the cello, it was not necessary to speak of it; the organ gave them headaches; but the flageolet for example, here was a beautiful instrument!
The choice of music was indifferent to them as long as it made noise or cooing sounds; however, they did not like the German masters. A few old airs from Jadin, which they had heard, seemed to them preferable to any Weber, Meyerbeer, etc., they hoped that this pretty genre would return. They understood nothing of Wagner, but they hated him instinctively, because they heard in it a whole disheveled, rapid, unheard-of creation, thrown with both hands into his notes, and in contrast, they loved what is empty.
In painting, they wondered how one could look at paintings other than those of Boucher, and whether the beautiful things one saw on old fans were not worth the big ugly canvases full of shadows that impressed upon their delicate nerves.
To hear them reason thus was enough to throw all the gilt frames into their heads, and the piano in the bargain; but that would not have given them more feeling, and it was not their fault that the foolish education they had received had prevented their development.
Suddenly Madame de Pouffard bethought herself of having Rose André sit at the piano; it went without saying that they should only play polkas, mazurkas, a few schottichs; a waltz which she had begun, made them, they said, turn their heads.
As one should not throw people out of the window, even when they are of this type, Rose André resolutely continued her ordeal for nearly two hours. Wearily, she took it into her head to play her impressions to them. There were ironic cadences, rumblings heavy with anger, notes struck suddenly, as if the harmony indicated wanted to break the instrument; suites of agreements that were threats. These ladies found it all delightful, especially the cadences and trills that laughed in their face.
Madame de la Truffardière asked if the little ones were musicians. Celine was already strong enough. Noémi, although much less, could get away with it too. Another disappointment for Euphrosine, which vanity punished, at this moment, with laziness.
Realizing that she had suffered enough to think a little about the consequences of her laziness, Rose suggested that the children sing together the rounds they knew, while she accompanied them on the piano. It would have amused everyone.
She was far from supposing that Euphrosine did not even know a round!
It was true, however; Mademoiselle de Pouffard had spent her life pampering herself in her rich idleness, like a lizard in the sun.
What did she know? Neither work, nor play, nor thought! Nothing !
Evening had come; the hunters returned, having explored the surroundings rather than having pursued the poor beasts, to the great regret of the Marquis de Pouffard, who shot well, and of Messieurs Ganachon de Volembois and Pompilius d’Écorchoison, who, fortunately, shot badly.
Although unable to practice his skill in front of his guests, the marquis was radiant. It was because he had met a prince on the main road in the woods, a real prince traveling incognito, and he had brought him to the castle. The prince had kindly consented to spend a few days there, in spite of the numerous occupations which called him to Paris.
He was a Russian prince, his name was Oscar, Duke of Sadoga, and, having to spend only a short time in France, he was anxious to complete some immense literary and scientific works, for which he had to agree with quantity of authors and scholars.
Prince Oscar, Duke of Sadoga, was already of a certain age; he had a bald forehead, very intelligent gray eyes, but casting a singular brilliance: instead of reading the thought one saw there, one saw a gleam which shone very brightly, that is all.
His manners were easy and polite; his costume, slovenly, as one would expect of someone traveling for the first time without a suite. His clothes were impeccable; but the shoes left a lot to be desired.
This did not fail to afflict the marquis who was very fond of princes! but how to offer a pair of boots to such a high personage! The marquis hoped that a good inspiration would come to him, and in the meantime he introduced his guest to Madame de Pouffard, who almost fell backwards.
Paul and his friends laughed, this time, with all their heart: they did not talk about sending their apologies the next day.
Messieurs Ganachon de Volembois and Pompilius d’Écorchoison vied with the prince in zeal. Mesdames de Bêtenville and de la Truffardière grimaced their most amiable smiles. Rose André, Noémi and Céline thought that Duke Oscar de Sadoga looked enough like a second-hand prince to make a pair of boots available to him.
In summary, the prince was amiable, witty, the reasons he gave for his trip seemed possible, and for the physiognomists, he could not be a thief, the dominant character of his face being honesty.
Paul Martin asserted that in the subject, as he irreverently called the prince, the mania for travels had a very great development; he remarked, moreover, that his title of doctor of medicine did not please the Duke of Sadoga.
However, the whole house had been revolutionized, the living room had hangings; the kitchen had the effect of two or three ovens, so many roasting pans did it contain. All the servants came and went with much greater activity than the day before.
Mademoiselle Euphrosine de Pouffard came, with her beautiful hands, to present the prince with a pair of shoes, the finest that could have been found, to relax him from the journey, and the marquis saw, with joy, that his highness had condescended to accept; for he had found nothing better than to send his daughter, to whom, he thought, nothing could be refused.
Mademoiselle de Pouffard, who intended to ask the Duc de Sadoga how one managed to become a prince, was charming with him.
After supper, the prince having said that he liked country amusements, the whole village was invited to come and refresh themselves and dance under the trees.
The schoolmaster’s brother, a bit of a musician, sent for his violin and played old French dances with great verve; the farandole of Provence; the troubadours’ pastourelle; the dance of the mountain gavots; the Spanish sarabande.
They were about to begin the bourrée d’Auvergne, against which Madame la Marquise de Pouffard would have shouted, if the prince had not declared that he liked only the popular dances of the provinces. There was nothing to be said against such a lofty opinion.
Mesdames de la Truffardière and de Bêtenville, Messieurs Ganachon de Volembois and Pompilius d’Écorchoison danced furiously. Mademoiselle Euphrosine was dancing. Paul and his friends seemed to be dancing; but that was to hide that they were laughing like madmen.
The schoolmaster’s violin was so cheerful that he seemed to be laughing too.
A cry of surprise immediately came from everyone’s mouth. A troop of armed people had invaded the park.
It was because they had found the trail of a poor madman, escaped from a nursing home for a few days, thanks to one of the clothes of an intern that he had had the talent to obtain. This man, ordinarily quite calm, in spite of his travel madness and his idea of being a prince, was nevertheless subject to some attacks of extreme violence.
It was His Highness the Duke Oscar of Sadoga, who was reinstated in his nursing home.
What a twist!
Madame de Pouffard fell ill suddenly; the company therefore had no need of an excuse to end all the parties that evening.
Everyone was unhappy, except the ones who were laughing.
Madame de Pouffard recovered; but for a long time there remained sadness in her. Monsieur le Marquis abandoned the hunt and the museum of his ancestors, and Rose André was obliged, to console them, to tell them that they had gained more than lost in this adventure.
For Mademoiselle Euphrosine, a little ashamed, very annoyed and carried away by the example of Céline, whom Rose had kept for a few days, and of little Noémi who came to work with her: Mademoiselle Euphrosine, we say, had begun to learn and she succeeded in it: for one can always do well, and there is not such an ugly caterpillar that does not become a pretty butterfly.
Translated by Jade Maître and available to reproduce and share under a Creative Commons 4.0 license.